Playhouse’s 60th Season to Spotlight Alum’s Broadway Musical

The Festival Playhouse of Kalamazoo College is celebrating a milestone season in the 2023–24 academic year by staging a Broadway musical written by an alumnus among its three productions before hosting Farmers Alley Theatre for another musical.

The theme for its 60th season is “Systems as Old as Time,” which will focus on the harmful systems that hold back the oppressed and how people fight against them. The Playhouse will highlight the ways that joy, laughter and solidarity can still exist and thrive despite those systems.

“The ‘Systems as Old as Time’ theme is a both/and: it both harkens to our 60th anniversary and recognizes the frighteningly repetitive nature of oppressive systems,” Professor of Theatre Lanny Potts said. “Theatre uniquely has the opportunity to help us explore, as a community, oppressive systemic structures.”

The season will open in fall with Playhouse Creatures, written by April De Angelis and directed by Professor of Theatre Arts Ren Pruis. Set in 1669, the play focuses on five women who were some of the first English actresses to appear on stage after Puritan oppression. It explores the lives of the trailblazers and their fight for power and agency in a patriarchal society.

Musical writer Joe Tracz '04
Alumnus Joe Tracz ’04 wrote the musical “Be More Chill,” which will be one of three Festival Playhouse productions in its 60th season along with “Playhouse Creatures” and “Pipeline.” The Playhouse also will host the Farmers Alley Theatre for its production of “School of Rock,” which will give students a chance to work alongside local and Actors Equity professionals.

The second show, scheduled for the winter term, will be Pipeline, written by Dominique Morisseau and directed by Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts Anthony Hamilton. It is the story of a mother’s fight to help give her son a future without turning her back on the community that made him who he is. It confronts the damages of a rigged school-to-prison pipeline and emphasizes the importance of bringing the conversations surrounding it to the forefront of our institutions.

In a college premier, the third show will be the Broadway musical Be More Chill, directed by Assistant Professor of Theatre Quincy Thomas. This rock sci-fi story about growing up, high school and what people do to get what they want is written by K alumnus Joe Tracz ’04. He is updating the play to license it to K, and another alumnus, Grinnell College Professor of Theatre and Design Justin Thomas ’01, will join the production as its scenic designer.

Then, after the academic season, Farmers Alley Theatre will produce School of Rock on the Playhouse stage. The opportunity will allow students to work alongside local and Actors Equity professionals, as they did in 1964 during the first Festival Playhouse season. Based on the film starring Jack Black, the School of Rock musical follows Dewey Finn, a failed rock star who decides to earn money by posing as a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school. At the school, he turns a class of bright and well-accomplished students into a rock band.

“Our 60th season explores misogyny, patriarchy, racism, redlining and the schools to prison complex, bullying, social shaming and conformism,” Potts said. “And we look forward to connecting with our community partners and campus as we explore complex themes in ways that help us to better comprehend, and as accomplices, move forward to dismantle these oppressive systems.”