Tag Archives: ten minute plays

But do they care?

A lot can happen in ten minutes or less:

A monster attack

A car crash

A terminal diagnosis

The end of the world

The severance (or start) of an intimate relationship

And yet I’ve wondered if I expect too much, as a writer and as an audience member, of the increasingly ubiquitous ten-minute play, because I tend to like it ALL to happen (not necessarily the above, but events with comparable import). In earnest — rather than overt absurdity. In the same play. In ten minutes or less.

Tall order, but why not? What are the obstacles, but clear conflict, oppressive time constraints (or the proverbial ticking time bomb), and the je ne sais quoi required in order to make audiences care about the people and action at work in a compressed and short period of time.

OR is it really je ne sais quoi? Can it be mechanized, the art of making people care?

Well, since the world of politics is top of mind these days and is entirely about mechanics, for ghits and shiggles, I thought I’d compare some strategies for delivering a short stump speech designed to make people care with those that might be used effectively in the construction of an event-packed ten-minute play.

Did a bit of reading, Martha Nussbaum, Chip and Dan Heath, etc., etc. Some tactics that came up recurringly:

  • Highlight current problem(s) with emphasis, clarity and precision: check
  • Provide vivid details whenever possible: makes things seem real, credible; sure
  • Lean more on emotion over facts: in the case of the play, less exposition, more dialogue that reveals character truths; makes characters sympathetic
  • Reference the “challenge plot” when telling a story: make stakes high, obstacles ever daunting, with protagonist overcoming them in the end; eh, sure
  • Reference Associations/Use a celebrity or known figure: using something people already care about; I’ve done this (presented actual public figure as lead character), have seen it done; ultimately, it largely depends on the figure – my references tend to be obscure, but in mainstream cases, some recognition, for better or worse, is likely to produce some “care” results
  • Give audience ownership of what they’re hearing: can be endeavored in many ways, some interactive/immersive; interesting to chew on
  • Use specific names: (“I was talking with Frank Anderson of Davenport, Iowa, recently, who lost his farm . . .” comes to mind); personalizes things, makes whole presentation familiar

Alas, as the adage is “we’re all so different,” and it’s true, I suppose, that many of us are, what makes one person care may differ largely from that which keeps the person in the seat next to her invested.

That said, perhaps we’d be stronger politicians, we ten-minute playwrights, focusing a bit on a few of these as we go about our literary way.

Judging a 9/11 Playwriting Contest

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.