New Play Fest 2016: Shorter Plays With More Variety

Feb 1, 2016

Rehearsal for the 2016 Theatre Kalamazoo New Play Festival
Credit Kevin Dodd

On February 5th and 6th, Theatre Kalamazoo is putting on its 6th annual New Play Festival. At the festival, playwrights do script-in-hand run-throughs of their latest work and get audience feedback. Steve Feffer is an associate professor of playwrighting at Western Michigan University and co-organizer of the event. He told us what we can expect at this year's festival.


On Guest Artist Adam Szymkowicz

Szymkowicz is known for writing Hearts Like Fists, Clown Bar, Pretty Theft, Nerve, and several other plays. He’s a member of the Dramatists' Guild and the Writer's Guild of America. He’s also won two Lecomte du Nouy awards. Feffer says Theatre Kalamazoo chose Szymkowicz because he is a challenging, innovative writer. The festival guest artist often prepares one of their new works as well. 

"He sent us a couple of plays, but one of them that we're looking at right now that we're considering doing, it's an immersive theatrical event. And in his conception of the play - I don't know if we're going to be doing this - but in his conception of the play,  members of the audience would be chosen to take the leads in the play and someone would be following them around and whispering in their ear. And the audience separates and sees three different plays in a sense, or three different moments in the play before they all come together."

On The Ten-Minute Plays

The festival's plays have always had a combination of different lengths, but this year Theatre Kalamazoo chose all ten minute plays but one. Feffer says the larger theatres that could do longer plays were less available this year, but Feffer says having shorter plays is not necessarily a bad thing.

"This way we're able to involve more playwrights," he says.

On "Lyrical Invasion" By Von Washington, Sr.

This work was commissioned by Theatre Kalamazoo itself. Feffer says it was an opportunity to reach out to people for a new play, something just for the festival. 

"We were very excited to have a new play by Von - just always so teriffic to work with. And it's a really exciting contemporary piece about the origins of race and how one imagines their ancestry, and both the importance of understanding where one comes from but also understanding that that's not always so simple."

On "Spendthrift Lovers" By R.D. Rivers

Feffer says this is the only one-act play in the lineup this year. It was produced by Kalamazoo's Civic Theatre.

"It's a play about prostitutes in Hawaii during the immediate aftermath of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. And it's tonally very wonderful, it's a kind of rallying labor piece. It's almost kind of Liz Estrada-esque in the withholding of sex from the soldiers for the promise of better working conditions. But it's both big, historical, funny, and really unique kind of character study about the commitments that one makes in terms of larger social pictures in labor with these group of prostitutes, but also keeping one's own personal commitments. There's a madam and her lover who are of mixed race and in some ways it's about the way in which this madam is balancing the larger issues of getting what's best for the people who works for her, but also trying to maintain this very intense and difficult personal relationship."

On Script-In-Hand Plays

Feffer says if you’ve never been to the festival before, don’t worry. Just because the actors are reading off a script, doesn’t mean there is any less movement or emotion.

“I was watching 'At The Zoo,' and there’s a moment of theatricality of this actor playing a gorilla and clutching this child - again it’s easy to forget they have scripts - it’s so alive, it’s everything that is terrific about the theatre. The tension in the room in rehearsal is just palpable.”

The festival will take place at the Epic Center Theatre in Kalamazoo, February 5-6. You can find the schedule here.