The One-Minute One-Two Punch
Once during a workshop I heard a quote attributed to playwright David Ives, where he discussed the difference between writing full-length plays and 10-minute plays. Writing a full-length play, he said, was like carpet bombing a village, while a 10-minute play is like an exploding rose in the palm of your hand.
(I swear, it made complete sense and was extremely profound in context.)
The point, I think, is when you have all of the resources and time a long play affords, you can afford for things to get a little bit messy, as you’ll have ample time to tie up all of your loose ends. Thus, the shorter your work becomes, the tighter, more deliberate, and more personal a strategy you have to adopt.
So if a full-length play is an impersonal large scale bombing campaign and a 10-minute play is essentially a grenade targeting one specific location, where does a one-minute play fit into this equation? After carefully weighing several possible candidates (pistol? bow and arrow? blowdart? light saber?), I finally determined that the most accurate way to describe both the process and execution of a one-minute play is that of a round of boxing.
Now, I know next to nothing about boxing, so bear with me as I attempt to explain. While a round of boxing can end in less than sixty seconds, it takes a great deal of planning, training and strategy in order to achieve the desired results. You need to map out the entire fight, closely analyze your tactics and distill everything to a perfect moment, choose your moves wisely to ensure maximum impact.
The one-minute play is the same idea. While the play itself is only 60 seconds, you have to map out the entire play as if you are writing a two act story, and then compress it a breathe that is composed with the delicacy of a haiku combined with the swift brutality of a sledgehammer. A poem is reflection: a play is action.
Muhammed Ali’s mantra to “fly like a butterfly, sting like a bee” is extremely apt in this case.
In a one-minute play, you don’t have access to complicated modern technology or reinforcements in the form of elaborate design elements. You can’t afford to maintain any kind of polite distance or keep yourself out of the fray. You can’t strike from behind or attack from any sort of safe distance. You have to strike close, fast, concentrating all of the hilarity, sadness, tragedy, and rage into a 60-second breathe that will have you sweating, your heart pounding and your pen racing in a race for the audience’s heartstrings, where every misplaced step can mean the difference between a devastating slice of life and a bad SNL skit. The process can be agonizing, and after getting knocked out a couple of times you might consider throwing in the towel.
But that’s not how you win a title.
So you lace up your gloves. Step into the ring. And get ready for the fight of your life.