Caitlin Wees laughs when asked if the organizers of the One-Minute Play Festival are waiting for the Tonys to inaugurate a category for Best One-Minute Play. The festival, she explains, is about the whole rather than the parts.
"There's never going to be any big awards for a one-minute play," she says. "The real reward comes in seeing this community come together and talk about the issues that we're faced with."
The festival was founded 10 years ago by theater artist Dominic D'Andrea, with the intention of creating evenings of very short work that allow diverse voices to share perspectives on common themes. The festival's NYC-based organizers partner with groups in cities across the country to activate local creatives. This year's Minneapolis festival will feature exclusively female-identified artists, as part of an initiative Wees is leading.
The rapid-fire format allows playwrights to respond to today's events and hot topics.
"It gives us a real opportunity to explore the current moment," says Jessica Finney, who has written two plays for the fourth annual Minneapolis version of the festival, being staged this week at the Southern Theater. "There's an immediacy to this One-Minute Play Festival that gives us a chance to check in as a snapshot of, 'Here's where we're at right now.'"
The curator of each local festival (in this case, Wees) gives participating playwrights a very general prompt, to which the writers then respond with brief works that the curator sorts into groups related by theme or format. Each set of pieces is assigned to a director who assembles a small, flexible cast. This year in Minneapolis, 10 directors are taking six or seven plays each.
Compared to the lengthy process of developing a full-length play, the tight turnaround period of the one-minute format is freeing, says playwright May Lee-Yang, a repeat participant. The playwrights' prompt isn't announced to the public early, but Lee-Yang says this year it's relevant to discussions about race, class, gender, and activism that Twin Cities residents have had over the tumultuous past year.
Lee-Yang wrote two plays for this year's festival, including one called Black, White, and Chinese. "There are a lot of conversations about race," says Lee-Yang, "but as a person who's Asian-American, I feel like sometimes we're having a separate conversation on the side."
One of Finney's plays is about the Stanford rape case, and the other is about a less weighty topic of the moment: CrossFit training. "Two very different pieces," she acknowledges, "but when I sat down to write, those were the two things that were on my mind."
"With the format of the one-minute play," says Wees, "it's about the distilling of an idea and how potent we can make that by shortening the time span. You only have 60 seconds to get your point across, and so it hits harder."
IF YOU GO:
One-Minute Play Festival
1420 S. Washington Ave., Minneapolis
8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 612-326-1811