Theatrical productions usually have one or multiple acts, but at Talking Horse Productions’ Starting Gate New Play Festival, playwrights create 10-minute plays to focus on being concise. The festival, now in its third year, features the work of three playwrights who have each written two new plays based on a theme.
The themes are dialectic in nature; for example, last year’s was “feast and famine.” This year the theme is “earth and sky.” It is inspired by a poem by local writer Monica Hand, who participated as a playwright in last year’s festival before her death months later.
When choosing the playwrights, the festival’s organizers focus on diversity because, as the festival’s committee chair Meg Phillips Crespy puts it, white men produce most of today’s plays. “We are giving a voice to some people who might not have a chance to be produced,” she says.
This year’s playwrights are Ricardo Blayde Diaz, Angel Kenison-Scott and Trent Rash. Diaz is an MU graduate who studied playwriting; the 10-minute format is his specialty. Kenison-Scott started writing plays at age 17 and studied theater at the University of Central Missouri. Rash, whose first experience was writing a musical with a friend, is a newcomer to playwriting.
Although they’re short, 10-minute plays can be very effective. Diaz says playwrights don’t have to worry about scene changes or a long development in the story, but they can make one moment that is especially powerful, enjoyable or sad. “I think it’s something special when you can make that happen in 10 minutes or less,” he says.
Rash says there’s also something truthful to the short format because it is similar to the way life unfolds. “There’s a lot of realness about a 10-minute play because a lot of reality in our lives takes place in 10 minutes.” Once Rash started thinking about it that way, he found the plays easier to write.
However, writing in this style isn’t without its challenges. “Everything has to be simplified,” Kenison-Scott says. “You still have a very developed play with some very deep meaning in it, but your point of attack has to be almost from the get-go, and your end has to be that abrupt.” There’s no room to be wordy.
Aside from giving an audience the experience of a 10-minute play, this festival is a chance for local playwrights to receive feedback from the audience after the showing and to be recognized in the community. In Kenison-Scott’s opinion, it is a sign that Talking Horse is looking toward the future of theater. “Some of the best works are happening now,” she says.