Despite it taking much work and having long gestation periods, I work almost entirely in full-length works of 70 minutes (70 is the new 90) to 2 hours. While I’ve written three 10-minute plays – one of which was produced by the Playwrights’ Center of San Francisco – I don’t find them fulfilling to write and am unlikely to write more.
I also don’t find 10-minute plays fulfilling to watch.
Discussions of 10-minute plays and whether they are the greatest thing since turkey ham or the greatest menace since sexting while driving pop of on the playwriting message boards from time to time. Comments, including mine, often center on quality issues, that they are so often sketches and not plays. But I think even a full evening of well-written 10-minute plays would be problematic. And here’s why:
One of the great things about a good or great play is that you think about it afterwards. You think back on favorite scenes, you talk about it with friends. This thinking starts the moment the curtain goes down, literally or, as is the case in most theatres today, figuratively.
Having the curtain go down on one play and immediately go up on another play short-circuits this process. That is, if you are still thinking about the third play you saw this evening as the fourth or fifth play is going on, you miss the subsequent play. If you don’t think about that third play, then you miss out on the after-thoughts. And at the end of the evening, you have a whole jumble of after-thoughts duking it out with each other for your conciousness.
When I had my 10-minute play, a dark comedy, produced, it was staged immediately after a very dark drama. I think the drama was both well-written and a play, not a sketch, and I like to think mine was as well (judge for yourself). But the audience, myself included, was not ready to make that transition so rapidly, and it was halfway through my play before people started lightening up and enjoying it.
While I’ve done that to myself in at least one spot in Hemlock, at least that was my choice as a playwright. And at least it was part of the through-line of the play. But to throw an evening of disparate plays together (what, you don’t just want them to be good – you want them to fit together?) means each play has to fight with the previous play for the audience’s attention. But even if the plays fit well together, there’s always the tension between sticking with thoughts of the play you saw moments ago and the play that is now in front of your eyes.