The One Minute Play Festival: Moments That Reveal A Community’s Mind

One Minute Play Festival logo, founder Dominic D'Andrea
The One Minute Play Festival, founded by Dominic D’Andrea, goes back to the place where it began, the Brick Theater

To celebrate its tenth anniversary, the Brick Theater Company in Brooklyn is mounting some 20 world premieres of plays by 13 major playwrights, including Neil LaBute, Greg Kotis, Mike Daisey, and Kristoffer Diaz – all in one night, Monday, March 25th.

How is this possible?

It’s the latest production of the One-Minute Play Festival. All the new plays run no longer than a minute.

There is no more appropriate venue for the festival, since it’s at the Brick where the One Minute Play Festival began six years ago, the brainchild of director Dominic D’Andrea. As he’s explained it, it was born out of dissatisfaction with other short form play festivals: At one such festival, “somebody was saying, you’re watching ten ten-minute plays, or basically a hundred minutes of work, and there’s only a minute of those plays that are the thing that you’re waiting to see….I kind of had a light-bulb moment: Why don’t we try to make a festival about those minutes?”

At that first festival at the Brick, “there were so many actors that we literally had to keep the actors for the second part of the evening in the bar across the street and in intermission do a switch-over. Most of the playwrights showed up because they were curious. Some people thought it was a great idea. Some people thought it was a terrible idea, but everyone wanted to see what it was about, and we had seven or eight really good directors….It immediately became an annual event.”

Now it is something of a national phenomenon, participants include “famous artists, emerging artists, community members” around the country.

OneMinutePlayFestivalLogosThe motto of the festival — 1,000+ Plays. 300+ Playwrights. 10 Cities. 1 Minute

It is a manifestation of D’Andrea’s belief in theater’s “transformative power, and its ability to create a sacred space and shared meaning and cathartic experiences for people.”

Jonathan Mandell: The One-Minute Play Festival began at The Brick in 2007. How has it changed since then?

Dominic D’Andrea: It took us four years to get the work right, figure out what it was about — to understand what’s different about it. A partnership model emerged. We partner with community-specific theaters. We identify themes in each community, and engage local writers and actors to tell these stories. It’s our way of saying “here’s where your artistic community is right now, and here’s a series of moments that speak to that.” We also engage in community dialogue sessions with our artists and the wider community.

How many cities is the One-Minute Play Festival in this season, 2012-2013.

Dominic D’Andrea: This is the largest season yet. We have a total of 13 festivals this season: Atlanta for the second year, Chicago for the third, some new festivals in Philly, Washington DC, Texas.

What are the themes this year?

Dominic D’Andrea:

-Technology impacting the way we communicate with each other, and what is lost interpersonally because of the reliance of technology (San Francisco)

-Deep loss and death of loved ones: the moments when we are faced with moving forward in the face of deep emotional trauma (Boston)

-Body image, and exploring what beauty really looks like (Baltimore)

-Cancer (Minneapolis, Boston, and San Francisco)

-Exploring the stereotypes of a given place and culture (New Jersey)

OneMinutePlayFestivalatBrickIs there a theme at the Brick’s One Minute Play Festival?

Dominic D’Andrea: What we’re doing at The Brick is a special event, not a typical one-minute festival. It’s a gallery-style “installation” performance.

Can you tell me more about the plays that at the Brick festival?

Dominic D’Andrea: Gosh, I don’t want to give too much away. Talking about some of these will blow the surprise, as they are interactive.

Neil LaBute plays are meant to be performed at each other from across the room.

Kristoffer Diaz wrote a play in gibberish. We have been peeing in our pants laughing rehearsing them. Robert Askins, who is one of our writers also is acting in it. It’s probably a play we will never get through without breaking down and laughing.

Playwrights participating in the One Minute Play Festival at The Brick include (top to bottom, left to right) Neil LaBute, Mike Daisey, Kristoffer Diaz, Greg Kotis,  Rachel Axler, Qui Nguyen,
Playwrights participating in the One Minute Play Festival at The Brick include (top to bottom, left to right) Neil LaBute, Mike Daisey, Kristoffer Diaz, Greg Kotis, Rachel Axler, Qui Nguyen,

Mike Daisey’s play came in to us literally while we were rehearsing. He wrote it during his own tech, and emailed it to me. We’ll take them how we can get them.  Michael Gardner–the Brick’s artistic director– printed them out and handed them to us, mid rehearsal. It’s a riff on Glass Menagerie filled with cultural anachronisms. It might be one of the funniest one-minute plays we’ve ever done. Mike is an amazingly funny playwright…

And several of the plays are sort of meta. They are literally about the Brick. It was so nice to have writers familiar with the Brick and their history, and to write moments dramatizing what it means. It’s made the experience much more meaningful.

I love the Brick. It’s a place that  says “yes” to big ideas and artists who want to try things.

How many people are in the cast for each play?

Dominic D’Andrea: The nature of this particular performance is fluid, but really no more than 4 speaking roles for each individual play; however, actors might be engaged in the plays in addition to the lines. There are some funny actions.

Can anybody do their best work — or even up-to-par work — in a single minute?

Yes. And yes.

The results are always exciting.

It’s often been assumed that because of our name we are saying something about attention spans or the younger generation of artists, but that’s not our goal. We aim for this work to be a barometer project. We think of it as a core sample or cross section of what’s on a community’s mind through a series of moments.

What’s the trick to writing a good one-minute play?

Dominic D’Andrea: I don’t know if there is a single trick to the writing; however, we do give very specific guidelines as to how to approach the form for each festival.

One-Minute Play Festival in San Francisco, 2011
One-Minute Play Festival in San Francisco, 2011

I ask the writers to not make assumptions about what the space of a minute looks like. [I ask them to use a stopwatch for a minute] to know what that space is before they begin to write….What I ask them to do is work from the smallest unit up, instead of cramming a bunch of things in.

I can say that when a one-minute play is good, it suggests a world that is much larger than its tiny frame. In any play, moments make an impact. So in that sense, this is not so different.  Without a doubt, some of the most resonant moments I’ve ever seen on stage have been in the One Minute Play Festival. Not every play will be brilliant; that’s part of how it goes. But the ones that pop really pop. Same goes for emerging themes: when they pop, the really pop.

One-Minute Play Festival in Boston, 2012
One-Minute Play Festival in Boston, 2012
One-Minute Play Festival in Baltimore, 2013

If the writers were not getting anything out of it, I’m sure they would not agree to contribute year after year. They do it gladly, and it’s always so humbling. For example: the FIRST person to send in plays for this Brick event was Neil LaBute. Here’s a guy working on a million amazing things at once, and still makes time to invest in us, share his thoughts via email, and he keeps up with what’s happening in rehearsals. He asks a lot of questions, and offers a lot. When we did our annual NY One Minute Play Festival last year at Primary Stages (our sort of home base now) he came to most rehearsals. He’s that kind of artist, and we are extremely grateful for that.

Same goes for the theaters and institutions we work with. I don’t think I’ve ever done a festival anywhere that I’ve not been invited back for a second time. We’re on our fourth time in some cities. They are clearly finding the value in the work and how it brings artists and communities in to occupy a space for a few days each year.

After a few years returning to the same cities, working with a core group of artists, it feels like a homecoming.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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