As part of the “365 Days/365 Plays” project, 60 New York theater companies are performing 365 of Suzan Lori-Parks’ plays in as many days. Members of the Richard Allen Center for Culture and Art at the Seaport’s Shooting Star Theater got their chance last week; they perform the plays again at the Public August 5.
By Jennifer O’Reilly
The Shooting Star Theater at 40 Peck Slip in the South Street Seaport is a modest 30-seat venue which falls decidedly into the category of Off-Off Broadway both in location and size. But on Sunday night, the final performance of this week’s installment of the “365 Days/365 Plays” project, this small theater had people clamoring to fill the space and even had to turn some patrons away because the house was filled to capacity.
The reason for the overflow may have been that this tiny theater was playing host to a larger project than usual Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks’ global theater experiment, “365 Days/365 Plays” The Public Theater launched the project in New York City in November 2006, in which 60 New York theater companies perform 365 of Parks’ three to five minute plays over the course of one year. Each company is given one week to perform seven of Parks plays at their own theater with a reprise performance at The Public at the end of the month. Throughout the country, over 600 theater companies are performing the same plays everywhere from Atlanta to Los Angeles, making it the largest theater collaboration in history.
Last week the featured theater company in New York was The Richard Allen Center for Culture and Art, or RACCA, a small but prestigious organization founded in 1968 by Hazel Bryant in the “spirit of the Harlem Renaissance.” RACCA’s Seaport Salon, housed at the Shooting Star Theater, usually features one or two-person shows written by little known playwrights. With a fifteen-member cast debuting the work of a famous playwright, this production was somewhat out of the scope of the normal scale of production that RACCA usually deals with. “The plays are premieres and there’s nowhere else in New York that you can see them,” says RACCA Producing Associate and Production Manager Candance Lunn. “So I think that may have brought in a bigger crowd.”
RACCA took a somewhat unique take on the 365 Days project by allowing four directors to interpret each of the plays according to their own visions. Because the plays are only three to five minutes long, the theater often showcased two or more different directorial versions of the same play. “We all had our different ideas,” said director Hope Clark. “For example, in “The Puppet”, there’s a president who has a puppet who does all the things he wants him to do, who shoots people for him and things like that. We all had a different idea of what the puppet would look like. In my version, the puppet was another actor.” In another piece, cumbersomely titled “I Can’t Help the Mood I’m In, But Right Now I’m Thinking That the Narcissim of White America Knows No Bounds,” the directors’ vision of the character of white America varied greatly. In one interpretation, she is a woman draped in an American flag pestering an Islamic man trying to pray. In others, she is represented by a black woman in white face or a white male country club aristocrat.
RACCA also wholly embraced Parks’ concept for 365 Days, which sought to be inclusive of everyone who wanted to participate, by hosting a Playwright Slam for two of the seven nights they performed the plays. They invited playwrights in the audience to perform their own works of no more than 365 words each. The Playwright Slam was met with an overwhelming response. “There were thespians coming out of the woodwork,” said RACCA Community Liason Chandra Carr.
While RACCA acknowledges the enormous reach of the project, at times it was easy to lose sight of the fact that they were part of a larger collaboration. “We weren’t necessarily thinking about the theater company in Arizona who was doing the same plays. We were just thinking we need to get this done,” says Lunn. But when they showcase their work at the Public Theater on August 5 with 20 other participating theater companies, Lunn predicts that they’ll get an idea of the broader range of the project. “Rehearsing at the Public with the other theater companies that’s when the whole thing really sinks in.”