One-Act Play

  1. High schools (grades 9-12) may participate upon joining the WHSFA.
  2. Faculty advisors/directors should read the Theatre Handbook and familiarize themselves with the rules and parameters of the contest. Schools must construct and bring their own set/set pieces. This can vary from minimalist with a few painted wooden boxes to an elaborate set that is assembled during the performance with meticulous choreography of stagehands. The beauty of our festivals is schools are never compared to one another; each performance is evaluated on its own merits. For schools starting out, we suggest keeping things simple before pursuing more ambitious projects. Schools also do their own costuming, make up, and props. Schools utilize lighting and sound as provided by each venue, so some flexibility is implied, but artistic choices in these regards can influence the overall impact of the production on audiences and adjudicators.
  3. From September 23 to October 4, directors register online with play synopsis and publication information, technical needs, and an accurate roster of students names, certifying interscholastic eligibility (usually confirmed by an athletic/activities director or an administrator), and assigning students to specific acting roles and crew positions. During that same window, coaches may log back in and make changes to registration.
  4. As part of the online registration process, coaches rank their State Festival time preferences (Friday or Saturday, as well as time of day). These ultimately will be assigned given available space, with consideration given for schools traveling a greater distance.NOTE: Schools are encouraged to hold informal subdistricts with colleague schools or invite theatre educators to provide evaluation before the district festival, as well to give students practice with performing their production. Alternatively, a school could practice loading their set in and out of a different space in their school or community (e.g., gymnasium or commons area), and having an outside evaluator come in to offer notes.
  5. The State Office shares registration information — as well as a supply of evaluation sheets and other materials — with each district host, who schedules and prepares each festival.
  6. theaterfestivalAt the district festival, three adjudicators evaluate each play; at least two of the three must recommend the play advance for it to continue to the sectional level. Using SpeechWire, district hosts report advancing plays, which section chairs will subsequently use to schedule the sectional festival.
  7. At the sectional festival, at least two of three adjudicators must recommend the play advance for it to move on to the State level. Using SpeechWire, sectional hosts report advancing entries.NOTE: The State Festival is a tremendous learning experience, and schools who do not advance are still strongly encouraged to attend, where their students can watch other shows, and participate in other workshops and activities. Past non-qualifying schools who have gone to State report a renewed vigor by students, excited to push themselves further, the following year.
  8. Coaches have a brief window on the Monday-Tuesday following sectionals to confirm State participants online.
  9. At the State Contest, if two of four adjudicators make a recommendation, schools may earn awards for: individual acting, ensemble, crew, directing, and Critic’s Choice.

Recent Rules Changes & Handbook

Please see the tabs to the left to see rules changes for recent seasons, including the current season.

Theatre Handbook

New season Handbook updated September 23, 2021 (revised SpeechWire registration instructions).

Presentation Overview for Season (originally shared at AWTE Conference, 9/24/2021)
  1. Special dispensations for the 2021-22 season:
    • Each school may enter only one one-act entry for in-person festivals; any number or all a school’s entries may be submitted virtually. A school can move any performance between virtual and in-person, as long as not more than one show is performing at in-person festivals at any level (District, Section, State).
    • For each virtual one-act submission, the school must provide an adjudicator who can evaluate three shows (the same adjudicator may be used for up to three one-acts, or an evaluation commitment of 9 shows). For each adjudicator not provided, a school will be assessed a $100 uncovered adjudicator fee for each festival level.
    • For in-person festivals, the festival manager will arrange for adjudicators as has been past practice.
    • Please see complete COVID-19/Public Health Protocols, in force for all WHSFA contest series events.
    • Set-up/strike must happen within the 40-minute, bare stage to bare stage time limit; directors should take into account public health safety guidelines for social distancing, and adjust their timing, accordingly.
  2. Directors may continue to opt-in to have adjudicators consider lighting and/or sound choices as part of their evaluation. Since resources vary among participating schools, answering “no” protects schools who do not have sound/light systems, while answering “yes” gives schools who do an opportunity to be evaluated on how those choices enhance the production.
  3. Adjudicators will no longer give arbitrary recommendations; rather, an average of each set of scores will determine which entries advance to the next contest level and to determine State awards, except for Acting [see Handbook].
  4. Evaluation: slight revisions to evaluation criteria and addition of criterion for crew as cohesive unit [see Handbook].
  1. Special dispensations for the 2020 virtual season:
    1. Schools may enter more than one play.
    2. Each entry may be recorded in-person with students socially distanced and wearing masks.
    3. Set-up/strike is not part of the 40-minute time limit; set(s) should already be assembled when recording starts.
    4. Only one adjudicator vote to advance is required to move on to the next festival level.
    5. District and sectional festivals will be statewide windows of asynchronous evaluation.
  2. Directors may opt-in to have adjudicators consider lighting and/or sound choices as part of their evaluation. Since resources vary among participating schools, answering “no” protects schools who do not have sound/light systems, while answering “yes” gives schools who do an opportunity to be evaluated on how those choices enhance the production (see Adjudication section, p. 17-21).
  • Rule #3 pertaining to the use of prop firearms added in “Rules and Policies for Theatre.”
  • Evaluation sheet and adjudicator instructions revised with more streamlined criteria and a numerical rubric (see Adjudicator Guidelines to the right).
  • Directors may opt-in to have adjudicators consider lighting and sound choices as part of their evaluation and to include adjudicators’ recommendations to advance/stop, as well as awards at the State Festival (p. 9). Since resources vary among participating schools, answering “no” protects schools who do not have sound/light systems, while answering “yes” gives schools who do an opportunity to be evaluated on how those choices enhance the production (see Adjudication section, p. 17-21).
  • For the State Festival, Oustanding Acting awards were re-consolidated from the previous season’s bifurcated “lead” and “supporting” designations.

Contest Dates

Move cursor over a date for location and further details.

2022 Calendar Overview

Theatre Rights/Permissions Guide

Theatre Adjudicator Guidelines

Thespian Excellence Awards (Thespys)

Thespy Categories: Overview

Category #per Group Max. Time Perform. Rights Description Other Details
3 min.
Performance of two contrasting theatrical monologues
Only one character from each play may be portrayed; One chair may be used
5 min.
Performance of one group scene from a play
Two chairs may be used
5 min.
Performance of one group scene from a play
One table may be used; Up to six chairs may be used
5 min.
Performance of one song (used in a musical) publicly available for sale that also has verifiable copyright protection
You must play a recorded accompaniment with no background vocals; You may not sing a cappella UNLESS originally written to be performed a cappella in the script.
5 min.
Performance of one song (used in a musical) publicly available for sale that also has verifiable copyright protection
Group Musical
5 min.
Performance of one song (used in a musical) publicly available for sale that also has verifiable copyright protection
Costume Construction
12 min. (pres≤8; Q&A≤4)
Create a completed costume from a publicly available pattern. Present costume, design collage and all receipts.
You may not spend over $100, including donated materials (cost of the pattern not included); You will need to present a collage
Costume Design
12 min. (pres≤8; Q&A≤4)
Create and present 5 color costume designs for a play or musical.
Each design is mounted to a 10x15 or 11x17 board Fabric swatches must be included
Lighting Design
12 min. (pres≤8; Q&A≤4)
Create and present a lighting design for a play or musical.
See Contest Handbook for specific requirements
Makeup Design
12 min. (pres≤8; Q&A≤4)
Create and present 5 character renderings and a makeup binder for a play or musical.
Renderings should be 8” to 10” tall and must be in full color
30-min. script
Student writes one original short play. Collaborative works or adaptations are not permitted, nor are plays that include music, lyrics, or dialogue written by anyone other than the submitting writer.
A typed (12-point font) short play on any subject with a running time of 30 minutes or less (approximately 30 typed pages).
Scenic Design
12 min. (pres≤8; Q&A≤4)
Create and present a set design for a play or musical.
Design may be a scale model or a perspective drawing, but not both. If using a model, you must bring the model to the IE (photos are not acceptable); Include a floor plan
Sound Design
12 min. (pres≤8; Q&A≤4)
Create and present a sound design for a play or musical.
See Contest Handbook for specific requirements
Stage Management
12 min. (pres≤8; Q&A≤4)
Create and present a prompt book, contact sheet and artistic concept.
Act as though you are applying for the job of Stage Manager
Theatre Marketing
12 min. (pres≤8; Q&A≤4)
Create and present a marketing campaign for a play or musical.
See Contest Handbook for specific requirements
Short Film
5 min. running time +1 min. credits
Create an original film, either as an individual or as part of a student group.
See Contest Handbook for specific requirements

Theatre & Thespys FAQs

FAQs with asterisks (*) pertain to the online/virtual one-act submissions. All Thespy entries in 2021-22 will be online (we are hoping to return to in-person Thespy performances at the 2022 State Festival).

Each school/school district may have its own public health guidelines/restrictions in place, including, but not limited to: face coverings, social distancing, testing, vaccination, etc.  Each school/institution that hosts a WHSFA contest must register with the State Office (and provide any subsequent changes/updates) any public health requirements in place, and communicate to guest schools what is expected of their participants (students, coaches, adjudicators). Each guest school must adhere to host venue requirements or their own school's requirements, whichever is more restrictive. Schools whose students, adjudicators, and/or coaches fail to comply may be asked to leave the premises of the contest venue, and if students have not yet been fully evaluated, their school may submit a recorded virtual entry for evaluation, if within the deadline for asynchronous adjudication at that contest level.

Please defer to whichever public health authority your school/school district is using, and consult the Event Safety Alliance Reopening Guide (you must complete the form with your contact information to access the full guide, and not just the update addendum).

Of course, a school may opt to record an outdoors performance, a performance in a large gymnasium/fieldhouse, or other outside-the-box solution!

Yes. We will hold an invitational/practice Thespys contest, along with a State Festival component, as an opportunity in addition to the one-act series, so students may participate in one or both of these.

Yes, since this would allow working with smaller cohort groups/pods.  This is allowed, irrespective of whether one show is in person and the other is virtual. Schools may submit the same show with different casts and should title them differently (e.g., The Tempest, Cast A; The Tempest, Cast B). Each cast would be evaluated on its own merits. A school is still limited to just one in-person one-act entry at each level (District, Sectional, State).

If you are submitting a videorecording of a one-act performance, you are responsible for working within your school to acquire media release permission for your students (updated policy for 2021-22).

The timeframe 40 minutes, bare stage to bare stage for both in-person and virtual one-act entries, to facilitate easier transition between the two modes (updated 9/27/2021).

Yes, that is a suitable alternative to a tradition videoconference, particularly where bandwidth access is a concern. Fade in/out transitions would be allowable in this context, but no other editing other than connecting the video with subtle transitions is allowed.

Yes, and this applies for both in-person video capture as well as screen recording of videoconferences (such as using Switcher Studio or a similar tool). The key rule is no post-production editing, which is what delineates theatre from film. We also will advise adjudicators to not preference multiple cameras.

Any videoconference platform that allows for recording meetings and downloading those recordings will work. One of the most popular platforms with the most features is Zoom, which features, including:

We understand some schools/school districts may be uncomfortable with Zoom; we have posted a letter to administrators addressing this, and asking they reconsider.

However, other platforms, such as Google Meet, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, etc., could still work.

The Educational Theatre Association has Resources for Creating Virtual Performances, worth checking out!

The most common video formats that are widely acceptable for sharing are:

  • .mp4
  • .mov
  • .m4v
  • .mpeg4

Please see this article for more guidance.

We ask all adjudicators to take the new, free, and entirely online Theatre Adjudicator Training course,which including the viewing and evaluation of a full one-act production, should take about 90 minutes. Individuals who successfully complete the assessment (evaluation of recorded one-act) will be certified and will receive a certificate documenting 2 hours of professional development contact time.

Each adjudication commitment (one-act or Thespy) involves about 3 hours of time; one-act adjudicators must  record one oral response per commitment, which can be shared as a unlisted YouTube video, shared video file on Google Drive or Dropbox with sharing enabled to those who have a link (complete instructions will be given to adjudicators).

Yes, absolutely. Please see the FAQ regarding expected commitment for each assignment.

In an era where school shootings are commonplace, and several laws and rules have been passed regarding firearms -- including props -- for general safety and to mitigate panic, schools are discouraged from using prop firearms altogether. However, the following policy is in effect for schools who wish to attempt to use a prop firearm:

  1. All school district*, university*, state and federal laws must be honored at all times (*both for performing school and districts of any festivals it attends). Any festival host venue may refuse a school from using both a prop firearm and/or sound effect of a firearm being discharged. Individual festivals, including the State level, may impose additional regulations.
  2. The adult director/advisor must secure permission of both the principal and superintendent (or head of school for private schools) to use a firearm, and must:
    1. produce documentation of administration permission on school letterhead to the State Office before the school performs at the district festival, and also include:
    2. photographs of the prop firearm with a ruler, showing dimensions;
    3. specific stage directions describing how the firearm will be used on stage; and
    4. exactly what timeframe (minutes into the show, as well as how long) the firearm will be on stage, and exactly when it will be visible.
  3. No blanks can be used; all sounds must come from a recorded sound effect.
  4. Theatrical firearms should never be pointed at the audience (can be traumatic and may result in unpredictable reactions), nor should be pointed at someone on stage. Instead, the theatrical firearm should be pointed past the individual into a corridor of safety.
  • Consider your frame (how much of your body you want to be seen). At a minimum, make sure to show inches above your head to your belly button.
  • If performing a song, make sure you have a solid track to use for your accompaniment.
    • Pay an accompanist to record a track for you and send you an .mp3 file. Try reaching out to your local university's music or theatre department as a start.
    • Find a karaoke track online. Make sure there are no vocals on the track.
  • Consider where you're placing your "scene partner." You do not need to look straight into the camera.
  • You may use one straight back chair and one small table in your video; additional set pieces are not allowed.
  • Find an effective filming location
    • Area should be quiet so we can hear both you and your track (if applicable).
    • Film in front of a non-distracting background. If possible, choose a solid-color wall or consider hanging a sheet behind you. The color should contrast with your clothing.
    • Dress neatly, in all black clothing as written in the guidelines. No costumes.
    • Make sure you are lit enough to be clearly visible.
  • Reminders
    • Before filming, conduct a full-volume test to make sure you can be heard (and that your track can be heard).
    • Ensure your blocking is effective and visible when filmed. Consider whether to decrease your movement or to adjust your camera angle.
    • Shoot your video horizontally, not vertically.
    • Try multiple takes and submit your strongest.


  • Watch your video both before and after uploading to ensure it's what you want to share.
  • You will have two options for submitting your video.
    • Upload the video file directly into the submission form from your laptop or desktop.
    • Provide a URL to your video on YouTube.
      • The guide to using YouTube video editor is ​​​found here.
      • Give your video a clear name. Consider something like First Name Last Name – Event – Thespy Submission.
      • Make sure the video is listed as unlisted but check that the link will allow for open access to all adjudicators.

You will be asked to share your portfolio as you would for an in-person presentation. Please upload the material asked for in the submission form in accordance with the program guidelines.

  • Each of your samples should be clear and quality -- good production or process photos, or easily readable documents.
  • Uploads should be well-photographed or clearly readable. Though you will be able to expand in the written response, the sample should be able to speak for itself to a certain extent.

Use a file sharing service, such as Google Drive, Dropbox, or Microsoft OneDrive. Be sure the sharing setting is enabled to allow anyone with the link to view the folder with your materials.


Visit the Theatre contests page for more information on our festival series, which runs from mid-October through mid-November.

The Theatre Handbook (linked on our Theatre Contests page) will provide all details, but in short:

  1. You have 40 minutes, bare stage to bare stage – this means bringing your set on stage and striking it from the stage are all part of timing.
  2. You construct and bring your own set/set pieces. Some schools do this quite elaborately, and have made an art form of choreographing placement of that set on stage at the festivals, and some schools are quite minimalist, and really focus on the deep psychology of performances. The beauty of our festival is no schools is compared with another; each performance is evaluated on its own merits. We universally suggest starting simple and mastering the basics before taking on more ambitious staging.
  3. Schools do their own costuming and make up, and this can be a way to visually enhance the production, while helping students identify their sense of characterizations. Same with props. How this all plays into the production is subject to critique.
  4. Since each production is subject to the amenities and limitations of lighting and sound at each host venue, less value is placed on these elements in the evaluation process, but anything that is significantly distracting or prevents an adjudicator from seeing/hearing the production effectively is subject to critique.

Visit the Speech Contests, Theatre Contests, or Debate Contests pages for a button/link that will take you to the online registration platform for registering. Each of those pages also will contain tutorial information on how to register. Most Middle Level contests handle registration directly through email, although some have moved to using SpeechWire; contact the host for more information (host contact information is available when clicking a particular contest in the Middle Level upcoming dates calendar.

Visit the Speech Contests, Theatre Contests, Debate Contests, or Middle Level contests pages for a list by date, including locations. Please note: each local area sets its own schedules, so the State Office posts these on our website only when we have been notified.

See the Districts/Sections page for a list of contacts, along with a map showing the geographic regions of the state.

Homeschool students may either participate with an area public or private school,** or as part of a homeschool association that joins the WHSFA.

**WHSFA supports the local school district policy for interscholastic athletics/academic contests. For example, if a home-schooled student is allowed to join the basketball team, a home-schooled student may participate in Theatre, Speech, and Debate activities.

Here is the official policy from the WHSFA’s Constitution/Bylaws:

SECTION III: Membership

Wisconsin homeschooled/online/virtual school students:

  1. Conditions: Students must be members of a homeschool association or enrolled full time in an online school. They cannot participate individually, unless as part of their attendance-area school district, if the school district allows participation.
  2. Procedures:
    1. Homeschooling associations may apply for membership by registering and paying the yearly dues. Online/virtual schools headquartered in Wisconsin may apply under the same conditions.
    2. As members, their students are eligible to participate in all WHSFA events in the District/Section where the homeschool association is located. Students living in Wisconsin who are enrolled in online/virtual schools that are members of WHSFA may participate in the subdistrict and district festivals in which the online/virtual school is located.

If you're not affiliated with a particular school, or would like to offer your adjudicating services to additional schools and contests, please join our statewide email list. We do not have lists for specific regions of the state, because there's too much overlap between areas with contests schools attend.

Each summer, advisory committees for each activity meet to review the previous contest season and propose changes to the Board of Control. Contact us with concerns and/or suggestions, and we will forward these to the respective committee(s).

In order to plan ahead for the upcoming One-Act Theatre festival season, we have made some important decisions for facilitating participation, so you can plan accordingly:

  • All one-act entries must be video submissions of performances. This may be done as a recording of a videoconference (such as Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, BlueJeans, etc.) or as video capture of in-person performance, provided students are wearing masks and socially distanced. Videos must be single-take; no post-production editing.
  • Directors should consider versatile material, and creativity in structure and format is encouraged. Readers Theatre-style, series of monologues, Vaudevillian-style variety shows, etc. will be accepted, and the Theatre Advisory Committee will devise evaluation formats to address different formats.  Until August 9, you can see what American Players Theatre has done with their “Out of the Woods” series of play readings. Works in the public domain, such as Shakespeare, or student-written works will be easiest; if you wish to produce a work that is copyright-licensed, contact the licensing company to determine what video and/or streaming rights are needed (see the next bullet for details on performances).
  • The season is delayed and extended. The district and sectional level will be statewide and standardized to best streamline the process, since no in-person festivals will be held, and to allow more time for directors to develop virtual productions. The district and section levels will be asynchronously evaluated by adjudicators with no public viewing of shows; the State Festival will involve public streaming of shows as is customarily done, which may impact the license needed. Schools will be encouraged to arrange a public viewing of a show for their own communities prior to State as many already do, and directors will be able to invite other schools in their WHSFA districts and sections, who might otherwise see their shows at those regional festivals (bearing in mind, a school must pay for streaming licenses for any public performance for copyrighted works).
  • Each school may submit multiple one-act performances. This is a special dispensation to allow for smaller cast works done by either videoconferencing or in-person recording if and when allowed (see the first bullet). Schools may submit the same show with different casts and should title them differently (e.g., The Tempest, Cast A; The Tempest, Cast B).
  • Fees will be reduced, but directors will be expected to adjudicate. The district and sectional entry fee will be just $25 for the first show and $15 for each additional show, but each school’s director will be responsible for providing adjudicator(s) who will assess three (3) shows for each show the school enters (a school that enters 3 one-acts must cover adjudication of 9 other shows in the festival). Alternatively, a school may pay a $100 fee for each play not covered by an adjudicator who will assess three shows (and WHSFA will hire an outside person).  All adjudicators will be asked to complete a FREE and fairly brief — and entirely online — training course to ensure all adjudicators are fair, educative, and mindful of socioeconomic differences.
  • The State Festival will still have complete programming, including Thespian Excellence Awards (formerly, “Individual Events”), auditions, workshops, vendor/university exhibits, and streaming of one-acts. This programming will happen in live time, December 10-12, in a safe and secure online platform already tested for large-scale interscholastic events with middle and high school students.

Each school’s advisor/director should consult their licensing company for specific protocols, however, here are some basic principles to bear in mind when applying for rights/royalties:

  • Indicate this is for interscholastic contest evaluation
  • We will be using the Classrooms.Cloud conferencing platform for uploading of videos and private, direct sharing to the three adjudicators for each contest level (district, sectional), and four adjudicators (three writing; one non-writing) for State. Those will be considered sharing of a video archive for evaluative purposes.
  • For shows advancing to State, you will be assigned a scheduled stream time, based on  timing preferences you indicate during initial registration (Oct. 7-14). Your students do not need to be present, although they are encouraged to attend the online meeting with your oral respondent immediately following the scheduled stream of that performance.
  • State Festival scheduled streams will be accessible only to individuals who have been registered for general festival attendance, or for an online day pass this year, which grants access to the entire platform, and not for specific shows.
  • Licensing companies with questions can contact

These are some of the more common licensing companies that have posted online/streaming guidance for directors.

Copyright guidance (in general)

Ticketing for Performing Arts

Official WHSFA partner. No cost to schools. Use their AnywhereSeat service for online programming.

Professional Development

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