On a chill November evening like any other, within the cozy confines of JoAnna’s Soul Cafe, Seattle set in motion an unprecedented journey into the realm of public theater. Onstage, a trembling young soldier stripped away the remains of her life to begin a halting voyage, led by an angelic guide, into the unknown.
The parallels between the play (titled Start Here) and the journey it launched, Seattle’s year-long run of Suzan-Lori Parks’ 365 Plays/365 Days, are powerful. In 2002–’03, Pulitzer Prize–winner Parks composed 365 short works as a daily personal meditation, never expecting them to be performed. And yet they will be, in seven cities around the country, every day until Nov. 12, 2007. Fifty-two Seattle-based companies are committed to producing a week each of Parks’ plays; her first seven scripts were produced by the new Mahogany Project, dedicated to furthering the involvement of African-American women in theater. They ended the five-minute Start Here to cheers and cries of “We did it!” from company members.
Like a box of matches lit one by one, Parks’ plays burn brightly and then evaporate, each unique to the day—and place—it is performed. The Mahogany Project chose JoAnna’s to host its entire week of performances, but for week two, the Akropolis Performance Lab’s choice of venues was more eclectic. The first minutes of their performance of The Ends of the Earth, on Monday, Nov. 20, had the audience chasing the company around the Volunteer Park water tower in the dark, leading one passing motorist to ask if he ought to call 911. The next night Akropolis staged The Executioner’s Daughter in the pouring rain among the statues at Occidental Park—again prompting curious stares from more than one passerby.
All the plays are short, from three lines to three pages, but packed with a surprising amount of complex meaning and magical realism. Despite their brevity, Parks has composed complete stories with recurring themes and characters drawn from her previous work. So far, the components of 365 Plays/365 Days have succeeded because of their unique ephemerality—the only difficulty (but part of the fun) for the audience is tracking down the performances and getting there before the whole shebang is over, vanished in a puff of smoke.