Crucibles for Theater and Time
John H. Muse
Traces the history and relevance of plays short in duration but rich in substance


In Microdramas, John H. Muse argues that plays shorter than twenty minutes deserve sustained attention, and that brevity should be considered a distinct mode of theatrical practice. Focusing on artists for whom brevity became both a structural principle and a tool to investigate theater itself (August Strindberg, Maurice Maeterlinck, F. T. Marinetti, Samuel Beckett, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Caryl Churchill), the book explores four episodes in the history of very short theater, all characterized by the self-conscious embrace of brevity. The story moves from the birth of the modernist microdrama in French little theaters in the 1880s, to the explicit worship of speed in Italian Futurist synthetic theater, to Samuel Beckett’s often-misunderstood short plays, and finally to a range of contemporary playwrights whose long compilations of shorts offer a new take on momentary theater.

Subjecting short plays to extended scrutiny upends assumptions about brief or minimal art, and about theatrical experience. The book shows that short performances often demand greater attention from audiences than plays that unfold more predictably. Microdramas put pressure on preconceptions about which aspects of theater might be fundamental and about what might qualify as an event. In the process, they suggest answers to crucial questions about time, spectatorship, and significance.
“A marvelous, wonderfully provocative and worthwhile project, written with flair, wit and intelligence, in a refreshingly lucid prose devoid of jargon.” — Jonathan Kalb, Hunter College

“A super-engaging, really thoughtful, wonderful book that I highly recommend.” — Sarah Bay-Cheng from On TAP: A Theatre & Performance Studies Podcast
John H. Muse is Assistant Professor in English and Theater & Performance Studies, University of Chicago.


Praise / Awards

  • "Muse illustrates how short theatrical works diverged from generic and cognitive conventions and as such, deserve specific consideration."
    --The Drama Review
  • "Microdramas is beautifully written, and if its focus is on small pieces, it is a book that deals in large questions, asking us to think deeply about the relationship between theatre, time, and ourselves. The plays in Microdramas reflect the frenetic pace of modern life, and Muse explores speed and its effects on our lives with care and sympathy."
    --PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art
  • Co-winner of the 2017-2018 George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism

Look Inside

News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: Microdramas covered in Public Books Link | 4/17/2018

Product Details

  • 246 pages.
  • 11 illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2017
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12314-8

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