Annual festival brings theatre artists from across Midwest to campus

contact: Emily Duguay
| WMU News
Photo of Zina Camblin.


KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University students and the Kalamazoo community will have an opportunity to engage with emerging and professional theatre artists from across the Midwest during the fourth annual "Activate Midwest: A New Play Festival" on campus Thursday, June 14, through Saturday, June 16.

Sponsored by the departments of theatre and English, the festival is dedicated to developing and producing the plays of emerging theatre artists. Events will be held at the York Theatre in the Gilmore Theatre Complex. Tickets and reservations are not necessary.

The festival combines resources with WMU’s New Play Project, a class which is co-sponsored by WMU's playwriting program and the Department of Theatre, one of the few theatre departments in the country with this kind of consistent focus on new work. It allows WMU's student playwrights and actors to work side by side with professional playwrights in experiencing the new play rehearsal process and in developing their own work.

The festival will kick off at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 14, with a keynote speech by Zina Camblin followed by a staged reading of her play, "The Guest." Participating playwrights and WMU students will have the opportunity to learn from Camblin through workshops and response sessions throughout the weekend.

Audiences become a central part of the process through the festival as well. They may be witness to the first public presentation of these works and their response as audience and their input in post play discussions will significantly impact the future of these new works. It is very exciting for audience members to share work early in its life. It offers great insight into the artistic process and the role of both artists and audiences in shaping a play.

Playwrights from across the region submitted their work to the festival for consideration. This year, four plays were selected for a staged reading as part of the festival. Plays to be featured are:

  • Friday, June 15, 7 p.m.,"Faith in a Fallen World" by Georgette Kelly; and 9 p.m., "It's a Small World" by Amber Palmer
  • Saturday, June 16, 4 p.m., "Chaos" by Ryan Oliveira; and 7:30 p.m., "Bitten by a Boomslang" by Andrew Black

Festival producer Kevin Dodd spoke about this year's plays, saying, "We are particularly excited to share the plays selected for this year's festival. Each play has a distinct style that speaks to the power of live theatre, telling stories in bold and unique ways. Each play centers around a character (or group of characters) who are lost and searching for something missing from their lives; from a prosthetics maker wanting to make an impact on the world, a group of people finding connection in the aftermath of a tragedy, a woman magically discovering the nature of faith, to a recovering addict who finds an unlikely companion in a robot; these plays are entertaining and thought-provoking."

Zina Camblin

Zina Camblin completed a program at The Juilliard School under Marsha Norman and Christopher Durang as a part of the Juilliard Playwrighting Fellowship. While at Juilliard, she received the Lecomte du Nouy Prize. Her play, "And Her Hair Went With Her," was selected as part of Lincoln Centers Directors Lab play reading series. The play was optioned for a New York production when it caught the attention of actress Whoopi Goldberg. In addition, "And Her Hair Went With Her," had successful readings at The Culture Project, and the Tribeca Theater Festival, and has been produced by theaters around the country including, The Phoenix Theater in Indianapolis, New Jersey Repertory Theater, Horizon Theater in Atlanta, The Fountain Theater in Los Angeles, and the Unicorn Theater in Kansas City. Her television credits include development projects with both Meryl Poster at NBC and Sheen/Estevez Productions at Warner Brothers, and being on the writing staff of the BET show, "Let's Stay Together," produced by Queen Latifah. She is currently on the faculty at Northwestern University in the Department of Radio/Television/Film where she had developed several courses including writing stand-up and comedic storytelling, and LGBTQIA characters in television and theatre.

She is a resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists and has performed in several live comedy and storytelling events including "Tru Theater," "The Kates," and "You're Being Ridiculous." Her newest play, "The Guest" has had workshops at Rogue Machine Theater in Los Angeles, Chicago Dramatist  and Ensemble Theater in Cincinnati. She is currently in development discussions on adapting the play for television. She is represented by Creative Artist Agency and was recently featured in Variety Magazine as one of the top 10 entertainment educators in the country.

For more information about the festival, visit WMU Department of Theatre or call (269) 387-6222.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.