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Solo performers take spotlight in PlayGround fest

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Marjorie Hazeltine’s “The Notorious B.U.G.,” a piece about a recently discovered praying mantis named after Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, opens PlayGround’s Solo Performance Festival. (Courtesy photo)

Recently PlayGround decided to create a pop-up event.

“We looked at the Bay Area’s eco system, and asked ‘What used to exist and doesn’t now?’” says Jim Kleinmann, cofounder-artistic director of the San Francisco group dedicated to new plays by local playwrights, which, for the past 21 years, has produced an annual “Best of PlayGround” series.

Answer: a solo performance festival. (Climate Theatre’s Solo Mio Festival, a fixture in the 1990s, is long gone.)

After consulting with Stephanie Weisman, founder-director of The Marsh — The City’s longtime primary purveyor of solo theatrical work — Kleinmann and team quickly agreed upon such a festival, to feature new faces as well as those who’ve trained and/or appeared at The Marsh and elsewhere.

The Solo Performance Festival, opening Thursday, offers three weeks of solo shows, most about an hour long, at PlayGround’s Potrero Stage.

In the rotating lineup of eight solo writer-performers, most appear four or five times over the course of the festival. Each night features two different consecutive shows; on weekends there are two matinees and two evening shows.

Participants were chosen from among 22 applicants, for the diversity of their stories and styles, says Kleinmann.

Genres and elements include improvisation, with longtime doyenne of physical improv Nina Wise, whose “What Just Happened?” differs at each performance based on news of the day.

In his recorded sound piece “End of the Silence,” actor-playwright-rapper Dan Wolf creates, onstage, a podcast about history and death.

In his autobiographical “Me, My Song and I, African-American comic storyteller Malcolm Grissom overcomes childhood illness and finds his own identity.

Among other autobiographical pieces, Katie Rubin uses humor to embody 10 characters in her show about seeking spirituality; and black nonbinary artist Lisa Evans investigates gender identity through a comic sensibility.

Thomas Robert Simpson’s solo is only quasi-autobiographical: the founder-artistic director of the long-running Afro Solo Festival tells his father’s story: Elroy “transcended Jim Crow’s insanity to commit a . . . revolutionary act.”

Farther afield, Marjorie Hazeltine combines concepts of biology and gender equality, taking the viewpoint of a newly gender-assigned praying mantis.

None of the many characters in longtime PlayGround artist Michael Phillis’ “Dolls” is human.

The goal, says Kleinmann, is to mount a quick-turnaround event that creates new opportunities for artists and helps Potrero Stage remain a vibrant artistic venue, attuned to the needs of the theater community and its audiences.

IF YOU GO

Solo Performance Festival
Presented by PlayGround
Where: Potrero Stage, 1695 18th St., S.F.
When: 7 and 8:30 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2, 4, 6 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1, 3, 5 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Jan. 28
Tickets: $21 to $36 single tickets; $68 to $88 for passes
Contact: (415) 992-6677, playground-sf.org/solofest

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