Playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett’s Sweet 17 at Rose Exposed

Plan-B Theatre has premiered 16 ten-minute plays by Matthew Ivan Bennett; the 17th premieres this Saturday as part of ROSE EXPOSED…THE SKY IS FALLING! Matt has also premiered seven episodes of RADIO HOUR and his full-length plays BLOCK 8, DI ESPERIENZA, MESA VERDE, ERIC(A), DIFFERENT=AMAZING and A/VERSION OF EVENTS at Plan-B. RADIO HOUR EPISODE 4: FRANKENSTEIN received a Utah Broadcasters Association Gold Award; MESA VERDE was nominated for the American Theatre Critics Assocation/Steinberg Award for Best New American Play Produced Outside New York; and ERIC(A) toured coast-to-coast and was named Best Drama at the United Solo Theatre Festival. THE CAUSE was read at the Great Plains Theatre Conference and his play A NIGHT WITH THE FAMILY was read at Salt Lake Acting Company, received its world premiere at Omaha Community Playhouse and was produced by PYGmalion Theatre Company. 

So this is my (sweet) seventeenth 10-minute play produced by Plan-B at the Rose Wagner.

If we watched all of them back-to-back, it would take about two and a half hours and would need a cast of at least 12 actors with each actor appearing in multiple roles. Or around 40 actors if each one played one role.

Each play took me at least ten hours to write, or theoretically a week of my life without stopping to sleep or eat but just type.

Some of these plays are oddball comedy, like “Smells Like Bacon,” in which a philosophy professor falls for a stripper and gets advice from a psychic named Pig. Some of them seeded many months of work, like the 10-minute play “Adaptation” that became the full-length historical drama called THE CAUSE, in which the “father of American terrorism” John Brown begs Harriet Tubman for help in the raid on Harpers Ferry.

The 10-minute “Mesa Verde” became the full-length MESA VERDE in the 2010/11 season, even keeping an original actress, whose performance got richer as the play got richer and longer. With that one, going from 10 minutes to a satisfying long-form one-act was just a matter of blowing on the coals. If you get the 10 minutes “hot enough,” then pulling a longer story out of the form is less work than you’d think.

Writing a 10-minute play means you have to roll out your characters in two pages, set up the conflict in two pages, and ideally, set the tone right away and have a theme developing by the time ten lines of dialogue have passed. You have five or six pages for the characters to become human beings hashing out their problems and then you’ve got to start winding it up.

I once heard, “Ten minutes isn’t a play, it’s a sketch.” I totally disagree. I mean, I do love character sketches and sketch comedy. Some of the 17 have been sketches, no question, intended only to make you laugh. But a play is anything with characters who make you feel the fear and joy of living. And make you go “Hmmm.” Ten minutes is plenty of time to do that. I mean, think about it: what do you remember from really good plays that are two hours long? Probably, you remember a scene, or a monologue, or a heart-rending tiny moment supported by only a few short moments of exposition and behavior. Plays only need to be longer than 10 minutes so the writer can create some complicated minute that encapsulates everything they’re trying to say or evoke.

“The Sky Is Falling” might belong in its own category among the 16 others. It’s dark, funny, absurd, and apocalyptic. When I met with the pianist Stephen Beus for the piece by FaceTime, he said, basically, “I think people are going to be laughing and then not knowing whether to laugh.”

When he said it, I felt “Yes!” Because I love making people not know how to feel. I love the place where humor meets despair. I love the place where defenses and rationalizations break down in the face of humanity’s immense unknowing and thirst for beauty.

A lot of these 17 plays came from Plan-B’s 24-hour SLAM and Student SLAM theatre festivals, which means they got very little rehearsal. This one will get rehearsal and a pianist! It gets Morag Shepherd, experimental writer and director, who loves the intersection of Humor and Despair as much as I do, I think. “The Sky Is Falling” gets actor Christy Summerhays, who’s acted in and directed some of the previous 16 (“Staged” and “Terms of Use” — and the full-length MESA VERDE; she also directed A/VERSION OF EVENTS). I like making her do weird because she commits to it like there’s nothing weird about it. “The Sky Is Falling” gets actor Darryl Stamp, too, who got the play so immediately he made me feel like he’d written it and I just typed it up.

At 17, it’s hard to imagine 34. But who knows . . .

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