Joe McCabe

     "The Amputation"      "The Life Raft"      "Two Women in a War Zone"      "The Banker and the Witch"      "The Game"      "The Trio Con Brio"      "Fire"      "Rewards of a Hero"      "Phones on the Bus"
     "The Win-Win Game"
"A Voice Mail Message for Mom from Suzanne (Age 29)"

Plays have been getting shorter lately. Musicals still run three hours or more, but full-length stage plays now rarely run longer than 90 minutes, and some barely exceed 60 minutes. Interest has increased in writing and performing one-act plays running 20 to 40 minutes. Even shorter plays are in demand. The 2004 edition of the The Dramatists Guild Resource Directory lists thirty competitions for plays that run ten minutes or less. Three theaters in the United States seek plays that are no longer than one page, and one competition limits plays to one minute. Some playwrights have written Thumbnail plays, which are only six lines in length - the haiku of the stage! Some of them have been performed on stage, and some have been published in literary journals. Less than three years ago, FlashDrama was formed as an international group of nearly 40 English-speaking playwrights who critique each other's work on the internet. The maximum length for these plays is ten pages.

Many forces have driven these changes. Rising production costs have led most producers to cap the number of actors in a play at eight or fewer. Some theaters won't stage a play that requires more than five actors. Rising costs have also led to plays with simpler and fewer sets. Ten-minute plays usually have small casts (two or three actors) and minimal sets (a park bench or a table and two chairs), so it is easy and inexpensive to stage them. They make excellent training vehicles for directors, actors, and stage technicians in schools, in community theaters, and even in Off, Off Broadway theaters. Eight of these plays make a full evening of entertainment.

Some people have pointed to the growing interest in both shorter plays and shorter fiction (short-short stories, flash fiction, sudden fiction) as evidence of a profound change in our society. Some have suggested that our attention span is shrinking. Others see us as so bombarded with stimuli throughout the day that we have less and less time to focus on what is happening around us. Politicians talk in TV sound bites. TV commercials sell us the latest goods and services in 30 seconds or less. Can you imagine standing under the Illinois summer sun for three hours listening to Lincoln and Douglas debate? Can you imagine crowding into London's Globe Theater and sitting on a wooden bench for a performance of Hamlet that lasted for more than four hours? I don't think so.