It’s that time of year where Kalamazoo County playwrights come together to do staged readings of new work. The 8th annual Theatre Kalamazoo New Play Festival takes place next Friday and Saturday, February 9th and 10th.
Here's some things to watch for in this year's lineup:
1. A Play Just For Kids
For the first time, the festival will have a play specifically made for children. Western Michigan University student and playwright Darcy Sturges wrote an adaptation of the classic children’s book “The Velveteen Rabbit.”
Sturges says she's noticed that children's media tends to be "safe" — teaching kids how to share or about the alphabet.
“But kids also have to deal with the really hard things going on in the world and I do think that ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ is a beautiful metaphor of how to deal with loss, how perhaps it’s even death,” she said.
2. Scrapping The Timeline
Western playwriting professor Steve Feffer is one of the organizers of the event. He says many of the plays are a bit longer - about 20-30 minutes — which has led to a lot more variation in how the plays are structured.
“Homemakers, 1967,” for example, written by WMUK’s own retired general manager Gordon Bolar is a series of monologues.
“Women from 1967 talking about their role in society and in the community or men talking about these women,” Feffer explains.
There's also “spells for gay black suns, signed by the heart” by Kalamazoo College’s Robert Davis. The play takes place in a sort of surreal, dead garden.
“It may or may not explore four African American gay males who are struggling with their identity, their sexuality. It’s written in just this vigorous, lovely, heightened, poetic language,” said Feffer.
3. Family And Spiritual Themes
Feffer says themes tend to emerge in every New Play Fest. He says 2018’s would have to be family and spirituality.
Plays like “The Alleyway” by Emma Franzel, about a man who uses his son’s bar mitzvah as a way to reconnect with his estranged brother. “Sacrament” by Dan Lafferty where a man struggles with his faith after returning to his Catholic family. Or “Bloody Waters” by Kendra Flournoy — Feffer says that one is about a family who loses a son to drug addiction.
“The elderly father of the family is visited in his sleep by a female African American Jesus who says to him that a flood is coming because of the destruction that has been done to the environment and to the community," Feffer explained.
Darcy Sturges says she thinks these themes of family and religion come out of our desire for community:
“You know a lot of young people — I know I did — as I grew up I withdrew from their parents religion and I have this nostalgia for the idea of going back to how secure it was. And while my beliefs are very different now, there is still that kind of longing for a community that is so supportive and caring.”
"As people become more absorbed with technology and actual community spaces become rarer and rarer, theatre does provide this opportunity," said Feffer. "You know, I think it makes theatre feel very relevant and important.”
The Theatre Kalamazoo New Play Festival takes place next Friday and Saturday, February 9th and 10th.