"Five-hundred-twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes" is the time span mentioned in the lyrics to the familiar song "Seasons of Love" in Jonathan Larson's musical Rent. That figure also approximates the time — equating to a full year — it will take for the theatrical run of 365 Days/365 Plays, a history-making nationwide festival of 365 new short works penned by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog). As Parks has described her creation, "On 13 November 2002, I had this silly idea that I would write a play every day for a year.... It became a daily meditation, a daily prayer celebrating the rich and strange process of a writing life."
According to Diane Rodriguez, associate producer and director of new-play production at L.A.'s Center Theatre Group, "[Producer] Bonnie Metzgar and Suzan came to [CTG Artistic Director] Michael Ritchie very early on with their little germ of an idea [for a nationwide festival], and he was one of the first to encourage them to go all the way with it. He told them that we would support them in any way we could. Then he told them, 'Talk to Diane.'" This occurred in June and, less than six months later, the nationwide effort commences. The L.A. edition gets under way Nov. 15, continuing across the metropolitan area through Nov. 12, 2007.
Various cities across the nation will present the full series of works over the same period, with a hub company in each city coordinating the effort. L.A.'s hub organization, CTG, has worked out a schedule with 51 producing companies — a who's who of the city's most respected groups, including the Geffen Playhouse, Circle X Theatre Co., Cornerstone Theater Company, and Pacific Resident Theatre, as well as lesser-known groups — each presenting a week of consecutive performances. CTG will present the opening and closing weeks. The works range from a few lines to a few pages and encompass all sorts of genres and styles, from solo pieces to multicharacter pieces. There is no central theme. The participating companies are encouraged to produce the plays in any fashion they wish. The pieces can be seen all in one evening, once a day, or in other combinations, and can be performed at a company's home theatre or at other alternative site-specific locations.
"When I started planning this for L.A.," Rodriguez elaborated, "I set out to get some associates here from people in the theatre community. Joining me as 'hub partners' were Son of Semele, City Garage, Ghost Road Company, Theatre@ Boston Court, and LA Stage Alliance. It was important to tailor the project to our city. In Atlanta, Seattle, or other cities, they have their own kind of thing. We had to determine how it will work for us and the point of doing it in L.A. One key thing is that we are still not known as a theatre town, though we should be. How can we profile 51 theatres in town and work on a project successfully for a year and in the process get to know each other and each other's work and each other's audiences? Our hope is that after it's over, our theatre community will be more unified. I see this as a tremendous opportunity for us to come together."
She said there is no central budget for the nationwide effort. Each participating theatre in each city produces its shows in the way it can best afford or that is most suitable. In L.A., each company donated $50 to a kitty to pay for licensing rights and promotions, such as brochures or mailers.
Rodriguez said she believes Parks' overall goal is "bigger than the plays she has written. In the end, it is a historical event, the biggest national collaboration ever in the American theatre. Above all, it is a community-building event. This is taking something that one creative artist worked on in very private moments — almost like journaling the days in her life — and turning it into a huge public event, seen by many people, performed by many people. It's a very interesting explosion of someone's psyche, entering the national consciousness. As for my part, I feel like I am an ambassador for CTG. This helps me get us out there in the community, seeing the effort through with everyone, and all the while trying to put L.A. theatre on the map. This couldn't have come at a better time."
Throughout the year, updated information on 365 Days/365 Plays will be available at www.365inla.com.