Every year, Flagstaff Theatrikos hosts a 10-minute playwriting contest, and this year I intend to enter. I’ve submitted plays in past contests, but they all had one thing in common: there was too much in the plot to fit into ten minutes.
The rules are simple. There can be no more than three characters and the play should be no more than ten pages, and must not involve complicated scenery or props. Apart from the rules there are certain parameters that a ten-minute play should reside within. To move the plot, it is best to have a change in action every two to four minutes. It should be like a short story, with a beginning conflict, a middle crisis, and an ending resolution. Because other people volunteer to direct the plays, stage directions from the writer should be kept to a minimum.
On the surface, it’s just one more writing contest. At the same time, it’s different from short story contests because in this case, the audience watches the story unfold rather than imagines it unfolding. It’s an opportunity for a writer to pack a great deal of information into a thin wedge of time for a live audience. For me, writing plays has always been more difficult than prose. My plots have always been too ambitious, too embedded in history, and had characters too complex to develop in sixteen hundred words. A few years ago, one of my plays was about the Napoleonic Wars; another was about Irish independence from England.
Conversely, the few full-length plays I have written have always been too short, and involved plots and characters more suited for a sitcom. How can I pack conflict, crisis, and resolution into ten minutes and keep it important? Similarly, how can I make a simple story worth telling? The deadline is fast approaching; this will likely be my last opportunity to enter, and I’d like to be able to hone this particular skill, like packing five weeks worth of luggage into one carry-on bag. It’s a unique challenge, and the entire Watergate scandal simply won’t fit into a ten-minute play, no matter how hard I try.
Enough thoughtfulness and reflection. I have a play to write.