I am not a fan of the One Act Play — even though I’ve written many of them — because I now realize just how ubiquitously they have killed the modern theatre by shaving expectation, shortening audience attention spans and by setting a low-budget watermark for producers and a little-to-none time commitment for directors and actors. One Act Plays are a cheat against the human spirit, as the convenience of mindless television plotting replaces the tension of the live stage performance.
The road to this degradation of the modern stage via One Act Play is clear and understandable and we have earned our eternal damnation for allowing it to happen.
One Act Plays are easier to write, publish and produce than a Two Act play.
Modern audiences today resent the intermission between Acts — where producers make their money selling liquor and show tchotchkes — and they prefer to sit for 80 minutes and then go right home; and why wouldn’t they demand short-attention-span-theatre when that is what we’ve spoon-fed them, in the guise of the One Act Play, as we willingly set ourselves in false competition with the 23-minute half-hour television situation comedy.
We have dumbed down the expectation of the live stage by producing One Act Play Festivals and publishing “Best One Act Play” anthologies. We have allowed our Thinking as Playwrights to self-degrade to the lowest-common-denominator for the ordinary mind.
We must stand together and demand a return to the Two Act play structure. We really need a Three Act play structure again, but that art form is lost forever — and that’s the obvious warning against the risk to the future of the theatre: Two Act plays became only “Plays in One Act.”
We have written our own death sentence in our contemptible acquiescence to constructing One Act Plays — in the name of convenience and performance — and the only way out of it is to refuse to write, or allow the production of, any more One Act Plays.
If we continue to support the One Act play structure that now defines our art; then time and redlining budgets will eventually push us into the “One Scene Play Festival” quickly followed by the acuteness of the “Ten Word Story” — and then not even our dying tether to Shakespeare via the umpteenth, re-staged, revival will be able to save us from our own artistic sloth.