We like what Mark Saunders does. Truth is, we’d like to do it ourselves. This artistic baby boomer is living out his “second act” and now, as he explains in this story for BoomerCafé, he’s teaching others — people he calls “a few good drama queens and kings” — to do the same.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said “there are no second acts in America.” However, I live in the middle of Mexico and I am surrounded by people who are very familiar with second acts. In fact, many of the expats I’ve met have more than one second act tucked in their belt. If you’ve always wanted to paint but never had the time, here in San Miguel de Allende, there is no shortage of scenes to paint or instructors ready to help guide your brush. Here, too, you can give voice to your inner poet, dance to the natural light fantastic, write your memoir (or, if you’re too shy, write someone else’s). It’s time not just to release the hounds but to release your creative juices.
Case in point: Recently I had the pleasure of leading a four-day workshop for writers and actors about the 10-minute play. Accomplished playwrights including David Henry Hwang, Steven Dietz, Tina Howe, Athol Fugard, Brian Friel, Theresa Rebeck and TonyKushner have all written 10-minute plays. This dynamic and challenging form, “The American theater’s haiku,” has been embraced by actors and audiences around the globe.
So what is it? A successful 10-minute play is a compressed theatrical experience, with a beginning, middle, and end (but not necessarily in that order), almost always set in one location, with limited staging requirements, and almost always featuring a small cast, often only two or three characters. It’s not merely a scene from a longer play, a skit or a monologue. It is a play.
My favorite quote about the form comes from Jon Jory, at the time a producer-director at Actors Theatre of Louisville and one of the earliest advocates of this short genre: “A ten-minute play can tell a story that forty minutes or two hours would haveruined, and we’ve all gotten stuck with that guy at a party.”
Each day for one week, the workshop met for a 90-minute session and then the participants would go home and work on their play. It had to be finished by Thursday because on Friday we were scheduled to hold a public reading of what they had created. The pressure was on, the clock was ticking.
I wasn’t sure how many of them would actually have a play to share because, let’s face it, we’re all pretty much off the clock and this town, simply put, is full of distractions. The final tally? Out of the ten participants, all ten started and finished their plays.
I was both thrilled and stunned by the quality of the work they produced and the variety of themes they covered, as well as the compelling characters and engaging conflicts created. There were plays on everything from the house-sitting gig from Hell to a family of head-shrinking cannibals struggling to maintain their traditions. Other plays dealt with cancer, putting on a farewell party for a stranger who is dying, the events of 9/11, and an adult son changing his last name against his mother’s wishes; a dystopian downer and a tattoo parlor upper; budding love and a strained father-daughter relationship.
I like to think for at least some of them, their first ten-minute play will serve as a gateway drug and they will go on to write longer plays, maybe even a full-length. Truth be told, I wouldn’t mind being stuck with any of them at a party.
No more second acts in America? Try moving to Mexico. Our 10-minute play workshop was full of second acts. And they were all wonderful.
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