Blacktop's Plays Don't Just Play It Straight | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Blacktop's Plays Don't Just Play It Straight

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Blacktop members Christy Denny, left, and Aaron Fisher hope to see the theater company be as D.C.-centric as possible.
Andrew Hawkins
Blacktop members Christy Denny, left, and Aaron Fisher hope to see the theater company be as D.C.-centric as possible.

A production full of wordplay ... literally

In Blacktop Theatre Company's Pun: (noun) a Play on Words, the characters are all, well, words. They are some of the dictionary's keywords, holding the coveted position at the top of the page, like floccinaucinihilipilification.

"Sure, since I'm the longest word in the English dictionary people will look me up, and they'll get their kicks and they'll giggle here and there at a big word," says the character, known as Flocci. "Being up there at the top, everyone knew that wherever "floccinaucinihilipilification" was, "flock" or even "flood" wouldn't be far behind. You can't replace that feeling."

But soon after the play starts, the keywords receive an eerie prophecy. The dictionary is getting a new word.

"Beware the tides of change! Bright! White as a bone! A new word comes to usurp your throne," a creepy voice from above warns the words. "As harvest moons shine with orange, your opportunity is off its ... door hinge!"

"Did he just rhyme the word 'orange?'" asks an incredulous Flocci.

"I did not think that was possible," notes his cohort, Rational.

A playful theater company takes shape

Pun is actually the premier production of Blacktop, which takes its name from chalk drawings children often make on the road -- or blacktop.

"When I think of Blacktop, I think of recess, and just running out to play. Anything goes," says Andrew Hawkins, one of the company's founders. "And so it allows for us to be innovative theater makers, to try new ideas, and to create boundaries and then erase them and try something different."

While Pun is Blacktop's first full-scale endeavor, the company started playing around this past spring with "21 Days To Play," in which members gave themselves three weeks to create a play. Hawkins did the writing. Blacktop member Christy Denny did the directing.

"We just kind of were like, 'Well, let's see what comes out of it,'" she says. But, you know, let's find what fits the project at hand, rather than us dictating, 'this is what it must be.'"

In the end, they did a staged reading, and hope to make 21 Days an annual event. Denny says she loves the idea of being so fluid and flexible as a company -- although that doesn't rule out the possibility of a season someday.

"And maybe it's four or five productions, maybe it's one or two productions and various workshoppy-event things," she says.

Organizers want to maintain local roots

One thing they won't budge on is the company's local focus, organizers say.

"We definitely want to be a local-based theater company," says Aaron Fisher, another Blacktop founder and playwright of Pun. "There's a thriving artistic community in D.C., and it's nice to bring that to the forefront."

Blacktop is off to a nice start in that regard. In June, it held the First Annual Blacktop Theatre Company Spelling Bee, a fundraiser where D.C.-based actors went head-to-head in a spelling smackdown.

Five audience members won slots on the stage, too, including -- full disclosure -- yours truly. And I would have won, by the way, had I not been defeated by a certain ginormous keyword: floccinaucinihilipilification. But hey, can you blame me?

The First Annual Spelling Bee, 21 Days to Play, and Pun are all prime examples of that "anything goes" spirit Andrew Hawkins talks about.

"Swing the bat ... and try new things, and succeed and fail and just have fun," he says.

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