As someone who tends to write about issues and topics based in real, momentous events, I couldn’t say no when asked to judge a 9/11 Playwriting Contest. They’d originally asked Simon Levy of the Fountain Theatre, so I had pretty big shoes to fill! I was really curious as to how writers would take up the challenge of 9/11 in ten minutes.
The second judge and I were instructed to listen to the play, and not judge based on either performance or level of readiness. In that manner, the evening was exactly as I expected: uneven in terms of who was off-book, staged, etc., but amazing as to the power of the scripts, diversity of topics, and some really meaningful and excellent performances.
A few things that occurred to me while judging this contest:
- Sometimes just two people connecting on a bench is more meaningful than a gun.
- Monologues are not very interesting when the title tells me everything you’re going to say.
- Watching a play knowing you have to rate it 1-10 is not as pleasurable, but does call for more attention to detail.
- Distinguishing between your preference of play and the better-written of plays = two very different things.
- Long-term affects of disasters like 9/11 cause writers and artists to explore empathy.
- The above is especially true regarding soldiers. I was incredibly impressed with the variety of soldier characters.
- Repetition is not very interesting in a ten-minute time-frame. Better to be short than repeat yourself.
- An element of surprise is especially vital in ten minutes.
- Coupled with the last point, don’t tell me what your play is about in the first ten minutes.
Honestly, I could go on and on. The important part is that I think writers should try to judge playwriting contests, or be part of the readers’ teams, as much as possible. Putting yourself into the shoes of someone who has some element of power over your career illuminates some very key and important ways to improve your writing.
Share your experiences being involved in ten-minute or any playwriting contests below.