New Play Fest Expands With Guest Playwright, More Seats

Jan 29, 2015

Play rehearsal for Theatre Kalamazoo's New Play Festival. All of the plays are staged readings to allow for more revisions.
Credit Sarah West

This weekend Kalamazoo playwrights will share their latest work at the 5th Annual Theatre Kalamazoo New Play Festival.

Steve Feffer is an associate professor of playwriting at Western Michigan University and co-organizer of the event. Feffer says since it started more than five years ago, the festival has grown both in the number of plays as well as the number of audience members.

Play rehearsal for the Theatre Kalamazoo New Play Festival
Credit Sarah West

There’s now a repeat of the ten-minute plays on Saturday to accommodate more viewers in the Epic Center Theatre.

“I never imagined a time where we would be sort of saying to people at a New Play Festival, ‘Sorry, we don’t have room,’” he says. 

The highlight this year will be guest playwright Dipika Guha of New York. Guha will premiere her new play “The Mechanics of Love” and join in discussions after performances. Feffer says playwrights in past years had been clamoring for an artist like Guha.

“One of the things that the playwrights talked about was what can we do to give it more, continue to give it more of a festival feel," Feffer explains.

"We’ve had guests in the past who’ve been more local or regional playwrights. So then in expanding it even further to have a playwright of Dipika’s caliber to come in and be part of the festival is very exciting for us and the fact that she has a terrific body of work. But the fact that she’s going to be also developing and hearing something new, really feels in keeping with the theme of the festival.”

That theme isn’t just to exhibit new plays, it’s about playwrights coming together to revise their work on a real stage. Feffer says the actors are even discouraged from learning their lines, so playwrights can change the script up until the performance.

“But to be able to see the play on its feet. To be able to watch the actors move through it. To have the luxury of multiple rehearsals where you can try new things—you know, bring it back into the room or try new things at a particular rehearsal—so accelerates the process. Especially in our own process here where even in the last two weeks, getting a peek at plays two Saturdays ago, and then having this flurry of e-mails with new drafts—just to see some really exciting development. Yeah, it’s really the goal of the festival. We talk about the festival’s goal as being serving the playwrights and serving these plays. And we imagine that—just like I say to my students in playwright’s workshop—I mean, this is not the final resting spot for any of these plays. That the goal is always that these plays are going to go on to somewhere else.”

Feffer says he thinks people will be surprised at the variety of plays at the festival this year.

Take Friday night's two-act plays, for example. The first play is called “Caged Sister.” It’s a story about human trafficking by WMU’s Cara Beth Heath.

“She really focuses on the family themselves who have become caged and trapped when their daughter has disappeared," says Feffer. "And you know the irony in the title comes from sort of looking at how the sister who’s sort of been left behind has to break from her own sort of cages: the loss of her sister and watching the gradual disintegration of her parents. And again find your own political awakening in regard to that issue.”

But that very serious play is followed by a dark comedy from Queer Theatre Kalamazoo called "The 3M Diet." 

“It deeply transcends your typical college stoner play," says Feffer. "One of the characters has pica—an eating disorder where he has an obsessive compulsive disorder where he eats post-it-notes, all sorts of things. And it’s about how these two male roommates come together over their own addictions and eating disorders in that play. But to see kind of two such tonally different plays I think is really representative of what the festival is all about.”

Guest playwright Dipika Guha will kick off the festival Friday night at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free.