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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Suzan-Lori Parks is one of America's leading playwrights. Only 42 years old, she was the first black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for drama for her play Topdog/Underdog. A few years ago, Suzan-Lori Parks decided that she was going to write a play a day, everyday, for a year. And the plays will be staged over the next year starting tonight.

NPR's Neda Ulaby reports.

NEDA ULABY: For the next 365 days, 365 plays by Suzan-Lori Parks will be performed as an enormous nationwide theater project. That includes some 700 theaters, from the country's most prestigious to tiny companies in far-flung communities. Suzan-Lori Parks says all are encouraged to be imaginative.

Ms. SUZAN-LORI PARKS (Playwright, Pulitzer Prize winner): Oh man, this one group in Seattle, they're doing one of the weeks of the plays in an ice skating rink. There's a group in Chicago that's - we're going to do it all in the dark. There's another group that they're going to do them all in translate - I think they're going to translate them into Spanish or translate them into Togalog.

ULABY: Most of the plays don't take too long to perform. Many just a few minutes. Parks says writing a play a day was a meditation on play writing and a way to honor it.

Ms. PARKS: It sounded like fun.

ULABY: But writing a play everyday, Parks admits, was not always fun.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PARKS: Let's be real. There were so many days when I woke up - like day two basically - no day one was all like whoo hoo hoo, right. I'm going to write a play. It's going to be called Start Here. Here we go, you know. Day two it was like holy hmm.

ULABY: That first play, Start Here, is basically an internal conversation. It's like overhearing Parks convincing herself to undertake such a big and challenging project.

(Soundbite of play, "Start Here")

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actress): (As character in play) I'm afraid.

Unidentified Woman #2 (Actress): (As character in play) Good, (unintelligible) not, there's always energy. Sometimes joy, sometimes fear.

ULABY: Start Here was recently read by actors at Washington, D.C.'s Studio Theater.

(Soundbite of play, "Start Here")

Unidentified Woman #2: By the end, you'll be so deep in the habit of continuing on you'll pray that you'll never stop. Happens all the time. But don't take my word for it. Let go and you'll see for yourself. Get up. There you go. Breathe. Ah. OK. Come on.

Unidentified Woman #1: Where to?

Unidentified Woman #2: For me to know and for you to find out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Woman #2: Come on. Not to worry. Walk with me. Take your feet -move it.

(Soundbite of stomping)

Unidentified Woman #2: And with any luck we'll get there.

Ms. JOY ZINOMAN (Artistic director, Studio Theater): We are at the beginning of one of the most inclusive theatrical events that I have ever witnessed (in mock old woman's voice) in my 54 years in theater.

ULABY: Joy Zinoman is artistic director of the Studio Theater. She told her gathering of 11 actors - who included a Chinese opera singer and cast members of the TV show The Wire - that they would perform in a solidarity of sorts, with 365 Days/365 Plays, actors and audiences around the nation.

Ms. ZINOMAN: Which is an incredible thing to think about, that you guys are -you're not getting any money but you're participating in something.

ULABY: Every performance of 365 Days/365 Plays will be free. The licensing costs to theaters have been kept low, to as little as a dollar, to ensure as many companies as possible can play, as Parks put it. Critic Hilton Als at the New Yorker Magazine says the notion of play for Suzan-Lori Parks means constant innovation.

Mr. HILTON ALS (Critic, New Yorker Magazine): Some would say it's the middle part of her career, but I think that's she's really just at the beginning. Like many great artists, they're always reinventing themselves and starting fresh. And I think she's starting fresh with this entire production.

ULABY: Suzan-Lori Parks made her name writing fierce, funny plays about the complication and pain of people grotesquely caught in history: an African woman exhibited as a freak or an African American man in whiteface enacting Lincoln's assassination at a sideshow. Her next project is a musical based on the life of the singer Ray Charles.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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