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Free & Easy

Local theaters prepare to give it all away

By David Templeton

'Imagine receiving a basket of goodies, packed with so many delectable things you don't know which one to open up and eat first," says John Moran of the Arts Council of Sonoma County and the North Bay Theatre Group. "That metaphorical basket of goodies is the Sonoma County art, music and theater scene," he continues, "and on Oct. 20, we'll be handing that basket, as a free gift for one full day, to all the people of the North Bay."

Moran is describing two remarkable and concurrent cultural events: the Bay Area-wide Free Theatre Day (sponsored by San Francisco's Theatre Bay Area alliance) and the Arts United Day, sponsored by the North Bay Theatre Group and the Arts Council of Sonoma County. On Thursday, Oct. 20, free theater tickets will be made available for nearly every live theater venue in the Bay Area, with additional venues of all kinds throwing their doors open for free performances, plays, concerts and art exhibits of all flavors.

The Sonoma County-based Arts United day is still taking shape, but what Moran envisions is stunningly ambitious. Come Oct. 20, he sees art galleries, cafes, restaurants, clubs, community centers, schools, emerging venues and even the streets of the cities bursting with free performances by local poets, choral groups, chamber ensembles, sculptors, dance groups, rock bands, acoustic guitarists, storytellers, improv comedy groups and possibly large-scale puppetry troupes. What happens, and who does it, all depends on how many performers and artists, how many clubs, theaters and venues step forward asking to be involved.

"Hopefully, there will be such a varied selection of things to do and to choose from," explains Moran, "that we'll all be spoiled for choice."

The whole notion of setting Oct. 20 aside as a day of free theater and art began when Theatre Bay Area (TBA) was approached by Ben Cameron of the New York-based Theater Communications Group, asking if TBA would be interested in sponsoring one of three free theater days; the others take place in Austin and Philadelphia. These are the pilot regions for what will hopefully become a nation-wide event in 2006. On Oct. 20, participating theaters will donate the unsubscribed portion of their house, or at least 25 percent of those seats, which can be given away to anyone requesting a ticket.

"We've gotten an amazing amount of support for this," says Brad Erickson, who was eager for the Bay Area to become involved, and who now cites several organizations and companies as enthusiastic sponsors. When TBA announced these plans, John Moran immediately saw the opportunity to expand the "free theater" concept to include other disciplines as well, and thus did Free Theatre Day give birth to the Arts United Day. Through TBA's ticketing website www.tixbayarea.com), interested humans will be able to reserve their tickets beginning Sept. 20 (only two per e-mail, please). For the Arts United events (to be listed at www.theartsunited.com), it will be a first-come, first-seated policy, with no advance tickets available.

Though dissimilar in execution, the two overlapping events are clearly connected by a mutual desire to spread awareness of theater and the arts. "My message is about the theater across the Bay Area," says Erickson, "and John Moran is talking about incorporating all the arts in Sonoma County. In both cases, we realize that many people just don't know how culturally rich this part of the state is."

For more information on Free Theatre Day, check the website at www.theatrebayarea.org. To learn more about the Arts United Day or to inquire about participation, contact John Moran through the Arts Council of Sonoma County at 707.579.ARTS.

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From the August 31-September 6, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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