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10 Jan 2014 4:20 PM | Anonymous
In the late 1990s, right out of the batter’s box and fresh from having taken playwriting classes in grad school, I got three long one-acts produced Off-Off-Broadway, by Love Creek Productions.  Then came a dry spell of ten years without a single other production and only a couple of readings.  I was baffled – had I just had beginner’s luck, and was I not really destined to be a playwright?

Now I look back with gained wisdom and realize this sudden success and then sudden demise was because I had started out writing several long, brand new plays, and then was just sending out the same old scripts over and over again – for ten whole years.  I did develop a new full-length in that period of time but it had no luck with Literary Managers, and so, when a playwright friend suggested I try writing ten-minute plays, I accepted the challenge.

But not unwillingly.  After all, how can a ten-minute play stand up to a full-length or a long one-act?  Could it be called serious writing?  And there was the problem of how to tell a whole story in such a short span of time as ten minutes – I hadn’t tried it before.

But I found I could often crank out a new draft of a short play in under an hour – one that I could actually take some pride in.  Before five years had gone by I had written over 60 ten-minute plays.  Writing all those short plays not only allowed me to take a slender plot and go to town with it for ten slim pages, but it enabled me to get many, many productions and readings which were not to come from the full-lengths.

I write short plays now because:
  1. They are fun
  2. Even a revision can take as few as 30 minutes, rather than hours or days
  3. There are many more opportunities for ten-minute productions than for longer pieces of work
  4. They allow me to tell a simple, funny or dramatic story in a fraction of the time it takes to tell a long one
  5. I have been able to turn several of them into substantial one-acts, after seeing their possibilities for development
  6. They have built my resume
  7. I get a charge every time I get one produced!
So I say, if you are mired in a fourth re-write of a full-length with no end to the revisions in sight, or if you have never tried anything shorter than a 45-minute one-act, try the ten-minute play.  You may find a use for memories or experiences or plots or characters you’ve thought of but couldn’t stretch into a full-length, and you may find yourself submitting them wildly and getting productions all over the country of new plays in a new form you’d never dreamed of trying before.  Gary Garrison’s A More Perfect Ten is a good book on the subject.

And now, as a result of all of this new writing, I search gladly for opportunities with themes.  Many theatres offer ten-minute festivals with themes or motifs.  This was another suggestion my playwright friend made – write for themes.  In the past eight years I have written for countless themes – holidays, Grand Guignol, horror, gay or LGBTQ, children’s theatre, weird takes on fairy tales, environmental issues, the superhuman, the art world, politics, and the list goes on. 

Writing for these opps has allowed me to branch out, and two of what I consider to be my best short plays were written for them - one a take on the painting Girl Before a Mirror, a Pablo Picasso work based on one of his mistresses, and another a wife’s description of her husband’s murder during the Parsley Massacre between Haiti and the Dominican Republic in 1937.  Both these topics required research and were enormously invigorating projects to work on, short as they were.  And both plays are as serious as anything I’ve ever written.

My Picasso play was produced by Short + Sweet in Australia, and the play about the Parsley Massacre was given a staged reading in New York by a group sponsored by Amnesty International – both opportunities I never would have had, had I not taken to writing the ten-minute play.  I also recently heard I will have a 10-minute political drama called AFTER THE DISSOLUTION produced by the Belarusian Dream Theater in Norway, in March 2014.  I consider these productions feathers in my playwriting cap.  And I earned a $100 check for a ten-minute play produced by Barrington Stage in western Mass. in 2013.

Take on the ten-minute play!  You may find new life for yourself as a writer.

© Martha Patterson. All rights reserved. This work may be republished only with full attribution to the copyright holder.


  • 06 Feb 2014 7:21 AM | Donna Hoke
    Couldn't agree more! I have more own little rant and compelling reasons to write short plays in the Nutshell Takeaway here:

    Perhaps the most important one is that making short-play connections opens full-length doors.
    Link  •  Reply
    • 06 Feb 2014 1:34 PM | Elana Gartner
      Ten minutes are so hard for me. I have two of them but they are just so difficult. And I do know that the economics of theater right now has forced the ten minute play to become enormously popular which I find frustrating (purely for selfish reasons not because I don't champion my colleagues' work). But I am a long-winded individual (as evidenced by this post) and ten minutes are such a huge challenge for that. And believe me...I have tried. Good on you for trying so hard, Martha!
      Link  •  Reply
      • 06 Feb 2014 5:10 PM | Donna Hoke
        Elana -- Do you know about Trade A Play Tuesday? ;)

        Link  •  Reply

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