Sixty seconds? You mean I have to fit in something dramatic and meaningful into just sixty seconds? I’d rather have a root canal without the Novocain. How can you pinpoint that level of action within the confines of a singular minute? I can’t develop actual relationships or nuances in just sixty seconds. When first asked to write a one minute script I had never even heard of the idea. One thing was clear; I was either going to overwrite the script or not write it at all.
Instead I decided to take the approach of the jack in the box. A one minute look in on the lives of characters felt to me like a children’s toy, carefully winding the mysterious container for about forty to fifty seconds and then POP!
Sitting down to my computer and pondering what idea to compress into sixty seconds of theatre was tasking. I soon began to look at sketch comedy for some relatable areas of structure. On Saturday Night Live there are usually two kinds of sketches: the first is the one where the gag is revealed early on and then pummeled into the viewers skulls for the next five to six minutes; the other is the skit that seems to be normal, or at least what normal at SNL is, and then all hell breaks loose with an ending twist. I wanted to look on my script as the latter.
In speaking with fellow local playwright Juan Sanchez, I realized that life is anything but dramatic. We only remember the dramatic moments in our lives because they are lasting. Life is mundane and monotonous. Sixty seconds of action is what we usually experience in life. In awe of this revelation I rushed to my computer and began to write focusing only on everyday life.
If a one-minute script needed to show some powerful event that affected the characters in a way that we need to see it presented on stage, why not root it in our own perceptions of reality? I thought of a speeding ticket, the process, the length, the annoyance, the discussion afterwards. A speeding ticket certainly does not last just a minute neither does the event last a lifetime; but we never forget this moment (especially for those of us who are fortunate enough to only have a few). Speeding tickets stick out like a sore thumb in our memories. We’ll be driving down the very road we were stopped and never look on it the same.
But what if a speeding ticket was combined with something close to our hearts? My ultimate idea was to take a quick glance on a childhood character experiencing an annoying occurrence in hi s otherwise blockbuster life. With this idea in hand I was able to finish my one minute script, my beautiful seven page one minute script.
I met square one yet again. Some areas were hard to cut but were ultimately not needed for the script I wanted to write, other areas of course were not needed at all. By the time I had gotten the script down to three pages I soon realized how much stronger it had become. It didn’t need to have flowery language or complex time paradoxes intertwining with romance. It was a speeding ticket for Christ’s sake!
Leave only what is essential. I went back to watching Saturday Night Live but this time watched through some of the early 90’s skits. I learned that there was always a gimmick but that sometimes the gimmick did not take control of the situation. I didn’t want that for my script. I scrapped the speeding ticket fiasco and went in another direction. Family. Family is good. Families are always good. Sprinkle in a little dysfunction and we might have something.
A complete dysfunctional family in sixty seconds seems impossible. But I decided to tackle this challenge and have the gimmick take the back seat so to say. In doing so I was able to write four characters that were not only relatable but natural. Focusing on a game of musical chairs, I had the family engaged in a family pastime with familiar roles; though this time around I left the “POP!” for the very last line. I used misdirection to hold those fifty-nine seconds of suspense before unleashing my intent.
After my first write I came in at only three pages. Confident in the fact that I could cut it down to one to two pages, I wrote on to see where these characters were taking me. In the end I was able to finish this script at the desired time limit (-ish). Boiling beneath however, I had unfinished business with my speeding ticket script.
A couple of weeks away changed my views on some areas of my first script. It made it a whole lot easier to cut down to just three quarters of a page. Through this extended introspective rewriting process I decided to keep some of the original areas I had cut. At long last my speeding ticket script was looking more and more believable, relatable, and overall plain funny.
Writing a one-minute play helped me connect more with the real world in a sense because of how close it is to real life. It seemed silly to me at first that I could write a play about a family playing musical chairs and a boy getting a speeding ticket and have them actually be interesting. But life itself is so uninteresting that it works. These menial tasks or obstacles are what make up our personal action.
Winding and rewinding the jack in the box became a tested and true skill for me in endeavoring on to further one minute scripts. I never knew that this process wouldn’t be torturous. That I wouldn’t have to cut my script to shreds but rather focus my script and make it more believable.
That root canal is beginning to sound like too much of a hassle.
-Edward G. Excaliber
The First South Florida One-Minute Play Festival will be held Sunday Feb 26th at 4:30PM and 8:30 PM at The Deering Estate. Tickets are $25 and proceeds will benefit SFTL’s playwright workshop programming. For tickets and info click here.