Activate: Midwest

ActivateMidwest is dedicated to developing and producing the plays of emerging theatre artists from Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Playwrights from these states submit their work annually, and three to four plays are selected for a staged reading each summer. The winning play goes on to receive a workshop production in Chicago. The goal of ActivateMidwest is to advance and expand the artistic reputation of Southwest Michigan by providing the community and WMU students with an opportunity to engage with emerging and professional theatre artists from across the Midwest. Supported by WMU student actors, playwrights, and directors as well as several community artists, the festival will facilitate collaboration between students and professionals and encourage theatre innovation through the production of new work.

Activate: Midwest

A New Play Festival at Western Michigan University

June 13, 14, and 15, 2019

Western Michigan University’s 5th Annual Activate: Midwest New Play Festival 2019 will feature Voodoo Child by Amber Palmer, 1st Imani 22nd Six by Mario Wolfe, Last of the Wild Buffalo by Ryan Patrick Welsh, and Rev by Rachel Bykowski.

These selected plays will be developed and presented as staged readings June 13, 14 and 15, 2019 as part of Activate: Midwest in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  



Playwrights selected for the festival will attend an initial reading in May, then return to Kalamazoo for a one-week residency during June 2018 leading up to the festival shows. The Festival will feature readings, workshops, and responses from guest playwrights, literary managers, and producers. 

Previous festivals have featured a keynote and workshop led by Sarah Ruhl, Steven Dietz, and Charles Smith.

FESTIVAL Schedule 

Thursday, June 13

7:30pm- Keynote & Guest Playwright Concert Reading of KILLING OF A GENTLEMAN DEFENDER by Carlos Murillo

 In some rooms he’s Martin. In others he’s Martín. Hired by a well-funded arts institution on Chicago’s Northside to create a show with Chicago youth about violence on the Southside, Marteen finds himself torn not only by the pronunciation of his name, but by the conflicting needs of the institution and the young people they believe they’re “serving,” and by a city in a death struggle with its own divided self. Does Martin/Martín make an exploitative confessional docudrama? Or does he try to find a metaphor? Reaching into his own history, he unearths, with his young ensemble, the story of the 1994 murder of soccer star Andres Escobar in Medellín, Colombia, hoping a past-tense allegory of violence in a deeply divided, faraway city will illuminate violence in the deeply divided Chicago of now. When a very real act of violence hits home, what story will Martin and his youth ensemble tell?


 Friday, June 14 - Free pizza will be served between performances.

5:30pm- Voodoo Child by Amber Palmer

The talent show is quickly approaching for Lacking Experience, an all girls high school Jimi Hendrix cover band. When their drummer has to quit unexpectedly, Ella (the guitarist) and Hannah (the singer and bassist) will have to team up with high school senior Nora to pull together one last good show for Ella’s mom. But with families falling apart, small town bigotry and bouts of internalized homophobia, that’s proving to be harder than expected. This coming of age story explores becoming your own person and surviving even when it feels like the world is crumbling around you.

 7:30pm- 1st Imani 22nd Six by Mario Wolfe

1st Imani 22nd Six takes a look at the constantly alluded to “great” America – pre-Obama. On the precipice of the 2008 Presidential election, a young family in New Jersey navigate the rain puddles of a changing world and plan for their future.


 Saturday, June 15

 10:00am- Response for Voodoo Child

 11:00am- Response for 1st Imani 22nd Six

 4:00pm- Last of the Wild Buffalo by Ryan Patrick Welsh (followed by a discussion with the playwright)

 When the youngest of two brothers returns with his wife to his childhood home for a Christmas visit, he and his maladjusted older brother begin to circle around the old wounds that drove them apart, and the wake of emotional destruction they’ve left in their wake

 7:30pm- Rev by Rachel Bykowski

 A middle-class story about what makes you call a piece of land, home. Camaro Gibson loves only three things in this life: strawberry glazed donuts, her daddy, and Route 66. Born and raised on the Southside of Chicago in her Daddy’s car repair shop, Camaro dreams of hitting the road, taking historic Route 66 all the way to where the water meets the land, the West Coast with the ocean at her feet. Camaro has never seen the ocean before, only in her daddy’s stories. She is determined to break out of the Southside and take him back to his home. Camaro keeps her daddy’s heart in the repair shop: a 1967 Chevy Camaro engine. For the last ten years, since her daddy passed away, she has been trying to get that baby to rev. Today might be the day, if it wasn’t for the customers still coming in and a lot full of cars that need a lot of work. Something keeps her showing up every day. Whether it’s the motor oil, diesel fuel, or rusty carbonators, she keeps plunging her hands in the grease because it feels like home.

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