Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wait for it

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By Patricia Milton

As a playwright, I’m very interested in structure. I find that using an explicit structure creates ease in my playwriting. I have used a very conventional two-act play structure for my own full-length plays, although, as an audience member, often I enjoy alternative structures.

As I sat down to write one-minute plays for this year’s #1MPF, I decided I wanted to try applying a common structure.

But trying to create a two-act one-minute play felt daunting. So I considered the structure of a joke. To be more specific, I considered the idea of working toward a “punchline.”

You’ll recognize that the structure of many jokes is as follows:

The Set-up — Establishes the premise of the joke by providing the audience with the necessary background information: characters, situation, and needed details. (Often, “x walks into a bar”).

The Punchline — This is the laugh line. The setup leads the audience in one direction, and the comic surprises them by suddenly going off in a different direction. With its twist — its element of surprise — a punchline brings satisfaction and laughter.

So using this structure with a microplay, a final line of dialogue is a revelation, a “twist,” that creates a paradigm shift through introducing new information. This revelation would suddenly make the 45 seconds leading up to it make sense. Each ending, then, is essentially the sharing of a secret with the audience — one that illuminates the full meaning of each one-minute play.

With that structure in place, it became easy for me to settle on characters, circumstances, tone, and theme. One of my plays explores a particular point in US political history, and one play is a simple conversation between two women who loved the same (now dead) man. One piece is serious and one is comic. The secrets that are revealed create surprise as well as meaning in these two very different microplays.
The 3rd Annual San Francisco One-Minute Play Festival in partnership with Playwrights Foundation will take place on Sat Dec 15th at 8PM and Sun Dec 16th at 3PM and 8PM at the Thick House. The Sun 3PM performance will livesteam on‘s New Play TV here.

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