” A minute comes and goes with all its possibility. “
When I was asked to write for The One-Minute Play Festival, I started thinking about what a minute is. And what I want from theater.
We all love a good story, but what does that mean? I’ve never really been a “Plot” kind of person. I don’t care about the twists and turns of cause and effect that get us to some climactic moment where we see what it all means and then there’s that little twist at the end so I feel the satisfaction of getting what I expected but in a different color.
What I really want (from theatre, from art, from life) is Mystery, Poetry, Absurdity, Joy, Connection, Surprise. My heart cracking open into space.
Three of the most satisfying theater pieces I’ve seen recently weren’t exactly theater: one was the Anne Hamilton installation at the Park Avenue Armory, The Event of a Thread, where I was able to feel at one with all of humanity, nature and reality plus I got to swing on a very tall swing; one was a video/puppetry/performance by Fleur Elise Noble, 2 Dimensional Life of Her, an oddly hopeful expression of existential dread; and the third was the Laurie Anderson/Kronos Quartet collaboration, Landfall: Scenes from My New Novel, where music became words and the combination broke my heart.
All three of these pieces offered me everything I want (see list above). They each also offered me a certain kind of narrative experience – a sort of story – albeit not the usual. I was not being asked to focus on what outcome I might desire or fear or expect; I was being invited to engage fully in my experience and let it rattle around inside me.
When I look at the world (or my life) as if it were a Hollywood movie, it’s not hard to feel like the narrative arc could use some work. But when I can focus on present experience without worrying or fantasizing how the story might play out, I can engage more directly and be more responsive to the moment. I know, pretty basic Be-Here-Now pop Buddhism 101.
But might our addiction to the Hollywood version of narrative be affecting more than how many rotten tomatoes we click in a movie review? How is it affecting our experience of theatre, of our culture, of our own lives and relationships with others? And how can we create something that might offer an alternative view of theatre, culture, life?
During one of his workshops in our Theatre MFA at Towson, I remember watching playwright Mac Wellman put a key ring, a blackboard eraser and a cup of coffee on the table in front of us and saying, “There you go. That’s a story.”
Our lives are an accumulation of our experiences, and our internal meaning-generators create stories around those experiences so that we can make sense of it all: you consider hitting “send” on that 2am email; you give a buck to the woman at the intersection or you don’t; you sleep in late and decide how that affects your morning. Each moment is filled with potentiality and has tendrils reaching out in all directions, but it’s also whole in itself. “Meaning” is the story created by the juxtaposition of one moment with another, one image with another, one experience with another. Each moment stands next to another moment, but we’re the ones creating the narrative (if you’ll excuse the short slide from Ram Dass to Sartre).
This is my first One-Minute Play Festival, and I’m thinking of how the event might relate to our experience of this thing called “Story.” Dozens of playwrights write their disparate moments, but there is already a gestalt: we are all in Baltimore, we have all written them in the past month, they are each less than a minute. We also received the same guidelines from Producing Artistic Director Dominic D’Andrea, who then curates the evening. So the story of this evening lives in all these separate moments, but it is only fully created by their order and juxtaposition, their direction and performance, the experience of all of us in the room.
A minute comes and goes with all its possibility. One follows another and we experience layers of meaning and resonance in how they come together in our minds. Put them all together and it’s an evening, a story, a life.
Baltimore’s First One-Minute Play Festival in partnership with E.M.P. Collective is Feb 9th and 10th at 8PM at E.M.P. Tickets are $15 and available here. The Sunday performance will livestream on New Play TV.