The Austin Chronicle

365 National Festival: A Suzan-Lori play a day ...

By Robert Faires, September 29, 2006, Arts

And you thought Austin cranked out a lot of Shostakovich when local artists devoted a year to celebrating his work. (And it has: The unprecedented collaboration among area cultural organizations has yielded some 50 concerts and productions in which the Russian composer's work is highlighted.) Well, now get ready for a year dedicated to Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Suzan-Lori Parks in which we'll be treated to one of her plays every day for 12 months. That's right: 365 plays by Parks in 365 days. And it isn't even her 100th birthday!

The project grows out of a challenge Parks set for herself in the autumn of 2002: Write a play every day for a year. We're not talking full-length dramas on the order of her Topdog/Underdog or The America Play, just dramatic explorations of some inspiration she'd have on any given day. The exercise, she reports, was "great fun. It was also like a puja, or an extended daily prayer, and kind of like walking a pilgrimage on my knees. It was wild and necessary and arduous and delicious." And when the year was up, Parks thought that was the end of it; she stuck the plays in a drawer. But longtime producer, collaborator, and friend Bonnie Metzgar insisted that the plays have a life on stage. So she and Parks hatched the idea of performing them as they were written: one a day for a year. And they invited theatres from coast to coast to produce them at the same time, to create what Parks calls "a simultaneous and shared world premiere involving hundreds of theatres around the country." The result is the largest theatrical collaboration in U.S. history: 10 major cities and several smaller communities all staging Parks' 365 plays in order, beginning Nov. 13.

In each city, a group or individual will take responsibility for producing a week's worth of plays, Monday through Sunday. (To see samples of the plays, which are typically just a page or two, visit Participants are responsible for securing space for the performances and all production costs but are free to do the plays as simply or elaborately as they choose. Of course, making sure all 52 weeks are covered with no overlap requires some coordinating force in each community. Locally, the Zachary Scott Theatre Center is filling that role, and it's currently soliciting applications from interested theatre companies and community groups. Zach Artistic Director Dave Steakley hopes to draw participants from all corners of the city and all styles of performance. "I'm so excited to see how each company will interpret their plays," he says, "because the possibilities are endless."

Best of all, when the 365 National Festival launches on Nov. 13, the writer responsible will be marking the occasion in Austin. Not New York. Not L.A. Not Chicago. Not Seattle or Minneapolis or Atlanta. Our town. "Austin is one of Suzan's very favorite cities," notes Steakley. "She says she can't imagine anywhere else she'd rather be." And if she wants to be here, is there anywhere you'd rather be?

Deadline for applications to produce part of the 365 National Festival in Austin: Oct. 15. For more information, contact Zach production coordinator Shannon Richey at or 476-0594 x242.

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