MIddle School Play Festival

2025 NCTC Middle School Play Festival

March 2025 (dates TBA)

Multiple Sites (TBA)

Each spring, the NCTC Middle School Play Festival brings together students from across NC to share their talents, receive feedback from industry professionals and celebrate theatrical excellence. The basic premise of the Festival is that schools load-in their set into a backstage area that is approximately 10′x10′, before taking the stage to perform their play. Students have 45 minutes to tell their story and leave the stage completely clear. Following their performance, students receive verbal and written feedback from industry experts. When not performing, students watch performances from other schools, learn from their peers and make new theatre friends. At the end of the Festival, numerous awards are presented in an exciting ceremony that celebrates the achievements of all participants. 

Statewide Sponsor

This project is supported by the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

How Festival Participation Aligns with the NC Essential Standards for Theatre Arts Education

Though the NCTC Play Festival is somewhat competitive, our goals are to showcase theatre programs and give students a nurturing environment to improve their work. The Festival platform allows teachers to fulfill the NC Essential Standards for Theatre Arts, through an exciting, hands-on learning experience.

  • In the Play Festival rehearsal process, students use movement, voice, and writing to communicate ideas and feelings (8.C.1). Students are taught to understand how to design technical theatre components, such as costumes, sets, props, makeup, lighting, and sound, when they design and construct the production design elements for their Festival show (8.AE.1). At the NCTC Festival, students use performance to communicate ideas and feelings (8.C.2).
  • By watching performances from other schools, students develop critical thinking skills and learn to understand the traditions, roles, and conventions of theatre as an art form (8.CU.2).  At the Festival, young artists analyze theatre in terms of the social, historical, and cultural contexts in which it was created (8.CU.1). The opportunity to vote on one of the winning shows encourages students to thoughtfully study and analyze literary texts and performances of their fellow theatre artists (8.A.1).
  • In addition to these essential lessons, students receive valuable feedback from industry experts which helps to improve the quality of theatre programs in schools across the state and encourages students to strive for excellence.

Registration

A list of all current NCTC member schools can be found here. If you have additional questions about your membership status, please contact tiffany@nctc.org.

Individual teacher membership is appreciated, but schools must pay organization membership dues in order to be eligible for the Festival. All students participating must be enrolled in the registered school and must be in grades 6-8. Teachers may not combine groups of students from different schools. North Carolina public schools, private schools, magnet schools and charter schools are eligible to participate. All other groups will be considered on a case-by-case basis and must contact NCTC to seek permission to register. Request permission by emailing angelahays@nctc.org by January 5. 

2025 festival sites to be announced.

2025 Fees will be announced soon.

  • Early registration: opens TBA
  • Late registration: opens TBA
  • Registration Deadline: TBA

All NCTC organizational memberships run from July 1-June 30 and schools that paid their dues by July 31, 2024 are permitted to register for the Festival during the early registration period.

Schools that have not yet paid their NCTC membership dues may do so when they register during the late registration period.

Your school may register 1 or 2 shows. Both shows must be registered at the same time. When registering, you will rank your preference for Festival site.

Step 1: Review the Festival Overview Information on this page.

Step 2: Review the Rules and Procedures on this page (even if you are a Festival veteran, please read the rules and take note of any changes!).

Step 3: Review the Cancellation Policy (below).

Step 4: Verify your eligibility. You must be a current NCTC member to register, or you must join when you register.

Step 5: Complete Registration Form (will open in January 2025)

Step 6: Once you submit your registration, you will get an email from NCTC Director of Operations & Communication Tiffany Albright, within 2 business days. This email will let you know if you have secured a slot(s) in the Festival and will also provide you an invoice and a link to your Parent Permission Form. 

Step 7: Make Payment to NCTC. If you choose the “Paying by Check” option, it is your responsibility to make sure NCTC receives your school’s payment. NCTC does not need a purchase order, and these are not an acceptable form of payment. Please do not ask a bookkeeper to contact NCTC about payment; teachers assume responsibility for communication within their school. It is the responsibility of the teacher to ensure that payment is made to NCTC. It is not the responsibility of NCTC to obtain payment.

No refunds will be given on 2025 Festival fees. Once registered, you are responsible for making the payment for your show(s), even if you cancel a production. If you need to cancel your show, please notify NCTC as soon as possible. You will still be responsible for the payment for your show, but NCTC will try to adjust the schedule for the benefit of other participating schools. No refunds will be given and you are pledging to pay fees when you register. If a show is cancelled and the payment is not received, your school will not be permitted to register for future NCTC programs and Festivals.

If you have to cancel your show(s), please notify NCTC Executive Director Angie Hays as well as your host.

Festival site schedules vary and are subject to change at any time. Schools should plan to attend the entire Festival. When registering, teachers will select their top choice for Festival site. Schools may make a request for performance day or time during registration. Special requests cannot be guaranteed. Please limit these requests; only list a request if you have a major conflict. All registrations and special requests are processed in the order in which they are received.

Festival schedules will be available on the regional Festival website pages. If you wish to re-schedule a performance, you’ll need to contact the other schools at your site and ask for a swap. If you are able to arrange a switch, please inform your host and tiffany@nctc.org

We strongly encourage you to attend the entire Festival, not only to receive a “Festival Spirit Award,” but additionally because it’s a great chance for your students to bond with kids from other schools who share the same interests. They’ll get to hear valuable feedback from the adjudicators after each show, and we feel that this is equally as important as their own performance. There are also fun roll calls, theatre games during the breaks, and other fun activities for them to participate in!

New teachers who wish to participate in the Play Festival for the first time, and teachers who have not participated in the Festival in the last 5 years (2020-2024) can save 50% on registration by using the promo code NEWMSPF50. Savings applies to Festival registration only, your NCTC membership must be paid in full. The discount can only be applied to registration for 1 show. This offer applies to new registrations only; teachers who already received Festival confirmation may not take advantage of this offer.

Assistance for New Teachers

The Play Festival can seem complicated and overwhelming at first, but we are here to help. If you are a new participant and have any questions, please contact us and we will help you with process, and can even connect you with an experienced teacher to serve as your mentor in your first year.

Teachers participating in the High School Play Festival for the first time are eligible for a 50% discount on Play Festival registration!

Rules & Preparation

The following rules and guidelines are written with the intent of ensuring the safety of all participants and hosts, and ensuring respect for host sites and their facilities. These rules are not meant to be exhaustive, and a school may be disqualified at the discretion of the NCTC representative due to unsafe and disrespectful practices onstage or off. Failure to listen to/follow directions of NCTC board members, designated representatives, or host site representatives may result in disqualification.

By the announced deadline (usually 3 weeks before the first festival), you must submit the following:

  • Payment (submitted to NCTC)
  • Program Pages (template) (submitted to NCTC)
  • Light Cue Sheets (on regional site pages) (submitted to your host via email) 
  • All Parent Permission Forms completed 
  • Demographics Form completed (see Representation below) 
  • Design and Production Nomination Forms (NEW – submitted online) – optional

Schools may select any type of play or musical; it may be a one-act play, a cutting from a full-length play (provided you have permission to make cuts), or an original piece. We encourage you to present a piece with a complete story, rather than one act of a full-length play or a series of scenes. NCTC does not have rules regarding adult content, but we encourage you to select age-appropriate works so that your fellow educators would not need to get parental consent for their students to watch your play. If you have not made your play choice before registering, you may register a TBD title. To update your choice or make a title change, simply include your new play title on your program page, which you will submit to your host by the announced deadline.

Should the production contain any themes, language, activities, or subject matters that are not appropriate for all ages, a notice to that effect must appear in the program. Be overly cautious here – include a warning for anything that might be construed as offensive, triggering or traumatic to young audiences.

Your school may register 1 or 2 shows for the Festival. Both shows must be registered at the same time and if you choose to present 2 productions, both of your shows will be assigned to the same Festival. 

It is the participant’s responsibility to make arrangements with the author and/or publisher for the right to use the play they are performing and to pay any required royalties. Written proof of such permission must be provided if requested by NCTC. This rule also applies to music used within the production, cuttings made to the script, and use of source material for a new play based on an existing story. Neither NCTC nor the host site shall be held responsible for any unpaid royalties.

Participants may not rehearse a production on the host site stage, prior to the Festival. 

Load-In and Load-Out: Your set must arrive during your scheduled load-in time, with enough students/chaperones to load it in. If you do not have your set onsite during your load-in time, you will not be permitted to use it. Each school will have a maximum of 10 minutes to load-in their set and clear the loading area for the next school. Load-in is typically at the beginning of the day and at the mid-day break, please see your site schedule. Load-out will take typically take place immediately after your performance.

Technical Meeting: At least one representative (but preferably your entire cast and crew) from your production is required to attend a technical meeting, as noted in the Festival schedule. This meeting is led by the host and NCTC representative, and it contains important safety information, an opportunity to obtain rules clarifications, and the only opportunity your students will have to walk the stage, hear sound samples, and see the lighting areas prior to your performance. If a show is not represented at their required meeting, it may be disqualified.

Dressing Rooms: Your host site will assign a liaison to escort your group to your dressing room and backstage. Schools will have access to their dressing room 45 minutes prior to their performance, though we recommend that you watch the show prior to yours, leave before that show’s adjudication begins, and use the 20 minute break to dress and prepare.

Run of Show: Only students may perform in the production and serve as crew (including calling cues/executing tech). Once time begins, teachers may not have any role in the run of show.

Backstage: 10 minutes prior to your show, your group will be escorted backstage and may move items out of your storage space to prepare for your performance (space permitting). Students may not cross the start line until the production time starts, unless they are completing set-up of projectors or major musical instruments, as noted below. Most teachers watch from the house, but teachers are permitted to watch from backstage if they have safety concerns. Teachers may never cross the start/finish line, except in the case of a safety emergency, and may not participate in the run of the show. Set-up and strike are the sole responsibility of each participant.

Time: Shows may not run longer than 45 minutes. All students and set pieces must be in the area behind the start line until time begins, and must cross the finish line before timing will stop. Only the stage manager’s stopwatch provides the official running time. The 45 minute period includes the time for setting up the stage, performing the play, and clearing the stage.

Lighting: Please see your Festival site’s website page for lighting details. Only the host site’s crew may run the light board, but each production must designate at least one student to call cues. If spotlights are provided, the participating school must provide the students to run them. For safety reasons, all major scenery moves must be made in low lighting (not in a blackout). All sites will have a pre-show cue that is set 30 seconds before the start of your play. This cue will have full stage lighting at approximately 25% for safely moving major set pieces. If you want a blackout when time starts, you will need to indicate this on your cue sheet, which you will submit to your host by the February 28 deadline.

Sound: All Festival host sites provide a house sound system, soundboard, and auxiliary cable, for playback of digital sound files. CDs are no longer being used at any Festival locations. Please see your site’s website page for more details about sound options for your site. NCTC no longer requires teachers to submit sound cue sheets to their host, but you must indicate (on your light cue sheet) if your performance will have sound cues that will utilize the house sound system. You are responsible for bringing any adapters needed for your MP3 player, laptop, tablet or device. Participating students will run their own sound cues from their device. Files should be downloaded, do not plan to rely on WiFi signal. Host sites will provide a board operator to set master volume levels and assist with any troubleshooting related to the board and sound system.

Lights and Sound Testing: Student crew members may enter the booth no earlier than 10 minutes before their show’s start time. Lighting and sound checks may be conducted during this time. Teachers may also be in the booth during the 10 minute pre-show time, to answer student questions and make adjustments, but teachers must exit the booth prior to the show start time. Teachers are not permitted onstage during the 10 minute pre-show tech period. If a participating school is providing spotlights or an additional sound system (mics, amplifiers, etc.), these items may be set-up by students and tested in the 10 minutes prior to GO and can remain onstage (or in place) after testing. Smaller light and sound items can be tested in the 10 minutes before performance, but must be moved behind the start line prior to time beginning. If any equipment is positioned in the house, adequate tape must be used with cords (and provided by participant) to prevent trip hazards. All equipment must be moved behind the finish line in the 45 minute performance period, before time is stopped. 

We recommend that you keep lighting and sound as simple as possible, with minimal cues. It is perfectly acceptable for your show to have light cues at the beginning and end only. 

Musical Productions: Non-student musical accompanists may be used, but they cannot be onstage (the pit, a wing, or backstage is acceptable). Host sites may provide a piano or keyboard (but are not required to).

Orchestra and Projector Set-Up: Projectors and major musical instruments may be set-up onstage and tested in the 10 minutes prior to your performance. Projector screens and smaller instruments may be onstage for testing during the 10 minute pre-show time, but must be moved behind the start line prior to time beginning. Only projectors and major musical instruments may remain on stage after testing and prior to GO. Teachers are not permitted onstage during this set-up period. If any equipment is positioned in the house, adequate tape must be used with cords (and provided by participant) to prevent trip hazards. All equipment must be moved behind the finish line in the 45 minute performance period, before time is stopped. Hosts do not provide projectors or screens.

Curtains: In the event that a curtain is being used to delineate playing space, serving as a back wall, this curtain may not be used or opened for any reason during the performance time. If a site requires load-in or load-out through this curtain, it may be used at the beginning and end of show only. During the run of the show, no people, props, costumes, sets, etc. may enter or exit via this curtain. No projectors may be placed behind the curtain and the curtain may not be draped around a projector or any set pieces. The curtain must be treated as a wall. Host site curtains may not be used or moved during the Festival to change the look or size of the playing space. 

Backstage Storage: Your scenery, props and costumes (with the exception of those worn at the top of the show) must be loaded in to your designated backstage storage space, during your load-in time. No additional props, costumes or scenery pieces may be loaded-in prior to your show. Schools may stack scenery and props but this must be done in an incredibly safe manner. The NCTC representative onsite will be the judge of this and may ask that you remove pieces from your storage space (and therefore from your show) if stacking does not appear to be safe.

General Safety: No participants may move major scenery pieces while barefoot or wearing open-toed shoes. Students may not run with scenery pieces. Absolutely no fire, flame, smoke, fog, haze, dry ice, pyrotechnics, smoking, electronic cigarettes, vaping, combustibles or other unreasonably dangerous matter may be brought into the host facility or used in the production. No real firearms may be used, and no blanks of any kind are permitted.

Come prepared to discuss and adapt any practical effects that may require extra clean-up or cause safety concerns to the actors, audience, or facilities. These may include but are not limited to: thrown or spilled food/liquid, or any other items that may put actors, audience, or facility at risk. 

Entrances from the House: If performers are making entrances from the house at the beginning of the play, they should allow plenty of time to start backstage and make their way to the back of the house. If there is no direct or safe path to the back of the house, performers may be permitted to stand at the back of the house prior to time starting. This decision will be made by the NCTC representative onsite.

No live animals may be used in your production. If a student requires a service animal in order to participate in the Festival, please contact NCTC.

At least one teacher or adult chaperone must be with your group at all times, including supervising load-in and load-out. If the teacher or primary chaperone leaves the Festival (with students still on campus), another adult chaperone must be designated and reported to the on-site NCTC representatives.

Please bring a poster for your show(s). Posters may not exceed 22×28 inches in size. These do not need to be professionally printed, they can be hand drawn; creativity is encouraged. If you are presenting 2 plays, you may bring 1 poster for each play. At the Festival, the host will hang your posters in the lobby and Celebration Stars will be sold. Celebration Stars are $1 each and students/teachers may write well-wishes and congratulatory comments on them and stick them on your show poster. Shoutout Celebration Stars will be sold for $5 and read onstage prior to each show (must be school-appropriate). You’ll be able to take your poster and stars home at the end of the Festival. This is a fun way to celebrate each other and has no impact on judging.

Parent Permission Form: Parent permission is required by NCTC, for each student participating in the Play Festival. This includes student actors, crew members, student directors, any student involved with your production. Teachers are asked to facilitate this process, to track the completion of forms, and to ensure all students/parents are in compliance with this rule.

Parents will complete a permission form via Jotform. Each teacher will receive a permission form link to share with students/parents, and a separate link to a spreadsheet to track forms for their students/parents. All forms must be completed by the announced deadline. Learn more here.

Program Pages: Teachers must upload a one-page program by the announced deadline.

Should the production contain any themes, language, activities, or subject matters that are not appropriate for young audiences, a notice to that effect must appear in the program. Be overly cautious here – include a warning for anything that might be construed as offensive, triggering or traumatic for young audiences. Also provide a warning if your performance uses strobe lighting or flashing light sequences. 

Please clearly indicate characters and performers on your program page, so adjudicators can make awards decisions. Download the Program Page Template.

If you are doing 2 shows at the Festival, when you upload your program pages, please indicate which show will be performed first and which second (#1 and #2) of your 2 time slots.

Representation matters. The NCTC Board of Directors has set a goal that our Middle School Play Festival stages accurately reflect and celebrate the overall demographics of our schools and communities. All participating schools are required to submit an online form for each production, indicating how each Play Festival show cast/crew demographics compare to their overall school demographics. If a school is doing two shows, the teacher should complete a separate form for each show. This information will be used as part of your Play Festival evaluation, on our updated adjudication form (more info below).

Public school teachers can find their school demographic information here (select your LEA at the top of the page). Individual student demographic data can be found in PowerSchool. If you do not have access to this data in PowerSchool, please connect with a school administrator who can assist you. Private school teachers should work with their administration to obtain accurate data.

Teachers who attend the Festival are eligible to receive CEU hours. The number of available hours will correspond with the number of plays at your regional site. For example, if your Festival has 8 shows, you may receive 8 CEU hours. NCTC awards hours, rather than credits, as policies for partial credit vary from district to district. You must be present during the entire Festival day, whether you are watching the shows or working with your students onsite. No partial credit will be given. Your NCTC onsite representative will have a sign-in sheet for CEU hours. They must witness your signature and attest your attendance. They will submit these signatures to the NCTC office and your certificates will be issued with your award certificates. In order to ensure credibility of the process, no certificates will be issued without your onsite signature.

Shooting video of your productions at the Festival is strictly prohibited. Each school will be permitted to designate 1 person (can be a chaperone or student) to take photographs of their production. The photographer will be limited to shooting in an area assigned by the NCTC representative, so as to not distract audience members and adjudicators. No flash may be used. No other audience members may take photographs or use a mobile device during performances. Following adjudication, the cast will come back onstage for a cast photo. If you would like a photo, make sure you are standing by and ready! Please inform students of these policies.

The North Carolina Theatre Conference works to ensure that our programs are available to all of the state’s citizens, including people with disabilities. If you wish to request assistance or have questions about accessibility for any of the Play Festival spaces, please contact NCTC Executive Director Angie Hays at angelahays@nctc.org.

Adjudication & Awards

Two adjudicators for each Festival will be chosen by the NCTC staff. Adjudicators will provide a positive experience for all participants, recognize hard work, celebrate achievement, and encourage further growth. After each performance, adjudicators will speak to the cast, crew, and director at the front of the house (with other schools observing). Adjudicators are not permitted to see a participant’s entry prior to the Festival performance.

  • The adjudicators will provide brief verbal feedback to the group, addressing the following items:
    1. In my opinion, the strongest acting/staging elements of this piece were…
    2. If you continue to work on this piece, I would suggest you concentrate on…
    3. When I think back and remember this show, what I’ll remember most is…
  • An awards ceremony will take place approximately 1 hour after the conclusion of the last play.
  • All awards are determined by the judges, unless otherwise noted.

We encourage your group to attend the entire Festival and watch every show! There will be a fun roll call before each show begins, and schools that are present for all performances will receive a Festival Spirit Award! By attending the full Festival, you are supporting other schools by being an enthusiastic audience; you are able to use the Festival as a tool to meet Essential Standards that focus on analysis; your students are able to learn from the adjudication after each performance;  and everyone will make new theatre friends!

Adjudicators will present Design and Production Awards and welcome nominations from teachers in this category. Teachers are encouraged to nominate students who have excelled in any non-acting production work, including (but not limited to) stage management, public relations, design, student direction, and playwriting.

Each school may submit two nominations per play. Teachers may nominate individual students or small teams (of up to 3 students) who worked in the same production role. Nominations must be submitted via an online form. Paper forms will no longer be accepted on-site.

10 awards will be presented for Excellence in Design and Production.

2 awards will be presented for Outstanding Achievement in Design and Production.

10 awards will be presented to individuals for Excellence in Acting.

2 awards will be presented to individuals for Outstanding Achievement in Acting.

2 awards will be presented for Excellence in Ensemble Acting.

1 award will be presented for Outstanding Achievement in Ensemble Acting.

These are “judge’s choice” awards and may honor excellence in a variety of ways. 10 awards will be presented.

3 awards will be presented, typically to educators.

2024 Middle School Play Festival