It's storytelling done really, really fast

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- You can study an oil painting in a minute. Or read a haiku. But seeing an entire play?
They may not be theatrical masterworks, but the world now has a slew of plays made for the short-attention-span set. Credit the One Minute Play Contest: a scriptwriting sweepstakes in which competitors have just that long to tell their stories.
About 90 people submitted scripts last summer for the contest, dreamed up by the Minneapolis-based Playwrights' Center as a way to connect the public with American theater.
Six plays were chosen as finalists, three each in student and adult divisions. The two winning plays were performed last month at the Ivey Awards, which honor theater in the Twin Cities. Winners in each category received 1,000 gift cards, and runners-up got cards worth 500.
The abbreviated format was a challenge for Julie Tosh, a fifth-grade teacher and published playwright from Sewickley, Pa., who mastered it well enough to make the finals. In her piece, which she described as a "feminist manifesto," a woman outsmarts three men vying for a spot in a lifeboat.
"You don't have any room to monkey around," Tosh said.
Very democratic
Polly Carl, the artistic director of the Playwrights' Center, conceded that some people might lament a contest that seems to cater to "our snippet culture." But she also said theater fans "can feel enthusiastic about the democratic nature of it."
Carl, who chose the finalists, said the successful plays all told a story and answered the question -- "How do you take a full journey in a minute?"
The ones that failed, she said, tried to do too much or simply didn't have fun with the format.
Ten-year-old Preston Anderson, of Lakeville, Minn., made the student division finals with a push from his mom, who thought the contest might help him earn money toward a coveted iPod. After she pointed it out, Preston immediately sat down at his desk and spent half an hour banging out a fantastical tale about his schoolteacher rising from a lake as a monster while he and his grandfather are fishing.
"I had to think of the idea and start typing," he said. Asked whether he aspired to write longer plays, he doubted it. "I think I just hit the high point."
In the end, Preston was beat out by high school junior Paula Skaggs and her political commentary, "Rhode Island."

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