Updated: Jun 9, 2019
What is the deal with all these submission opportunities looking for 10 minutes plays (or less!)?
Take a look at www.playsubmissionshelper.com
The majority of submission opportunities are for 90 minutes, one-acts, short plays, 10 minute plays and even 2 minute plays.
This short format seems to have exploded!
I'm not sure how I feel about this yet, in fact I'm going to rant for 10 minutes and ultimately make up my mind on 10 minute plays.
As a writer of musicals, I'm lucky if there are 3 submission opportunities each month. Lately, of those three, one will be limited to high school and college writers. The second will be restricted to either Woman, LGBTQ, Transgender or People of Color – writers or subject matter.
Which leaves me one opportunity to submit a script.
Are theatres limiting themselves? A recent announcement of an upcoming theatre festival has a slate of dynamic women characters, stories about people of color and an LGBTQ-centered theme. Is there any sense in writing something outside those guidelines anymore? With so few commercial opportunities, we have to rely on submissions to get the word out about our work, when those are limited and due to the highly selective nature of commercial show submissions, we are left with local and self-producing as our only avenues for production.
I hope that the mainstream audience doesn't stop going to the theatre because of this... let's not toss out one audience just to make a buck off a new one. Before you get all huffy with me, I'm not saying don't do those types of shows, I'm just saying make sure the season is well-balanced to include all types of people.
So why are theatres and festivals encouraging short plays?! And what is a short play?
The general consensus is anything 90 minutes or less. That's nothing new, there's always been a market for 90 minute plays and one-acts. They are excellent choices for schools, youth groups and churches to limit how much time they take up of the average parent.
But why now are there abundant opportunities for production?!
If a professional troupe is doing short plays, I believe they are limiting their potential.
Full-length shows especially shows written by a local writer have the power to fill the bank account. What theatre wouldn't want to advertise that they have a local writer's work on their stage? Of course, it falls on the writer to help sell those tickets but when it all works together, the potential can be staggering.
If a community troupe is doing short plays, not only are they also limiting their potential for income and larger audiences, but also training audiences for shorter experiences.
I have so many issues with this.
I understand local and regional theatre companies have missions – to promote new voices, showcase local writers, advance the stories of women and people of color. I get all that, and most of them do a fine job at it.
But how does a series of 10 minute plays actually play out for a theatre company?
I had to go see one for myself.
First of all, just when I was getting comfortable, invested in the characters, the story would end. Most of the 10 minute plays had a twist in the end which was thought-provoking but by the end of the experience I had sat through 20 of these things so if was a roller-coaster of emotions. I'm not saying they weren't good 10 minute plays – some were excellent. But also formulaic.
Second, the “night of 10 minute plays” I sat through had failed to select 10 minute plays based on related subjects and topics and therefore I was forced to sit through 2 hours of un-related stories. By intermission I could only tell you about 3 of them. I'd forgotten all the rest.
Why even do a night of 10 minute plays if they aren't all memorable? Could a night of related plays be more memorable? I'm not sure. I'll do more research on that.
Third, I watched as people listened to the first few lines of dialogue and once they deduced the subject, many were quietly on their phones until the next play.
This is straight out encouraging people to disengage from what's happening on stage!
They know that in 10 minutes they will see something new and maybe be interested in that! Theatre is about engaging, right?
Am I wrong in thinking this is ridiculous?!
You could argue that writing 10 minute plays is good practice to prepare for writing longer shows. I'm not so sure it is. I worked with a writer that had won a 10 minute play contest – it was very good. We were commissioned to write a full length play together. When we sat down to start the outlining process, he could not grasp long form storytelling. He couldn't find a way to tell the story we had decided upon in any way other than a 10 minute play. And he was mad about it. He stated it would be a waste of time to take 10 minutes of solid storytelling and expand it into two hours. He's right about that – you can't take 10 minutes and expand it without hurting the initial element that made it work in the first place. But it was clear, he had learned the 10 minute format and could not apply the fundamentals to a full length.
Another argument, it gets your writing in front of producers who are more willing to read a 10 minute play instead of investing 2 hours into a full length. If a producer isn't willing to invest 2 hours in a script, they'll never be a successful producer. You're telling me that if a producer likes my 10 minute play, they'll want to read my full lengths? I doubt it. It's mostly theatres and festivals that are seeking 10 minute plays, in fact, 10 minute plays are their business, they are never going to produce your full length as part of a season. It's just not going to happen.
Let's see if the argument holds up with commercial producers. I don't know one commercial producer that will read your 10 minute play because to them, it's not worth the time to produce it. What if a producer likes your 10 minute play and wants you for a full length? See my first sentence, unless they happen to end up at a 10 minute play festival – which is possible, they aren't going to read your 10 minute play just to familiarize themselves with your work.
One last argument – you could print a collection of 10 minute plays for people to buy. Other than drama teachers, I can't think of any reason I would willingly buy a collection of 10 minutes plays... can you?
Am I missing something here?
Have our attention spans been reduced to a maximum capacity of 10 minutes? Or are we just lazy and don't want to invest in characters for two hours? I don't think that's it either – many people gladly waste an entire weekend binge watching a television show on Netflix.
Hamilton, Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera all clock in at 3 hours or more. Yet they have no trouble selling tickets.
So what is it?
Laziness? Cop out? A dumbing down of the writing profession?
The only pro-argument I can think of is using a 10 minute play exercise to help refine dialogue writing skills. But I would not waste anytime shopping it around for anything, simply a writing exercise that you keep locked up afterwards. To shop out a 10 minute play would undermine your longer projects.
I'm pretty sure no theatre company or commercial producer is going to commission you to write a 10 minute play for them.
What I think we are seeing here, is the establishment of a new niche of theatre. The 10 minute (and shorter) play market will thrive alongside full-length theatre. Theatre companies will pop up that only exist on 10 minute plays, festivals will separate themselves from their full-length counterparts.
A whole other market. I can see theatre companies that have seasons of full-lengths adding a “night of 10 minute plays” to gain access to grants for local writers, and adding showcase events that feature highlights from writer's full length shows to help their writer buddies gain a foot hold in their community.
I personally have no interest in writing a 10 minute play and letting the world know I've done so, but that doesn't mean I won't review them or go see them – I'll gladly support your right to write anything you want.
Any of you think you can change my stance on 10 minute plays? I'd love to hear your thoughts for or against them in the comments below.
Alan Saunders, WRITEineer.com
Friends told me I was late to the game for writing musicals, even though I've been writing them almost my entire life. so this blog is my journey into writing professionally for the stage.
Check out WRITEineer.com for how-to articles and resources for writing your own musical for the stage!