The Playgoer: Do We Really Need Any More 10-Minute Plays?

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Do We Really Need Any More 10-Minute Plays?

From today:

The Tony-winning playwright John Guare is overseeing a national ten-minute play contest for MFA students in ten participating playwriting programs, culminating in a theatre festival in Aspen, CO.

The contest, officially titled The National "Play Right" M.F.A. 10-Minute Play Competition & Program, is run by the Aspen-based theatre company Theater

I fear this is a woefully misguided grant-inspired project, albeit perhaps well intentioned. Once everyone gave up on new funding for full productions of new plays, we settled first for readings, and now for bare bones stagings of 5-page skits.

Such projects, rather than encouraging and nurturing the American Theatre, only reinforce the low expectations and poverty already associated with the field.

What can be more marginal and useless for a playwright's career than a 10-minute play?


parabasis said...

I agree, Playgoer. Not a fan of the 10 minute play format, or festivals of said plays in general.

You think it's going to be like a meal made of appetizers (Who wouldn't want dumplings, beef satay and edamame?) but it never really ends up like that...

J. Kelly said...

If only more plays lasted just 10 minutes...
Some of Beckett's best work is about 10 minutes long. I suppose it says something that he's the only playwright I can think of that does short well, though. (David Ives, maybe?)
But ten minutes is plenty of time if you use it well. In film, people generally start with shorts and then move on to features; we don't think that's weird, even if very few people actually watch shorts.
Seems like a fair idea for MFA students. If this was for established playwrights or graduates, I think I would agree more with what you're saying...

Erik said...

If anyone can oversee a 10 minute play festival, though, it's Guare. His are masterpieces. I've directed two and find them to be great bits of theater.

Anonymous said...

These festivals can be crippling to a dramatist's imagination, though. You're often limited to a festival light-and-sound plot (not to mention a miniscule budget), and sometimes dramatic moments need to be spent out through duration. Not to mention that it doesn't favor the playwrights as much as the festival itself; the identity of the evening lies in the brand of the producing organization, not the artist.

Malachy Walsh said...

On the one hand, I have to say, after writing many many many 10 minute plays, I don't have much passion for the 10 minute play left in me.

And I'd love to be negative on the 10 minute play thing.

On the other hand, it was a 10 minute play organization in San Francisco (Playground) that got me back into writing for the stage - and enjoying it. A lot.

It can be - and has been - very gratifying.

As a past-producer of a 10 minute play festival, I can also say it would be nice to see festivals built around a theme or idea so the evenings aren't just, and then there's this play written by Bob after this play written by Susan. My theatre company produced a summer shorts festvial called "Ladies and Gentlemen... the Opposite Sex." Three male writers wrote plays exclusively for women. Three female writers wrote plays exclusively for men. The idea of the evening was larger than any one play so the whole evening felt bigger.

Naked Angles does some themed festivals like this. Wasn't the Standards of Indecency (or whatever it was called) thing also like this?

Ensemble casting also helps. As does having directors work on more than one piece.

Anything to make the evening feel like a planned dinner not an a la carte nightmare.

Finally, 10 minute plays can be used by writers for their careers. My finalist status for the Heideman at Humana got some of my full lengths into a new consideration set there. Etc.

So, it's not all bad. In fact, maybe they're not marginal and useless at all.

Anonymous said...

Yes -- enough already!

how about a Four Hour Play Festival instead, to teach people to think bigger?

Anonymous said...

Please. Not a four hour play festival. I can hardly stand to be in a theatre with most full lengths for more than 20 minutes!

How 'bout finding some dramatists who just know how to write something more interesting than what I can find on TV!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Saying a 4 Hour play festival would teach people to think bigger is foolish.

By that logic, William Carlos Williams THE RED WHEELBARROW is small minded because it's short.