Theater by Everyone, Everywhere

Suzan-Lori Parks' 365 Festival takes Seattle on a yearlong performance-art relay race.

On a November day in 2002, Los Angeles–based playwright Suzan-Lori Parks decided on an enthusiastic impulse to write one short play every day for an entire year. The project began as a kind of meditative practice for the Pulitzer Prize–winning writer, a challenge to embrace her role as an artist every day. But with the help of her longtime friend and fellow playwright Bonnie Metzgar, it has blossomed into what is billed as the largest theatrical collaboration in U.S. history—the 365 National Festival. In 16 cities across the nation, including Seattle, over 800 theater and university groups will work together to produce one play every day from Nov. 13, 2006, to Nov. 12, 2007. For the next year, all of King County becomes a stage. Fifty-two collectives, composed of producers, directors, professionals, and ambitious first-time actors, will each produce one week of Parks' plays in locations of their choice. From the Hilltop Service Station on 15th Avenue to the downtown public library, from the Burke Museum to the Pike Place Market, from Intiman Theatre to a Wallingford playground, any site that can hold an audience will be considered a production space. After every four weeks of citywide theatre, participating groups will stage a single-venue marathon for a more centralized, less spur-of-the-moment production. Seattle365, the consortium that oversees the local organization of the project, is staying largely in the background to allow participants the creative freedom to experiment with performance in an urban setting. "This is a Seattle community project, not just a theatre community project," says Nick Schwartz-Hall, consortium member from the Seattle Repertory Theatre. "It's not just theatre troupes and dance troupes, but lots of different types of people." The lineup had not been finalized at presstime, but so far participants include representatives from the Rep, Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas, Empty Space Theatre, and Town Hall. The plays vary as much as the venues. Sitting down to write each morning, Parks asked herself, "What's the play?" trusting that something would come to her. Something did, and she found herself writing short scripts about big events, such as the Iraq War and the death of Johnny Cash, and small circumstances, like a woman overheard crying for the loss of a favorite sweater. When she hit one of her many brick walls, Parks wrote a play about simply going through the motions. All things were embraced and deemed worthy for the page, creating a work that—like Parks' Pulitzer Prize–winning Topdog/Underdog—shines light on the vaudeville absurdity of everyday life and connects with what the playwright calls "the deep, underground well of spirit." Parks says that the 365 National Festival was not built to create community, but, she admits, "We're realizing that we're revealing community where it already exists." Of the participating networks, several are large cities—New York, L.A., Atlanta, Seattle—but far more are small towns and universities, each applying the project to something different within their respective neighborhoods. Every new performance will emerge with a different look, feel, and flavor. For Seattle, this means a unique, quirky, and unpredictable citywide initiative to produce not just a piece of theatre, but a community-based event. 365Seattle steps out to meet the city, not the other way around, and brings Parks one step closer to showing the world that theater can be done by anyone, anywhere. 365 Plays/365 Days Various venues, Free. Daily short performances plus marathon performances once monthly, schedule TBA, Nov. 13, through Nov. 12, 2007.

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