A minute isn’t much. If you’re a minute late to a meeting, nobody cares. If you try to make a dinner reservation for 7:23, the host will probably hang up on you. A minute is a buffer zone, a roundable variable, a cushion that no one takes seriously. You can show up as many as five minutes late to the theatre, and chances are good that the show won’t have started. So having to cram two full theatrical moments into one of those little irrelevant timeslices apiece was a bit daunting. I don’t live my life by minutes, so how was I supposed to fully activate one? The answer, as it turned out, was to just forget the whole time thing entirely. And the easiest way to do that? Go for a drive.
Time acts funny when I drive. I get out past the stoplights, the turning lanes, the random pedestrians and the frustration, and I hit the highway and suddenly the whole fourth dimension becomes irrelevant. Long drives are the best: if you know you’re going to be in a car for the next five hours, then what does it really matter which of those hours you’re in? It’s all just one big long lump of straight-line travel, with plenty of opportunities to drift and think and ponder. As an added bonus, the mechanical necessity of not killing yourself and others keeps your crocodile mind occupied, and enforces a kind of relaxed calm on the higher orders. If I sit on the couch for five hours doing nothing, my brain overclocks and I drive myseslf crazy with anxiousness and to-do lists. If I spend the same amount of time in a car, the constant low thrum of activity lets me release a bit more, and just float on in a kind of automotive zen. Which is the perfect state in which to start thinking about theatrical moments.
I wrote my first one-minute play for the Boston festival while on a delightful drive down to Virginia to get married. Around hour three, I took a break from worrying about what the wedding-day weather would be like and if all the guests had been accounted for, and decided to get some writing done. I came up with a title first (I tend to do that), and then started building up ideas around it: what sort of moment would that title imply? How best to convey it on the stage? What would make the most impact on the audience? With nothing else to do but drive safely, I could take my time turning, arranging, and rephrasing lines and moments. I even tried a few out-loud, for rhythm (though they had to be quiet; my fiancee was asleep in the passenger seat). I came out of the fog about an hour later; sixty minutes closer to married and one short play closer to done. When I got a chance to write it all down, I broke out the stopwatch and found that it timed out perfectly. Somehow all that dilated driving time had coalesced into what it needed to be. By forgetting about seconds and thinking only about moments, I came out right on the money.
I couldn’t wait to get on the road again and write the second play, but luckily fate intervened: I went on my honeymoon and, while at the resort, got a professional massage. And, what do you know: time slowed down again, the tension melted away, and without even really meaning to my blissed-out brain wrote another play. I emerged an hour later rested, relaxed, and ready to write down what I’d come up with. As it turned out, the driving play was about a girl drowning. The massage play was about a penguin going to space. There’s a lesson to be learned somewhere in that, but with spa prices being what they are, I’ll have to hit the highway to figure out what it is.
The First Boston One-Minute Play Festival will take place Jan 7-9, 2012 in partnership with Boston Playwrights’ Theatre. 70 new plays by 35+ Boston and New England Playwrights. For tickets and info, click here.