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How to write a one-minute play

Attention spans being what they are these days (short), one-minute plays are the latest fad in theatrical performances.

Covering an entire arc of a story may seem impossible in just 60 seconds, but for playwrights up to the challenge, it can be done, and sometimes, quite well.

To understand how to write a one-minute play, there are a few things to know.

  1. They are not just two characters telling a joke -- For our upcoming one-minute play festival One Moment in Time, we received many, many submissions where all the story consisted of was two characters having a conversation that really could be considered a joke, like a truncated Saturday Night Live sketch. For example: a play about two men in a bar, who we come to find out are a rabbi and a priest. Clever? Sure. A story? Not so much.

  2. There must be a middle -- Notice how I didn't say "beginning" or "end." That's because, with the limited time you have as a one-minute playwright, we (the audience) don't need -- and shouldn't get -- exposition or even much of a conclusion. You do not need to introduce relationships explicitly; a play can be about a husband and wife getting a divorce, but how long they've been married, or how romantic the proposal was, are moot points. Instead, start mid-proposal where he can't find the fight, or mid-divorce papers signing, or mid-hug goodbye. The point is, the conflict is the thing, and what caused it or how it resolves is both unnecessary and unreasonable since time with the characters is at a premium.

  3. Avoid stage directions -- If your one-minute play is ever performed, it's going to be a very quick production, in rehearsal, but also in performance. It will likely be performed as part of a festival, where the main idea is "get in, get it done, get off stage" quickly. Therefore, don't clutter your pages or your stages with a lot of details for the director to deal with (and likely ignore) on what the set looks like (heck, keep the scenery -- if any -- as simple as possible; a chair or two at most), or movements the actors should make. A one-minute play script page should be the kind of thing to pick up and do quickly and easily. Like PowerPoints, the more white space, the better.

  4. K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple and straightforward) -- Theatre is a wonderful medium to try new modes of storytelling, but not in the one-minute format. When time is of the essence, as it is in one-minute plays, you are already at a disadvantage if the audience is confused and unable to adapt to an experimental method of expression. Just like the amount of time you have to work with, these plays should be easy in and out, accessible without thinking too hard, where more is said with less. Expecting audience members to quickly comprehend an avant-garde play (especially if it's in a festival where they must "reset" their mind every 60 seconds as a new work is presented), you want them to be able to identify with what they see rather than lose them in making sense of symbolism, otherwise your play's message will be lost as a result.

  5. Ask yourself, "Does this story need to be told in one minute?" -- Some stories require more time to convey their full scope. Others, however, do not, and should not, need six pages of filler just to make it to the ten-minute mark. Shoehorning a play into a one-minute run time may actually be a disservice to your story. One way to determine if your idea is fitting for the sixty second spot or not is to just start writing with no time length in mind. Put down everything on paper you feel you need to in order to relate the story you want to share. Afterwards, re-evaluate your script and decide what is truly important in it, and what is just there to take up space. Make a copy of your script where you go through it, cutting out anything that doesn't move the story forward, or speak to you, or could be confusing to a viewer. What you might find is that you've boiled a 6-minute work down to 1, and the play is better as a result.

If you haven't tried writing a one-minute play yet, it is worth it just for the sake experimentation. And who knows, maybe that piece will be featured in our next one-minute play festival!

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