I finished my latest masterpiece a couple of weeks back but I've had trouble convincing myself that it is finished. I don't mean that it is ready for performance. It needs re-reading, polishing, spell checking and all the rest but essentially it is now a complete play. And yet..
I have had this nagging feeling that it is not complete and tonight I think I've realised why. My question is this. Is 15000 words too short for a full length play? How long would that run for? OK. That's two questions, but I have found myself seriously considering adding another scene in order to bring it up to the standard 20000 word mark. I'm worried people will think less of it because it is short.
Perhaps if anyone can think of any really great plays that come in at about 15000 words I'll be re-assured.
I think there is a bit of danger and accessing the lengths of piece. When the character's journey is over typically I find that its over. Attempt to fill time only work if it adds to character development or motivation that ties into the character's journey. Sometimes when text is added for time it feels tacked on and artificial. However this is just a novice's opinion. (One of my favorite plays I saw at competition was 10 minutes long and it was truly profound in its meaning)
Sorry I feel as though I go on my soap box a bit. I just feel that sometimes we strive to make something that shouldn't be full length full length. Of course the opposite is true as well resulting in mudled pieces that are too quickly paced for the audience to follow.
P.S. The minute to minute and a half rule of thumb guide works unless a piece is monologue heavy. One of my pieces ended up being longer than excpected because of this.
I have produced shows full length shows as short as 50 minutes but it is hard to convince audiences that they got their money's worth a that length: Show starts at 7:30 out at 8:20 - not much of a night out at the theater.
We are currently presenting "Brilliant Traces" which runs 93 minutes without an intermission. Audiences are fine with that (including going that long without a bathroom break). We just closed "Arthur, The Begetting" which ran well over two and a half hours including intermission - start at 7:30 out at 10:15. That was pushing the time limit on the other side. I know there are far longer plays out there but today's audiences seem to like two hour max plays.
My personal feelings is that less than 90 minutes (including a short intermission) is about the minimum for a night at the theater. The max is two and a half hours including intermission. Just my thoughts. Would I ever do a shorter or loinger play? Of course but it has to be compelling theater - like "Arthur" was.
We often put shorter (less than an hour) plays together for a night of theater and that seems to work well also.
I really believe a play is as long as it is. Period. I like what Tod said about a characters' journey being over.
I can sense, as well, when someone was compelled to lengthen a play. It feels tacked on.
Some playwrights are doing sometihing really clever, and sending a short full-length in with a short piece that compliments it.
Picasso at Lapine Agile is about an hour...and it does pretty well. My friend directed it, and was concerned that the audience wouldn't feel as if they got their money's worth. She charged more than usual for tickets, and when the play was over, the room was quickly transformed into a cabaret, with the bar on stage actually being the bar. The audience got a plate of brie and grapes and crackers with their ticket, a band quickly set up, a nice sexy jazz singer and the bar opened.
As a producer, it's all about getting creative around the creativily.
I am most inclined to agree with Paddy. I suppose it boils down to reasons; reason for writing a play; reason to needing it to fit into a particular genre or length. If commercialism is a reason, or if extending or shorting a play strictly for length (as opposed to content); then, as many have said, 85 min to 2 hours is full length, etc., etc., etc., or thereabouts. If the reason for writing a play is because one can't help it; because there is something needing to be expressed and adding or subtracting gets in the way of that expression or, God forbid, it the way of Art -- then I'd throw my two cents in with Paddy's. Of course, there is no reason one cannot write for both. I have set out writing a play strictly for commercial reasons, and, sometimes, they have paid-off. I have written plays that have never been produced, a very few have ever seen, in full knowledge while writing it that, more than likely, it will never be produced. It didn't matter; it doesn't matter. Reasons -- begin with reasons.
Thanks Paddy and Edd. I can see how the Art v. Commercialism question would make it impossible to hit on an ideal length for a play. I suppose I'm trying to gauge what is acceptable, being new to this form.
Being in the UK I will probably try subbing this piece to the BBC who have many different length slots for radio plays. It's looking like 90 minutes is the length it wants to be so I'll aim for that.
I am first in line when it comes to the play is as long as it takes to tell the story. I just finished directing a play, which will remain unnamed, in which there was a scene stuck in the middle of the play that not only had no context with the rest of the play but was of a totally different style than of the rest of the play. It was like Death of A Salesman having a scene with Martians visiting earth.
There are not many plays that are not improved by some judicious cutting. It is a whole lot easier to shorten a long play then to stretch a short play.
Doug B wrote: I just finished directing a play, which will remain unnamed, in which there was a scene stuck in the middle of the play that not only had no context with the rest of the play but was of a totally different style than of the rest of the play. It was like Death of A Salesman having a scene with Martians visiting earth.
Wow, sounds really bizarre. What do you think happened there?
Last edited on Tue Sep 28th, 2010 11:35 am by poptart
I've been perfectly happy with a bunch of 65 or 70 minute intermissionless full-length plays - and have not felt cheated at all by the length. I have also not returned after a 70 minute first act that seemed bloated and dull and found that I'd rather have a beer than return for another hour of slow-moving angst. For those overlong plays I have felt ill-used because my time and money were ill-spent.
So there you go. Too short is always preferable to too long in my book.
My New York City accountant, who I have been with for 32 years, is one of my dearest friends, and he only handles Show Business people, theatres, etc. Once said, after walking out at intermission of a terrible production of a play, "They can have my money, but they can't steal my time."
We went and had some drinks instead.
My wife, after we went to a prominent outdoor summer theatre in Wisconsin, made us leave at half-time. (She was right.) We went to a remote country road in the middle of nowhere, got out of the car, lay on the ground and looked up at the most gorgeous summer sky with the Milky Way dripping stars into the horizons, crickets chirping, a soft breeze blowing over a wheat field, and she said, "This is the best Second Act I have ever seen."
She was right. And I always think of that summer sky when I am at a horrible or less than mediocre production. My rule is "If the production is not elucidating anything of the playwright, or if the play has nothing to elucidate despite the production, I am outta here."
I have lived by my accountant's motto ever since. Life is too short.
I just leave at half-time.
Will post more on this topic later. I am going to bed.
There are plays, several I know of, but I'm having a brain fart at the moment so I can't remember titles, that are so long there is a dinner break before continuing. I'm quite serious. Some of our more knowledgeable members will have some examples in that regard. What I do know is - it better be the next Angels in America, or a Pulitzer worthy piece of work - and it would help if you were already well known.
I think, in the most general of terms, just about everybody here would say, in the vicinity of, more or less, most approximately, as several have already said, 2 hours, or so.
For the contemporary length record there is The Coast of Utopia which was done as three separate plays and ran a total of nine hours usually over three days but there were at least a couple of performances that put all three together.
Book-it in Seattle is running Cider House Rules part 1 and part 2. They ran Part one several months ago, now they are doing part two but on at least some Saturdays they run the two shows back to back - part one as a matinee and part two as the evening show.
Several of Eugene O'Neill's plays run over four hours. Originally The Iceman Cometh ran five hours plus three intermissions. In the latest Broadway incarnation it ran four hours and fifteen minutes with two intermissions - a friend told me that one of the intermissions was a long dinner intermission.
A couple of years ago I saw a production of Jeffry Hatcher's Murderers which ran a two hours and fifteen minutes WITHOUT an intermission. Believe me - we were all floating long before the end of the play. (Three 45 minute monologs.) It was a new play then. I hope he shortens it before I ever see it again.
I have to echo the others: A play should be as long as it takes to tell the story. Regardless of how long or short it is, if it is compelling theater, it will be presented.
If I can, I use a word count rather than a page count to determine running time. Unfortunately most published scripts are not in a format that yields a word count. I have had good luck with 165 words per minute - plus or minus depending on the number and length of stage directions.
I believe it is helpful to have a specific number so one doesn't send one's play to a theatre that is not receptive on the basis of length. Unfortunately, many theatres saying they want full-length plays don't say on their website how long they consider to be full-length. One might try to suss it out from their production history, but, again, many theatre websites don't include a production history.
That said, I think 90 minutes would be accepted as full-length by virtually all theatres, 70 minutes by a growing number of theatres and 45-60 minutes only for special cases, including the aforementioned Picasso at the Lapin Agile or Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape.
2-1/2 hours is not unusual and I've seen plays much longer including The Lily's Revenge by Taylor Mac (4-1/2 hours) and Passion Play by Sarah Ruhl (3 hours). I believe Homebody/Kabul by Tony Kushner runs 3-1/2 and others have given long examples. But I suspect max for an unknown playwright would be about 2 hours.
My own play Rice Kugel ran 110 minutes in staged reading, but from watching the audience it seemed to be 10 minutes too long in the first act, and they were confused about the ending in the second act. So I wound up cutting 10 minutes off the first act and adding 5 minutes to the second, for a new estimated length of 105 minutes.
I'd recommend running your play by an audience in the form of a reading before you go adding content for the sake of length. If they express wanting to know more about something, that might be the key as to what might need to be added. But if they are satisfied you add at your peril.
I'll note August Wilson's plays, which I love, tend to the long side.
Last edited on Tue Jul 5th, 2011 02:58 am by Chas Belov
JustGoWithIt wrote: While we're on this subject...what would you guys consider to be the MAXIMUM length for a play?
Seriously, Hamlet, unabridged. That play goes on about 4 hours at modern pacing. Watch the Kenneth Braga version, which is the only filmed version that is unabridged.
Length by page count is not accurate. My current work is 97 pages, but approaching the 3 hour mark because it's a musical. There's one scene which is a page on the script but will go near 4 minutes because of the music on it. Also, the play is written in iambic pentameter so page count doesn't even accurately reflect word count.
The only way to be sure is to do a cold reading with a stopwatch. That will get you to within 15 minutes or so, depending on how long transitions take. If you have a play that doesn't have scene variety then a cold read will get you spot on.
In creative work in general it is better to write more than you'll need, then prune back. When you have to begin cutting honestly good dialog because the play doesn't have room for it by time then you've reach the catbird seat in the process. For example, by the second draft of the last 10 minute play I did took 30 minutes to read.
Carving down gives better results in my opinion. So muncy - finish out a draft and don't worry about the word count yet. Until the play feels done expand it. Worst case scenario you've written two plays and will need to break the work in half.
There is no real max or min - unless you are going into one-act play festivals which mostly require setting, performing and clearing to be 1 hour and some have a minimum length around 20mins. I have seen plays in two parts amounting to 6 hours or more and wished they would never end and plays of 15 minutes that were at least 14:30 too long ... Up to around 80 mins it is best to play without an interval, after that, audience bladder capacity comes into play ;-)