The Granddaddy of American Short Play
Festivals As Catalyst for Action
The deadline for submitting an entry for the 38th Annual Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival has come and gone. Forty finalists will be chosen by a reading panel from over 900 submissions. The forty finalist plays will be performed live in a week long festival in New York, the mecca of American Theater, to determine which six will remain standing at the end. It’s tremendously exciting to contemplate winning a spot in the final half dozen, and I won’t spoil my fun with doubt that my entry “Smoke” has the remotest chance. But, credit the French OOB Festival for creating my impetus for putting pen to paper at all.
How did I find my story?
It came from another story. I had a full length play that was in the drawer for quite a while, but I thought it still had potential. It was set in a run down bar and grill. I have been tweaking it for months, years. One interesting tweak had to do with going after the building with a bulldozer in order to transform it into a modern upscale restaurant. This transformation would be a metaphor for remodeling the primary character relationship in the play. So, I started out with a man and a woman in a run down bar and grill. Somehow these two people would change things by altering the bar. That was it.
Do Complications Make a Story?
As soon as I had my characters on their feet, they needed to start talking and moving. That’s what a play is. I decided the woman would be advising the man on the commercial potential for the bar. But the possibilities for the bar would to be secondary to the possibilities for the characters. My mind leaped to my brother’s experience of being contacted by an old girlfriend from high school days. This morphed into the complications such a meeting create for the man and his wife. So, now I had three characters, man and wife and old girlfriend.
Does the Form Affect the Story?
Without question it does. A character does something that provokes a response from another character. In the play form, this “something” is words or physical action. The playwright can “show” what is happening through dialogue or through written stage directions. Unlike a short story, there is no opportunity to have a character meditate or remember or do something else that takes place in the thoughts of a character. Every written expression in the play script is a line of dialogue or a stage direction that propels the story forward. And so, a play can be thought of as the purest form of story telling. The playwright needs to convey all manner of emotions, remembrance, deceit, fear, etc. etc. directly through dialogue and written stage directions.
So, What Happened?
I put my characters on their feet. I gave them things to say and things to do. I implied in dialogue that they were lying, that they were nervous, cheeky, scared, or something else to convey that they could lose what they wanted most. It was completely free form except the dialogue had to sound right and feel true. One false word and I was dead.
One line of dialogue led to the next. I started up a rhythm. It flowed. But suddenly a line would feel wrong. I’d tweak it and go on. To the end. Then I seized up. What happens at the end? What must happen to make this a real story. What is a real story? The lead character must change? A lesson must be learned? I don’t know. But, for this story of mine, written in the 10 minute play form, I have recorded what ‘went down’ under a certain set of circumstances. If it all rings true to the reader it is satisfying, or it’s disturbing but believable, or some other variation of this. It’s something. Something that happened in the course of the life of these characters. And it adds to the cumulative truth.
What do you think?
Are you motivated to try writing in the purest form of storytelling?
Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to my blog and you’ll never miss my periodic posts! Just enter your email address in the upper right corner of this page. It’s easy. It’s free, and I won’t share your contact information with anyone!