Theatrical Lightning; The 10-Minute Play

Anton Chekhov’s four hundred plus short stories are an easier writing topic than his plays. My curiosity took me to Chekhov’s most famous plays: The Seagull, Three Sisters, The Cherry Orchard and Uncle Vanya. Why did Chekhov shift from short stories to plays? His first play, perhaps marketed incorrectly as a comedy, was not received well.  Eventually, he wrote another play and fourteen in total. What was the attraction of the theatre?  I explored how to write a play, more specifically a 10-Minute Play to examine Chekhov’s motivation.

What is a 10-Minute Play?

In addition to a full length play (90 minutes), a “want to be” playwright can choose from the one act play (30 minutes) and a 10-Minute Play. As described by Sam Graber for the Playwright’s Center, the 10-Minute Play is a “bolt of theatrical lightning.” The play has minimal props and a small cast. The play’s ten pages include an organized structure and writing elements of action, dialogue, character, and theme.

Where to watch a 10-Minute Play?

Play festivals highlight short plays for several reasons. The productions are inexpensive and can generate additional revenues for theatre companies. The audience enjoys a wide variety of themes and situations. And less experienced directors, actors, and playwrights get a shot at the spotlight.  The Sandbox Play Festival, for example, produced four plays in a one hour time frame. The festival awarded a judges’ favorite and an audience favorite.  At the end of the hour, my friends and I had a difficult time choosing a favorite. All of the plays were enjoyable and outstanding in a unique way.

How to enter in a play festival?

The first challenge is to write the play and use a play format. As in The Revenant -A Good Idea for a Film, both screenplay and play need dramaticized action. The format allows no time for boring exposition disguised as dialogue.  I wrote a play with four characters, but my writing group suggested to eliminate one character and begin a page later where the action really began. According to Graber, a 10-Minute Play must ask a question. Of course, this is not a literal question but more of an implied and intriguing question about society, culture or people. This quick grab of attention sounds like a short story. The difference is in the structure which escalates like a novel in a short ten minutes.

The next challenge is to submit the play. Websites list play festivals and play submission deadlines. The biggest festivals offer prizes of $1000. Smaller festivals reward playwrights with production credit. Do playwrights travel to the production of a play? Maybe this was Chekhov’s attraction? Seeing his words acted on stage must have been a thrill. If I choose Chekhov’s path, my next chapter in writing could easily be titled – write, submit, road trip.


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