The page is your stage: Can you write a winning tiny play?
Ever dreamed of having a play produced by a professional theatre company? ‘The Irish Times’ is supporting an exciting initiative aimed at broadening the range of voices in Irish theatre. JIM CULLETON, artistic director of Fishamble: The New Play Company, has some tips if you’d like to enter the Tiny Plays for Ireland competition, and, to act as inspiration, we have two examples of what can be done
FISHAMBLE IS LOOKING for tiny plays that explore contemporary life in Ireland. We want to create a discussion, through theatre, about our country, so we are inviting new, emerging and established writers of any age – in other words, you – to submit plays that capture moments and offer glimpses of Irish life. Fishamble choose the winners and pay each selected writer a fee of €250. We will work with you on the development of the commissioned plays and produce them in March 2012 at Project Arts Centre, in Dublin. A selection will be published in The Irish Timesleading up to the production. If you’d like to enter, here’s what to remember.
1 Write about what you know or feel passionate about. Don’t be afraid to state the obvious, if you think the obvious needs to be stated, or to take us somewhere unexpected, if you think something needs to be made public.
2 If in doubt, keep it simple: a tiny play can have a big resonance but can also be confusing if it is crammed with thoughts. The play need not deal with a big issue: write something that benefits from the 600-word limit rather than squeezing a bigger play into too tight a timeframe. Simple encounters that might capture a turning point in one of the characters’ lives, or during which a character is changed by the experience, can work well.
3 Write a fully formed play. Even though it is short, it should not seem like a sketch or an excerpt from a longer play. Mark Twain and George Bernard Shaw are both credited with saying “I’m sorry to have written such a long letter, but I didn’t have time to write a short one.” Whoever said it, it is a good reminder of the unique challenge a short play poses. Your tiny play should feel satisfying and complete.
4 Don’t stretch the play to fill the word quota. Plays do not need to be as long as 600 words – and need have no words at all.
5 Read other short plays and stories, not so you can copy another writer but to consider what is possible within the genre. Fishamble has already commissioned a small number of tiny plays for this project; two of them are published here.
6 Think theatrically. A play is not just about words: it is about how the actors and audience connect, so consider this relationship. Think of yourself as the first audience of your play. There will be many tiny plays in the production, so staging will be simple, but plays can be set anywhere, and there are lots of ways to create environments on stage through the design of set, lighting, sound, costume, projection and so on. So think as imaginatively as you wish – and don’t be afraid to break the rules. A lot of great short plays do not necessarily follow the suggestions I’ve made here
Go to fishamble.com for an online conversation between Jim Culleton and Fishamble’s literary manager, Gavin Kostick, about the project
Tiny plays: The rules
Plays must be original to the writer and run for no more than four minutes – as a guide, no more than 600 words, including stage directions.
Plays should be performable by a cast of no more than three actors.
Plays must be in English or Irish – or, as long as the writer is based in Ireland, in another language.
Monologues are accepted, but dialogue plays are preferred.
Plays should have a title and should be submitted with your name to fishambletinyplays @irishtimes.com
by November 11th, 2011.
If you are under 18, please include your age.
No more than two plays per person will be accepted.
Winners will be announced in The Irish Timesand on fishamble.com.
The judges’ decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.
A Deal Made in Drimnagh
By Sean McLoughlin
Tony and Paula’s front room, Friday night. Tony (early 20s) sits on his leather armchair, drinking a bottle of beer and watching television. (A flat-screen TV is in the corner of the room.) Paula (mid-20s) stands next to a coffee table in the middle of the room, smoking. A yellow Benson Hedges ashtray sits close to the edge of the table. Because she is standing we can see that she is five or six months’ pregnant. She looks upset.
TONY Maybe if we were black and . . . we were livin’ in f***in’ . . . Los Angeles or somewhere like that. (A beat.) But we’re not black, Paula. Nor do we live in Los Angeles. We live in Drimnagh!
PAULA Well then we’ll give ’er a Drimnagh name.
TONY Ahhh, now yer bein’ silly.
(Paula looks away and takes a drag. A pause follows.)
PAULA It’s a really nice name, Tony.
(Tony gives a small shake of his head.)
TONY Made-up name.
PAULA Not a made-up name!
TONY Tellin’ ye, Paula . . .
PAULA French name! How many f***ing times do I have to tell ye?
(Tony casually shakes his head.) Beyoncé! (A beat.) That doesn’t sound French to you?
TONY A bottle of champagne. (A beat.) That’s what it sounds like to me.
(Paula looks away in disgust.)
TONY Or one of them spray things. (Paula takes a final drag from her cigarette, then bends down slowly to stab it out in the ashtray. Paula walks over to the couch, picks up her bottle of beer from the ground and slowly sits. She stares at the TV. After a few seconds Tony starts grinning. Paula notices.)
PAULA What are ye grinnin’ at?
(Not looking at Paula, Tony shakes his head. Paula looks back at the TV. A short pause follows.)
PAULA Still f***in’ grinnin’!
TONY Relax, it’s good.
PAULA What’s good? I know you’re good.
(Tony shrugs off this last remark. Short pause.)
TONY Ye want to call the baby Beyoncé, righ’?
(Paula gives him a suspicious look.)
PAULA (Slowly.) Righ’.
(Tony purses his lips and nods his head a couple of times.)
TONY I’ll let ye call the baby Beyoncé. (A beat.) One condition, though.
TONY Ye go back to bein’ a peroxide blonde.
PAULA Awwww . . . You are a sly one, aren’t ye? You are a sly one. (Tony nods his head.) Burnin’ the ear off me all summer about this. (Short pause.) And when do ye want me to do this?
TONY Soon as ye can. (Paula laughs in desperation.) Prefer it when yer blonde, Paula. What can I say?
TONY That’s the deal.
(Pause. All of a sudden Paula’s face lights up.)
PAULA I can’t!
PAULA I can’t do it!
(Tony gawks at her.)
TONY Why can’t ye do it?
PAULA Dangerous for the baby.
TONY Would you ever . . .
PAULA Seriously, Tony! All the chemicals and stuff. Could damage the baby.
TONY You’re just makin’ that up.
PAULA I’m not, Tony. Honest to Jesus. You’re not supposed to bleach yer hair when yer pregnant.
TONY But it’s perfectly alrigh’ to smoke?
PAULA Silk Cut purple! Sure they’re like smokin’ air.
(Pause.) I’ll bleach it after I’ve had the baby. What about that?
(Tony doesn’t respond.) That not good enough for ye?
(Tony is thinking.)
TONY Bleach it once, before ye have the baby. (A beat.) Now that’s reasonable, that is. Once isn’t gonna do any damage to the baby.
PAULA After I have the baby.
TONY Once, before ye have the baby.
PAULA F**k ye, Tony. (Short pause.) F***in’ months I was out of that thing!
TONY What thing?
PAULA That . . . f***ing . . . peroxide-blonde thing!
TONY So do we have a deal here or wha’? (Paula rolls her eyes.) It’s a good deal, Paula. (A beat.) You get what you want, and I get what I want.
PAULA Pppph. Tony Soprano.
TONY Whatever. Do we have a deal?
PAULA Okay, f**k it. I’ll bleach it, then.
(Tony claps his hands together and starts rubbing them.)
TONY Fair play to ye, Paula!
PAULA But you better not be spoofin’ me about this!
PAULA Coz I’m ringin’ yer mother up now in a minute and tellin’ ’er that this baby is gonna be called Beyoncé. Then I’m gonna ring me own mother, then me sisters, then Elaine and Joanne. (A beat.) So there’s no gettin’ out of it now.
TONY Deal’s a deal.
PAULA (Sarcastic.) Yeah.
(Pause. A satisfied Tony takes a slug of his beer.)
TONY Beyoncé really a French name?
TONY Definitely not a made-up?
PAULA F**k off, Tony!
(Paula takes her cigarettes and lighter out of her nightgown pocket.)
By Michael West
Jack Lee, an older man, sits at a bar, nursing a pint. His son, Gary, enters holding a mobile phone. He stands beside Jack.
GARY Where’s my pint?
JACK You finished it.
GARY No. It was full.
JACK There was a dribble.
GARY (Indicates a good half.) There was that much.
JACK It was gone. When I came back I’d this and he’d taken yours. It was empty.
(Gary suddenly smiles, trying to be a good sport.)
GARY (to unseen barman) Another pint then, please. A full one this time.
(Gary sits and places his phone carefully before him.)
GARY She said she enjoyed that.
JACK Did she say that?
GARY She said she enjoyed talking to you.
JACK Is that why she rang?
GARY She didn’t ring. I rang her and said, Talk to Dad. And handed you the phone and you handed it back to me and I was talking to her, and she said she enjoyed it. That’s all I’m saying. I said to her, Talk to your old man, and she said she would and she did and when I was talking to her after she said, I enjoyed that.
JACK Did she?
GARY And why wouldn’t she? It’s not right not to talk to your old man, no matter what. (Pause.)
She lets herself be taken advantage of, Karen does. I’m always telling her: Karen, you let people walk all over you. It upsets me. That, eh, fella she’s living with.
JACK What fella?
GARY Ah, this fella.
JACK Karen has a fella.
GARY She’s a good girl, is Karen.
JACK She is, she is. She didn’t mention any fella to me.
GARY You were only chatting for a minute.
JACK I suppose.
GARY You’re not going to get all the news in one go, are you? She’s hardly going to tell you her life story in 30 seconds. Where’s that pint?
JACK Is he all right?
GARY (to barman) Excuse me. Can I have that pint, please?
JACK This fella. Is he all right?
GARY No, that’s what I’m saying.
JACK He’s not all right?
GARY Ah, he’s all right. He’s . . . It’s the thing of, No one’s good enough for my sister, you know?
JACK What happened to . . ?
JACK Was that him?
GARY He was waste. She’s better off without him.
JACK Darren. Is that his name?
GARY Ah, he was a b*****ks.
JACK I must be thinking of someone.
(Gary’s pint arrives.)
GARY (sternly) Thank you. (To Jack) Whose round is this? I’ll get it.
JACK It’s hardly a round if you just get yourself a pint.
GARY My one was taken. I’m only . . . I’m keeping you company.
JACK Don’t worry about it.
GARY I’ll get you a drink. You want a drink?
JACK I’m fine.
GARY I’ll get you another.
JACK I’m grand.
(Pause. They drink.)
JACK I’m glad I talked to her. I’m glad she’s okay.
GARY She’ll be fine if she gets rid of this fella.
(Gary picks up his phone and starts texting.)
JACK There’s this . . . this eejit in the group session and he says, We can’t change the past. We can only change the future. And I says to him, B*****ks. What about now?
We live in the . . . continuous present. That’s all there is. I says to him, Are you talking to me in the future? No. You’re here talking to me now. And if you ask me tomorrow, or in 10 years, I’ll say . . .
(Gary stands abruptly.)
GARY I’m going to ring her. Don’t let them touch it. And you keep your hands to yourself.