Arts Listings

The Theater: Two East Bay Troupes Join ‘365 days / 365 Plays’

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Tuesday November 21, 2006

As part of an extraordinary daily regimen for the theatrical palate, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks’ 365 Days/365 Plays national theater project, which will run the 365 plays Parks wrote in 2002 over the coming year all around the country, was inaugurated in San Francisco last week—and will be continued throughout the year in the Bay Area, Weeks Two and Four produced by East Bay companies Woman’s Will and Ten Red Hen.  

Week two of 365 will be staged by Woman’s Will (in all-female shows) Nov. 24-28 at the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music, 1616 Franklin St. (near the 19th Street BART; 420-0813 or 

During week four, Ten Red Hen will be appearing in different private homes, including an artist’s loft in Fruitvale on Thursday, Dec. 7 (with a special play, The Carpet Cleaner On Pearl Harbor Day, included) and Sat. Dec. 9 at a co-housing community in Berkeley. Venue addresses will be provided with reservations through Ten Red Hen (547-8932 or All shows are Pay-What-You-Will. 

“We’ve been looking for an excuse to do something by Suzan-Lori Parks for a long time,” said Erin Merritt, founder of Woman’s Will, best-known for their all-female productions of Shakespeare in Bay Area parks, but also producers of site-specific shows of Oscar Wilde and a Brecht/Weill musical. “I heard about this, wanted to know how to get involved—and we got an invitation.” 

“All of the plays are complete events in themselves,” said Maya Guarantz of Ten Red Hen, who also directed one of the pieces for Woman’s Will, “and they reveal a bone-deep understanding of the theatrical moment. Some are abstract; all are very stageable.”  

True to their mission, Woman’s Will employs several female directors (Merritt, Guarantz, Carla Spindt, Tessa Koning-Martinez, Molly Noble, Keiko Shimosato, JoAnne Winter) and an all-women ensemble to put on the plays of week two. 

“A lot of interesting directors,” remarked Merritt. “It’s nice to work with other directors. I never get to do that. When I see how a piece is going, I think ‘Wonderful! I wouldn’t have done it that way!’ And the actors haven’t worked with each other before; they’re excited about that. There’s more there for everybody, both in the company and in the audience. The project was set up by the author for the companies staging it to put it on any way they wanted, staged readings or played in a BART station. And it lets us put all our heads together, asking ‘What if we do this?’ The actors get the same freedom, too, which isn’t usual. It’s like the annual playfest we have, when writers and actors have a day to put something together, see what they can come up with. When you experiment like this, concentrating more on the challenge, the fun of it—the real reason people do theater—it’s as much fun to watch as it is to do.” 

Ten Red Hen’s also right on their own mission, producing collaboratively, as an ensemble, no designated director. 

“The different weeks often have different logic, different play structures,” said Guarantz. “In week two ‘New, innovative, old, has-been’ seem to crop up; in week four, it’s more like war, different wars ... we end on a battlefield conversation between Napoleon and Wellington, with Jane Chen playing Napoleon, wearing hats and swords that will be made of that day’s newspaper. You can see the author’s different obsessions and how she works them out.” 

And there’s a festive side to all of it, especially during the holiday season, that each troupe works out for itself, too. 

“We think of the audience as our family,” said Merritt, “and hope they’ll think of us as part of theirs. Since it’s on Thanksgiving weekend, we hope people bring their families. There’s a limited, optional audience participation at the end before our reception, when everybody can meet everyone else in that room and share together.” 

Guarantz agreed: “And it’s a celebration of the American theater community. We never get together like this—Ten Red Hen and ACT [who’ll produce a week of the project] never get to hang out! Big and little companies, joining in collaboration ...” 

The sense of audience engagement runs high as well. 

“Until the 20th century, the arts were participatory,” Merritt said. “There was no amateur, professional—it was everybody sitting around the piano. What people don’t like about theater is not participating; they don’t always realize that the energy in the room is part of it.” 

“It’s important to remember that theater is 365 days a year,” Guarantz emphasized, “Every day, for many of us. It may seem like a rarefied form, but it’s an elemental urge in all of us. That’s why we’re celebrating this in people’s homes.” 


A full Bay Area schedule for Suzan-Lori Parks’ 365 Days/365 Plays at