In less than a month, the deadline for the Durango Arts Centers national 10-Minute Play Contest will be upon us.
Thats still plenty of time to write or rewrite a play of 10 or fewer pages, and I hope Durango writers will belly up. Yes, its a national contest with a $500 prize, but the festival that produces the annual winner has the flexibility to add local writers plays to the bill.
I asked my wife, Dinah Leavitt Swan, an award-winning playwright with a Ph.D. in theater and author of 19 10-minute plays, what is essential to creating a 10-minute play. Heres what I think she said:
You need one idea. Theres no time to develop much else. Your story will be told by two-to-four characters whose actions will demonstrate your idea. Remember, show dont tell. Create characters with strong desires. If a character only has a few lines, dump em and find another way to do what they did.
Next, plays employ dialog. The talking is real time and all-in-one scene unity of time, place and action. Dont stop for a time lapse or location change. Avoid mere talking heads by giving the characters something appropriate to do. Dont write stage directions except essentials such as she falls out the window, or he exits followed by a bear.
Conflict. Lots of tension of all kinds. Imagine if Hamlet didnt think his daddy had been murdered, or what if the plant in Little Shop of Horrors reached maturity and stopped? Snore, snore. Exciting theater is about conflict, which in a short plays starts on Page 1. A crisis looms for somebody from the get-go.
Endings of successful short plays usually involve a twist, two if possible. Something surprising happens or something isnt as the audience expected a rational revelation thats shocking or delightful that elicits an emotion.
As a judge and former competition director, Ive read well over 1,000 10-minute plays and recommend avoiding private, personal experience. Particular angst is rarely universal. Also, dont preach anything.
Finally, dont obsess about form. Google play writing format.
These are brief descriptions of some 10-minute plays Ive loved:
Two sisters argue over closing their night-club act involving the giant movie moth, Mothra. One wants to marry and have a life, but the other wants to wait for the real Mothra to deliver them to the fantastic Infant Island where they will live happily-ever after. Sister 1 leaves. The play ends with the sound of approaching gigantic beating wings.
Civil war re-enactors relish battlefield glories until they realize a time warp has slid them into the real deal where there are no heroes.
A father, ditched at Disneyland by his disgruntled teen, encounters a disillusioned Tinkerbelle who having left Neverland has aged. Dad decides to believe in fairies and escape with Tink.
A newly dead black-opera star wakes in the family crypt to find that the dead relatives are white and racist. In this underworld, praise from the living earns points toward the Day of Reckoning, but criticism loses points. Eternity with these folks and rules isnt promising.
Thanks, Dinah. The deadline for entries is Feb. 10.
Terry Swan is the president of the board of directors for the Durango Arts Center. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.