The Dos and Don’ts of a Ten-Minute Play

by on January 8, 2018

See more posts about: Press

The plays in this year’s production of The Tens were chosen from hundreds of submissions to the National Ten-Minute Play Contest – but what sets them apart from the bunch? Dramaturgy and Literary Management Apprentices Vivian Barnes and Meghan McLeroy shed some light on what makes these little plays such a big deal.

The Dos and Don’ts of a Ten-Minute Play

DO: Expect the same complexity as a full length play.

M: A ten-minute play is essentially the same thing as a full-length play, just in a smaller container.

V: Ten-minute plays still have really complex characters and arcs to follow. The characters still go through some sort of change by the end of the play– the playwright just has to be good at fitting it all into that smaller container!

DON’T: Expect a full length play crammed into ten minutes.

M: The play’s focus has to be sharper. The playwright can’t write about too many things.

V: If the play tries to tackle too much, the audience is left not knowing what’s most important for them to grasp onto.

M: The play has to get to the heart of the conflict pretty quickly. There can’t be a “slow burn” of set up and conflict like you might see in a full-length play.

DO: Expect the play to say something interesting and important.

V: A successful ten-minute play keeps you thinking and asking questions even after the play ends.

M: Right. The plays in The Tens often present worlds where a lot of the story is subtextual. For example, at first glance Drinking on a Plane seems to be simply about two “bros” getting drunk on a plane together. But underneath that premise, the play quietly explores male friendship and loneliness.

DON’T: Expect it to fall back onto old tropes and overplayed notes.

V: A ten-minute play is more than a skit or a sketch. The play still needs high, dramatic stakes; just because it’s short does not mean that the story can only be surface level.

M: Absolutely. A sketch relies on stereotypes, while a ten-minute play needs to develop its characters. That doesn’t mean the play can’t be funny! The humor just also needs to function as a mechanism to explore something deeper.

M: Some ten-minute plays run the risk of turning into solely philosophical discussions, and then they become “issue” plays—very obvious “this is the MESSAGE” plays.

V: And because of the length, often time it feels easy to say, “Oh, well, it’s ten minutes. I’ll just have two characters talking about *insert issue here*.” The risk there is that the characters become two different sides of one argument. When that happens, the characters lose their complexities.

DO: Prepare for a completely different theatre experience!

V: Ten-minute plays teach you how to stretch a new theatre-going muscle because you don’t always get the same level of detail that you would in a full-length play. You learn how to be okay with not having all the answers at the end of each play and, subsequently, how to form your own assumptions and inferences about each piece.

M:  In a ten-minute play, you’re often being dropped into a single moment in time. You may not have all of the information the characters have going into that moment, and you still may not have all of that information when the moment ends. As audience members watching these shorter pieces, we have to embrace that unknown rather than resist it.

V: In the Professional Training Company’s The Tens, the audience is going to be dropped into six VERY different worlds. The entire PTC has been working really hard to bring these worlds to life, and we’re excited to share them with everyone.


DON’T: Miss The Tens, playing in the Victor Jory Theatre on January 14 and 16-18 at 9:30 p.m.


Purchase tickets today!



Actors Theater of Louisville
316 West Main St.
Louisville, KY 40202
Box Office: 502.584.1205
502.371.0956 TDD

Share Your Thoughts