All the world’s a stage - even your local
Brooklyn locations - including a church, a bar, an art gallery and a home supply store - will transform into theatrical venues for the New York City premieres of seven of Suzan-Lori Parks’s plays, produced by Polybe + Seats theater company.
In November 2002, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright decided to write a play every day for a year, and beginning last month, all of her plays began to be simultaneously performed in various locations across the country as part of the "365 Days/365 Plays National Play Festival."
Parks made a name for herself as both a screenwriter and a playwright. Among her most memorable projects have been penning the scripts of Spike Lee’s 1996 film "Girl 6"; the 2005 ABC television movie "Their Eyes Were Watching God," produced by Oprah Winfrey; and the 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Topdog/Underdog."
Polybe + Seats is producing the eighth week of the New York project, from Jan. 3 through Jan. 7.
"From the beginning, we wanted to do all seven plays as a collage in one evening in a collage of venues," said Stacey McMath, Polybe + Seats’s producing director, who is directing play numbers 50 through 56 of the 365. "[We picked] places in Brooklyn where theater doesn’t usually happen. We wanted unconventional locations to put them in, to show that the plays can be done anywhere and any place can be a theater, you just have to have a right set up and desire to do it."
In addition to the performance spaces’ neighborhood feeling, the performers might be some of your neighbors. Polybe + Seats actors Elaine O’Brien and Katya Schapiro live in Williamsburg, while Andrew Gilchrist is a Fort Greene resident.
Each night, all seven plays will be performed. Polybe + Seats, like all of the participating theater companies, had creative control of the production’s outcome.
"The plays range in length from one page to five pages," said McMath. "Some are very simple, some are allegorical. A lot of the people have chosen to do all kinds of different things with them. It was very fun to be able to [locally] premiere a Suzan-Lori Parks play and to have the artistic license to do whatever you like with them."
The first play Polybe + Seats developed was "Here We Go," written by Parks on Jan. 1, 2003.
"It’s the first play of the New Year and really has only about six lines of text," said McMath. "We’ve turned it into a dance piece. The actors wear hats and a wig that are in various ways traded between people, and at the end, the hat becomes engrained as part of [the character’s] personality, and they leave with different hats."
Many of the other plays slated to be staged are snapshots of American life, and McMath said American rock ’n’ roll from the ’50s and ’60s is mixed in with many of them.
On Jan. 2, 2003, Parks wrote "We Are Fresh Out of Canned Laughter, Get Some Off the Television."
"It’s a story about a family who is living together at the present time. There’s a tired mom and a tired dad and a rambunctious kid, and it’s just what one evening in their life is like, and how TV plays a part in that," said McMath.
The next day, Parks wrote about "two women named Mary who happened to live next door to each other but never met each other," said McMath. "[The play shows] their first meeting, and is also about New Year’s resolutions."
Parks was in a more absurdist mood on Jan. 4, 2003 when she wrote "News is Here" about a couple who finds a baby and have to decide what to do with it: should they keep it, leave it alone or sell it?
Jan. 5, 2003’s play, " ’Star of India’ takes place in sort of a slideshow," said McMath. "There’s an emcee and a character who is the star of India. It’s a vaudeville kind of piece."
Vaudeville is followed by an allegorical play, called "Birth of Tragedy," which is the annual celebration of a tragic event, with tragedy as a personified character.
Parks’s eighth week of writing ended with "Call Girl," which is simply about "two guys who live together, a woman who calls a lot, and the problems that that creates in their life."
Because many of the plays are about American life in general, Polybe + Seats is hoping that these shows will attract general Brooklynites in addition to the usual fans of theater.
"We were thinking about a core audience that knows each venue for its intended purpose to come to it and to see theater in this place that they know, and experience [theater] in their home as an intersection between the venue and the plays," McMath said. "We’re working with each venue to get the word out to their constituents who wouldn’t ordinarily come to see theater. The goal of the venues is for people to come to them who may not have a high level of exposure of theater.
"[Polybe + Seats] has a strong Brooklyn-based audience, so I think that our core audience will be a strong part of that, but we also want neighborhood audiences. We’ve been flyering and talking to local businesses, trying to get people to come to out."
Not only is the "365 Days/365 Plays" project trying to bring theater to a new audience, but it also gives the participating companies a fresh sense of importance.
"The amazing idea [behind ’365’] was to incorporate theater companies and give opportunities to people who would never ordinarily premiere Suzan-Lori Parks plays. It’s amazing we got this opportunity," said McMath. "We’re delighted to be doing this and to be bringing it to Brooklyn ... We feel honored to be a part of it."
Polybe + Seats presents the eighth week
of "365 Days/365 Plays" on Jan. 3 at 8 pm at UnionDocs
[322 Union Ave. at South First Street in Williamsburg, www.uniondocs.org];
Jan. 4 at 8 pm at Greenpoint Reformed Church [138 Milton St.
at Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, (718) 383-5941, www.greenp