360XQ Day 12: The 30-minute 3-act structure

This house rules.

This house rules.

I'm scribbling away at my newest full-length play, and let me tell you something: structure has never been my strong suit.

Most of my solo work has begun with finger-paint-like explorations of characters and scenes. No outlines. No pre-established arcs. No real plan, really. And honestly? It shows.

But I've been working on that.

I came down here to Chapala without having written one single word on my new script, but with more of a plan than I've ever had before. I brought solid ideas for the story, the characters, the world, and the themes. I knew where I would begin, and had some idea of where I wanted to end up. Of course, many of the details are changing now that I'm a few scenes in, but that's to be expected.

While creating the outline for this beast, a few thoughts occurred to me. Maybe you feel the same?

How long will I pay attention?

  1. I hate going to 3 hours plays...because they're 3 hours long. NO THANK YOU.
  2. I hate going to 90 minute plays because there's no intermission. My mind wanders, and OH MAN do I need to pee by the end.
  3. BUT I will gladly watch 90 minutes, or 3 hours, of 30-minute television shows—with brief breaks in between.

So, I present to you my new idea.

The 30-minute 3-Act Structure

Act 1

30 minutes. 3 major events. The last one's a cliffhanger.


Get a drink or a snack. Use the facilities. Ponder.

Act 2

30 minutes. 3 major events. The last one's a cliffhanger.


Get a drink or a snack. Use the facilities. Ponder.

Act 3

30 minutes. 3 major events. The last one ends the show.

No talkback

Go out with friends to get a drink or a snack. Use the facilities. Ponder.

Why didn't this occur to me sooner?

But what is the endgame?

A structure like this does a few things for me as a writer: It keeps me tight on my story, it breaks things down in a very manageable way, and it makes my writing sessions feel super productive. It also ensures that I never let my characters talk too long before SOMETHING HAPPENS. No one is allowed to sit in a living room and discuss abstract social concepts for 20 minutes. PLEASE, theatre friends, let's avoid this.

And as a viewer: I get breaks which help me stay fresh and engaged, I'm able to digest each previous act and prepare for the next, the play moves at a pace I'm accustomed to as a 2015 audience member, and...well, I get to drink more—without fear of bursting my bladder.

And now I make enemies, probably

There will be some of you who will think the above approach is formulaic, restrictive, or just the result of a short attention span (death to Millenials, the internet ruined everything, rah rah rah).

But friends, I'm telling you: theatre needs to pick up the pace.

This is one example of an attack I think could solve some problems—for some stories. It's not the only approach, of course, and I hope that if nothing else, this gets your wheels turning. It's a starting point. It's malleable. It's an idea.

Viewers: Does this sound appealing? What else would make live theatre events more enjoyable for you?

Writers: Does this sound appealing? What frustrates you about writing—and viewing? What else you got?

Ooh, let's talk.

UncategorizedChad Eschman