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Theatre Odyssey is back in search of the perfect 10

Synchronize your watches for the 2023 Sarasota Ten-Minute Play Festival.

"Sign Here" was the winner of the 2022 Sarasota Ten-Minute Play Festival.
"Sign Here" was the winner of the 2022 Sarasota Ten-Minute Play Festival.
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"The play's the thing," Shakespeare once wrote. With all due respect to The Bard, the 10-minute play will be the thing in Sarasota from May 11-14. 

Now in its 18th season, Theatre Odyssey's Ten-Minute Play Festival will feature eight plays in competition and will take place at the Jane B. Cook Theatre at the FSU/Asolo Center for the Performing Arts. 

"The beauty of the 10-minute play is if you don't like it, you only have to sit through 10 minutes," says Michael Bille, president of Theatre Odyssey.

But this is no amateur hour — or sixth of an hour. Everyone involved in the plays gets paid, Bille says. That includes playwrights, directors, actors and production professionals. "They're not going to get rich, but they're going to be compensated for their time and talent."

One could be forgiven for assuming the phenomenon of the 10-minute play has something to do with the internet and the shorter attention spans it has spawned. 

But the genre actually got its start back in 1977, at the Actors Theatre of Louisville's Humana Festival of New American Plays. However, a dramatist named Pierre Loving published a book of 10-minute plays in the early 1920s.

These days the guru of the genre is Gary Garrison, author of "A More Perfect Ten: Writing and Producing the Ten-Minute Play." 

Gary Garrison
Courtesy photo

Garrison's 10-minute street cred also derives from an earlier book, "Perfect 10: Writing and Producing the Ten-Minute Play" as well as a award in his name for university playwrights of 10-minute plays the Kennedy Center instituted in 2014.

Garrison was the executive director of the Dramatist Guild of America from 2007-17 and was associate chair, artistic director and master teacher of playwriting in the Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts.

Sarasota's Ten-Minute Play Festival will feature a Q&A session with Garrison, who also will serve as one of the fest's "adjudicators." 

The other three individuals judging the 10-minute plays will be playwright and TV host Gabe Ortiz, founder of the Take Theatre Ensemble for inner-city youth; Blake Walton, who has directed seven plays for Theatre Odyssey and has appeared in award-winning performances at Florida Studio Theatre, and Carolyn Michel, who just completed a sold-out run of "Family Secrets" at the Sarasota Jewish Festival.

Here's how the festival works: Once the eight plays have been selected, Theatre Odyssey assigns each of them a director, who does casting and sets up their own rehearsals. But they aren't allowed to change the words. A playwright is allowed to attend rehearsals and give notes, but that's the extent of their involvement in the production.

The plays selected for this year's Ten-Minute Film Festival are "15 Seconds" (Bruce Karp), "Back to One" (Keith Whalen), "Eternity" (Elan David Garonzik), "In Remembrance" (Michelle Pascua), "Paradise Breakup" (Risa Lewak), "Pity Mourner" (Paul Donnelly), "A Squad of Their Own" (Bethany Dickens Assaf) and "Steam Fog" (John J. Kelly). 

During Covid, the festival used a radio play format from 2020-21 but has been back with live performances since last year. 

Bille says he expects to fill most of the 160 seats in the Cook Theatre for this year's festival. He warns that tickets for the Sunday performance will sell out quickly because that's when the winners are announced and family members attend the festival.



Monica Roman Gagnier

Monica Roman Gagnier is the arts and entertainment editor of the Observer. Previously, she covered A&E in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the Albuquerque Journal and film for industry trade publications Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.

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