Is it possible for people who mean well to do more harm than good when it comes to race relations? Well-Intentioned White People, running Thursday through Sunday, examines this idea. It is the first production in the Festival Playhouse at Kalamazoo College’s 58th season themed “Black is Beautiful: An Ode to Black Life, Love and Strength.” All three plays—including Black+Phats in February and Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet in May—will feature Black playwrights telling Black stories.
In this play, college professor Cass wants to forget about experiencing an anti-Black hate crime while simply moving on with her life. Her white roommate and the dean of the university, however, push her to do something about it.
Suddenly, Cass is roped into planning an Equality Day and Unity Week while trying to convince her roommate not to plan a sit-in. Well-Intentioned White People explores how some people attempt to deal with discrimination not directed at them and how “well intentions” can be problematic.
“This play has a lot of heavy themes, wrapped up as a humorous political satire,” said Meaghan Hartman ’23, the play’s dramaturg. “It deals with the constant presence of racism at primarily white institutions and how white people attempt to cover it up, rather than digging into the root of the problems. It also forces its audience to think critically about racism on this college campus and the impact it has on our daily lives. This whole play shows us that meaning well is completely different from doing good.”
Cameo Green ’23 plays Cass in the main role. Addison Peter ’25 portrays Viv, Arman Khan ’24 plays Parker, Brooklyn Moore ’24 presents Dean Baker, and Mickie Wasmer ‘25 fills the role of Mara.
Tickets for Well-Intentioned White People, which will take place at the Nelda K. Balch Playhouse at 129 Thompson St., are available online. The presentations start at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. A virtual live stream will be available with Friday’s show. A recording of the live stream then will be available until Sunday. Adults are $15, seniors are $10 and students are $5. K students and faculty and staff are free when an ID is presented. Audiences should expect mature language and situations within the play.
“We hope to start a larger and critical conversation about race and racism on campus and in the community,” Hartman said. “I hope that after seeing Well-Intentioned White People that the audiences, especially white people, are able to critically examine their own feelings about race.”
Our life stories make great stage plays and Rebecca Chan ’22 has a chance to share her story with us all. Her self-written coming-of-age story, Unzipped, is a part of the Festival Playhouse of Kalamazoo College’s Senior Performance Series.
The production, complete with monologues and Chan’s own music, explores the perception of East Asians in the United States and her experiences as a queer Chinese American. Unzipped takes aim at a common racial slur used against Asian Americans and refers to Chan’s life of unpacking and discovering her identity.
“I’d say in the past few years there has been a lot more representation of Asian Americans, and like myself, mixed Asian Americans,” Chan said. “But I find a lot of media has characters who maybe have one white parent and one Asian parent like myself, and the racial experience of that existence is brushed over. A lot of my life has been me questioning my racial identity, trying to understand it and what it means, so I wanted to write a show very specifically about that experience.”
Chan, a theatre major, has participated in Festival Playhouse productions and events since her first year on campus. In 2019, she was selected for the week-long Kennedy Center American College Theatre National Festival in Washington, D.C., where she was one of four students from around the country to participate in its Institute for Theatre Journalism Advocacy (ITJA) events; another one of her self-written plays, Record, was featured at Theatre Kalamazoo’s 10th annual New PlayFest in February 2020; and she earned the Theatre Arts First-Year Student Award at Honors Convocation in 2019.
Unzipped, however, represents her senior integrated project. She had a chance to write the play as an independent study during the spring term of her junior year while taking an advanced playwriting class taught by then-Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts “C” Heaps. Since, Chan has been calculating the details of the acting process.
“It’s been tricky because I want to be emotionally invested in the show, but I don’t want to carry so much of the emotions that it weighs me down,” Chan said. “It’s a very careful balance of being in the moment of the show and knowing I’m telling the story how I need to tell it.”
The production’s storytelling process includes projected pictures of Chan’s own childhood and picks up with her in high school.
“I talk about different high school relationships and how I understood myself, and as I get into college, how those experiences changed my perception of who I am,” she said. “There are two big plot points: my relationship with my family, like with my grandmother and my dad and how those evolved over the course of my life, and my relationships in college. There’s a lot of weaving and intersecting of how my perception of my family influences how I interact with my friends, and then how things I realized for my friends influenced how I think about my family.”
Chan wrote the music for Unzipped over two years and has added new songs to fill in the gaps.
“I started writing the music before I even knew I wanted to make the show,” Chan said. “I was always interested in it, but in high school, I felt very nervous about it. I didn’t think I had a good enough voice to sing on my own or had enough knowledge of music to produce something people would want to listen to. But starting my sophomore year, I got back in touch with the piano and started picking up the ukulele. I would just write little songs as I was going through life. It was a coping mechanism that helped me process what I was going through in the big events of my life. Over the summer, I spent a lot of time recording demos of the songs so I could share them with whoever would be playing in my band. Luckily, I was able to find five musicians who were available for the show. Four of which are current students and one a recent alumna.”
Milan Levy ’23 is the director and Angela Mammel ’22 designed the set and projections for their senior integrated projects. Attendees should be aware the play contains racial violence and language. Tickets for the in-person performance of Unzipped, at 129 Thompson St. in the Nelda K. Balch Theatre, and the virtual show are available online. In-person presentations start at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. The virtual broadcast is at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned is to be unapologetic in who I am,” Chan said. “I think I spent a lot of time trying to make my focus educating other people or changing the world around me. While those are important things to strive for and do, I think the core of my existence should be living for myself and not living to change others who might not be willing to change.”
A deluge of trouble floods characters in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Water by the Spoonful, coming this week to the Festival Playhouse at Kalamazoo College.
In the play, moderator “Haikumom,” also known as Odessa Ortiz, leads a chat room for recovering drug addicts. From behind their screens, the participants don’t expect to ever meet each other in person yet develop helpful bonds that assist them in recovery.
Off the internet, however, Odessa’s real-life family is suffering through separate issues in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in North Philadelphia. Her biological son, Elliot, has returned from the Iraq War with post-traumatic stress disorder, and her sister is dying of cancer. Alonte Mitchell-Presley ’21 plays Odessa and Trevor Loduem-Jackson ’21 portrays Elliot.
In other roles, Rebecca Chan ’22 plays “Orangutan;” Petra Rodriguez ’21 takes the role of Yazmin Ortiz; Natalie Markech ’21 portrays “Fountainhead;” and Arman Khan ’24 plays Elliot’s ghost. Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts Bianca Washington will serve as director. The play is the second in a trilogy of plays by Quiara Alegria Hudes. The first was Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue. The third was The Happiest Song Plays Last.
“I really think this a play that can appeal to everyone,” said Meaghan Hartman ’23, who is serving as the play’s dramaturg. “There might be some parts that are more relatable for most of the audience, but it’s such a powerful story about trauma in families. I just think it’s super impactful, really for anyone.”
As the dramaturg, Hartman researched the history behind the play, which is set in 2009. Although the Great Recession was of primary concern then, Hartman needed to know what troops experienced with PTSD during the Iraq War and learn about the implications of crack and opioid addiction. That exploration helped her create a lobby display at the Nelda K. Balch Playhouse that will help audiences better understand the characters in Water by the Spoonful. That lobby display is available in an online format for virtual audiences.
“This can be a very triggering show for some people, and the lobby display will help set the tone,” Hartman said. “There are a lot of facts about how the themes apply to life here in Kalamazoo, especially with crack addiction and opioid overdoses in our own city. It’s been interesting to figure out how to illustrate those feelings and experiences to the audience.”
Playhouse staff have implemented strict Actors Equity Association COVID-19 compliance safety guidelines and protocols that will allow for live audiences in socially-distanced pods in the Nelda K. Balch Playhouse, 129 Thompson St. Live productions will be available at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Reserve your tickets through the Playhouse’s Ludus system box office. Adult tickets are $15, seniors are $10 and students are $5 with an ID. Kalamazoo College students, faculty and staff are admitted free with their College IDs. No tickets will be sold at the door because of the limited number of tickets available.
A virtual broadcast will be available with the Friday production. To watch for $5 from the comfort of your home, purchase your access online.
“We’re just excited to start doing live theater again,” Hartman said. “Professor Lanny Potts opens just about every single play meeting with how grateful we are, recognizing that there are actors, theatre technicians and directors who are unable to do it. We’re pleased and thankful.”
If you’ve ever wanted to choose a character’s fate when you’re watching a play, Kalamazoo College’s Festival Playhouse has a production coming this week you’ll want to see.
Originally devised and produced at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, The Compass explores technology’s impact on decision-making. When an app tells Marjan, played by Xochitl Robertson ’23, to commit a crime to prevent a mass shooting at her school, the audience helps decide her fate by answering whether she should be held accountable.
“The Compass poses several questions that we seek to answer together with the audience,” said Visiting Professor of Theatre Arts “C” Heaps, the play’s director. “What role does technology play in our lives? When does the greater good outweigh the strictly lawful? What, ultimately, is the right thing to do?”
Through a series of flashbacks and real-time scenes, the in-person audience learns the full story of her decision, and ultimately influences the trial’s outcome.
“The audience acts as a jury for the trial at the heart of the play,” Heaps said. “Juror facilitators lead discussions with them at key points in the play and then represent their section’s opinions on stage. The biggest challenge was finding a way to seamlessly take a vote, collate those responses and get them back to the jury foreperson, who is on stage the whole time, so he can announce the verdict. We also had to provide multiple options for sound cues to account for different choices by the audience.”
The cast includes Trevor Loduem-Jackson ’21 as Chaz Perez and Kenneth, Isaac Presberg ’24 as an entrepreneur and Mr. Ferguson, Meaghan Hartman ’23 as Ada and Blanca, Emma Fergusson ’22 as prosecutor and Ms. Ellis, and Matthew Swarthout ’22 as a defense lawyer and principal. Arman Khan ’24, Abby Nelson ’24, Brooklyn Moore ’24, John Carlson ’23 and Melody Kondoff ’24 serve as jurors and facilitators.
Playhouse staff have implemented strict Actors Equity Association COVID-19 compliance safety guidelines and protocols for The Compass that will allow for live audiences in socially-distanced pods in the Nelda Balch Playhouse, 129 Thompson St. Live productions will be available at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Reserve your tickets through the Playhouse’s Ludus system box office. Adult tickets are $15, seniors are $10 and students are $5 with an ID. Kalamazoo College students, faculty and staff are admitted free with their College IDs.
A virtual broadcast will be available with the Friday production. To watch for $5 from the comfort of your home, purchase your access online.
A Festival Playhouse production written over the past two years by Kalamazoo College students is challenging administrators and faculty to better fight institutional racism, and students to consider their own biases.
In the play, simply titled K, Aija Turner ’23 portrays Juanita, a student who encounters the ghosts of former Kalamazoo College President Weimer K. Hicks, played by Isaac Presberg ’24, and Festival Playhouse Founder Nelda K. Balch, played by Claire de Vries ’24.
The dialogue, presented in virtual conversations, shows how the College’s policies and historical events are still leading to friction between students, and injustice on campus through issues the institution never publicized, examined or resolved, especially as K’s faculty demographics don’t match the diversity of its students.
The play was written with Jens Rasmussen of the Bechdel Project providing exploratory scenarios, Emilio Rodriguez of the Black and Brown Theatre Company providing guidance and sustaining support, and dramaturgy provided by Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts “C” Heaps. Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts Lori Sands served as the costume designer.
Watch K at any time through Vimeo. Stay online after the play for a discussion with some of the writers and actors. Read the online program, assembled by Rebecca Chan ’22, at the Festival Playhouse website.
The Kalamazoo College Festival Playhouse is producing two plays this fall with the first available now through a performance that was recorded October 23.
Kokoro, meaning True Heart, was directed by Ynika Yuag ’21 as a part of her Senior Individualized Project (SIP). The play, filmed in front of a small audience of socially distanced invited guests in the lobby of the Nelda K. Balch Playhouse, explores the struggle of a young Japanese mother as she tries to navigate the foreign culture of the United States. The countries’ cultures and moral codes clash after Yasako, played by Rebecca Chan ’22, commits a horrible crime.
Other cast members include Fadi Muallem ’24 as Hiro, Autumn Buhl ’21 as Angela, Milan Levy ’23 as Evelyn, and Karly Paige Im ’21 (of Western Michigan University) as Shizuko. Costume Designer Marie Townsend ’21, Scenic Designer Chris Diaz ’21 and Stage Manager Teyia Artis ’21 also worked on the play for their SIPs.
A second production, simply titled K, is an original script that was devised by K students last spring to explore systemic racism. More information will be coming soon about how you can see it November 5-8.
Much like an astronomer who draws constellation patterns, Aly Homminga ’20 is connecting the dots.
Homminga serves as both the dramaturg and lead actor for the Kalamazoo College Festival Playhouse production of Silent Sky. As the dramaturg, Homminga researches topics and time periods addressed in the play to assist Director Ren Berthel in teaching the actors about their characters and the play’s settings. As the lead actor, she connects those ideas to her portrayal of real-life astronomer Henrietta Leavitt.
“Dramaturgy is important, especially for Silent Sky as a period piece,” said Homminga, a theatre arts and religion double major from East Lansing. “If a director’s job is about artistic vision, dramaturgy is about facts and the time period of the play. This play goes on an arc of about 15 years, so I have to make sure Henrietta is different at the beginning than at the end. Playing Henrietta has given me a chance to test my skills and create a character who’s real yet flawed and different from me.”
The production is set in the early 1900s, as Leavitt begins working at the Harvard College Observatory, part of Dr. Edward Pickering’s “harem,” as they were known. Leavitt and her female colleagues mapped stars by taking pictures of glass plates and analyzing them, receiving no scientific credit for the discoveries they made along the way. Leavitt’s discoveries related to cepheids, which are stars that brighten and dim, and how they can be used to measure astronomical distances. Edwin Hubble, the namesake of the Hubble Telescope, confirmed the validity of Leavitt’s discoveries about 20 years later, and her work has been credited with transforming the field of astronomy.
Leavitt’s work with fellow scientists Annie Cannon and Williamina Fleming, portrayed in Silent Sky by Sophie Hill ’20 and Milan Levy ’23 respectively, builds a theme of feminism in the play. It’s the second of three plays in the Festival Playhouse’s 56th season following forgotten female figures. Other actors include Rose Hannan ’23, who plays Leavitt’s fictional yet inspirational sister Margaret; and Rigo Quintero ’22 as Peter Shaw, the head astronomer’s apprentice.
“I think this play is unique in the season because much of it is historical,” Homminga said. “It also marks an intersection between theatre, women’s studies and science, when science isn’t talked about or explored a lot in theatre. We want to reach out to science professors and classes, and let them see this as an opportunity to see their history, especially that of women in science.”
Scientific minds are bound to appreciate a set design developed by Wynd Raven, a local artist who was commissioned to paint the Festival Playhouse stage as a nebula, which is a cloud of gas and dust in space sometimes visible in the night sky. In addition, Homminga is creating a lobby display in her dramaturgical role. The display will focus on life at the Harvard observatory and the roles of women at the turn of the century to create an atmosphere in the context of the play that will appeal to scientists and general audiences alike.
Silent Sky will run from Thursday, Feb. 27-Sunday, March 1. Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows begin at 7:30 p.m. The Sunday show will start at 2 p.m. All shows are at the Nelda K. Balch Playhouse Theatre, 129 Thompson St.
Tickets are available through the Playhouse’s online box office. They cost $15 for adults, $10 for seniors 65 and older, and $5 for students. Tickets for Kalamazoo College students are free when they present K-IDs at the door. Faculty and staff may receive up to two tickets free with their IDs. For more information on the play, visit the Playhouse’s website.
Theatre Kalamazoo’s 10th annual New PlayFest will highlight Kalamazoo College talent thanks to playwrights Rebecca Chan ’22 and Emma Fergusson ’22, and Director Trevor Loduem-Jackson ’21.
Their plays, Record,Harold and Taco, and Old Friends respectively, will premier during the event, along with five other plays written by local playwrights and performed by local actors and directors.
The festival focuses on playwrights and play writing, rather than the production of plays, making it different from most festivals. Playwrights attend all the rehearsals and watch the directors work with actors to bring their scripts to life. Playwrights are encouraged by the festival producers to continue to edit their scripts all the way through technical rehearsals. That means actors are told not to memorize their lines because the lines might change. The public presentations are staged readings, meaning scripts must stay in the actors’ hands, even during the performance. The New PlayFest was established by K Professor Emeritus Ed Menta in collaboration with Steve Feffer of Western Michigan University in 2010.
Each of the plays is about 10 minutes long, and — in their own ways — examine human relationships and reconciling the past. Chan’s Record, for example, is about two strangers who meet on a bench in Central Park. Ally compulsively writes in a journal and Gale desires new connections in the big city.
Through small talk and journal entries, they contemplate which of their memories are worthwhile, how much people should let their past affect their present, and whether anyone has any control over their past or their present.
“I wrote this play because reconciling the past is a struggle we all face,” Chan said. “Sometimes, under the burden of regret, we forget that the shame and embarrassment in our personal histories can provide us with the motivation to change for the better. Record is not an optimistic play, but I think it provides some avenues for self-reflection, allowing audiences to think more critically about how they deal with their own memories.”
Chan also had an additional motive for writing Record.
“I also wanted to provide opportunities for individuals often marginalized in theatre,” she said. “Throughout the play, Ally stims, which could be interpreted as a sign of autism or anxiety, and Gale is scripted using gender-neutral pronouns. I wanted to provide actors from marginalized communities with the opportunity to play characters like them and present these characters without their marginalization defining them.”
Chan added she is thrilled to have her play premier at Theatre Kalamazoo’s New PlayFest after acting for the event last year.
“The ability to work with actors and a director to refine my script has been a true joy, and I’ve learned a lot about my own writing and progress,” Chan said.
Fergusson’s Harold and Taco is a play she wrote in a K play writing class led by Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts C Heaps.
“Over the course of the class, I was able to develop the play and present it in the form of a staged reading,” Fergusson said. “It was also through this class that I learned about Theatre Kalamazoo’s New PlayFest.”
Harold and Taco are hamsters. Their existence and disappearance are the reasons why the two main characters, Michael and Nadine, must face each other and address their relationship problems.
“It’s real and painful, but also very comedic in a lot of ways,” Fergusson said. “Kalamazoo has such a strong, wonderful theatre community and I’m really glad to be a part of it. To have the opportunity not only to present my work to the public, but to collaborate with local artists and bring the script to life is one of the greatest experiences I could hope for as a writer.”
Loduem-Jackson is directing Old Friends, written by Shelby Alexander, a Kalamazoo high school student. In the play, Natasha struggles to handle the pressures of being a modern American teenager. That leads to her humidifier, Mrs. Peanuts, coming to life and giving advice.
“It has been such a learning process and I am so grateful for the cast and the playwright for trusting the process,” Loduem-Jackson said. “As the director, I am learning what it means to build meaningful relationships between the characters. It is hard to find those connections, especially in a 10-minute show. The cast has been great at finding those connections.”
“Truly, there is nothing better than seeing the precious words you crafted form into a beautiful work of performing art,” Alexander added.
New PlayFest begins Friday, Feb. 14, with Romance Guaranteed, a romantic comedy by Art Nemitz, at the Civic Theatre. More information is available at the theatre’s website.
All plays will premier Saturday, Feb. 15, with two presentations each: Old Friends and Record at 2 p.m. and again at 7:30 p.m.; Harold and Taco at 4 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 16. All are at the Judy K. Jolliffe Theatre inside the Epic Center in downtown Kalamazoo. All Feb. 15 and 16 New PlayFest events are free and no reservations are required. More information about New PlayFest is available at Theatre Kalamazoo’s website and its Facebook page.
Can a former prison inmate one day be redeemed, have healthy relationships and feel free from the person who once attacked her? The fall Festival Playhouse production of the musical Spitfire Grill examines these issues for parolee Percy Talbott, who tries to forge a new place for herself in the small town of Gilead, Wisconsin. There, she combats town gossip—mostly about herself—in a place that represents freedom, far from where she was attacked.
Rebecca Chan ’22 will play the lead role and serve as the production’s dramaturg.
“When (Percy) was in prison, she found a picture of Wisconsin in a travel book,” Chan said. “It looked open and free, so she decided she wanted to go there when she was released.”
As the dramaturg, Chan is responsible for working with the director, Visiting Professor “C” Heaps, on background research and how current events and perspectives might inform or shape the production. That means in addition to performing a critical role, Chan is preparing a lobby display and writing an essay that will further discuss the play’s themes including female empowerment, domestic abuse, redemption and the mistreatment of veterans, especially Vietnam War veterans.
The theme of female empowerment is especially important to Chan, who feels honored to participate in the Playhouse’s 56th season, which recognizes women in theater under the theme “HERstory: Forgotten Female Figures.”
Chan notes that many storylines in theatre productions are male-dominated, even as a majority of those participating in college theatre settings are women. “It’s nice to do a show where a majority of the performers are women and they’re a big influence on the show,” Chan said.
Spitfire Grill has three main characters, all of whom are women. Shelby, played by Sedona Coleman ’23, is a woman in her 30s who struggles to find connections outside of her emotionally abusive husband. Hannah, played by Sophie Hill ’20, is an elderly woman and the owner of the grill. Hannah has a son, Eli, who left to fight in Vietnam and has never returned. Like Percy, both are characters trying to find their place in Gilead.
“The town falls apart because Eli had been a symbol of hope and the future,” Chan said. “Eli’s missing status is the catalyst for everything falling apart. The play’s progression starts in the winter, and the costuming and dialogue reflect the progression of seasons. That’s followed by rebirth and more life in people’s lives before it ends in fall with the colored leaves.”
By the end, the three female characters who once were isolated and lonely become strong friends.
“It’s almost like they build their own family,” Chan said.
The show is accompanied by a live, five-person orchestra, performing on a piano, a guitar, a mandolin, a violin, a cello player and a keyboard tuned to sound like an accordion. Their folk-like music, derived from Appalachia, reflects Percy’s background as a West Virginia native.
The performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, through Saturday, Nov. 9, with a 2 p.m. showing on Sunday, Nov. 10. Tickets for all four shows at the Nelda K. Balch Playhouse are available by visiting festivalplayhouse.ludus.com or by calling 269.337.7333. Adults are $15, seniors are $10 and students are $5 with an ID. Kalamazoo College students, faculty and staff are admitted free with their College IDs.
Kalamazoo College’s Festival Playhouse will celebrate its 56th season by honoring a tradition of empowering women through a community of theatre.
Under a theme of “HERstory: Forgotten Female Figures,” the three main stage plays will provide a realistic and meaningful look at women whose voices aren’t always heard—let alone amplified—and will reflect the work the Playhouse strives to accomplish offstage.
In the fall production of the musical Spitfire Grill by Fred Alley and James Valcq, parolee Percy Talbott tries to forge a new place for herself in the small town of Gilead, Wisconsin, as she combats town gossip, mostly about herself. In addition to female empowerment, the production’s themes include redemption, the economic problems of small towns, and the plight of Vietnam War veterans. The show will run Nov. 7-10.
Silent opens in the darkest months when the stars are brightest and runs Feb. 27-March 1. The play by Lauren Gunderson honors astronomer Henrietta Leavitt for the discoveries she made without recognition in her lifetime. In 1900, she has the opportunity to work at Harvard College Observatory, but is denied he opportunities of her male counterparts. Regardless, she enthusiastically begins tracking changes in Cepheid stars, leading to scientific discoveries that have long-term implications in the field of astronomy.
The season will conclude May 14-17 with the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegría Hudes. The play follows Odessa Ortiz, who uses the screen name Haikumom to moderate a chat room that ministers to those struggling with addiction as her own family life falls apart.
All three shows will be produced at the Nelda K. Balch Playhouse. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors 65 and older, and $5 for students in the general public. Tickets are free to patrons who present a Kalamazoo College ID. Tickets will be available beginning Sept. 16 at festivalplayhouse.ludus.com or by calling the box office at 269.337.7333.