Ten-Minute Play Tips

May 23, 2012

I like to call ten-minute plays the "the haiku of playwriting."  I love writing them.  Why?  One, it's possible to finish one quickly. Sorry, you probably can't write it in ten minutes, but two or three hours will do if you're on a roll.  Two, there are lots of production opportunities for ten-minute plays.  Ever since the Actors Theatre of Louisville started the National Ten-Minute Play Contest, the form has been in vogue, and theatres have since recognized that if they have a short play festival, they can include lots of writers, directors and actors, all of whom will get their friends to buy tickets.  Three, I genuinely love the form.  A ten-minute play isn't a skit.  It's a complete play, with a beginning, middle and end, told in ten minutes.

Want to write your own ten-minute play?  A few tips:

  • Ten-minute plays are usually about one thing. For example, in A-Bomb Wedding, a pair of young twentysomethings are desperately searching for significant others in a convenience store.  Or in The Cooking Gene, it's all about what happens when a high school student wants his boyfriend to be his "husband" for a home ec project.
  • Economy is key.  Begin your play as late as possible in the action, and remember that every word counts.  No time for lengthy exposition here--instead, develop story and character at the same time, just like Shakespeare.
  • Keep it simple.  You're going to be on a bill with other plays, so avoid elaborate sets or tech.  Personally, I write all my ten-minute plays with one setting and a single, continuous scene.

At its best, a ten-minute play can indeed be a beautiful haiku for the stage:  simple, elegant and powerful.


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