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June 12, 2011

What Mattered at the first Dramatists Guild Conference

So what is this thing called a ten-minute play?

GGClose.jpgOn 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? GGinBallroom.jpg

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."

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June 22, 2011

Lost & Found Items at 2011 Source Festival

The Dresser suffered a well-I-never moment June 18, 2011, when she attended the Source Festival's "Lost & Found" segment of its 10-minute plays. The Festival producers failed to get on stage Eric Pfeffinger's The Truth about Tiny Tim, the sixth and final play of a set called "Lost & Found." The Source representative would only say that conflicts happen when you have a festival that is so tightly scheduled.


Hello? Was there a discount offered if a person attending this performance wanted to see The Truth about Tiny Tim? None that the Dresser heard about. What she did hear was Christmas music as she filed out of the theater somewhat stunned. Was this part of the theater experience? Would Tiny Tim jump out at us in the lobby? After all, when the audience arrived to find their seats, it was apparent that there was an actor sitting in the front row of the three-sided seating arrangement. This black-bearded man in a 19th century suit clenched a curved pipe in his mouth. More on this shortly. Later, the Dresser was resoundingly surprised to see three women dressed in exactly the same outfit sitting one each in sections 1, 2, and 3 of the audience bleachers. More on this too. Never fear, knowing that there were actors in the audience is unlikely to ruin the experience of seeing either of these plays with which these characters are associated.


All presented before the intermission, Principles of Dramatic Writing by Steve Moulds, Jou Eat Vhat Jou Are by Matthew Ivan Bennett, and Language Monkey by Juanita Rockwell share a playwrighting approach in common--in some fashion, these plays deconstructed language.

Principles of Dramatic Writing deals with a precocious young student writer who gets to study with her literary idol only to discover all too soon that he is more interested in putting the moves on than teaching her. Little by little she pares down what he says and ends up laughing in his face. What made this short play vibrant was that Carina Czipoth made Zoe, an alternately naïve and worldly character full of sparkle and spit.

Source Festival 10-Minute Play Jou Eat Vhat Jou Are. Photo by C. Stanley PhotographySm.jpgJou Eat Vhat Jou Are is most notable for its costumes. Director Natsu Onoda Power does a good job with visual imagery--Pig's Feet (Daniel Mori) wears a shocking pink head-to-toe body-stocking, including pink belt and goggles, Jung (Michael Rodriguez is Carl Jung, the pipe-smoking character met in the audience) is the language deconstructor who presumably gives us the broken-English title of the play, Eater (Mikey Cafarelli) is the bare-chested barbarian, and Stage Directions (Jacob Yeh) is as his name suggestions, the manager of the play who continuously chomps crispy pork rinds. The dialogue is barely understandable and, most likely, mere annoying banality if one were tuned into the words. With its kitsch pig puppet show, knife thrusts, and bumbling Dr. Jung, it makes for a chaotic 21st century burlesque.

Language Monkey goes for a serious but irreverent dramatic line. The piece deals with three grownup siblings gathered at their mother's coffin. Mom (played by Amy Thompson, Marilyn Bennett, and Martha Karl, yes these are the three women dressed in the same outfit sitting in the audience) is the topic of conversation and she is the person who cautions her daughter Delia (Lisa Hodsoll) to watch her language. Monkey is Mom's name of endearment for Delia. It is hard to say why the playwright divides Mom into three players. If Ms. Rockwell meant to have a different version of Mom for Delia and each of her two brothers, that did not come across.Source Festival 10-Minute Play Language Monkey. Photo by C. Stanley Photography. (3)Sm.jpg If the playwright meant to create a larger than life character that was the sum of the three voices playing Mom, that also did not come across. Yet, the Dresser found the sum total of the 10-minute play moving. Maybe it had something to do with the siblings writing off how Mom could not tell a proper joke. "Who needs the set up? It's all in the punch line."


Without having seen all three plays, it is hard for the Dresser to know what the producers had in mind for the second half of "Lost & Found." If she were to guess, it would be something along this line of thinking--things are not what they seem. The Two Ufologists by Nicholas Gray is a case of frustrated love. T (Raven Bonniwell) is clearly hung up on Eli (Luke Cieslewicz). Eli is passionate only about his desire to see UFOs and the aliens that come with those spaceships. One is never sure why T would put up with such an insensitive clod as Eli. Is it possible that he is the only man left on Earth? Is T an alien? Probably none of the above. The Dresser thinks Director Timmy Metzner allowed too long an unanimated silence at the opening of the play when that time could have been used to establish some kind of body language addressing the question of aliens or love sickness.Source Festival 10-Minute Play The Two Ufologists. Photo by C. Stanley PhotographySm.jpg

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