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By Katie Schmitz

A picture from Kʼs first production of the Firebugs in 1964. This image was published in the 1965 issue of The Boiling Pot.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Kalamazoo College’s Festival Playhouse, the Theater Program reproduced one of the first plays ever performed here at K, The Firebugs.

The play first debuted on the K stage in August of 1964, and was directed by Mrs. Nelda K. Balch.

The original article about the 1964 production seems to be very similar to feedback regarding the play’s production today, especially in regards to the strange plot line of The Firebugs.

During the beginning of the play, it is unclear whether the play is supposed to be a drama or a comedy. As the play progresses, however, the audience seems to understand that they are watching a dark comedy, and proceed to regard it as such.

The student reviewing the play in 1964 also noted the audience’s confusion: “Towards the end, the audience finally learned when to laugh. ‘People don’t believe in God any more,’ someone had cracked earlier in the play, ‘—they believe in the Fire Department;’ and no one had seemed to notice the joke. A bit later, then, there were inappropriate giggles at the announcement of a man’s horrible gas-oven suicide.”

Despite the confused audience, the reviewer went on to say that “The Festival Playhouse has been successfully launched.”

It is safe to say that the 2014 production of The Firebugs will also be regarded as a success for the Festival Playhouse for years to come.

Light Up the Night

Press Release Edited by Sarah Wallace

Fom left to right: Mikey Wecht ’14 (Chorus Leader), Madison Donoho ’17 (Eisenring), and Jack Massion ’14 (Biedermann) in a scene from The Firebugs. Costumes by Elaine Kauffman. Photo by Emily Salswedel ''16.

Festival Playhouse of Kalamazoo College’s invites you to its Winter Quarter production of The Firebugs by Max Frisch as a part of their 50th Anniversary Season.

The play is directed by Nora Hauk ’04, who is currently working on her doctoral dissertation at the University of Michigan. She has taken on the challenge of directing the second production of this play, having been performed last in 1964 by Festival Playhouse Founder and Professor Nelda K. Balch, for whom the theatre itself is named.

The Firebugs is a satirical comedy, first written in German by Max Frisch in 1953. It tells the story of Biedermann, a man who lives in a town regularly attacked by arsonists. The story begins when Biedermann foolishly lets two arsonists into his home, going out of his way to accommodate their outrageous requests out of fear of offending them.

Hauk emphasized that rather than choosing what he knows is true and right, Biedermann chooses political correctness, and this comes with dire consequences.

The Firebugs is a play about the trouble that people can get into as they try to maintain the status quo and their own social standing in the face of major challenges,” said Hauk.

“Despite all the warning signs, Biedermann fails to take a stand.”

While the play is comical, it delivers a serious message. Considering the time period and setting that it was written, it is likely that it symbolizes the way Nazis worked their way into the lives of the average German citizen.

Dramaturg Belinda McCauley ’16 shared an interpretation of the play’s meaning.

“It has been speculated for decades that Biedermann’s dilemma throughout the play is allegorical to the way humans unintentionally allow evil into their lives,” said McCauley.

Many messages can be taken from The Firebugs, but McCauley described her thought on the most vital one.

“Perhaps the one [message] to be concerned with is the way words are used. What do your words say about you? Do your words start fires? Or do your words save lives?”

The Firebugs’ design team includes Theatre Arts Professor Lanny Potts (scenery), Elaine Kauffman (costumes), Lydia Strini ’14 (lights) and Lindsay Worthington ’16  (sound).

The show will open on Thursday, Feb. 27 at 7:30 PM, and run Friday and Saturday, Feb. 28 and Mar. 1 at 8:00 PM. The show’s final performance is Sunday, Mar. 2 at 2:00 PM. Tickets are $5 for students, $10 for seniors and $15 for other adults and may be purchased at the door. Thursday is “pay-what-you-can” night.