High concept and low-budget, the BarPlays Festival is happening all around Providence June 14 to June 27. If you are confused about the ambiguous title of the festival, don't worry, you guessed right. It's a dozen plays about bar habitues, and the performances will take place in actual bars.
The participating venues are Abe's, AS220, E&O Tap, Everyman Bistro, Nick-a-Nee's, Red Fez, Trinity Brewhouse, and the Wild Colonial.
Starting times will vary. Typically, performances will begin with a play that lasts a half-hour or less, followed by one or two performance pieces or tales from local storytellers. There will also be musicians performing halftime entertainment, to allow audiences to grab another round. For variety's sake, play themes will not stick strictly to the perils of alcoholism. According to the festival's announcement press release, subject matter, both serious and funny, extends to "work, texting, war, fortune-telling, love, bad art, friendship, betrayal, [and] pooping."
Sixteen local playwrights and performance artists are participating. Some of the plays were not only written expressly for the festival but also for the specific bar in which they will be performed.
David Higgins, who is presenting a play, came up with the idea.
"I had been thinking of different venues to present my own work," he says. "And I also had the idea that going to theater should be as accessible and as normal as going to see a band.
"Part of it was inspired by the way that fringe festivals tend to be organized," he adds, "in that they will put a performance in any space available."
Higgins approached bars that had supported the arts in the past, so he didn't have to do a lot of convincing. Proposing the festival for a slack period only made the sales job easier. In summertime, people tend to prefer being outside on a beach than inside nursing a beer.
Under consideration is reprising the festival in Newport next winter, when bars there are as empty as they are in Providence when the city is sweltering. After that, subsequent BarPlays Festivals would forgo the tavern theme but not the setting.
"That's something I would like to try this time next year, maybe," Higgins says.
To produce the festival, an ad hoc group was formed, calling itself the Words Progress Administration, the WPA, in homage to the Depression-era Works Progress Administration that gave jobs to many writers and performers. With Higgins, it consists of James Celenza, Adara Meyers, Mathew Provost, and Amanda Weir.
For further information about the bars, the plays, and the players, visit barplays.com.
There are no reservations and no cover charges, but donations will be gratefully accepted and passed along to support Perishable Theatre — a thank-you for providing cheap performance space over the years.
The price of a pint sounds about right.
Editor's Note: In a previous version of this article, Adara Meyers was misidentified as "Adara Myers."