What Mattered at the first Dramatists Guild Conference
So what is this thing called a ten-minute play?
On June 10, 2011, the Dresser sashayed into a conference room so crowded that she had to take a seat on the floor behind the speaker Gary Garrison, author of Perfect 10:
Writing and Producing the 10-Minute Play as well as the Executive Director of The Dramatists Guild's Creative Affairs. The room was meant maybe for 100 people sitting on chairs, but in short order Garrison's talk Demystifying the 10-minute Play was moved to the ballroom where possibly 300 or more writers convened on the second day of the first Dramatists Guild of America conference: Playwrights in Mind: A National Conversation.
Garrison said the ten-minute play was a good way to get your story out. However, he warned that "shorter is much harder." He also said this is a great way to put many more actors, directors, writers, etc. to work. And he warned again, that the ten-minute play is harder for everyone involved, but it is phenomenon gaining momentum with many opportunities.
Among a theatrical collection of anecdotes--at heart Garrison is an impassioned actor, he made three points about ten-minute plays that fell into these categories: theater as the expressive medium versus other genres, writerly passion, and structure. Number one on his list came in the form of a question: why does this work belong in the theater and no where else? No where else includes why couldn't the work be better served by being on television or in a movie house as a film?
Then he proceeded to talk about the play The Common Pursuit by Simon Gray where a time shift occurs visibly on stage like an earthquake, such that the audience experiences the six middle-aged people who meet and then relive an argument in the college that tore them apart in both the present and the past. The Dresser has never seen this play, but Garrison's description made it viscerally evident that the stage set walls shook and one saw the characters shedding fat suits and wigs as they all transformed into their younger selves.
Point two is as one would expect. He said write about something for which you care deeply while asking these questions: what is it you want your audience to think about and why are you writing this?
Point three included stress on a beginning, middle, end, but offered the counter solution of playwright Caryl Churchill in her play Top Girls where the structure of the play revolves around a dinner party and not the tradition beginning-middle-end structure. Garrison also emphasized that the conflict must be made known within the first two pages of the play.
Of course, any of these points concerning theater viability, passion for the subject, or structure could apply to any form of play be it ten minute, one act, or full length. Only when Garrison said that the writer of a ten-minute play must honor the contract and ensure the entire play only takes ten actual playtime minutes did he say something that applies only to this form of theater writing. Then Garrison told a story on himself about how he got a call from a Boston group running a ten-minute play marathon. The caller said Garrison's ten-minute play clocked in at seventeen minutes. He said he had to go back to why he wrote the play in order to chop it down to the allowable ten minutes and he had to be vigilant for "writing [that was] off the bone."