Thursday, May 27, 2010

How do you write a good 10-minute play?

Ten-minute plays are popular these days for basic economic reasons: they are relatively cheap to produce and if you do an evening of 10-minute plays you can count on a decent attendance because most writers will invite friends and family.

But that doesn't mean a ten-minute play can't be a great work of art. I will admit I've sat through 10-minute plays that felt like an hour. But why were they bad? What went wrong? Or more importantly, for the plays that do work - what went right?

Here is a guideline I first created for a show of 10-minute plays I produced in 2008 called 10 Min Playfest

* Does the play pull me in right away?
There are only 10 minutes - the play has to pull you in right from the start.

* Does the play surprise me?
If the play is about something I've heard a hundred times already, I'll be bored. Or if it unfolds in predictable ways, I will be bored.

* Does the play make me laugh or well up? Or both?
Art must have an emotional impact.

* Does the play have a dramatic struggle?
People sitting around bickering is not a dramatic struggle. So many people don't seem to understand that.

* Does the play have vivid characters in compelling situations?
People sitting around bickering is not a compelling situation. Especially if the characters are called "man" and "woman." If the playwright can't be bothered to come up with a name for a character, it's usually a sign that the character is as generic as the label. This is especially true of a 10-minute play where you really don't have time for generic supporting characters.

* Does the play show more than tell? "Show, don't tell" has been said a million times and yet maybe about 20% of all the people who write plays - including lionized, famous playwrights - seem to get this.

* Does the play blow my mind through sheer funky originality?
This is the Holy Grail of ten-minute plays. I've seen only a handful of ten-minute plays that have blown my mind.

Here are three 10-minute plays that I believe work very well:

* ALMOST WATERSHEDS by Micharne Cloughley
* LOVERBOY by Michael Jalbert
* SINGERS by Thom Weidlich