New Play Festival helps local playwrights examine their work
The New Play Festival January 25 and 26 features ten plays written by Kalamazoo playwrights.
“I doubt that very many towns this size have so many talented playwrights,” says Kalamazoo playwright Arnie Johnston. He says Kalamazoo has a tradition of nurturing it’s dramatists.
“It’s very unusual this town. I was fortunate to hire Steve Feffer to replace me as playwright in residence in the WMU English department," he says. "He and Western’s Theatre department have done a great deal to foster new plays on campus. And, Theatre Kalamazoo is now, for the last couple of years, on board with the Play Fest, so that all the theatres in Kalamazoo are taking part.”
This is the third year for Theatre Kalamazoo’s New Play Festival. Theatre Kalamazoo is a non-profit collaboration between all the live theatres in town. The group’s goal is to make theatre more accessible to the public. The festival features new plays, by local playwrights, performed and directed as staged readings. WMU professor of playwrighting Steve Feffer is co-producing the festival with Kalamazoo College professor and director of theatre Ed Menta.
“Everytime we do this festival, after every performance we have a talk-back with the audience and the playwright," says Menta. "We really concentrate on the play, not the production, and Steve always leads that. I may say a thing or two, but Steve is just so good at that, getting the audience to talk about what they saw in the play.”
At rehearsal Tuesday evening, New Play Festival stage manager Jamie Bray led actors and directors from Western’s University Theatre, the New Vic, and Fancy Pants Theatre on a quick tour of the Epic Theatre. She showed them the backstage area and the opening in the stage curtains, among other things. The orientation is necessary because the Epic is an unfamiliar space for many of them to work in.
Deb Koppers has been acting at Kalamazoo’s New Vic Theatre for decades. She says the New Play Fest is an actor’s delight.
“It’s exciting because you don’t know what you’re getting right away,” she says. “You delve into it and, yeah, it’s always special.”
Koppers and fellow New Vic Theatre professional Wes Garman perform Saturday night in an Arnie Johnston and Deb Percy play about the onset of Alzheimer’s called Steering Into The Skid.
“It takes place over a year. And, each little vignette is one month. It goes through the whole year," says Garman. "And, you can see little signs that the progression of the disease is coming on.”
The set is minimal, with the two actors sitting side-by-side on cubes, representing a 60-something married couple in their car. The New Play Festival is focuses more on the written word than stage action. And, as much fun as reading a new play is for the actors, Garman says the process is especially beneficial for the writers.
“They get a chance to not only see and hear the dialogue and movements on stage, but they conduct a question and answer session afterwards, so they get the chance to field some audience questions about their work,” he says.
The Third Annual Theatre Kalamazoo New Play Festival presents two one-act plays Friday night at 8 p.m., five ten-minute plays Saturday at 4 p.m. and three more one-acts Saturday night at 8 p.m. in the Epic Theatre. All events are free and open to the public.