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The Fiji Mermaid Finds a Home

Marisela Treviño Orta

One minute plays?


When I was first asked to submit plays to this festival I originally thought of digging up one of my prose poems. The last prose poem I wrote had been a special request of sorts. Fellow Bay Area playwright Aaron Loeb had asked several of us who were coming to celebrate his wife’s birthday to write short plays for her.

Like really short.

Like one-page short.

I opted to write a poem inspired by one of my works-in-progress because I felt sure I just couldn’t write a play that short.

Guess the joke’s on me ‘cause then I was asked to participate in this one minute play festival.

At first I looked through my poems to try and find something I could adapt into a play, even looked at the poem I had written for Kathy, but nothing seemed to fit…nothing felt…right.

I’m big on intuition when it comes to playwriting, that’s because I became a playwright quite by accident. Everything I’ve learned has been on the ground, so to speak. And it seems to me that the fewer pages you have, the more precise your writing needs to be. There’s no wiggle room here. Full lengths have lots of space to explore, ten minute plays hit the ground running establishing relationships and backstory quickly and one minute plays…well…they seem to be moments.

At least mine were.

My first play arrived pretty quickly, announcing itself in a vivid memory I have of a short story I read sometime in between middle school and junior high. The Lady, Or the Tiger by Frank R. Stockton. The story has always stayed with me. Especially the question posed to the reader at the end, how the fate of the protagonist is left up to the reader, to their own personal views on human nature.

I always wondered about the princess in the story. Wondered if her love was a jealous love or a selfless love, wondered if she was a “lady person” or a “tiger person.”  My play Stockton Syndrome is an imagined moment the princess has before the story’s conclusion. And even though she knows what fate she plans to deliver her lover to, she begins to question all the other factors that may get in the way.

Writing that first play was pretty easy, it practically wrote itself (which is always nice). The second play, not so much. It didn’t reveal itself until a few days later while I was watching a Travel Channel show about museums’ hidden treasures. The treasure in question for this particular episode of Mysteries at the Museum: the Fiji Mermaid.

Feel that? Like you’re a barometer and the air pressure in the room has suddenly changed, that’s your muse trying to get your attention.

Coincidentally I had been reading up on the Fiji Mermaid a few months ago and seeing it again so soon seemed like a sign. A big neon sign, saying, “Play Idea Here.” As I watched the museum curator x-ray the artifact in question, I literally jumped up to hunt down my journal and pen to begin writing the first lines of my second play.

Similar to the mummified “creature” once exhibited by P.T. Barnum, The Fiji Mermaid Finds a Home is also a sort of false artifact, a little tongue in cheek historical fiction.

So, I guess I can write short plays afterall.

-Marisela Treviño Orta

Marisela’s plays are part of The First Annual SF One-Minute Play Festival, December 18th and 19th, 2010. Tickets on sale here!

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