Dubbed the haiku of the American stage, 10-minute plays have been around only a short while. It all started informally at fringe festivals, then in 1977, the Actors Theatre of Louisville, K.Y., launched the Humana Festival of New American Plays with a section for 10-minute works.
The Durango Art Center will mount its fifth annual festival dedicated to the unusual, concentrated form this weekend.
Last winter, five 10-minute plays were chosen from a field of 117. Submitted by established and emerging playwrights from as far away as New Zealand and as nearby as Evergreen, the plays went through a tiered reading process under the direction of DAC Artistic Director Theresa Carson. Five finalists were chosen and received staged readings on May 29 at the center.
Four of those plays plus one addition will receive full productions over the weekend. The evening lasts about an hour, with short transitions between plays for set adjustments. If you’ve never been before, a 10-minute evening is an entertaining, fast-paced night of live theater.
“I’m really pleased with the selections this year,” Carson said in a recent interview.“Last spring, ‘Misery Therapy,’ Eddie Zipperer’s play, won the grand prize.
“‘Imagine That,’ by Stephen deGhelder, won the people’s choice award.”But one of the final plays, she added, didn’t sit right with Carson and company: J.H. Clayton’s “The Roommate.”
On reflection, Carson said, the work seemed confusing and “somehow, just not right for the fall festival.”
So an executive decision was made to replace it with another: James Lindheim’s “Man, Woman, Chicken, Dog.” Lindheim lives in Castle Valley, Utah, Carson said.
The plays are a mixture of comedy and serious drama with an emphasis on contemporary dilemmas. They include: “Bitten,” by Brooklynite Mackenzie McBride; “Imagine That,” by North Carolinian deGhelder; “Faulty Merchandise,” by Coloradan Scott Gibson; “Misery Therapy,” by Zipperer; and “Man, Woman, Chicken, Dog,” by Lindheim.
Directors include: Ginny Davis, Leah Brewer, Sarah Syverson, Marc Arbeeny and Mandy Gardner.
In 1977, when the 10-minute genre was introduced at the Humana Festival, it had limited goals. But it set a precedent for subsequent festivals all over the country: a call for scripts, tiered readings, a selection process, staged readings, and finally, fully-staged performances.
The idea has caught on, and the Actors Theatre has repeated the 10-minute play festival ever since, celebrating its 38th year a few months ago. I’ve been to the Louisville festival twice and never cease to wonder at what can be concentrated into 10 minutes.
Five years ago, thanks primarily to Dinah Swan, retired FLC drama professor, author and playwright, Durango joined the list of forward-looking theater cities by starting a 10-minute play festival. Swan brought her enthusiasm for the form from Oxford, Mississippi, where she had launched a similar project. In 2010, she approached Rochelle Mann, DAC board member at the time and professor of music at FLC, to start a 10-minute festival.
Mann agreed and chaired the DAC competition panel, attracting 92 scripts the first year. Five years later, here we are. If you haven’t been before, go.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, art historian and arts journalist.