In November of 2002, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks made an audacious decision -- she was going to write a play each day of the year. The results of all that scribbling have come to fruition in an astounding project called 365 Days/365 Plays. Of course, it takes a lot of seriously driven theater types to produce such an outrageous body of work, but companies across the country have signed up to be a part of what's been billed as "the largest collaboration in the history of American theater." Everyone from high school theater groups in Texas to heavily endowed, well-established companies in New York City has committed a week's worth of time to producing seven of Parks's plays. Here in the Bayou City, the first group to showcase their efforts is that most wicked of all Houston troupes, Infernal Bridegroom Productions.
Troy Schulze, the production's director, calls 365 Days "the most interesting project I've ever come across on a collaborative level. It's happening all across the country, and it's happening simultaneously. The same week we're doing a group of plays, they're being done in Seattle, in Atlanta."
Schulze says the project is truly innovative. "This isn't typical work. It just doesn't scream theater to me. I don't want to call this experimental, but it's definitely more on the edge. I know there's a group in New York that's going to do these on street corners. There's another group who's already posted their version on YouTube."
the Axiom, 2624 McKinney, 713-522-8443.
Infernal Bridegroom Productions participates January 15-21. Free.
IBP is staging its week of performances on the small platform in the front room of the Axiom. "I want it to feel like a rock show," says Schulze. "I want it to be very casual, a lot of fun. I was hoping people could come away from this not feeling so uptight about plays."
One actor will be performing 365 tasks on stage. "He's supposed to do them in seven minutes," says Schulze. He thinks the actor's going to draw the tasks out of a hat "randomly," so even the director isn't sure what all the actor will be doing (but somehow a George Foreman grill is involved).
Of course, since the plays themselves are generally very short (some no more than a page long), every theater, including IBP, will have to deal with what to do with all that time left over. Schulze is planning on adding in what are called "The Three Constants," little plays by Parks that groups can perform in tandem with the script of the day, to fill out a complete night of theater. "I'm doing all three of those every night," says Schulze. "I'm thinking about videotaping each night, and so as the week goes on we could do a recap. But I haven't decided. I know I am going to use a lot of video projection, title projection, audio -- I'm figuring out ways of making something that doesn't have a budget feel like it's got a budget."
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One of the reasons the project has such meager funding is that theaters won't be charging admission for these shows. They are absolutely free to the public. And Schulze says that the company paid "the smallest royalty" they've ever paid. "Suzan-Lori gets a dollar a day per play."
For all the joy and generosity involved in this collaboration, the plays themselves are often dark and disturbing. Suicide, death and destruction abound. One of "The Three Constants," called Action in Inaction, "is a very short play," says Schulze. "It's described as 'a person standing on stage, dressed in mourning.' And then it just says, 'the sound of wind or whales forever,' and that's the entire play." Everything else is left up to the theater to figure out -- and nothing could sound more inventive or inviting in terms of creativity.
It would certainly be worthwhile for any aficionado to see as many of these productions as possible during the year. The project calls attention to what makes theater so unique: the collaborative efforts between writer, director, actor and designers to make a real piece of art. And 365 just takes that collaboration to an entirely new level.
So far in the Houston area, five theaters have signed up. Those include the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (February 16March 4), Mildred's Umbrella (April 1622), Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theatre (May 2127) and The Strand in Galveston (October 29November 4). There are plenty of plays still up for grabs here in Texas, and it would be fabulous to see all Houston theaters get on board.