Manatee Country playwright Phil Hall learned recently that one of his pieces, "Customer Service," will be included in a book called "The Best Ten-Minute Plays 2013."
It's an anthology that comes out every year, and it culls its selections from hundreds, maybe thousands, of 10-minute plays that are written and produced in the English-speaking world every year.
Ten-minute play festivals have become the hottest trend in American theatre in the past few recent years. But less than a decade ago, the idea of a 10-minute play let alone a festival or anthology of 10-minute pays, seemed almost ridiculous.
"I think theaters just discovered a revenue stream that they weren't tapping into," Hall said. "There's a theater in Santa Cruz, Calif., that does a 23 nights of eight 10-minute plays, and they fill up for every performance every single year."
The Bradenton-Sarasota area has been at the forefront of the trend. Almost decade ago, some local actors formed a company called Theatre Odyssey. The company has become internationally known for its 10-minute play festival, which features work from playwrights around the Tampa Bay area. This year's festival is in March at the Cook Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts.
When that festival started, the idea was so new that a radio commentator referred to Tom Aposporos, one of the co-founders of Theatre Odyssey, as "the guy who invented the 10-minute play."
He wasn't, but he and his colleagues were among the first to produce an annual 10-minute-play festival. It was apparently an idea that playwrights had been waiting for.
"One year in our call for scripts we forgot to specify that we were limited to Gulf coast playwrights," Apoporos said. "I'll just say that we now know how expensive it is to return scripts to Australia."
The festival has become so prestigious that it's not unusual for plays it premieres to be published and performed around the world, or expanded into full-length plays."
Last year, Theatre Odyssey initiated an
other event called the Ten-Minute Student Playwriting Festival. The second annual installment of the festival is at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 17 in the David S. and Anne V. Howard Studio Theatre at the State College of Florida Bradenton campus. It's open to the public and there's a $5 suggested donation at the door.
In its first year, the festival drew six student entries. This year, the number rose to 17. Even though Theatre Odyssey is based in Sarasota almost all the entries came from Manatee County schools. About half came for Lakewood Ranch High School.
The best six will be performed Friday -- "Death Before Decaf" by Amy Carothers, "Game of Life" by Brooke Farnswoth, "The Gate" by Jenna Greenfield, "Elevate My Life" by Joseph Grosso, "Suspect" by Tiffany Miller and "Our Future" by Eric Nolting.
Carothers is a student at Cape Coral Christian School, Nolting goes to Saint Stephen's Episcopal School and all the others are from Lakewood Ranch.
All the plays get full productions, with professional actors, directors and designers. Judges will pick their favorites, and the writers will get cash prizes.
Although writing 10-minute plays may seem easier than writing full-length works, it can actually be daunting.
"I think most playwrights would agree that they write too much," said Preston Boyd, a Theatre Odyssey board member and the drama teacher at Saint Stephen's. "This forces you to get rid of words, to get the story and the dialogue down to their essence. But you still have to have a beginning, a middle and an end."
Audiences love the format because they don't get stuck for two hours in a bad show.
"If you don't like one play, another one's coming up in just a couple of minutes," Boyd said.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.