I have written 18 or so ten-minute plays. They have been read at major playwriting festivals, and produced or read in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Austin TX Kitchener ONT, and CapeTown South Africa.
I am no longer interested in writing ten-minute plays or trying to have them produced. Here’s why.
They are a terrific way to work on the craft of playwriting. But they are just that: five-finger exercises, classroom work. Even writing a 30-minute play is harder. Writing a full-length is the true test of a playwright.
Ten-minute plays easily degenerate into comedy sketches, or clever little bagatelles with O. Henry endings. Satisfying, but lightweight.
Producing ten-minute plays is a lot of effort for little return. An evening of ten-minute plays requires 6 to 8 directors and ten to twenty actors. Don’t get me wrong—that’s a useful way to showcase a writing group’s work, and to involve a lot of people who can learn their craft, or exercise their craft with minimal overhead. However, the work of the producers and managers is as hard, if not harder, than working on a full-length play.
Sending your ten-minuters out to theatres actually doesn’t do much for your career. Theatres can be cynical about their ten-minute play contests. It makes them look like they are encouraging new playwrights, but not many theatres go on to produce the full-length work of those writers. And some theatres actually charge a fee for submitting a ten-minute play, which is unconscionable.
How I’d Do It
In the playwriting/producing group of my dreams, we might do
one evening a year of readings of ten-minute plays. That would showcase the
group and involve lots of people. But the main focus would be on longer works.
The group would read them before the first discussion. After rewrites, the
group would help the author put together a reading, with actors, for the group.
And the discussions would be carefully focused and led.
Meanwhile, I’m working on a novel—with a very focused group of writers
Okay, it’s time to tackle that horrible term paper. Choose a topic, research it, organize your research, and write the paper.
Please note that you cannot possibly do all these steps in one night. Well, if you’re one of those born to write, you might be able to do it in three nights. But if you spend most of your time in the creative, emotionally intelligent side of your brain, writing a term paper will take several weeks at least. Unless you don’t care about getting a D or an F. Make time for your research paper!
Find something that really intrigues you. You’ll be living with it.
Example: I would never write about the economic issues leading up to World War II. Ew.
But I would be interested in how the arts responded to the Great Depression.
Read a little about it on that wonderful World Wide Web.
Example: Googling “Arts and the Great Depression” turns up a lot of information! I read fast, so I can get through it quickly. If you don’t read fast (many smart people don’t), see above about Making Time For This Project!
Example: What was the New Deal? What was the Federal Theatre Project? What’s “Living Newspaper”?
I found answers at http://newdeal.feri.org/nchs/lesson04.htm
Decide on a specific question you want to write about.
“What was the effect of the Living Newspaper on audiences and critics?”
NOT “I want to write about the Federal Theatre Project.” That’s not a question.
Evaluate each resource.
2010 is usually better than 1910--unless you’re writing about something that happened in 1910 and your source was actually there.
A recognized name that you find in several places is better than Bettina’s Bogus Blog.
What are the author’s sources?
And speaking of “there at the time,” I want to look up responses from people who were there in 1939 seeing “One Third of a Nation”
Check the facts and the chronology.
My website is great, but it’s not enough. I need to find a book on the subject, and some journal articles, and be sure that they agree on the main facts. If they don’t, I have more research to do.
1. First, be sure to take notes. Don’t just put stickies in the books. Especially for the right-brained, writing things down will keep you focused and learning.
2. As you take notes, look for main topics and unresolved questions. Once you can do this fast, you may graduate to note cards. But begin with a notebook, where you can easily write topics in the margin. If you take notes in a word processor, use Track Changes on your Word document to mark questions and possible topics.
Example: I cut and pasted the below paragraph from the website above. Don’t forget to note where you get each chunk of material!
Topic: Intro material. The longest-running production of the Seattle branch (where was this?) of the Federal Theatre Project was the Living Newspaper One-Third of a Nation. Drawing its title from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second inaugural speech,(look this up) in which he claimed that one of the great challenges to American democracy was the fact that one third of the nation remained "ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished,” the Living Newspaper presented the rise of slums in America (specifically New York), and campaigned hard for government housing projects. (did these ever happen? What kind of projects?)
3. Speaking of sticky notes--murder mysteries on tv and film often show a board with pictures of the suspects and information about them. Consider putting your main ideas on an “evidence pinboard” so you can see them and move them around. It’ll get you off your sleepy butt, and let your creative, physical, visual brain work for you.
4. You can also consider the whiteboard to use as a way to organize your notions.
5. Find a picture for each of the ideas you’ve marked in your notes. After all, that’s what most PowerPoint presentations do.
Example: For my “One Third of a Nation” paper, I could find pictures of Franklin D. Roosevelt, posters from the production, pictures of people living in Depression slums, etc.
6. You can also pace around and talk to an audio recorder. If that feels weird, enlist a friend to talk to, and record the whole thing. Then listen to it and make notes about the ideas you want to cover.
Note: Once again, those of us Born to Write, or BTWs, can often do this in our heads, depending on the length of the paper and the complexity of the topic. Remember, however, that this BTW nerd has to work hard to set up lunch dates with friends and carefully remember what those friends are doing and what they like. I have to plan in tedious detail how to talk with a difficult colleague or boss. In other words, I have to outline all those people skills you right-brainers might take for granted. And don’t get me started on my efforts to hem my slacks!
In general, a paper has three areas: Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em, tell ‘em, tell ‘em what you’ve told ‘em. In other words, plan for an introduction, a list of points and arguments, and a conclusion.
State the question. Capture our interest.
Research papers have to be written formally, so “Can you believe that we no longer have Living Newspapers?” won’t work. But “Living newspapers were created to educate people and change the mind of government. It’s not clear that they succeeded in these goals,” sets up an interesting question in academic-speak.
Think about your question: In it, find a proposition, thesis, or argument:
“One Third of a Nation” shows how government censorship decimates the arts.
“One Third of a Nation” had a huge impact on those who saw it.
Look for objections to these arguments.
Government censorship didn’t stop people from making political art.
No one really cared about the show.
Set these question/answer pairs up so they tell a story.
“One Third” wanted to change people’s minds. And then I explain how and why.
Government censorship proved to be a problem. And then I describe what critics, audiences, and the performers thought about the show.
Therefore, it did (or did not) change people’s minds.
This video will tell you more about setting up an argument.
Example: “Living Newspapers were an important part of theatre history.” Oh yeah?
Hmm, I can’t find anyone who agrees with this statement. But I believe it—so I better say more about why I do. Yes, a few of your own opinions can go into a term paper—if you make sure we know they’re yours.
“Living Newspapers were controversial almost from the beginning.” Sez who?
Okay, the first one, called Ethiopia, never saw production because of government censorship. So I’ll describe what happened and the source of my information.
Recap. Save a point of interest to reinforce the persuasiveness of your whole
Example: “Although Living Newspapers created controversy that eventually caused Congress to kill their funding, theatres today have produced Living Newspaper Festivals."
And, finally, turn in your paper and collect your well-deserved A!
Just saw Adam Rapp’s play Dreams of Flying, Dreams of Falling. I call it Buried Child meets The Cocktail Party.
I love the words. They move from the amusing party chatter of rich white people to fierce poetic visions. The clash of language gets reinforced by things like geese thumping into the house and being carried into the glowing dining room as sad feathery masses. The final image is even creepier than that.
Usually I don’t like plays where the language flaunts itself; where the writer wants us all to see how poetic s/he can be. Here, linguistic dissonance makes the poetry work.
On one level, this is about how rich white people take from everyone else and get their just, if weird, comeuppance. On another level, the internal angst of us well-off folks gets translated into strange images that don’t immediately make sense—except on a visceral level.
Rapp and director Neil Pepe use lots of standard stage business to underline the ordinary—you know, where the guy is just about to drink the poison when something distracts him. Christine Lahti, as the fierce cougar Sandy Cabot, turns in a brilliant performance. All her outrageous actions come from someplace deep inside, so we see that something awful drives her.
I mean this as a review of the words, not the actors, all of whom are great, or the production, equally good. So check it out for yourself. The Atlantic Theatre Company at Classic Stage Company, New York City, closing October 30.
Are you on this map? Or this one?
Then wear your tick repellant. And scrutinize your skin for ticks every time you wander in the wilderness—or in your back yard.
Lyme disease comes from ticks that live on deer. It was named for Lyme, Connecticut, where it was first discovered. We’ve always had our own herd of deer, commuting through our yard, fertilizing the lawn and eating everything. This year, however, Lyme disease hit Ithaca, NY, and I immediately got it. I’m an avid, if amateur, gardener, so I had lots of opportunities.
I never saw a tick on me. I didn’t get the nice bulls-eye rash. So it took three feverish weeks, two trips to the emergency room, and two days in the hospital before the physicians could figure it out and give me doxycycline. Then I spent a week being so tired that walking to the kitchen seemed like a day's work.
My physicians are not dummies: Lyme disease is hard to diagnose because the symptoms mimic lots of other diseases. Fever, aches, generalized rash--one of my doctors said that medical schools give these symptoms to students so that they'll do endless research.
Oh, and if the physicians don't figure it out, and the symptoms go away, they are likely to come back as heart or neurological problems--although this diagnosis is controversial, so you'll be in even more trouble trying to get treatment.
I now have a can of tick repellant, and plan to tuck my pants into my socks and button my shirt to the ears. I also plan to check for ticks often, just like my dad used to do when I was a kid running around in the woods and fields. He may have used a magnifying glass—the little suckers can be as small as the periods in this article.
I lost five weeks of summer 2011. Fair warning!
For more, check out the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society, or the many blogs by Lymed folks.
Once I had a Shakespeare teacher who gave several great lectures about the Bard’s betrayal themes .
Shakespeare knew best.
There’s my friend Joe, for example. He’s the second in command in a small marketing and event planning organization. And the only person in the group who can write. (I believe him on this. When it comes to cranking out words day after day, many are called, but few are chosen.)
The board president had a friend. She got the event planning job. Same salary as Joe. She cannot write. He pointed that out at the hiring meeting. She got hired anyway.
“Just tweak this for me, Joe,” she’ll say. “Do your magic on this,” she’ll say. Neither tweaking nor magic can help her stuff. So if it’s something Joe also needs, he has to rewrite the whole thing.
Did I mention that she has the same salary as Joe?
Then there’s Bob. For twenty years, he has run a small organization in a college. Now he’s invited all over the world to tell ‘em how he does what he does. Meanwhile, the college nickel and dimes him constantly—because his advanced degree is not the same as the advanced degrees in his department. International reputation? Pah.
Notice that these are white men in their fifties. Hardly an oppressed group. Except for the “fifties” part.
America loves Young Turks. Then they wear them down, nickel by dime, one tiny betrayal after another.
Then they hire another Young Turk, and the cycle continues. Experience? Pah.
No wonder we can’t figure out answers to the world’s problems. We keep betraying those who might be able to help.
" . . . and I want world peace!"
Some guy on an airplane just decided that a seatback in his face was not acceptable. His violent response to the situation made the national news.
As taught by Lally, a rant was a kind of performance art. You write an outline, then get up and improvise your way through it. I ranted about my airplane trip from Ithaca NY to Anchorage AK. The way you elbow through line after line, lugging backpacks and suitcases. The way you sit on the tarmac until you are thoroughly steamed, both physically and mentally.
But in the climactic moment, I ranted about the seat in front of me. Although it held only a baby seat, the parents had tipped it all the way back, so their darling would be comfy. I spent the flight from Detroit to Anchorage with a seat in my face.
Meanwhile, the baby in question never occupied its little throne, but instead wandered from parent to parent, who had strategically placed themselves on opposite sides of the aisle. I’m sure the flight attendants really enjoyed that. I know I did.
Here’s a rough outline of my ranting conclusion.
“Finally, I placed both feet on the offending seatback and shoved. Hard. Seats fell like dominoes. Hundreds of people went face down in their laptops. Pretzels flew everywhere. Lots of screaming. Three flight attendants gang tackled me.
"You know, the security people were really nice about it all. And my accommodations at Gitmo are much more comfortable than that dammed airplane.”
To quote Lily Tomlin (and Jane Wagner): "Art. Life. Life. Art."
I thirstily look forward to you blog posts.
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