Home > Playwright Posts > Three Reasons I Hate the One Minute Play Festival (and One Reason I Don’t)

Three Reasons I Hate the One Minute Play Festival (and One Reason I Don’t)



Three Reasons I Hate the One Minute Play Festival (and One Reason I Don’t)


I hate the One Minute Play Festival because it’s so easy to do.  The show is great, the audience is enthused, the collaborators are a blessing, and as a playwright, I only invest a bare minimum of time.  To get this much reward for this little effort makes me fear I will become greedy and turn into some kind of ravenous hell-beast of microplays, writing smaller and smaller, until I devolve to the point of waving a scrap of napkin with one brilliant word on it in someone’s face and demanding they shower me with love or money.


I hate the One Minute Play Festival because it’s so hard to watch.

In an evening at the San Francisco OMPF, you see something like 40 of the best actors in the Bay Area.  That’s a tremendous abundance of talent; as a writer I love that the acting pool in my community is such a rich resource.  However, watching the OMPF, it’s bittersweet to see that all these actors are available to come all the way out here on a Saturday night to each perform for a grand total of, like,180 seconds of stage time.  (If I remember right from last year, most are in about 3 or 4 of the plays.)  To see this many top-notch performers at OMPF is awesome, but also a bizarre kind of tragedy– in a perfect world, would this festival be possible?  Shouldn’t these actors be completely booked up the wazoo with full-length mainstage productions that can offer them more stage time and more resources?  Many of the artists in this festival are working a lot, but many of them are not working enough.  I wouldn’t call it breaking news to say that the economic realities of our theatermaking marketplace mean there isn’t enough work to go around.

San Francisco has a strong DIY culture of self-producing and self-starting; lots of people here actively make their own projects happen, and many of us create new forums for each others’ work, but there’s still a pretty major mismatch between the staggering abundance of artists and the scarcity of opportunities.  There’s something about going to OMPF and seeing such plentiful talent, each artist glimpsed only as a sort of brief flash of lightning as we speed through 70 varied theatrical moments in a breakneck evening, that brings home the sheer scope of how many top-notch theatermakers are here.  The celebratory aspect of that is tempered for me by an awareness that many of these artists are underutilized, underchallenged, or undervalued in our community.  It’s hard to look that situation square in the face– and nothing says “look at me” quite like 40 actors.


I hate the One Minute Play Festival because it’s so hard to emerge unchanged.

This concentrated and distilled theatermaking has demanded a leaness of writing which I now know I am apparently capable of, and as a pretty rabid perfectionist will probably begin to attempt to hold myself to, thereby sapping much of the laziness out of my editing and revision process for months, if not years, to come, as I sweat and bleed with more fervor than ever, attempting to strip away from my writing the comfortable gloss of playful verbiage to which I have become accustomed.  As you can see from that sentence, I’m a pretty wordy person.  It turns out I don’t always have to be.  Oh dear, what now?  Work harder, write better.  Edit more.  Learn.  Change.  Dammit.


I love the One Minute Play Festival because it shakes me up, and makes me ask the best questions about what I need from theater.

Am I artistically satsfied by writing/seeing a One Minute Play?  In some ways it’s the most rad thing, but in other ways, it leaves me totally cold– the focus on surprise over stamina– am I the only one who wishes we had more 10 Hour Play festivals?  What would happen if we had a 10 Hour Play Festival, where the plays are long and perhaps sometimes dreary but ultimately inspiring through the sheer devotional size of the investment that the artists demand of themselves and each other and their audience?  We all learn so much from doing these essentialized microplays, imagine what would we learn from doing more deeply epic macroplays, from coming together and letting ring out a loud cry of “This will take stamina to do.  This will take stamina to watch.  And that’s cool, it’s still worth doing, because it matters to us.  This really matters to us.  This whole ART thing is a VERY big deal for us, and we value the stamina we can find within our tenacious imaginations.”  It’s wonderful to write the shortest plays we can, but shouldn’t we write the longest ones we can, too?  Why don’t we stretch ourselves in that direction as often– is it just that we’re all so busy?  Is it that we’re worried our work will suck, or that no company will produce it, or that if we present it nobody will bear witness?  Is it psychological, or is it primarily logistical, a money problem?  If it’s mostly a logistical problem, is that a good enough answer?  Is the biggest hurdle the fact that nobody (to my knowledge, and please correct me if I’ve missed any memos) has taken on the tremendously intimidating job of trying to encourage macroplays in this kind of systematically ambitious way?  (Do other artists even crave the exercise of creating 10 Hour Plays, or is that yearning just a projection of my own personal artistic needs and desires?  If it’s just me, does that mean I need to do something about it?  If it’s not just me, does that mean I need to do something about that?)

If these microplays do matter as works of art, it is probably because they are next to each other, creating resonance in the space between different voices, harmonizing into a sound none of us could make alone.  How I can do that more, as an artist and as a community member?  How can I best leverage my perspective and my skills to support the artistic development of my field as a whole?  How can we step up to the challenge, as a community of artists and producers and self-producing artists, of continuously raising the bar on ourselves and each other in increasingly challenging ways?  Is writing/seeing a One-Minute Play really artistically satisfying to me, really truly deeply satisfying, and if so, why or why not?  Is it satisfying to you?

Let’s talk about it.  Comment here, or Tweet me (@WayBetterThanTV), or blog your own opinions and send me a link; let’s don’t stop talking about it.  I love the One-Minute Play Festival because it shakes me up every year, makes me ask the best questions, and that’s the healthiest experience an artmaker can have.


-Megan Cohen


The 3rd Annual San Francisco One-Minute Play Festival in partnership with Playwrights Foundation will take place on Sat Dec 15th at 8PM and Sun Dec 16th at 3PM and 8PM at Thick House. The Sun 3PM performance will livesteam on Howlround.com‘s New Play TV here.  



Categories: Playwright Posts
  1. December 18, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    This I dig.

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