Playwright Sean Graney grew up in Saugus and went to Emerson College, but after graduating, he didn’t feel like he fit into the Boston theater scene. After seeing the Neo-Futurists stage “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind,” he found a home in Chicago and soon after helped form the Hypocrites in 1997. His group made a name by staging absurdist and avant-garde plays, or completely reimagining classics. A recent production of “12 Nights” — a twist on Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” — starred four players, one boombox, and a fridge full of beer. Last spring, the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge hosted a beach-ball-filled “Pirates of Penzance.”
Now, Graney has returned to the Boston area to tackle a dream project in which all of the existing Greek tragedies are brought together in a single 12-hour performance (intermissions and meal breaks included). On Saturday, Graney will offer a table reading of “All Our Tragic,” featuring 17 actors, at the Knafel Center in Radcliffe Yard.
Q. Can you explain what brought you back to Boston and what you are working on now?
A. I’m adapting all 32 Greek tragedies into a long, 12-hour theatrical event. So I’m making a script for it. I am currently a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. So basically I got this fellowship where I could just take these nine months off, they give me this big office, and I get to work on the script however I see fit. And they give me a great stipend and a research assistant, and basically it’s like winning the lottery. It’s so fantastic.
Q. Do you have to teach a course or do something academic as well?
A. Nope. I don’t have to do anything. [Laughs.] And I get this great opportunity to just live my life the way I want. There’s 50 fellows and two talks every week. Every fellow gives a talk throughout the year, but that’s the only thing that they ask of us, to do this talk and to attend other people’s talks.
Q. I would imagine everybody there is so passionate about their projects that they would love to tell the world about their microbiology study or their long-form poem or their Greek tragedy play.
A. There’s one woman working on medieval music. One guy’s studying the physics of toys. It’s these amazing minds from all across the country here in this little community. So it’s not only like the lottery because they give me a healthy stipend to be able to work on my play for a year, but I’m just in this amazing academic [environment], in this world of amazing minds.
Q. Will this be performed as a fully staged play at some point?
A. It hopefully will. I don’t have any producers lined up yet, and hopefully this year I’ll be able to generate more interest in it. But there’ll be a reading with the actors, where we’ll sit around a table and we’ll have food for the audience. It will be a cool experience. I’ve done events like this in Chicago, but here I’ll be able to work on it for three months. We’ll host a 12-hour event and we’ll serve food and it will be cool, and on May 17 there will be another event. But rather than the actors sitting around the table, they will be moving around. They’ll still be on book, there’ll be no props and furniture or costumes or anything, but at least they’ll start to move around.
Q. Where do you find the actors for a 12-hour reading?
A. The American Repertory Theater Institute will have actors. They are already involved and they are fantastic. I’m so excited to be working with them.
Q. But the end result is you don’t have to stage a show in June or film a movie, correct?
A. Everybody’s here because they want something to be done, but some of the fellows are just doing research with no end. The program is mostly designed to give professors a break from the rigmarole of academia, to give them time to advance their own thought and advance their own studies.
Q. They have been saying, “If I only had the time, I could do this really cool thing, but I have to go to work every day, so I can’t.”
A. Exactly. And I have to attend these faculty meetings, and I have to correct these 70 papers. So this is designed so people don’t have to do that, and they can study the physics of toys.