I was contacted today by a friend who is a company member of a very good theater company about submitting a 10 minute play to their theatre on a specific topic.
As I said, I finally cracked and could not take it anymore. I replied:
Dear So and So:
I am grateful you contacted me with your request for a 10 minute play.
I have a lovely play that fits your subject description to a “T” but it is 15 pages and probably would run between 15-18 minutes.
I am so sick of hearing about 10 minute plays.
There is no time limit on beauty.
There is no time limit on theatre.
These are concepts thought up by empty-headed producers/bureaucrats; not true theatre people.
I have been to 10 minute plays that seemed to have lasted for hours and I have been to 3 hour plays that seemed to have lasted for 10 minutes.
Why not just ask for short one-act plays? The writer can use their own judgment/sense, and the theatre can use their own judgment/sense of beauty and theatrical experience.
Let me know.
Thankfully and respectfully she replied and said she would let me know.
I’ll keep you posted.
This 10 minute play stuff is a gimmick ( or “gimmicktry” as a youthful friend of mine used to say) that has worn itself out in the theatre. God bless Actors Theatre of Louisville for coming up with the popular but now what has become an Antediluvian concept. Let’s hope ATL can put a silver bullet through the heart of this now deadly Draculan idea. I – nor does anyone - go to the theatre to think about time. I go to the theatre to forget about time. “Time” was Shakespeare’s worst enemy. And here we have theatres institutionally thinking about certifying playwriting to time! Give me a break.
You think Tracy Letts was worried about time when he wrote “August, Osage County?” Or O’Neill when he wrote “Long Day’s Journey Into Night?”
Just a few years ago at a small theatre in the East Village in NYC, I ran into Donald Moffat who was in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” in Dublin at the Gate Theatre produced in 1998. He played the father, James Tyrone. 12 inches from him in the very tight aisle during intermission of the play we were both attending, I looked him right in the eye and said, “I saw you in ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ at the Gate.” He looked back at me not sure how to respond during a great silent theatrical pause. (As the actor that I am, I played the silence it for all it was worth.) I then just quietly and simply said “Thank you.” Well, Jesus Christ, tears welled up in his eyes! We then had a great conversation. And he sought me out later during the next intermission to give me a tidbit about that particular production. How many Americans had seen that play? Very few. But here was an anonymous audience member in a small theatre in NYC who was deeply moved and emotionally destroyed by that 4 hour Dublin production thanking a premiere actor well into his 60's for his part in that performance...and he wells up in his eyes like a young actor who had never gotten a compliment before. THAT is THEATRE!
Now to the Forum members: I and others have read one-page plays on this Forum such as matthew matthew matthew’s “A Little Soul” that we all have concurred was a soul-stirring one page play. If one were not moved by it, they would be living in the land of the Undead. But it was not about time or length. It was about theatre.
I ask for Asphalt Jungle Shorts, between 35 seconds and 10 minutes, 15 if it's really great. The time limit is mostly in consideration to how many people can crane their heads to watch a suicidal woman half out of a factory window for more than say, seven minutes.
Thank you for your rant. It was honest, sincere, and I couldn’t agree with you more. There is a place for plays of all lengths, but the preponderance of submission opportunities looking only for 10-minute plays is astounding. They have become weeds in the flower bed of one-act plays, creating a ‘made-to-order’ mindset in many a playwright.
We are, at the end of the day, storytellers. Your story should last as long as it takes you to complete the tale you wish to tell. The last thing you should be doing is editing and abridging your work for fear of not finding enough marketing opportunities for it once it’s complete.
I’ve even seen submission opportunities from producing organizations that state quite vehemently that any play submitted that is one page more or one page less than 10 will be discarded. To my mind, this has less to do with theatre and more to do with Chicken McNuggets, with every offering formed into bite-size pieces of comforting uniformity.
I have to say...Great rant!
Ranting in the true tradition of 'pissed off playwrights'....Bravo!
You're quite right. As with most things....it's not the length that counts, it's what you do with it!
However, I fear that the basic truth behind demands for '10 minute pieces' is purely the evil wraith of Commercialism rearing its ugly head!
Producers like to have their art in convenient 'timed' slots so they can organize their evening. 10 minute plays, 2 minutes between equals 5 plays per hour.
If they stipulate a rigid '10 minutes' then they don't have to work out which 12 minute play will go with an 8 minute or a 15 minute with a five minute etc etc.
This is definitely an interesting discussion that i've had before. Last year when I was the judge of a 10-minute play competition, 2 of my favorites, including my favorite overall, were disqualified for not fitting the 10-minute description.
I suggested a fast performance, but what do I know?
I produced a short play festival for my local group last year. I have to say that what might be a tired and worn out idea in New York was an absolute first in Knutsford, UK and it excited our members and the local community alike.
It is true, though. that sticking rigidly to ten minutes is ridiculous. I think my wording was something like 'up to about 10 minutes' and we had plays from about one to fifteen minutes in the final. The only play that we banned due to it's length was a full length that would have run for about two hours!
Essentially I agree with you IMR, the opportunities for writers to have one act and full length plays performed is being diminished by the popularity of the short play format but I do worry that if theatres stopped doing short play festivals they would stop offering opportunities for non established playwrights altogether.
The 10-minute play is, I feel, designed to let theatres pack seats. If you run a night of 10-minute plays you've probably got eight to ten casts and so you've got eight to ten casts' worth of friends and parents coming to see it. Pack, pack, pack. I don't think the general playgoing public is all that fired up about short play fests. And I agree that some of the novelty has certainly worn off.
I never write to a form or a time limit. If a play's arc only has 8-12 pages worth of story to it, then lo and behold I've written a 10-minute play. (And I know that I've got a boatload of opps I can send it to, until the bloom totally falls off the 10-minute rose.) If it goes longer, there it is...a longer play. I think setting out to write a 10-minute play is what grabs the creative urge by the throat and makes things difficult and leads us to perhaps prematurely hate the "form."
I'm jumping in here a bit late but thought I would add this for those of us who don't have a pile of full lengths "yet" to our credit but still like to see our names on a program with the shorter pieces:
I packaged up some of my "shorter" plays (longest one runs about 22 minutes) and shipped them off to the local Community College Theatre Director w/a proposition: Asked him if he'd like to put on a two-nighter Fund Raiser for his theatre department by presenting an evening of my plays. Told him I wouldn't meddle and did not want to be involved but would be happy to be around if his "student/actors, directors, set designers" had any questions. Told him I was "easy" and b/c I owned all the rights, we could work out $$ if he was truly interested. I was thinking a 60/40 split might be appropriate??
He loved the idea and asked me to ship over what I thought was appropriate for him to fill. Told me he was making plans for next season and he'd take a serious look at my stuff.
Will let folks know how this turns out. I actually got the idea after reading the original post. And as I agree with everything said in this thread, I wanted the little folks to take heart.