Playwriting without Boundaries: The 2016 31 Plays in 31 Days Challenge

Playwriting without Boundaries: The 2016 31 Plays in 31 Days Challenge

Anthony J. Piccione

  • OnStage New York Columnist

It was the month of August. The first few months of my summer had been, for the most part, a fairly low-key time in my life. It had been quite a few months since I finished college with a BA in Theatre, and I had an entire month free before I moved to New York City. During this time, I had plenty of time to relax, and focus entirely on the things in life that I actually care most about. So what was a guy like me to do during that time?

That’s why I’m so happy to have once again participated in the 31 Plays in 31 Days challenge, for the second year in a row, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for me.

Don’t get me wrong. I have already been using my free time in the summer polishing some drafts of short plays I had written earlier in the year, and had also been working on a full-length play that I’ve been writing for awhile now. Still, I felt that the pace in which I’ve been writing new short plays hadn’t been as frequent as I would have liked, during the earlier part of this summer.

Thanks to the 31 Plays and 31 Days challenge, I was able to get lots of extra work done as a playwright. To be honest, I got more done than I might have been inspired to get done, if I had not felt pushed to do so. I felt inspired to take my approach to playwriting in very different directions, and the result has been a great deal of scripts that are very unconventional, at least compared to a lot of the stuff that I’ve written that has already been produced.

There is a reason I ended up taking many different approaches to playwriting this year. The 31 Plays in 31 Days challenge essentially emphasizes quantity over quality. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be doing the best you can to write high-quality plays, and obviously the playwright is free to go back and do any necessary rewrites later…which is probably what I’ll be spending much of September doing, to be honest. However, the point of the challenge is to just keep writing, without ever stopping. That way, it is much easier to finish 31 plays by the end of the month.

For this reason, I felt more free and motivated during this time to take more experimental approaches to writing, some of which I had never thought of, prior to taking this challenge. To me, the result has been…interesting, to say the least.

To be clear, I still have been writing lots of short scripts that have been heavier on plot and dialogue. My first scripts for the challenge this year have especially been more in that vein. This is true of some plays I’ve written such as One More Drink, a drama about a lonely man at a bar that has terminal lung cancer; Phil’s Pills, a strange dark comedy about a drug dealer trying sell drugs at a carnival; and When Lightning Strikes, a dramedy about a man trying to save a stranger from committing suicide. Some others – such as Mime Crimes and The Pigeon at Port Authority – might be considered to be a bit more avant-garde, but still are closest to this approach to playwriting.

I feel a lot of what I’ve already been writing over the past year or so have already gone beyond the more traditional, slice of life approach to playwriting that people seem to be more used to. This past month, however, I especially feel like when I compare what I’ve written last year for the challenge to this year’s plays, there is more of an overall difference, which I thought was mildly amusing.

One way of writing scripts I’ve been taking more and more this past year, which has become more prevalent while taking this challenge, is taking poetry that I’ve written, and heavily incorporating it into my plays. Some of these poems I had written years ago, and have decided to revisit. Others are brand new poems that I wrote specifically to be incorporated into a play that is based around a certain story or message. Plays that I’ve written that take this approach to writing include A Soliloquy About Friends, which explores the theme of missing and remembering long-lost friends; Missing You (More Than I Care to Admit), a tale of a young man reflecting on the death of his ex-girlfriend; and Professionally Up / Personally Down, which explores the theme of emotional mood-swings and the conflicted feelings some people have about their lives.

There are also some very abstract performance scripts that I’ve ended up writing for the challenge, which is a bit unusual for me, given that I’m usually more of a plot-oriented writer. However, as long as there is some sort of message that I’m able to convey through the script, I’ve decided that these ideas I’ve come up with are worth writing down. (Although some have been even more abstract than that.) Some of these scripts include Love Without Compromise, an ode to the impact that art and theatre can have on social issues; Six Six Six, which is intended to be just as much a piece of social commentary, as it is intended to be a protest against religion; and The Gibberish Play, one of the weirder plays I’ve ever written, with completely nonsensical dialogue that is intended to be interpreted in whatever way the actors choose. 

So in the end, I was able to make the 11:59pm deadline on August 31st, and submit a total of 31 short plays to the 31 Plays in 31 Days website, and looking back on it, I’m very glad I did it. I hope to see at least some of these pieces get produced, at some point. At the very least, I’m sure that they will serve as inspiration for future scripts that I may write.

For now, however, I feel inspired once again to get back into a more frequent pace of writing. I think it should go without saying that that’s an important routine for writers to get into. If there are any other playwrights out there reading this that might not be familiar with this annual writing challenge, I strongly encourage you to take it next year. You can learn more about it at
This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Playwright, producer, screenwriter, actor, poet and essayist based in New York City. 

To learn more about Mr. Piccione and his work, please visit his personal blog at Also, be sure to like him on Facebook (, follow him on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and view his work on the New Play Exchange (

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