Ten Minute Plays & Shopping Sheriff

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A one-act play is a short play, often with one, two, or three characters only, that introduces a conflict, builds to a crisis, and resolves itself in a limited space and time. It might have one scene that takes up the whole play, or any number of short scenes.

The ten-minute play, a more recent sub-genre of the one-act, is very popular, especially for new actors and new writers.

Check out this ten minute play about mall copping antics by a GCAA creative writer:

Shopping Sheriff


Joey, fresh out of college, he just finished training and it’s his first day as a mall cop at Mall of America
Dan, he is Steve’s boss, chief of security, has a thick mustache and is big and buff
Jerry, skinny guy, close Steve’s age, awkward, slacker, kind of slow

Setting: Dan’s office, ten minutes before the mall opens at 8am

Light shines through the blinds in the office. The                                                                                                     Segways are charging in the hall. Joey sits in a                                                                                                 chair facing Dan, who is sitting on the other                                                                                                          side of his cluttered desk.


First day on the job huh? Nervous kid?


Yeah a little, I just-

DAN interrupts Joey by hitting his hand on the  desk.


Well don’t be! I have been chief of security at the Mall of America for 13 years. I train all of my officers to be alert and ready at all times. Think fast!

Dan picks up a rubber band ball from his desk                                                                                                                 and chucks it at Joey. Joey fumbles but catches                                                                                                                 the ball.


Eh, good enough. Jerry will keep an eye on you from a distance, so don’t mess it up.

JERRY very loudly enters the office.


That’s right…..I’m gonna watch you like a sloth


I think you mean you’re gonna watch me like a hawk…


Cool it smart socks, I know what I meant.

DAN shakes his head nervously.


Just get to work!

JERRY heads off on his Segway. He turns                                                                                                                                 his head towards Joey, and does an “I’m                                                                                                                                 watching you” motion. JERRY crashes                                                                                                                                 into a wall; then Joey heads off on his                                                                                                                                 own Segway.

Mall walkways. The sun is out, and shoppers are entering the mall.

JOEY whispers words of encouragement                                                                                                                             to himself.


I got this, I won’t disappoint Dan. Sure, this is huge, but I can handle it.

A big family walks toward JOEY.


Hi, me and my family just traveled 13 hours to come to this mall!

The HEAD OF THE FAMILY                                                                                                                                                 takes a long pause.




We’ve never been here before, we just had some questions.


Oh, sure! What do you need to know?

THE FAMILY starts rapidly firing questions at JOEY. 


Are there baby changing stations? Is there an area for kids to play? How many stores are in this mall? How many restaurants in there in the mall? Is there an arcade? Does it get really crazy during Black Friday?

JOEY has his jaw dropped. He takes a                                                                                                                               deep breath to collect himself when he                                                                                                                                 realizes THE FAMILY is still waiting for                                                                                                                                 an answer.


Yes. Yes. Over 520 stores. 50 restaurants. Yes. And I don’t know today’s my first day. I would assume it’s crazy though.


This is your first day? How did you know the answer to all of those questions?


I did my homework on this mall


Well have a great first day.

THE FAMILY walks away as the HEAD OF                                                                                                                                 FAMILY waves goodbye to JOEY.



JERRY rolls up to JOEY’s side.


I saw what you did back there, smooth. But I’m still watching over you, maggot.

JERRY stealthily rolls away backwards.
JOEY  mumbles to himself. 


Whatever Jerry.

JOEY’s walkie talkie starts buzzing;                                                                                                                                 DAN is on the other end.


Joey it’s Dan, are you there?



Yeah, I’m here. What’s up?



We have a code red at the kids play area!


Code Red… that’s…….What’s a code red again?

DAN sighs


Looks like somebody needs to reread their officer handbook. Anyway some moms are fighting, you need to handle it.


Ok, I’ll be right there.

JOEY hangs up the walkie talkie and                                                                                                                                 heads to the play area.

Kids play area

JOEY rolls over to the play area and                                                                                                                                 stares in confusion. He confronts the                                                                                                                                 moms.


Whoah! What’s going on here?


This dimwit said I raised my kids wrong.


Well her kid pushed my kid and dang near broke her arm!


Well your kid is ugly.


And your kid is stupid.


Ladies you need to calm down, and talk this out.

JERRY rolls over to JOEY.


Isn’t that a problem here?


Jerry! Glad to see you, can you help me out here?


I’m just here to catch you failing.

MOM 1 lands a punch in MOM                                                                                                                                               2’s nose.



Everyone freezes where they are and                                                                                                                                 listens.


This is unacceptable! You two are mothers, what kind of examples are you setting for these kids. Now they think it’s ok to go around arguing, and punching people in the face.


You’re right, I shouldn’t have punched you in the face.


That’s alright.

MOM 2 leans in for a hug, and whispers                                                                                                                 in MOM 1’s ear.


But if you lay your hands on me again I will end you.


Well Jerry looks like it ended well.


Whatever you say Joey….. whatever you say.


JERRY slowly rolls away backwards.

Food court 8:30pm

A flash mob has broken out, and JOEY watches                                                                                                                 in awe. People are pelvic thrusting to the song                                                                                                                 “Super Freak,” and mothers are asking JOEY to                                                                                                                 shut it down.

The walkie talkie starts to buzz, and JOEY                                                                                                                 answers it.


Joey there’s a flash mob in the food court. I’m getting all types of complaints about it. I need you to shut it down now!


Yeah I’m actually on it right now.


Good now handle it!

JOEY heads to the source of the music and shuts                                                                                                                 it off. The mobbers walk over to JOEY angrily.


Hey! What do you think you’re doing?


You can’t have a flash mob in here without taking it up with the head of security.


Well that takes the  flash out of the mob doesn’t it?


Sorry, I don’t make the rules. Plus we’ve gotten a lot of complaints from parents. They think your dance and song choice are appropriate.


Whatever man.

The mobbers walk away.

Mall walkway, 10 minutes until closing time.

An elderly woman approaches JOEY.


What time does the mall close?


Ten minutes ma’am.




Ten minutes.

The ELDERLY WOMAN starts to shout.



JOEY raises both of his hands openly to express                                                                                                                 the number ten.


Ten minutes?

JOEY shakes his head to indicate yes.

DAN’S office, 20 minutes after closing time.

JERRY and JOEY sits across from DAN’S  in his office.


So Jerry, did you catch Joey messing up?


Well no, but


Well nothing. Joey you did great!


Thanks Dan.


So…between you and me. Just how weird was the flash mob?


Flash mob! There was a freak show today and I missed it?


Yeah, they stood on the tables and started pelvic thrusting to “Super Freak.”


Aw man wish I could have seen that.

DAN laughs while slapping his knee.


Well, you did good kid. And Jerry,

JERRY leans in hopeful for a compliment.


Yeah Dan?


Be more like Joey.

Fade out.                                                            











Dialogue Technique: Facade

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Think about the last time someone was…

Angry with you?
Irritated by you?
Nervous to see you?
Excited to see you?

What the person was thinking and feeling is called subtext. It’s what’s going on underneath (sub) their words (text). Angry/pleased/irritated/nervous/excited…

Now think about what that person actually said…

 Did it sound like this?

I am so angry with you!
I am so pleased with you!
I am so irritated with you!
I am so nervous to see you!
I am so excited to see you!

 Probably not.

In dialogue writing, this is called façade – the idea that there’s a gap between what people say and what people feel and mean when they talk in real life. And as writers of dialogue, we should try to emulate that gap. It makes things interesting. It creates tension in our writing.

Here’s what Heather Sellers has to say about facade in The Practice of Creative Writing:

“Dialogue in creative writing works best when it is used not to announce a character’s thoughts or direct desires, but to contradict them and create a gap, a false front. Dialogue-action units let you juxtapose what’s said with what’s done; façade helps you broadcast the gap between what someone says and what they really think or want.

When people talk to us in real life, they hint at things and focus on side issues, they beat around the bush. Usually, every conversation that is interesting has several levels. People have agendas.

Façade, layered on top of dialogue-action units, is the technique writers use to keep the tension levels in dialogue high.

Notice how the following student plays with the idea of subtext and exaggerates the concept of facade by giving her character an “anger translator”:

Prom — Girlfriend

Hey, you’re with that stupid, ugly, ungrateful, weird, out of luck guy.

You’re with that stupid ugly, ungrateful, weird, out of luck guy?

Yes I am. You used to be with him, right?

Why, why do you need to know, mind your business, girl; that’s probably why he left you…

Yeah, but you guys look great together. Nice dress by the way…… what a coincidence.

She wants to be like me so darn bad it’s just plain out ridiculous…….. I look better in it anyways and they look like a fool together.

Thanks so much, I appreciate your compliments. You know, some girls can be so jealous and mad when their boyfriends break up with them.

Girlfriend………. Ex-girlfriend….. Like why is she so interested in me and Johnson? (Laughs) She’s extremely pressed and insecure.

Yeah (laughs) not me, I could never be. I think we just weren’t made for one another. Plus, there’s so many benefits as a single young girl.

I am mad, I am pretty darn mad! You over me? You don’t even compare (laughs) you’re like a joke in my eyes sweetie.

Sounds great you have a lot at stake and yeah maybe so….. But I’ll never know…… I am in love with Johnson and he said he wants to get married.

No one even likes this girl…… she’s so irrelevant and hard to even be with she should just stop!

Oh did he really? That’s beyond adorable I am so happy for you guys. I’d be right there clapping for you both and your journey.

He would never say anything like that, he probably doesn’t even really like this girl……. He’s just desperate to make me mad.

Aw, you’re the sweetest.

Why are we even communicating… We have nothing to talk about and she’s not like me………. I’m educated, beautiful and confident and I mean she’s just… She’s just Johnson’s (ex) girlfriend.”

Yeah, well, great talking to you, I’ll see you sometime around the school or world or something.

I hope I never see you again…….. I hope he breaks up with you and comes back to me.

Thank you too and of course we will!

No, we will never see each other again, I do not like you, what you’re about or how you act — next time see me be on the cover of a magazine with my ring on.”

Do you every wish YOU had an anger translator? What would he/she say?

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Kennedy Center Playwriting Contest

Ends on 2/19/2016

Part of the 2016-2017 John F. Kennedy Centennial Celebration

Part of IRELAND 100: Celebrating a Century of Irish Arts and Culture

In collaboration with Fishamble: The New Play Company and the Irish Arts Center

“Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” 

– From John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural address, January 20, 1961

As President Kennedy’s 100th birthday approaches on May 29, 2017, the Kennedy Center encourages everyone living in the United States to write an original play of 500 words or less examining his legacy as it lives on in the country today and responding to the call, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”   

We want stories from across the United States, from people from all walks of life and all backgrounds, from writers young and old, from those who have written many times, to those who have never written a play before.

John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States and America’s first Irish-Catholic president, served in office from January 1961 until his assassination in November 1963, a total of just over 1000 days. His presidency, while shortened due to his untimely death, is notable due to the significant social and political events that occurred including the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Police Week, the establishment of the Peace Corps, the Space Race, the building of the Berlin Wall, the African-American Civil Rights Movement, and increased U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

Kennedy’s legacy, ultimately, is that he coached our character as citizens of this great country. His presidency remains tied to, and identified with themes of exploration, innovation, creativity, courage, freedom, justice, and service.

Submission categories – one play will be selected for performance from each category:

·         Middle school (grade 6-8 or equivalents) or ages 11-13

·         High school (grade 9-12 or equivalents) or ages 14-17

·         Adults ages 18-26

·         Adults ages 27-59

·         Adults ages 60 and over

·         Kennedy Center Family (staff, volunteers, and their immediate family members)

Submission Criteria:

·         All submissions must be 500 words or less, in English, and performable by a cast of no more than 3 actors. Stage directions are included in the final 500-word count. Character names are NOT included in the word count.

·         Playwrights are encouraged to write multi-character dialogue, not a monologue, although monologues will be accepted.

·         All submissions should be complete plays which can stand on their own; structurally, each play should have a beginning, middle and end and not be an excerpt from a longer work. Excerpts from a longer work will not be accepted.

·         Playwrights must live in the United States.

·         Playwrights should submit a headshot that may be used publicly, including via social media.

·         By submitting a play, playwrights (and/or their parents and/or guardians) agree that the Kennedy Center, Fishamble, the Irish Arts Center, and any sponsors or other supporters of the Tiny Plays project may use the playwright’s name, image and all or a portion of the submitted play to promote the Challenge, regardless of whether the play submitted is selected for performance.

Important: Please read the complete Official Submission Guidelines and Rules before submitting an entry in the Tiny Plays for Ireland and America Playwriting Challenge (the “Challenge”). By submitting an entry, you agree to be bound by the Official Submission Guidelines and Rules and represent that you have read and understood all requirements set forth [HERE].

How do I submit a Tiny Play and what are the deadlines?

All submissions must be received by the Kennedy Center by February 19, 2016. Plays may be submitted online through the application below (note, the first step of the submission process requires creation of a free Submittable account) or by mailing the paper application and script to:

Kennedy Center Education Division

ATTN: Tiny Plays

P.O. Box 101510

Washington, DC 20566

In early March 2016 the selected playwrights will be contacted by the Kennedy Center to confirm their participation and to provide other information, such as photographs, a short biography, and possible interview footage. Selected playwrights will also receive information about any required edits and other ways that the plays might be strengthened for performance.

On or about March 18, 2016, the Kennedy Center will announce the selected plays.

All rewrites and other information must be submitted to the Kennedy Center by April 1, 2016

On May 24 and 25, 2016 there will be a staged reading of all selected plays during the Kennedy Center’s IRELAND 100: Celebrating a Century of Irish Arts and Culture festival. The reading will be performed as part of Fishamble: The New Play Company’s performance, Tiny Plays for Ireland and America.

On May 26, 2016 there will be a staged reading of the plays at the Irish Arts Center in New York as part of Fishamble: The New Play Company’s performance, Tiny Plays for Ireland and America.

Selected playwrights will receive:

o A bound copy of all plays selected for performance

o An honorarium  of Five Hundred US Dollars ($500)

o Invitation to attend both performances of Tiny Plays for Ireland and America and to participate in a post-show Q & A at the Kennedy Center (one pair of tickets per playwright)

 o Playwrights living outside the Washington, DC metro area shall additionally receive travel to and hotel accommodations (one double-occupancy room) in Washington, DC, for the playwright and one guest to attend the performances of Tiny Plays for Ireland and America at the Kennedy Center. For playwrights under 18 years of age, the guest must be a parent, guardian, or other responsible adult.

o An invitation to attend the performance of Tiny Plays for Ireland and America at the Irish Arts Center in New York, NY (one pair of tickets per playwright).

o Playwrights living outside the New York, NY metro area shall additionally receive travel to New York, NY and hotel accommodations (one double-occupancy room) in New York, NY, for the playwright and one guest to attend the performances of Tiny Plays for Ireland and America at the Irish Arts Center. For playwrights under 18 years of age, the guest must be a parent, guardian, or other responsible adult.

All travel shall be booked by the Kennedy Center at lowest available coach rates. The Kennedy Center reserves the right to book non-local travel as round trip or multi-destination (i.e., Home-DC-NYC-Home) at its sole discretion. The total value of this award package is approximately $650 plus the cost of any applicable travel and accommodations. All selected playwrights will be required to submit a W-9 and an acknowledgement that the value of the award shall be considered taxable income.