By Mark Saunders
Recently I had the pleasure of leading a four-day workshop for writers and actors on the 10-minute play. Accomplished playwrights including David Henry Hwang, Steven Dietz, Tina Howe, Athol Fugard, Brian Friel, Theresa Rebeck and Tony Kushner have all written 10-minute plays. This dynamic and challenging form, “the American theater’s haiku,” has been embraced by actors and audiences around the globe.
So what is it? A successful ten-minute play is a compressed theatrical experience, with a beginning, middle, and end (but not necessarily in that order), almost always set in one location, with limited staging requirements, and almost always featuring a small cast, often only two to three characters. It’s not merely a scene from a longer play, a skit or a monologue. It is a play.
My favorite quote about the form comes from Jon Jory, at the time a producer-director at Actors Theatre of Louisville: “A ten-minute play can tell a story that forty minutes or two hours would have ruined, and we’ve all gotten stuck with that guy at a party.”
Each day, from Monday through Thursday, the workshop met for a 90-minute session and then the participants would go home and work on their play. Their play had to be finished by Thursday because on Friday we held a public reading of what was created.
I was both thrilled and stunned by the quality of the work they produced and the variety of themes they covered, as well as by the compelling characters and engaging conflicts they created. There were plays on everything from the house-sitting gig from Hell to a family of head-shrinking cannibals struggling to maintain their traditions. Other plays dealt with cancer, putting on a farewell party for a stranger who is dying, the events of 9/11, and an adult son changing his last name against his mother’s wishes; a dystopian downer and a tattoo parlor upper; budding love and a strained father-daughter relationship.
Again, it wasn’t just the variety that impressed me, it was the quality of their work that took my breath away. I want to thank each member of that workshop for sharing their talent and their stories. Truth be told, I wouldn’t mind getting stuck with any of them at a party.
With a standing ovation even though I’m sitting down, here are their plays: Off Season by L. Randy Kraft; Done While You Wait by Marty Newman; In Concert by Mary Birmingham; Mother Knows Best by Lee Bellavance; Family Recipe by Rick Roberts; Priorities by Teresa Peterson; By Any Other Name by Anne Campbell; My Father and I by Jill Nieglos; Pink Slips by David Stea; and Bon Voyage by Deborah Stein Kent.
The workshop was a part of Encuentro de Teatro, a one-week celebration of the performing arts in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, held during the last week in August. I want to thank the producers of the festival, Kate Lowenstein and John Morrow, for their support. I also want to thank John Donnelly of Portland, Oregon, my friend and fellow playwright. The San Miguel workshop was based on a workshop John Donnelly and I co-taught at Portland State University.
For another perspective on the San Miguel workshop, please visit Randy Kraft’s blog: http://lagunadispatch.blogspot.com