Ten minutes isn’t a lot of time. For many of us, it takes longer than that just to get out of bed in the morning. In 10 minutes, if you’re quick, you can make a grocery list, pay some bills or maybe send a few emails. If you’re so inclined you could probably watch about three cat videos. Or, you could see a play.
Such is the mindset behind the Extremely Short New Play Festival. Presented by the New Theatre of Ottawa and now in its second year, the ESNPF will present 10 brand-new plays, all 10 minutes long and less. Short plays can trace their origins all the way back to Greek antiquity, and today the 10-minute play is a respected mainstay in the world of drama.
“It’s more challenging than writing a longer play because you’re more constrained,” says Lawrence Aronovitch, an Ottawa-based playwright whose play Book of Daniel is included in the 2013 lineup. Aronovitch’s work often explores LGBT issues; plays such as Galatea, The Lavender Railroad and Late have all focused on issues and complexities facing the queer community. A long-time gay-rights activist, Aronovitch was also involved with Egale during its early years. “The subject was something I had been working on as an activist all those many years, and so here was an opportunity to take that same subject matter and apply myself to it as a playwright,” he says of his work.
Book of Daniel, a retrospective from the perspective of the protagonist, focuses on a young man coming of age in a Jewish high school in Montreal in 1976. “People who know me will know that I was probably about a similar age in Montreal, going to a similar sort of high school,” Aronovitch says. “And so the question has been raised with me, ‘So this is autobiographical, isn’t it?’ and I just don’t answer that.” Aronovitch maintains this air of mystery around his protagonist but does let on that the young Daniel comes to realize that he is a bit different from everyone else. “It’s a sweet kind of piece,” he says.
The festival is the brainchild of John Koensgen, artistic director of the New Theatre of Ottawa and an actor in his own right. While such festivals exist all over the world, it was Koensgen who first decided to bring the format to Ottawa. “To actually take it forward takes an enormous amount of commitment, and I give John and New Theatre of Ottawa great credit for bringing the concept to Ottawa,” says Pierre Brault, a prolific Ottawa playwright whose work will also be appearing in this year’s ESNPF.
Brault's play Coach of the Year deals with a young hockey coach who, on the eve of winning an award, is forced to confront his own former coach and abuser. “It’s left a little hanging because, of course, I don’t want to try to resolve all this in 10 minutes. It’s more just bringing questions about when things happen to you in the past and when you come back to confront them, what are you really looking for?
“I think what you need to do is rely on the audience to fill in details, so you’re not telling the complete story — you’re telling part of the story, and part of the fun of watching a 10-minute play is filling in the details yourself,” Brault says. “The interesting thing [as a playwright] is not just to watch your play, but your play side by side with other plays and what other playwrights have done with their 10 minutes.”
“These are not scenes,” Aronovitch says. “These have to be complete stories that have a beginning, a middle and an end, that are dramatically interesting . . . that have interesting characters to whom these things happen . . . So the characters are not the same at the end as they are at the beginning. That’s a lot to pack into 10 minutes.”