When Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks embarked on a mission to write a play a day for 365 days, she titled the first of her plays “Start Here.”
Exactly four years later, Parks’ “365 Days/365 Plays” project premiered Monday at Yale, as well as at other locations across the United States. The project consists of 365 different short plays written by Parks that will be performed over the course of the next year at different theaters throughout the country. Three of the plays are being staged at Yale in Nick Chapel in Trumbull College, where the third and final performance will take place tonight.
“365 Days/365 Plays” was brought to Yale in conjunction with The World Performance Project, which was funded by a Distinguished Achievement Award, recently granted to theater studies professor Joseph Roach by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Roach said it was an honor for the University to play host to Parks’ project.
“This is an extraordinary, unprecedented gift,” he said.
At a Trumbull College Master’s Tea on Tuesday, Parks, accompanied by collaborator and producer Bonnie Metzgar, laid out her “creation myth” about the writing of the plays and the decision to have each one premiere in various locations around the country over the span of a year.
Parks said she was sitting in her apartment in Venice Beach, Calif., on Nov. 13, 2002, when she suddenly got the idea of writing a play a day for an entire year. After receiving encouragement from her husband, she began that day by writing the first play and kept up with her commitment for the following 364 days.
Speaking to students and other attendees, Parks admitted that the commitment was difficult, especially on days when inspiration did not come easy.
“I would start by going through the motions of writing, and then I’d just write about that,” she said.
But Parks said she often produced her best work on days when she found little to write about. She recounted the story of an actor who, after reading her plays, chose as his favorites the ones written on days when all Parks had was “her commitment to the task.”
After the writing was finished in 2002, the scripts lay dormant until last year, when Metzgar read them and was immediately impressed.
“The plays make for an extraordinary literary experience,” Metzgar said.
Metzgar and Parks decided that the best way to present “365 Days/365 Plays” would be to stage them a day at a time in at least seven different locations, adding up to about a year of 2,500 opening nights.
One week’s worth of plays will be distributed to various theater companies around the country, each organized around a hub theater in fifteen different locations. After one theater or group has performed for a week, they will pass off the next week of plays to another theater, which then holds its own week of premieres. The process will continue until all 365 plays have been performed.
Parks said she is confident that allowing for a wide array of interpretations of her plays can be done without “diminishing the core” of the original works. While some playwrights would be uneasy at relinquishing control of their words to people they do not know, Parks said, she prefers to look at that uncertainty as “part of the fun.”
All performances of “365 Days/365 Plays” are free. Organizers, who pay dollar a day each for licensing rights, can then “pass a hat” at the beginning or end of the show for voluntary donations if they choose to do so.
Parks referred to this idea as “radical inclusion” — making the material affordable and available to people around the country.
Alex Walker ’08, who is involved in the World Performance Project, said the affordability of theater advocated by Parks is important.
“I think theater should be accessible,” he said. “It should cost little. I think it’s great when we can reach out and make theater more affordable for the public.”
Students who attended the Master’s Tea said they found Parks inspiring.
“I want to buy her book now,” Eve Fine ’07 said after hearing Parks speak.
Walker said he has enjoyed Parks’ work in the past and hopes to read some of the 365 plays.
Both Metzgar and Parks remain excited that, so far, “365 Days/365 Plays” is set to premiere at thousands of locations around the country.
“My heart has burst open — it’s all new again — and it’s only just beginning,” Parks said.
Monday marked the release of Parks’ book, a collection of the 365 plays she wrote for “365 Days/365 Plays.”