6 Ways to Give Yourself Weekly Writing Tasks When Writing New (Short) Plays
by Nina Louise Morrison
The short play format is as tricky as it is rewarding. What is it? A monologue? A joke? A simple decision with larger consequences? Is it a choreo-poem? A tableau? A tweet? Short plays are a wonderful way to test the limits of both form and content. And opportunities for short plays abound. Some ask for plays with specific themes (i.e.political) or specific requirements (i.e. 10-minute contemporary comedies for vibrant, healthy people over 50). Some are contests with audience voting that offer small prizes or publication. And right here in our own backyard is Boston Playwright’s Theatre’s own venerated Boston Theatre Marathon, an annual day-long 10-minute play festival at the Boston Center For The Arts featuring 50 plays by local playwrights that takes the 10-minute festival to new lengths – literally! The abundant demand for short plays has even spawned short-play writing challenges, like 31 Days 31 Plays which dares you to write a play a day for the entire month of August. Whether you are a novice or a professional, writing short plays can be a rewarding way to participate in a theatre community – be it local, national or international – and to see your work performed.
Here are 6 ways to approach the task of writing new pages each week:
- Write a very very short new play each week, just one or two pages long. Make a list of ideas right now. Take notes while reading the newspaper, watching reality television, taking a walk in your neighborhood, or listening to people talking on the T. Just make a list of ideas. They don't have to be "good" ideas! The point is to just get writing, to try a bunch of different things, and to try writing a beginning, a middle, and an end. Use writing exercises to help you get going and readings to get you inspired. Who knows what you might find along the way?
- Dare yourself write a new 10-minute play each week. Look at some lists of 10-minute play festivals (try here or here) that ask for specific types of plays and write for them. Maybe you're writing a few short plays that are related. Maybe you've written some plays before, but you really want to pump up the volume. In just a few weeks, you'll have some great new material to send around, and maybe you'll even discover something big and exciting that you want to expand into a full-length play.
- Write a new scene of a full-length play you've been meaning to work on, each week. Get those ideas you think of while you’re in the shower, on the treadmill, at the grocery store onto the page, man!
- Rewrite an old scene of a play you've been meaning to rewrite. You got comments from a class at Grub Street or from a friend or a writing group, and you've been meaning to fix those things, but you're not sure how… Here's how to fix it: try things. Try six totally new things. Try six crazy things!
- Mix n’ Match - do some combination of all of the above. Write a scene one week, a 2-minute play the next, 5 rough pages of a 10-minute play without an ending… Don't plan, don't over think it. Follow your creative impulses wherever they lead you.
- Don’t do it alone! Take a class, join a writing group and read your new pages out loud.
This winter Grub Street is offering 6 Weeks, 6 Plays, a fun class for playwrights at any level to get serious about writing new (short) plays. Each week you'll have a place to try and fail and try again, and hear your work read out loud, and laugh, and dare each other to do it again next week. Write, read, listen, play, get inspired and see what happens. 1 page, 10 pages, whatever you've got, we'll read and celebrate and drink coffee and dare each other to do it again. And again. And again. And again.
Nina Louise Morrison is a Boston-based playwright, director and teacher with an MFA from Columbia University. She is a 2017 Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellow, Huntington Theatre Company Playwriting Fellow, winner of the 2016 Boston Project commission at Speakeasy Stage Company, a Company One Affiliate Playwright, a core member of the devising company Project: Project, and a member of Rhombus writers. Her plays have been workshopped, read, and produced by Company One, Fresh Ink Theatre, Huntington Theatre Company, 20% Theatre Company, Kitchen Theatre Company, Saltbox Theatre, Open Theatre Project, Our Voices, WOW Café, SLAM Boston, Wax Wings, Bostonia Bohemia, and the Boston One Minute Play Festival. She was a semi-finalist for the 2014 National Playwrights Conference and she is the recipient of a Richard Rodgers Fellowship and a Shubert Foundation grant. Before moving to Boston, Nina was the Senior Program Associate at The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage's Philadelphia Theater Initiative. She also trained as an actor at the National Theatre Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, the New Actors Workshop, and received her BA from Oberlin College. She currently teaches playwriting and screenwriting at Grub Street and the University of New Hampshire. www.ninalouisemorrison.comSee other articles by Nina Morrison