The Play’s The Thing

One of my favourite quotes about playwriting is one from W. Somerset Maugham, from his autobiographical book on writing, The Summing Up.

“Thank God, I can look at a sunset now without having to think how to describe it.” ~ W. Somerset Maugham

Out of context, this appears to have absolutely nothing to do with playwriting. But with a quick explanation of the context, playwrights would quickly understand the grand meaning behind the quote. I imagine novelists would too.

He said those words when he decided to put novel writing down. He was thrilled at the prospect of being done with narrative. His future was filled with dialogue.

I love writing novels. I can’t lie and say I don’t. But there is something about writing plays that just ignites me. I love the conversation. I love exploring the entire package of the story in nothing more than movement and dialogue. Ever since I first begged my way onto the Trafalgar24 stage (as a playwright…NOT literally onto the stage!) I knew that playwriting was a home for me. I felt so comfortable giving words to breathing characters. It just made sense. AND…I would never have to put into words the descriptive narrative to help give scene and place and emotion and setting and all those other non-character things that help paint the story’s picture.

I could get my characters to create the entire picture. I could allow others to create the set, to SHOW what everything looked like. Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. That is pure story. I will never give up writing novels. I have a passion for creating a fictional universe. I will continue to write that necessary narrative. I won’t turn my back on describing the perfect sunset. But I will always have a special place in my heart for writing plays.

My immediate passion is the 10-minute format. This is truly an art-form I can get behind. When you segregate 10 minutes from a lifetime, it is nothing…or gives off the appearance of being nothing. But 10 minutes is enough to change the outcome of that lifetime. In ten minutes, the universe can change. The beauty of a great 10-minute play is in choosing the ten minutes of a particular life to zero in on. Not every ten minute interval is exceptional, or life-changing, or stage worthy. The playwright’s job is to discover a character. The character need not be exceptional, special, brilliant, charming, beautiful, intelligent. The character could be Joe Everyday. But…when the playwright chooses that character to write about, they must choose an exceptional, beautiful, intelligent, charming, brilliant, special ten minutes of that character’s life. We all have exceptional moments. We all have life-changing moments worthy of the stage. The trick is to capture the right character at the right time.

This is what I like about the format. The urgency of getting the right glimpse into a person’s life. The novel could take place in an afternoon, in a week, in a month, in a year, in a lifetime. The span of a novel is completely open to artist interpretation. But the 10-minute play…it’s a camera eye moving into a moment in a character’s long life. It’s one glimpse. The playwright gets to zoom in and get comfortable with his characters only long enough to thrill at their ability to create them. Before too long the camera eye is zooming back out and leaving those characters behind. The audience has to be moved by what they see in that short window of time. It’s a difficult task for the playwright, but it is also a gift. That is the brilliance of the art-form.

One other thing W. Somerset Maugham had to say about playwriting?

“I think the secret of playwriting can be given in two maxims: stick to the point and whenever you can, cut.” ~ W. Somerset Maugham

NEVER has this maxim been more relevant than when discussing the art-form of the 10-minute play!

In June, I will have a 10-minute play performed at the InspiraTO Festival in Toronto, Ontario. This will be my 6th 10-minute play. It will be my first one performed in Toronto. Four Trafalgar24 plays and one Uxbridge Festival of the Arts play behind me, I am thrilled to have this opportunity! I will always love the 10-minute format. Every opportunity I have to explore it is another golden opportunity to glimpse into a moment of time, chance and change and redemption.

Like InspiraTO on Facebook for festival information and ticket availability!

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By Kevin Craig

Author, Poet, Playwright. Author of The Camino Club, Billions of Beautiful Hearts, and Book of Dreams, all from Duet Books, the LGBTQ Young Adult imprint of Chicago Review Press. Other books: Pride Must Be A Place, Half Dead & Fully Broken, Burn Baby Burn Baby, The Reasons, Sebastian's Poet, and Summer on Fire.

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