On October 24 and 25, four short plays will be staged at the Festival of the Arts in Cobourg. Playwright Marie-Lynn Hammond takes a witty look behind the scenes of writing a short play.
Thalia – an attractive, dark-haired woman of indeterminate age; there’s a theatrical look about her.
Thomas – about 60, distinguished-looking, but with a slight air of the bohemian about him.
The stage is bare except for a table, two chairs, and a poster for a festival on a wall. Thomas and Thalia sit across the table facing one another. Thalia has a folder of papers in front of her.
The time: The present.
THOMAS: I’m sorry, but it’s not possible!
THALIA: Thomas, they tell me you’ve always been a doubting sort of fellow. But listen, it can be done.
THOMAS: In a mere ten minutes? Ridiculous. It takes a good deal more time to do something like this effectively. (Gets up and begins pacing)
THALIA: People do it all the time in ten minutes. Sometimes even less. Someone’s probably doing it right now.
THOMAS: Yes, but are they doing it well? With all the required elements? With engagement, rising tension, with—dare I say it—a climax? In such a short space of time? (Stops to face Thalia) I’m sorry, but I refuse to go along with this…claptrap. (Begins to walk away)
THALIA: (Picks up the folder, goes after him, plucks at his sleeve. Thomas stops and half turns to her) Listen to me, Thomas. It’s totally doable. There are thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of them out there. There are whole festivals devoted to them! (Thrusts the folder at him) Look, there are four right here!
THOMAS: (Pulls away from her grasp) I’m not having it. I mean, I’m all for innovation—in my time I was known as a daring innovator. In fact, I once directed a feline Hamlet. But this idiocy (pushes the folder away), really, I —
THALIA: (Interrupting) A feline Hamlet?
THOMAS: Yes, yes, a feline Hamlet. As I said, highly innovative. The cats played the roles, though we had actors speaking the lines from behind a scrim. It was all about the dichotomy between our higher selves and our animal selves. Mind you, it had a rather long running time, but nevertheless—
THALIA: How long a running time?
THOMAS: (Reluctantly) About seventeen hours. Let’s face it, cats are notoriously hard to direct. But at least my production demanded commitment from the audience! Look, I know we’ve just met—your name again…?
THOMAS: Thalia…? (Gestures for her to go on)
THALIA: I just go by “Thalia.” (Smiles)
THOMAS: (Rolls his eyes) Fine. Thalia. Greek, I believe? (Thalia nods) It rings a bell…(Thalia grins slyly) Look, I’m flattered that you contacted me about this, but you’ll need to find another collaborator. Good day—Thalia. (Heads for exit stage left, muttering) Thalia? A character in the Odyssey, perhaps? No. Thalia…?
THALIA: (Crosses to stage left, looks into the wings, calls out) Thomas, listen: Nowadays people have way busier lives, shorter attention spans. Ten minutes may be all the time some of them have for live drama.
(Thomas peers out from the wings stage left)
THOMAS: So you believe in pandering to their limitations?
THALIA: Come on, Thomas, times change. We all have to adapt! (aside) Why, I’ve been adapting for centuries… (Strides over to Thomas, grabs him by the jacket, and drags him to centre stage)
THOMAS: Excuse me!
THALIA: (Pushes Thomas down into his chair, puts folder in front of him) Writing a short play is NOT pandering. Now no one’s dumb enough to try to cram a multi-generational drama about, oh, I don’t know, one-armed violin players, into ten minutes. It’s about creating something exquisite in miniature!
If you don’t believe me, check out the upcoming Northumberland Festival of the Arts. Four county writers will have their ten-minute plays performed the evenings of October 24th and 25th. And the plays are right here in this folder.
THOMAS: (Picks up the folder, but is still skeptical) So you’re saying you can have a good story, a narrative arc, and a conflict that gets resolved, all in ten minutes?
THALIA: (Puts a hand on his shoulder, leans over him and opens the folder) Damn right. All these plays do.
THOMAS: (Scans a page in the folder) And great characters?
THALIA: (Nods) The characters in these plays range from a teenage punk whose best friend is a rodent to Albert Einstein himself! And the plays encompass a wide range of emotions and styles, from poignant and near tragic to heartwarming to highly comic. I tend to lean to the latter myself.
THOMAS: (Disdainfully) Yes, I suppose you would. (Slowly stands) Even if you’re right, I don’t think this is for me. (Aside) And yet, there’s something strangely compelling about this woman and her project…
THALIA: Oh Thomas, writing plays this short is a real dramatic challenge that takes skill and imagination! I thought you had at least a tiny streak of adventurousness left—you, the man who crossed Hamlet with Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Cats!
THOMAS: Not really. My production was far more dignified. For one thing, the cats didn’t sing.
THALIA: Whatever. I think my pal Aristophanes would have found it fascinating. You know, the fellow who wrote The Frogs—a comedy, but still—
THOMAS: Your “pal” Aristophanes? The man lived over two thousand years ago in ancient Greece!
THALIA: Well, I just mean…I adore his writing. Huge fan. Brilliant stuff.
THOMAS: At least we agree on that. But wait—Greece… “Thalia.” I’ve got it! The muse, the Greek goddess—of comedy! You were named for the muse of comedy. Am I correct?
THALIA: Something like that.
THOMAS: So no wonder you’re into this silliness of “miniature” plays.
THALIA: Oh Thomas, lighten up! Are you afraid to try something new?
THOMAS: Me, afraid? I most certainly am not. However, I just…I…
THALIA: Besides, I really believed that you and I could have done this together.
THOMAS: Done this together? You mean write a play that runs only ten minutes—together?
THALIA: Yes—two heads are better than one. So stretch yourself, Thomas. Innovate in this new form! Good for the brain, you know! And the soul. And often for the heart. (Puts her hand on his arm)
THOMAS: You do argue rather convincingly, Thalia. Oh, all right then, why not? But you’ll have to start us off, act as my muse as it were, ha ha. Do you think you can do that?
THALIA: I think I can. (Aside, wry smile) After all, I’ve been acting as a muse for a couple of millennia.
THOMAS: Splendid. So, let’s try to create a ten-minute play. Comedy, or tragedy?
THALIA (Grins) Comedy, of course. And I think we just did, Thomas. I think we just did.
Marie-Lynn Hammond is a playwright, singer-songwriter, author and editor. Last winter, she gave a workshop on writing ten-minute plays in Grafton, Northumberland County. Her 10-minute play, Mouse, will be staged at FOTA October 24 and 25 , along with 3 others.