Writing Tips: Types of Stage Play

Types of Stage Play

Shakespeare once wrote that ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.’ In more practical terms, though, plays are written by playwrights and performed in theatres. You’d have thought Shakespeare would have known that, given his job. But never mind.

Silly Billy.
Silly Billy.

The point is that plays have to be written. And if you’re an aspiring playwright, you may be wondering what length of play you should write. Here, then, is our quick guide to types of play.

Types of Stage Play

There are many types of play, some of which depend on the setting itself (e.g. theatre in the round, which can only be performed in spaces where the audience surrounds the stage).

For the sake of simplicity, though, we’re going to focus on three ‘lengths’ of play: ten minute plays, one-act plays, and full-length plays.

Ten-Minute Plays

One common type of play is the ten-minute play. As the name suggests, this type of play is designed to last no longer that ten minutes.

Generally, one page of a play equates to around a minute on stage, so a ten-minute play should be around ten to fifteen pages. Typically, a ten-minute play will involve as few scenes and characters as possible. The challenge here is fitting a complete story into a short period, so it is a good exercise for writing clearly and concisely while packing a strong dramatic punch.

One-Act Plays

A one-act play is any play with only one act (i.e. the performance is not divided into sections with intermissions in between). As such, ten-minute plays are actually a type of one-act play. However, most one-act plays are longer (from fifteen minutes to an hour).

Similar to ten-minute plays, the key to writing a strong one-act play is telling a complete story within the constraints of a single act. In particular, it can be difficult to change sets within a one-act play, so keep this in mind.

Full-Length Plays

A full-length play will be divided into several acts, each of which will contain a number of scenes. An ‘act’ here refers to a main section in the overall story (e.g. a three-act structure will usually include a setup, a confrontation and a resolution). A ‘scene’ is part of an act, usually defined by the characters and setting involved. Dividing a play up like this makes it possible to tell longer, more complicated stories.

As a general rule, if you have never written a play before, you should start small. You can do this by picking a shorter play type and limiting the number of characters, sets and scenes used. This will let you learn the basics of writing for performers before you take on too big a project.

Where to Begin?

When picking a type and genre of stage play to write, you should consider:

  • Whether the story you want to tell suits the length of play you have in mind
  • How easy it will be to produce your play

For example, if you’re writing a play to be shown in a small local theatre, you may need to scale down your plans for a lavish five-act musical because musicals are typically expensive to produce. Ultimately, though, the type and genre of play you write will be up to you. Just follow your creative urges!

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