UT playwrights take on 60-second challenge

Katie Bender, UT Master of Fine Arts graduate and actor-turned-playwright, loves a challenge. In 2003, Bender discovered writing was more challenging for her than acting and moved from acting to writing plays. 

One of 40 Austin playwrights participating in Austin’s first annual One-Minute Play Festival on Friday, Bender is set for another challenge.

“The unique challenge of a one-minute play is that it is really hard to have an idea simple enough to contain a beginning and an end,” Bender said.

For another Master of Fine Arts playwriting student, Joanna Garner, participating in this festival was about ensuring that her play did not look like a gimmick, improv or sketch. 

“It was about looking at the story ideas bubbling in my head, and how I could tell those in just one minute, zeroing in on the pure, emotional aspect of the story,” Garner said.

The festival was started nine years ago by New York-based Dominic D’Andrea and, today, has 22 national partnerships. D’Andrea, producing artistic director, said he will showcase close to 80 one-minute plays by eight directors from Austin.

“The performance is 80 pulses of storytelling with minimum props and costumes,” D’Andrea said. “It’s focused on the connections and is so much more about the group rather than the individual.”

Bender said working on two one-minute plays for the festival reminded her just how much is possible on stage in a very short amount of time.  

One of Bender’s plays is about a woman who lost her daughter in a custody battle, with the woman’s story told as seen through the eyes of her dog. Bender’s other play follows the story of a man and woman, with the woman suffering from an anxiety of flying.

“I am often drawn towards characters that live on the outskirts of society — the criminals, the loners and the underdogs — and I’m interested in how they work with the larger system,” Bender said. “We all have a little bit of the underdog in us — a little bit of the wild in us — and I like to get us to a place where we can imagine ourselves in those roles.”

D’Andrea said the primary challenge for the festival has been getting the audience to understand that it is more about the community than the individual. He said, since the popular themes are politics, traffic, gender, guns and technology, these plays have helped him realize his goal of saying something bigger about the world.

For him, the One-Minute Play Festival was a better alternative to touring in different cities with the same cast. 

“We like to engage the local communities in each city instead,” D’Andrea said. “I’m inspired by people who take time to create actions that are community driven and that intend to change the world.”