Original Shorts


We are accepting scripts for our annual Original Shorts Playwriting Contest.
Please read the following rules:

  1. Plays must be original, un-produced scripts. Previous readings are okay.
  2. Scripts must be short plays, herein defined as any script up to approximately 45 minutes in run time and having only one act.
  3. Plays should require no more than 5 actors.
  4. Playwrights must reside in the US.
  5. Any genre or style of play is acceptable.
  6. All scripts will be read by a minimum of two readers. Those scripts passing both readers will be forwarded on to our panel of judges. All reading and judging will be made blind without knowledge or authorship.
  7. For a list of judging criteria, please view our website (theatredumiss.org).
  8. DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSION: All scripts must be sent to Theatre du Mississippi before 11:59pm on December 1, 2017. Emailed scripts must show that the email was sent before this time. Postal mailed scripts must have a postmark before this date/time (posted ON December 1, 2017 is acceptable).
  9. To submit your play, send TWO COPIES, ONE WITHOUT YOUR NAME ATTACHED – to facilitate blind reading – in .doc, .docx, or .pdf format to shortsubmissions@theatredumiss.org.

Judges will select 4 winning scripts. Winners shall receive a $50 prize and will be given a staged reading. Winning scripts will be assigned a director who shall determine casting and rehearsals. The cast will perform the plays with script in hand and with minimal production values. Our intent is that the audience (and hopefully the playwrights) get to focus on the words and the story and not the ‘production.’ Audience feedback will be taken, and made available to playwrights after the performances. The plays will be performed sometime in Spring (usually April).

Any further questions may be directed to originalshorts@theatredumiss.org.

Thank you for letting us consider your scripts!

Original Shorts Criteria


Theater is drama. Drama is action. And action is the first thing we look for. A play takes place in real time, whether it is set in 16th century England or 21st century Dallas. This means the play is in the present tense. The minute characters begin to speak in the past tense is a clue that that we are about to hear exposition. Now there is no action and no drama and no audience interest. Every character, every scene, every line of dialog exists solely to move the play forward. If they don’t, they should be excised.

The elements that we are looking for (or most of them):

ACTION: A plays begin in stasis. Stasis is interrupted by action. Action occurs when an event causes someone to do something. Or, to put it another way, action occurs when something happens that makes or permits something else to happen. Action is not necessarily physical; in fact, most action in a play is verbal. Character A tells Character B that his daughter has been taken to the hospital. B goes to the hospital, but Character C tells him he cannot see her. B then goes berserk and attacks C. Character D calls the police who, in turn, take B to jail. And so on. Action begets action and the play flows forward.

INTRUSION: Since the play begins in stasis, what will make it move? An intrusion of some sort. In “A Streetcar Named Desire”, Stanley and Stella’s world is in stasis. Then Blanche intrudes. Watch the dominos topple, until finally Blanche is taken away and their world returns to stasis. Changed, yes, but in stasis.

CONFLICT: The heart of drama is conflict. Dramatic conflict occurs when a character wants something and someone or something prevents him from getting it. Conflict is at the core of every good play. The greater the desire, and the more immovable the obstacle, the greater the conflict. Some impressive dramatic conflicts are those of Hamlet, King Lear, Oedipus, Romeo and Juliet. Some impressive real life dramatic conflicts are Clinton vs. Starr and Nixon vs. Senator Sam Nunn.

THEATRICALITY: Good playwrights put their most important material in a theatrical moment. They do this to heighten audience attention. This can be lovers meeting for the first or last time, a death, a fight, change, or a devastating exit line.

EXPOSITION: It should never be direct. Beware of past tense. It’s a sure sign of exposition. It stops the action. It breaks the tension. It loses the audience. A good playwright lets us figure out for ourselves what little we need to know about his characters through their actions and their dialog in real time.

DIALOG: Low context dialog would be considered idle chit-chat, exchange of pleasantries, mutual compliments, etc. Low context is not good. High context dialog is derived from action.

Imagery in dialog plays an important role. The language must be carefully thought out. Words carry many different meanings than the expected. A careful playwright will choose language that lets the audience come to an understanding of the meaning intended, rather than telling him.

FORWARDS: This is an event or exchange of dialog that makes the audience hungry for what comes next. A good playwright uses them throughout his play. They are essential at the end of a scene and an act. Beckett does this superbly well in “Waiting for Godot”. When properly done, the audience is as eager for Godot’s arrival as Vladimir and Estragon.

CHARACTERS: A good playwright will give us the bones through the character’s actions, not his words. This allows the audience to provide the flesh. The character that tells you he is unhappy makes no mark. But let him show us his unhappiness and we see a real person. But never all of him. Characters in plays, like people in life, are always something of a mystery. Even to ourselves.

IMAGERY: The title should tell you something about the play by evoking an image. Williams, if you think about it, was a master at selecting titles. “A Glass Menagerie”, fragile and breakable; a family fragile and breakable. “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” a cat scrambling to get off; a family scrambling to get away from each other. “A Streetcar Named Desire”, a play of desire.

Good playwrights use repeating images. The moon in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” where the moon infuses all with a dream-like quality. The car in “How I Learned to Drive” and the latex glove in “Baltimore Waltz” about the brother dying of aids.

AUDIENCE GRABBER: Sometimes a script grabs us, even if it’s missing one or two of the above items (though it is probably rare). This might be considered the ‘like’ factor – “I don’t know…I just liked it!”

Most of this judging criteria comes from the reading of hundreds of scripts, from the teaching of theatre basics, and the reading of many books on playwriting and theater. In truth, most of this comes from Backwards & Forwards by David Ball, available from Amazon for about $15.00. We recommend it highly.


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Historic Masonic Theatre Winona MN

Founded in 1997, Theatre du Mississippi is committed to the development and production of high-quality programs in the performing arts, particularly those that address important contemporary or historical issues. Our aim is to integrate artistic excellence and originality with a sense of community in the Winona area and beyond.

Theatre du Mississippi | P.O. Box 184 | Winona, MN 55987 | admin@theatredumiss.org

As a non-profit organization, we are grateful to the generosity of our sponsors and volunteers for helping us provide community outreach, education, entertainment and, in particular, dedication to original works. We are located in the Historic Masonic Theatre in the heart of Winona, Minnesota, in the bluff country of the upper Mississippi River Valley. We appreciate the following foundations and institutions for supporting our organization through their generous grants:
  • The Carl and Verna Schmidt Foundation
  • SEMAC - McKnight Emerging Artist Grant, in cooperation with the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council, through funding from the Minnesota State Legislature
'Friends of the Masonic' is a citizens group focused on the preservation and restoration of the Historic Masonic Theatre, its building, and its collection of historic painted scenery. Please join us and share your ideas about how we might assist the City in preserving this historic building and the drops collection. Join us at: www.facebook.com/groups/279822072207056/.