Carol Lashof on the process of creating something very, very short.
I was slow to warm up to the ten-minute play genre, thinking it gimmicky and more conducive to sketch comedy than serious drama. But eventually I succumbed to the lure of submission opportunities and began to write ten-minute plays. I found that they were fun and that, yes, it is possible to create nuanced characters and make high-stakes drama unfold in a mere 8-10 minutes of stage time. Even so, when I first heard that one-minute plays were a thing, I thought … No.
Then Dominic D’Andrea invited me to participate in the 4th annual One-Minute Play Festival at the Playwrights Foundation in San Francisco. Whatever is the inverse of sour grapes, that’s what I experienced. I was honored to be asked to join the party. Besides, a production is a production, no matter how short the play. I squelched my skepticism in under a minute. And after reading several examples of successful one-minute plays from other festivals, I knew my doubts about the potential of the genre were unfounded. Still, the question remained: Could I write one? (Or two, actually, since the call was to submit exactly two.)
I cast about for a structure, a form in which every breath counts, and lighted upon the sonnet: 140 syllables and a thing complete in itself. Drawing inspiration from Romeo and Juliet—who meet and fall in love in the course of a shared sonnet—I wrote Come Live With Me, a play about star-crossed lovers for whom the impediment to a life together is not the enmity of their families, but the high cost of rent.
The rules of constructing a sonnet provided me with a sense of safety in my first attempt at writing a one-minute play. For my second attempt, I abandoned the training wheels. I heeded the advice in the festival “Writers’ Pack” to build from a “seed image” and pursue “deep specificity.” My seed image for Be Yourself was a wife questioning whether her spouse would, by another name and gender, still be the person she has always loved. The first drafts ran long, so I kept cutting the beginning, starting later and later in the action, so as to allow the characters time to move deeper into the conflict—which is a useful habit to adopt when writing any play, no matter how long.
Carol Lashoff is a playwright whose work has been featured all around the Bay Area and beyond. The complete scripts of “Come Live With Me” and “Be Yourself” are posted here: http://wp.me/p2lYdZ-33 Running time for each play is about 50 seconds.