Terrence on Writing One-Act Plays

The following are excerpts from a longer article, “Short Plays and Small Musicals,” originally published in The Dramatists Guild Quarterly, Winter 1981.

Continuous line drawing of hand writing with a pen on paper

TERRENCE MCNALLY: In the form we call one-act, as differentiated from the short play, action starts at the very top, and you want to see it to its conclusion as quickly as possible. You don’t want an intermission or a change of scene; it’s like a train speeding along. It’s a strong action that begins with the first beat of the play. My play Next, for example, begins with a man saying: “You have made a mistake. I’ve got to get out of here.” You wouldn’t want a break after that. It’s a one-act premise. In the one-act form, the play doesn’t change where it’s going in the course of its action. You’re driving a pretty straight road.


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