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My Minute is a Prison

Clay McLeod Chapman

So imagine I’m in the clink. Serving five-to-ten. What I did isn’t all that important – at least, not for our purposes here – but suffice it to say it wasn’t a good thing, I wasn’t falsely accused, I’m no Tim Robbins and this is no Shawshank Redemption.

That all said – here we are. I’m in prison and I’ve got a visitor.

We’ve all seen this scene a million times before: Orange jumpsuits. There’s a bullet-proof plexi-glass barrier separating the prisoner from his visitor that may as well be the fourth wall. A phone connected to the other side. Both parties pick up and start talking, pouring their hearts out. Telling secrets. Sharing.

There’s always a guard looming nearby. The one with the billy club, scanning across the row of convicts talking to their wives, their lovers, their children. He’s perfected the art of The Distant Gaze, looking but not-looking, remaining attentive but not paying attention at the same time – splitting his thoughts into two independent sections: What’s happening before him in the moment and what’s for dinner that night.

The guard is a source of external pressure to every desperate conversation happening before him. To these convicts, he is the clock. He is Father Time. He may as well be Death itself, because when he calls time’s up – your time is most definitely up.

It’s in that moment, wherever you may be within your conversation with your wife, your lover, your children – it’s within that first warning of your time running out, that the conversation intensifies. You have too much to say and not enough time to say it – so your thoughts begin to flood. What’s amazing about this moment is that the things you need to say are suddenly hindered by some external force that controls your own freedom to express those very necessary things. Now – I don’t know about the other authors on this intimidating bill, but as soon as I sat down to start righting my piece, I felt the clock ticking. It was as if executive producer Dominic D’Andrea was the prison guard waiting to drag me back to my cell. To grant me this simple freedom of a minute to share myself, to say whatever I needed to say to the audience – but to limit that freedom to a restrictive sixty seconds – it’s a cruel ruse. A minute can be a lifetime on stage for an audience, filled with some of the most terrible theater ever imagined – but for the author, especially for those verbose authors such as myself, that minute is a prison in of itself. Every second become precious in a way that we writers may have taken for granted when we had all the time in the world to say or do whatever we wanted onstage.

Confession time: I’m a pretty bad playwright.

I’ve written some terrible, terrible things – only to force others sit through it. Those people will never get that time back. I took that away from them. Me.

So – what’s my punishment?

This minute. This minute is my prison.

Working within a temporal art form such as theatre, it’s only when you participate in an event such as the One Minute Play Festival that you truly realize how precious our time with an audience is. It’s over before you know it, gone before you even began. You pine for some of that precious time back – but you can’t. Not until Visitor Hours are in effect tomorrow. If we’re fortunate enough to have visitors tomorrow. Even just one.

Time’s up. Back to my cell.

Now here’s hoping I don’t get shiv-ed by any of the other playwrights.

-Clay McLeod Chapman

80+ plays. 30+ actors. 7 directors. 1-minute.

The 4th Annual NY One Minute Play Festival

Saturday, Sept. 25th & Sunday, Sept. 26th at 8pm

At Astoria Performing Arts Center

Buy your tickets here: http://bit.ly/1-minute-tix

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