Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why One Act Plays Have Become the Ideal Theater Project

How many plays have you attended where you find yourself "shuffling in your seat" wondering when the intermission is?

Or feeling so totally "zonked-out" by the end, that you can hardly keep awake on the trip home?

In a world full of fast information, immediate gratification, and super-busy lives, few people have the time or inclination these days to watch a two-and-a-half hour play, without getting bored or restless.

Whether you think this is a shame or not, it's simply the way of the world.

For local theaters, actors and writers, we have to adjust to a faster-moving culture with shorter attention spans, particularly if we want to entice a new theatre-going public to our productions.

The best thing we can do therefore, is to make sure the theatre experience is sharp, snappy, and immediately gratifying.

Get the audience in, entertain them, then make sure they emerge feeling stimulated by the experience, and will arrive home at a reasonable hour.

This is where the one-act play comes in.

One-act plays are often used to showcase new writing or directing talent. A theater might typically run a one-act season once a year, or every couple of years.

With the change in our expectations of what is "entertainment", one act plays now make ideal theatre projects.

Be warned however: One of the traps some theaters fall into is that they insist on running three one-act plays within a single evening.

If each one-act play is 30-40 minutes long - and there is an intermission held between each play for set change - the entire experience can go on well past 2.5 hours! Simply too long for the average punter today!

These days, a night at the theatre that lasts 1.5 hours in total (including intermission) makes for a great evening out.

While some may be thinking that this is too short and people are looking for "more for their buck" - think again. People go to the theatre for one reason: to be entertained. The biggest killer is boredom or restlessness.

You are better off leaving someone eager for more, than scrambling for the door.

If you're considering running a one act play season, here's some potential ways to structure your evening:

* 2 x plays at 35-40 mins in length, with a 15-20 min intermission for set change, or

* 3 x plays at 20-25 mins in length, with 2 x 15 min intermissions for set change, or

* The most challenging option, but doable: 1 x 10-15 min play (or simply some pre-play entertainment) with very fast set change while the audience waits. Then 1 x hour length play, split into two halves, with intermission in-between each half.

* If running multiple 10 minute plays (such as for a drama class production), try not to run more than 6 plays in total. With set change and intermission added, this will end up being about the right length.

To find good one-act plays, visit

Good luck!

by Anna Stillaman