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Taffety Punk's Vision: Affordable Theater For All

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Jason Lott rehearses a scene from "The Car Plays".
Rebecca Sheir
Jason Lott rehearses a scene from "The Car Plays".

The car may not seem like the most dramatic thing in the world, but as far as Taffety Punk's artistic director, Marcus Kyd, is concerned, pretty much all cars are dramatic. The company, which Marcus helped found in 2004, is presenting "The Car Plays": three one-act plays about people in a car.

In addition to drama, the play presents another advantage for the young theater company intent on keeping ticket prices low: "It's cheap," acknowledges kid. (The set is essentially two chairs that pose as car seats.)

"The Car Plays" runs through April 23 at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop in Southeast D.C.

One of the plays, "Buggy and Tyler," is the brainchild of Taffety Punk's new "resident playwright," Gwydion Suilebhan.

What does it mean to be resident playwright?

"We're figuring that out," Suilebhan says. "We've worked together for a long time, we have a good relationship, and we're gonna figure out stuff to do together."

"I wanted Gwydion to feel good about showing us new stuff because we can mess around and we can jam on these things. And if we find one we like -- like this -- we'll put it up," Kyd says.

In his opinion, you just don't see enough of that "messing around" and "jamming" in today's American theater.

"We feel like American theater is using artists, but they're migrant workers, as opposed to the artists coming up with the work and deciding what they want do. So this is very much an artist-driven company," Kyd says.

And those artists have talents that are all over the map. They include highly-trained classical artists, musicians, and dancers.

"Any number of skills that, you know, in the professional world, when we get cast very often it's just walking around furniture and talking," Kyd says.

But not in a Taffety Punk show. In fact, while the company often does do straight plays, like "The Car Plays" or last year's all-female "Julius Caesar," sometimes it puts on rock concerts or dance concerts. And sometimes, if they happen to be in the mood, they combine them all.

But whatever Taffety Punk is doing, it makes one promise: No ticket ever costs more than $10.

"We feel like the theater is abandoning most of the country by charging too much money," Kyd says.

So, as you can imagine, Taffety Punk has to be pretty smart about its budget.

"We're the exact opposite of the $65 million 'Spiderman,'" Suilebhan says. "No offense to Julie Taymor and the other folks working on that, but how many of this show could you make for one 'Spiderman'?"

And Kyd says this low-budget, artist-driven model is something he's thrilled to be seeing a lot more of around Washington these days.

"You could see Faction of Fools do pure commedia dell'arte, or Happenstance do their strange, dance-mime-steam-punk, and you could see us do our weird punk-rock thing," he says.

In fact, says Kyd, in a way, the local theater scene is sorta kinda like the '80s punk scene.

"You know, all the punk bands in the '80s weren't on the radio; you actually had to go and find them out," he says. "But they're out there! So go and find out these groups."

And speaking of punk, where did the group's name come from? Like so many of their theatrical kin, even this unconventional theater company looked to one of the masters for inspiration.

"'Taffety Punk' came from Shakespeare. It's 'All's Well That Ends Well.' One of the clowns says something like, 'a French crown for your taffety punk,' and I was excited at the time, being an old punk rocker, that punk was a word that was that old!" says Kyd.

"And then it also meant 'a well-dressed whore,' which I think every actor at some point feels like," he continues. "So I was like, 'This is it! This is our name!'" Kyd says.

And he hopes that name will be on people's lips for a long time in Washington -- for many years and $10 tickets to come.

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