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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."

The rule of thumb in writing a ten-minute play is not to exceed ten pages of script but this does not necessarily mean the play can be staged in ten minutes. Garrison said it is essential to get other people (not the playwright) to do a reading of the work before it is sent out for production consideration.

Ballroom.jpgThe Dresser asked Garrison to talk about the language of the ten-minute play, hoping to see if he thought the time constraint might affect the play stylistically. The Dresser has her own ideas about this form of play and thinks that a short story compares to a one-act play while a poem or sudden fiction compares to the ten-minute play. Garrison constructed an answer related to distinguishing the voices of the characters. He said he has gone to the extreme in writing his ten-minute play that he has whited out all the characters' names and then handed the draft play to a colleague to see if the colleague could tell how many characters speak in this work.

In Kelly Cherry's The Retreats of Thought, a collection of sonnets based on the field of philosophy, "What Matters" comes forward in the Dresser's sensibilities as a poem that aptly speaks to the dramatic compression that a ten-minute play must achieve in order to be successful. Cherry eloquently achieves compression by the strictures of a Shakespearean sonnet. (The rhyme scheme is a b a b c d c d e f e f g g.) However, the essential stuff of matter, no matter its bodily condition--sullied or solid as goes the argument in Shakespeare's longest play Hamlet and referred to in Cherry's poem--expands in the mind of listener. Therefore what one takes away and retains from any genre of art determines its success. For the Dresser's two cents, a ten-minute play tracks like a poem because every word must count in that contract with the audience that the play does not exceed its ten minute limitation.


What's matter but the stuff that takes up space:
a definition that will surely do
even for one who'd build an airtight case,
such as Hamlet judging his flesh too...too...
"sullied," some say, but let us say "solid,"
although, again, you know, it hardly matters.
Even the most crowded, vile, and squalid
den, compacted of addicts, outlaws, and squatters,
contains a whole unsettled, free frontier.
The body cartographs a world within,
oceans between tiny bones of the ear,
unconnected islands construed as skin,
and all that is, is so filled up with space,
we must be light and floating, fixed in place.

Kelly Cherry
The Retreats of Thought

Copyright © 2009 Kelly Cherry


Comments (1)

Important information here, well compressed to a juicy nugget of theater facts.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 12, 2011 2:56 PM.

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