One might think that the main difference between a skit and a play is its length – skits being short and plays being long. But I contend that is not the distinction at all. I write short plays all the time, and they can be quite short, even just a few minutes in length. I believe that length is not a good indicator of their difference.
What about subject matter? Are skits silly and funny, while plays are more serious? Perhaps in one sense, which I’ll mention in a minute, yes, but plays can also be silly and funny. And short, as we’ve already established.
In my view, the difference is the context and preparation which separate skits from plays. Let me explain.
Skits are often meant to augment a very specific event or situation. Perhaps a church service in order to illustrate a point. An awards ceremony to roast an honoree. A school assembly to get everyone thinking about a certain topic. Skits are rarely written without a specific purpose in mind. At our school, the honor society prepare skits each year to help introduce the new inductees. They also use them in chapels, at banquets, or for classroom activities. In this way, skits do not translate well into other settings, because they are specific to a certain event. Plays, on the other hand, must stand on their own. Anyone who picks up a play script should be able to understand it and its themes, regardless of where it is performed. Skits typically are not like that.
And that leads us to our second point, preparation. While people in skits do prepare for their roles, the preparation is much less intense than that of a play – even a short play. Skits do not care with character development or even a cohesive plot, they are meant to entertain or make a point. A play, even an extremely short play, must have clear character development, even if its only one character. And while skits may have scripts, often time those scripts are just guidelines. Plays have precise language. The dialogue cannot be ad libbed or changed unless that specifically is the playwrights intention. Even short plays must be memorized completely, and the action, set, tone of the play may be well prescribed by the playwright.
Can all of these items really be addressed in a short play of only 5 minutes? Absolutely!
The next time you see a short performance, ask yourself, did I just witness a mini-play or a skit? I think you’ll be able to tell the difference.