Friday, June 26, 2009

The Long and Short of It

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"My Reverend Fathers, my letters have not usually followed so closely, nor been so long. The small amount of time that I have is the cause of both. I would not have made this so long except that I do not have the leisure to make it shorter." -Blaise Pascal


Is it time to push away from the table?

After the Boston Theater Marathon and several other short play festivals, (including some in which I directed pieces,) I need to digest a bit.

As a friend to many writers, actors and directors in this town, I enjoy seeing all of them get a chance to be produced. As a director, I love working with playwrights, especially if the work is new.

As a playwright, I wonder if too much of this type of thing is bad for me.

The very first play I wrote was a two act drama about the fallout of a violent hazing incident on varsity team bus. The first play I produced on my own was a sprawling three-hour, two-act play about an intelligence unit on a ghostly and desolate training exercise. My IRNE nominated play was intermissionless, but ran at about 90 minutes.

Most all the plays I have written are two act, or longer. Currently, I am sketching out a three play cycle about the Big Dig.

Shorter plays are an interesting form to me, but it was quite a while before I even attempted one. I have written only a handful.. Several were finalists in the Actors Theater Louisville’s National Ten Minute Play Competition and have won other contests. I don’t send them out very much, and I have never submitted to the Boston Theater Marathon. (Quick shameful admission: I often remember the deadlines too late.)

Putting aside these few ventures into the miniature, my natural address on the length axis seems to reside somewhere past the full-length point.

However, after attending a short play festival, I do get the fever. Immediately, all the index cards and my notebooks for larger projects seem like millstones. If I finish them before I die will anybody even be interested in producing them? What about after I die?

Those ten pages seem tantalizingly accessible. And there are so many festivals out there. My mind does a crude calculation with regards to the effort exerted compared to the possibility of production.

Of course, this is silly thinking. A good ten minute play takes a lot of work, too. And there are a lot of great playwrights out there writing really good short plays.

What I am worried about is my commitment.

I heard a piece of writing advice a while ago that I will paraphrase here:

If you are in the final throes of wrestling with your light comedy of manners, and you decide you need a break, don’t go see Schindler’s List. And if you are at a breakthrough point in writing your tragic story of betrayal, don’t go take in a well-received production of Noises Off. In either case, most likely you will return to your keyboard wondering what the hell you are doing with your life.

I recognized that feeling after seeing so many short plays – some of them very good. It made me a little less enthusiastic about muscling through the structural and thematic demands of a larger canvas.

And I am quite sure there would be a reverse feeling if I had several short plays going in my head while attending all of Tom Stoppard’s Coast of Utopia.

Anyway, I think I'll be ready to attend the Boston Slams in August

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