What about 10-minute play parties?
My question is: why are ten-minute play festivals produced the same way as full-length plays? I.e. why are they produced as either one program of 60-90 minutes, or two programs of 60-70 minutes with an intermission between?
It would seem to me that the nature of a short play show would be conducive to other approaches, mainly due to the simple fact that each of the plays is completely disconnected from the others, and there’s a natural break every ten minutes or so.
For one, there could be a “party” approach. Make the ticket price be admission to an ongoing party, lasting perhaps three times longer than the total length of the plays. Every 20 minutes or so, tell everyone to move into their seats – this could take place in a theater, with audience free to mingle and drink the lobby or on the stage between performances, or it could be in a non-traditional space. When they’ve sat down, put on a play. This approach could help make the standard Evening of Ten Minutes less of a chore and more of an event. You could even expand the number of plays with this approach over a whole evening, and let people enter and exit at will (probably best with a on-your-honor/pay-what-you-want approach). This approach also allows more elaborate set changes, and avoids wasting the audience’s time just sitting there between each play while the set is changed.
A variation is to put on two plays in a row each time, with longer mingle-and-drink breaks. This would be an excellent approach for a reasonable upscale bar/restaurant-type location, with the theatrical and social parts of the event less fragmented. It could be more of a direct draw than your typical background musician playing unobtrusively as atmosphere for a drink-and-mingle event; and less of a distraction than, and a classier alternative to, a full mainstage band performance.
Another variation would be to take advantage of a space and do a site-responsive series of short plays. If you’ve got a building with multiple interesting locations, say a theater building itself, you could stage one play on the actual stage, the next in the lobby, the next backstage, the next in the offices, the next in the bathroom, and then out to the loading dock for the finale. The audience could be given time for drink-and-mingle in between, or not. The audience could move around in multiple shifts, or not; they could even choose to attend or not attend any of the individual plays, particularly if they all happen concurrently. (I.e. each of the plays happens six times, once at 7pm, once at 7:20, and so forth. Attend the same one twice if you like! Skip the 7:40 if you want to keep drinking! Freedom of choice!)
Ten-minute plays are so damn versatile, it’s almost a shame that they only get performed in continuous programs, with the audience seated traditionally as if they were watching Death of a Salesman. That’s not to say that this approach doesn’t have merits – certain programs of short plays certainly benefit from it, and it would take a lot of resources to open things up the way these hypothetical examples call for. But any of these approaches could help take away the side-project, miscellaneous, arbitrary air that ten-minute festivals often have and turn the definitive feature of short plays into a strength that puts them over a full-length evening in a lot of ways.
I don’t see why the big theater companies – especially those with their own interesting buildings, that could take the site-responsive approach above – couldn’t have a very artistically curated set of one-acts and make it a mainstage show every season. Not a new premiere-only ten-minute play festival – rather, one that combs the deep, rich, menu of ten minutes that is just waiting out there and assembles some half-dozen or dozen into a cohesive set matching well with the season’s theme, the building, or a director’s vision. The result: a powerful and entertaining evening of stories, socialization and discovery. It would make a great fundraiser or donor’s gala – a continuous party in the lobby, tour groups departing at regular intervals for travels to any number of short performances.
I suspect that one of the biggest reasons ten-minute plays have been often sideshowed or turned into grant-fulfilling new-work competitions is that we don’t trust the audience to stay for all of them if they can choose to leave. Especially with an all-premiere show, if two or three in a row are mediocre, the audience might skedaddle before giving the show a chance to redeem itself with a final knockout play. I suspect also that ten-minute plays, inherently lacking the prestige and dramatic weight of full-lengths, doesn’t inspire the kind of attention necessary to make any of the events I described above happen. But it’s precisely because they don’t have the prestige or weight on their own that these alternatives should be considered. Shoving a full-length into any of the scenarios above could possibly demean and diminish it; but ten-minutes are rubbery enough to be stretched into such odd forms. And they’d benefit from it.
Something to consider next time you’re putting together a season, a fundraiser, or trying to get your theatre out into the world.