OF COURSE, you can't play outside all the time. But two versatile young performing groups have found a way to get the best of both worlds, taking their homemade theater into the schools and onto the streets of our city.
With its original musical "Mother Kid, Father Did What!," the six-year-old Everyday Theater is currently moving its make-it-on-your-own message through the high schools and junior highs. And the Everyman Street Theater, a program of Workshops for Careers in the Arts and the Duke Ellington School for the Arts, is gearing up for a late-summer roadshow.
Founded in 1979 by Susie Solf, Everyday Theater borrowed its name from a Bertolt Brecht poem called "On the Everyday Theater," which suggests that the struggles and trials of real people are the most vital theater.
Combining experimental and community theate, and working hand-in-hand with the D.C. Commission on Social Services, the Everyday people write and perform plays about urban social issues, based on oral histories and interviews.
"We research a problem we think is important in this city -- housing, crime, adolescent pregnancy," Solf says. "Young people seem so receptive to this kind of theater."
So it seems only natural that the company has trained its sights on teens. "Mother Kid, Father Did What!," the latest in the group's series on urban-bred problems, is a loosely structured musical play, threaded together with the lively songs and dances created by the eight young members of the ensemble who play versions of themselves onstage. All have been on welfare or in foster homes; all have been in trouble at some point in their lives. Their 90-minute program is about the destructive things -- drugs, crime, sex -- that sidetracked them.
There's plenty of natural talent among the singers and dancers, who show little if any self-consciousness or tage fright. Of course, they're singing their own songs, playing their own lives. Standouts are Abigail Jefferson, co-director and choreographer, and Kelvin Smith, a silver-tongued rapper who's also a natural mime and actor.
Set to the urban dance beat of synthesizer and drum machine, the songs are relaxed, funny and funky, and the kids get their positive message across quite well.
They developed the show during six weeks of going around the city talking to kids in drug rehabilitation programs, prisoners, social workers, probation officers and parents.
Now the troupe is touring the town, taking the show to schools and recreation departments. Everyday Theater will also appear at the Adams Morgan Latin American Festival this summer, and has been invited to an August arts festival in Sweden called "The Other America Speaks."
Meanwhile, over at the Duke Ellington School for the Arts, the kids are getting ready for the 15th annual production of the Everyman Street Theater. Lack of money kept the exuberant group off the streets and out of the parks last year, but founder/director Mike Malone says a cast and crew of 85, most of whom hope for professional performing careers, have been chosen for this summer's show, and the fund-raising process has begun. They're paid through the city's summer youth employment program.
Malone is deciding between two shows: Last year's program was to have been "Doo-Wah," a musical about street- corner music and culture; the other option is creating an original show about drug abuse. Five weeks of rehearsals begin in July, followed by at least 20 outdoor performances. The company has been invited to perform at the Lincoln Center outdoor theater festival this summer.
Anyone who wants to know more about the group, book them or make a contribution may call Malone at 722-0344.
IN THE ACT -- While the Ellington folks won't be stepping out for a while, the Everyday Theater bunch is in full stride. Following is the May schedule; they expect to spend more of their time in street theater later on. Performances are free and open to the public. To inquire about bookings or schedule, call Solf at 462-4242 or 727-5930.
MAY 8 -- Roper Junior High, 1.
MAY 14 -- Spingarn High, 6.
MAY 15 -- Howard University, 2.
MAY 16 -- Langley Junior High, 9:30 a.m.
MAY 21 -- Taft Junior High, 10 a.m.; Bancroft Elementary School, 5:30.
MAY 22 -- Washington Dix Street Academy, 10:30 a.m. MAY 23 -- Hines Junior High, 9:15 a.m.