Pulitzer and MacArthur prizewinner Suzan-Lori Parks’ ongoing national dramatic marathon, 365 Days/365 Plays, for which Parks wrote a play a day for a year, is in its 11th week in the Bay Area theater round-robin, to be staged Sunday by 23 acting students of the Berkeley Rep’s theater school.
Mary Beth Cavanaugh of the Rep’s school spoke with enthusiasm about the rapid process whereby seven directing students each received the script for one of the week’s plays with two weeks to consider the mostly one-page texts and develop ideas for staging, then had one three-hour rehearsal with a technical rehearsal slated the morning of performance.
“And that’s all they get, unless they want to rehearse on their own time,” she said. “I helped in casting, mostly advanced acting students, non-Equity, but with experience. It’s a low, low-tech performance, with some sound cues and basic lighting, a few different looks. Some of the plays are five minutes, some 20; there were no time limits in developing the scripts. Half of the directing students are, or were, performers. Most are traditional theater directors, but one—who took a one-page script and with pages and pages of notes is staging it over 20 minutes—is a film director; another has a background in movement theater, choreography and performance art, and performed at New York’s La Mama lab theater.”
The film director Mike Rose is filming his first feature this summer. He’s also acting in it, having studied and performed in the Bay Area. Of his piece, #2 “The Wagon,” Rose said, “The script’s just dialogue. Everything else is left open, giving the director an infinite number of ways to proceed, a tremendous amount of creative freedom. I drew on my background as a writer--short stories and poetry, besides film scripts—and used my imagination to create my own story around the dialogue, developing the characters, situations ... The two main actors were fellow students in acting classes. I guess we could’ve used another day, but we’ll have time for a brush-up after tech. The proof’s in the pudding: if the play goes well, then I can say the rehearsals were good! I was unfamiliar with Parks; I think this’s been an excellent choice by the school. The plays are very short but complete in themselves.”
Neither Cavanaugh nor Rose saw a thread running through the plays, but Erica Blue, directing “apocalyptic” #7, “The Arrival of the End,” with her background in movement and in dealing with one-page plays before, noted that some of the plays “aren’t about relationships, or humanity, but more metaphysical. The characters are delving into something deeper, unspoken, to get to something they can’t explain. Something metaphysical.” But she agreed with Rose in that the plays have “a huge range, with a lot of room for the director to interpret.” Blue also was unfamiliar with Parks’ work.
Blue said her approach is “minimal, slow moving—all there’s time for! It’s interesting to learn at a professional theater, where there’s such fast turnover and short rehearsal time, though not usually like this! There’re only six lines to the script. [Student and Bay Area performer] Dan Carbone’s in the show, who usually does 40 straight minutes of text. I have singer Aurora Josephson and bassist Damon Smith participating, too. I have no idea what the other directors are doing--though Mike may know what I’m doing, after the sound being so loud in the lobby! I lent him the wagon for his play, the one my kid rides in. It’s been a great experience. I can’t wait to see what everybody else comes up with—and what mine looks like, too!”
Week 11 of 365 Days/365 Plays will be performed at the Berkeley Repertory’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., 3 p.m. Sunday (Jan. 28). Admission is pay-what-you-will. For information, call 647-2972 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org.