Ten Minute Plays

I have written many ten minute plays because it is a popular format for playwriting competitions. Ten minute plays are usually given a reading, not a full production. This makes playwriting comparable to writing poetry, a short form that is only performed as a reading. The only advantage for writers of ten minute plays is that you don’t have to do the reading. An actor will do the reading. Usually it will not be a professional actor. Amateur actors most often do readings of ten minute plays.

Personally I don’t have a high opinion of ten minute plays. Writing nothing but ten minute plays would definitely be a mistake. Ten minute plays are not memorable and writing them will not get you far. Nobody is going to consider a ten minute play to be a significant literary work. Nobody is going to review a ten minute play. However, you cannot refuse to write ten minute plays because you will miss out on many opportunities.

Writing ten minute plays does have a few advantages. For one thing, it does not require a lot of time or thought to write a ten minute play. This makes it the ideal format for a writer who has a full time job doing something else. A ten minute play is often a great way to preserve an idea for a full length play. Instead of just a collection of notes for a full length play, a ten minute play based on the idea gives you a start. You can write far more ten minute plays in a short amount of time than full length plays. So you will have more material to submit. If you need to write something tailored to a playwriting competition, a ten minute play will represent less of an investment.

A ten minute play is really nothing more than a scene. Writing nothing but ten minute plays means you won’t get any practice in developing structure for full length plays. Some playwriting competitions have ridiculous requirements for ten minute plays. For example, they will insist on a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is an unreasonable requirement because you cannot cram structure into a scene. The most ridiculous requirement I ever encountered was to have a cast of colorful characters for an ensemble. There is no way you can introduce and fully flesh out an ensemble of distinctive characters in just ten pages.

It is important to give ten minute plays only as much effort as they deserve. If a playwriting competition has ridiculous requirements then you should probably give it a pass. Many playwriting competitions are little better than open mic poetry readings given in the church basement so you should not get too bummed out if you don’t win. That being said, if it only takes you a half hour to write a ten minute play and you could be doing that instead of watching television, then you might as well write the ten minute play. A ten minute play will not set the world on fire or represent a significant contribution to our culture. But writing a ten minute play may advance your thinking and suggest a full length play.


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