Arts Listings

The Theater: Theater Groups Stage 3 Weeks of ‘365’

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Tuesday June 05, 2007

Leave it to the Shotgun Players to organize a posse to go after weeks 26, 27 and 30 of playwright Suzan-Lori Parks’ monumental, year-long, nationwide collaborative theater project.  

The three companies—Shotgun, mugwumpin and Just Theater—will gang up tonight (Tuesday) and Wednesday at 8 p.m. on the Ashby Stage to play a grand total of 21 of Parks’ plays—three whole weeks’ worth—each night. 

In addition, Shotgun has announced they’ll be offering 365 drinks, 365 snacks and intermissions of 3 minutes 65 seconds to extend the numerical conceit of Parks’ astonishing outpouring of pieces to be staged. Admission is $5, which includes a drink. 

Parks’ project began a few years back when she set herself the goal of writing a play a day for a year. Now they’re being produced around the country, about midstream to conclusion. The Bay Area is one region of production—and East Bay companies have leapt at the challenge, devising unusual, creative ways to collaborate and stage each week of seven plays. 

But Shotgun decided that wasn’t quite enough ... 

“The question we asked ourselves was how we could make an interesting evening of theater which would do justice to the concept of the whole cycle of plays,” said Shotgun’s Liz Lisle. “So we decided to do a stretch, and invited two other companies we respect and have worked with before to join us in getting a leg up on it, to do three whole weeks at once: 26 (Just Theater), 27 (mugwumpin) and 30, which is ours.” 

As part of the process, Shotgun assembled a “mini-ensemble” to put on their portion of the plays.  

“Every piece will have a different director, and every ensemble member will both act and direct,” Lisle said. “This kind of immediacy of feedback isn’t usual with the process we go through to mount a production. Like Parks’ plays, it’s something really playful.” 

Denmo Ibrahim of mugwumpin, the innovative physical theater troupe in residency at San Francisco’s Exit Theatre, concurred: “We wanted to find a way of using the plays as a test to find new collaborators, new ways of working.” 

To that end, the troupe staged their week’s portion one night a few weeks back, as a party at Root Division in San Francisco’s Mission District. “It was crazy!” laughed Ibrahim, who both directed and performed. “Each director had a half-hour to cast and rehearse.” 

Molly Aaronson-Gelb of Just Theater, said, “This’s been right up our alley, using theater to reflect, create community, and to create a common conversation among theater people.” She compared it to the nationwide, antiwar Lysistrata Project a few years back, in which she participated. 

Asked about running themes and motifs in their portions, Aaronson-Gelb mentioned “a lot about war and peace; it affected our costuming!” Ibrahim quoted Richard Foreman, “Everything makes sense!” and went on to identify mugwumpin’s plays as having in common “the lonely sense of being witness to the last of something happening.” 

Lisle brought it all into perspective by reflecting on the playwright’s impulse: “What she does is transform her everyday into theater, which rolls over into the next day. In one of our plays, the characters from the next one come on and announce, ‘Your play’s over!’”