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Mystery & Drama

Focus on the Elements of Winning Plays – The Judging Criteria

Play (theatre)

Play (theatre) (Photo credits: www.campgroundsigns.com)

No Problem. Right?

I’ve been trying to find the time to give over to my own writing projects, and short plays keep cropping up!  Short plays—10 Minute Jobs seem so appealing. Why is this? Well, maybe it’s not obvious, but it’s true that short plays seem as if they would be relatively easy to put together.  Not!  They are decidedly not easy, but what good writing is?

Calls for Play Submissions

Almost always, calls for short play submissions from theater companies come in the form of contests or some other kind of process where submissions are judged.  There are deadlines. There are entry forms. Sometimes entry fees (usually small). And then, to add to the consternation of playwrights, the theater companies “up the ante” by creating elements that the submissions must encompass to be eligible. What elements? Take the Heartland Theatre Company’s contest for instance.

The Heartland Theatre Company 10-Minute Play Festival.

Heartland selected eight 10-minute plays from entries submitted on or before the deadline of Feb 1, 2013.  Obviously, the date has come and gone, but the judging criteria is as valid as ever. There are various guidelines having to do with the number of characters allowed, limits on requirements of the set, etc.  But, from the playwright’s standpoint, the requirement to have the theme of the play involve “a box, a package, or a present” is the biggest deal. Themes in other years of Heartland Festivals stipulated themes such as:”The Coffee Shop”, “It’s Over!”, “Inns and Outs” and “Back Porch Plays”. It’s hard enough to come up with a compelling play without any stipulations about content.  Nevertheless, it is what it is.  As they say, live with it. By stipulating themes, Heartland is definitely insuring that the submitted plays will be new work.

The Judging Criteria

One of the best things about Heartland’s Festival is that they provide a checklist of what the judges will be looking for.  Whether they intended to or not, this checklist is one of the few concrete explanations around of what a short play should include; and in providing this, Heartland is sort of defining the short play.  What are the criteria:

1. Theme
a. Is there a strong, clear use of the theme in this play?
b. Is the use of the theme original and interesting?
2. Voice
a. Does the author show a strong, interesting writing style?
b. Does the author have a clear viewpoint that’s well integrated into the play?
3. Characterization
a. Are the characters interesting and compelling as written?
Are these people you want to hear more about at the end of ten minutes?
b. Do the characters seem credible and real?
c. Are these the best characters to propel this action?
d. Does the main character change or develop through the course of the play?
4. Plot
a. Does the plot seem fresh, intriguing and original?
b. Does something happen?
c. Is there sufficient conflict and tension to sustain ten minutes?
d. Will this plot seem active, vital and dramatic on stage?
5. Dialogue
a. Does the dialogue fit the characters?
b. Does the dialogue sound natural and credible for the plot and location?
c. Does each character have his or her own unique voice?
d. Does the dialogue seem fresh and compelling, not dull or boring or generic?
6. Appropriateness
a. Is this play appropriate for HTC’s audience?
b. Is this play appropriate for HTC’s stage facilities?
7. Mechanics
a. Is the play likely to be ten minutes long in performance?
8. Overall effect
Is the play satisfying and memorable by the end?

So, we’ve moved a little closer to understanding what we’re up against as playwrights of short plays.  Are you motivated to get your feet wet?

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  1. It does make it a bit easier when there are guidelines for what is expected. Quite a bit of their scoring criteria I think would make sense even for longer plays, I would think.
    Jon Jefferson recently posted..Moving ForwardMy Profile

    1. I’m always intrigued by references to “something happening” in a play. I’d like to know exactly what qualifies as a happening.
      Larry Crane recently posted..Focus on the Elements of Winning Plays – The Judging CriteriaMy Profile

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