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A pithy play can be a satisfying theatre experience as the growing popularity of the Short + Sweet Festival proves.
Twenty-20 cricket can no longer be dismissed as a shorter version of the ODI. Just as it is a new package with its own thrills and skills, short format theatre too is an idea in its own right.
In India, the idea took off in 2010 with the Short + Sweet festival which is now an annual event. But how short is short? Certainly not as short as Samuel Beckett's 1969 play Breath, which lasted a precise 35 seconds and is known as the world's shortest play. Back home, it's 10 minutes to wow the audience. Prashant Sehgal, director of the Delhi Short + Sweet which will host its fourth annual festival in November this year (a curtain raiser will be held at Delhi's Akshara Theatre on July 13), says people are asked to submit 10-minute scripts and then selected scripts are assigned to directors. "But we find that scripts that are written from scratch, especially for this format, work best. We tried picking up some interesting parts from known full-length plays but that doesn't seem to work as the extract does not have a defined beginning or end. The third way is to compress a known play to a specified length. But this again is effective only when it's done smartly, " says Sehgal.
With new scripts being written specifically for the shorter format, audiences are getting to enjoy fresher storylines. Deepak Dhamija of Shoelace Productions, whose script for the play 'Confessions of a Poet' won the Best Script Award at Delhi Short + Sweet 2010, says people don't have the time to sit through long hours of entertainment. "Just as everything else, theatre too has shrunk. A play which is less than an hour long is a short play. Quite a few plays I have watched over the past year were about an hour long, which is much less than the two/two-and-a-half-hour long traditional drama. "
So, is the shorter format likely to challenge traditional theatre ? Veteran theatre director MK Raina has his doubts. He says: "Writing a play is one of the most difficult creative jobs, just as creating a successful 30-second ad film is. So, people can't just wake up one fine morning and write a play that is only 10 minutes long. The trend will hold only if these very short plays are really good. Moreover, do you go to a coffee shop only to quickly sip a cup of coffee and buzz off? You do want to spend some time there lounging and chatting. "
Raina has a point because even a short play festival stretches to more than two hours, with one play quickly following another. What has changed is the possibility of telling shorter, more pithy stories and finding a receptive audience for them. "The fact that we have managed to host the Short + Sweet festival every year since 2010 proves that there is an audience for the shorter version of regular theatre, " says Sehgal. The festival, which was first held in Melbourne in 2007, is now held annually in four Indian cities - Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai - and is planning a foray into smaller cities which are traditional theatre hubs such as Lucknow, Bhopal, Indore and Jaipur.
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