Cameo Green ’23 (Cass): Performing as Cass in Well-Intentioned White People, I would say that it was my first time being involved in theatre at Kalamazoo College. I got to know so many wonderful people through this play, and fell in love with the theatre community of K College. I was honored to be cast in such an pivotal play with such a pivotal message.
Rebecca Chan ’22 (Playwright, Composer, Performer): There are so many stories and reflections I could document here, but I’ll leave you with this, a note I wrote for the program which ultimately, to conserve space, was cut:
This show is my heart and soul. It is a love letter to my grandmother. It is a tribute to my father. It is the synthesis of all that I am and all I have learned put onto the stage for you to see. This show is so much more than even I can understand, but there is one thing it soundly is not: this show is not my conclusion. Every play has an ending. Every satisfying play has a resolution. I have arranged my life into a narrative for you to debate and dissect, relate to and reject, and that narrative has a conclusion. But this is not my conclusion. I thank you for your presence here today, and as you continue on your own journey, I hope you remember that you do not need to reach your conclusion. Our lives are not neat narratives, and our truths are not simple statements. No matter how many times it is denied, indulge in your complexity. Don’t ever let them take it away.
Sierra Hieshetter ’25 (Assistant Stage Manager): This was my first ever show with Kalamazoo College, and I could not be more grateful for the experience. It was such an amazing production, and I feel so honored to have been able to play a small part in telling Rebecca’s story. I met so many amazing people, and I cannot wait to continue to work with this company throughout my years at K! So thankful for this entire show!
Angela Mammel ’22 (Scenic and Projection Designer): Unzipped was my SIP show, and it was the perfect culmination of my time studying theatrical design and technology at K. Not only did it give me an opportunity to have my scenic design work be fully realized for the first time, but it also presented me with eleven beautiful songs to design projections for. Working on this show truly increased my love for projection design, and solidified my desire to pursue it as a future career. I feel so lucky that Rebecca trusted me with their story in this process, and was honored that I got to work alongside a team of lovely people during the production!
Ynika Yuag ’21 (Acoustic Guitar, Vocals, Percussion): It was such a gift to be able to return to K after graduation and participate in Rebecca’s show as a musician. I never participated in instrumental ensembles at K despite playing casually for years, so I’m grateful to Rebecca, Milan, and the production team for their trust in the process and the opportunity to work on this SIP.
After working here for three years, Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts Dr. “C” Heaps will be leaving Kalamazoo College. Thank you “C” for all you’ve taught us and contributed to our community!
In addition to teaching the only directing course and the only playwriting course at K, “C” developed a new sophomore seminar called Live Media Virtual Performance and taught many theatre history courses including Asian Theatre, Theatre of Illusionism, and Theatre of Revolt.
I’ve really appreciated “C”‘s passion during lectures, and willingness to let students take projects wherever they desire. I especially am indebted to them for pushing me out of my comfort range at the end of last year during Theatre of Revolt, and of course for their guidance on my SIP. Their deep well of knowledge will be missed!
I had the pleasure of being taught by “C” three times within the past two years. They played a huge part in my transition to college. They have always been helpful, fun and insightful. What I loved about “C” was that they taught things beyond the generic. My mind has expanded more and my perspective have grown because of what “C” had encouraged in the classroom and outside of the class. And I wanna thank them for being the faculty that have been the voice of the students, especially in PSAC. I always felt comfortable and heard in the presence of Dr. ‘C’ Heaps. They will be truly missed.
Milan Levy ’23
“C” received a PhD in Theatre History, Theory, and Literature from Indiana University. Their thorough and interdisciplinary knowledge of theatre history, translation, dramaturgy, and esports brought a new and enriching perspective to the classroom.
“C” taught me a lot about non-Western theatre, which is a subject that maybe one other theatre educator in my life has ever taught me about. I enjoyed learning about their work in Brazil translating and directing plays, and have always appreciated their support in my pursuit of theatre work that decenters Whiteness and Western-ness.
Ynika Yuag ’21
Thank you for everything “C”! We appreciate all you gave to this community, and we hope we were able to give back to you. Good luck as you continue your career. We’ll be cheering you on from the wings!
“C”, it was really fantastic being a part of your classes as well as having the privilege of being directed by you during your time at K. I learned a lot and really felt my confidence grow – thanks for being such a great professor!
Alonte Mitchell ’21 (Odessa/Haikumom): I’m so happy that Water by the Spoonful was the last show I did at K because it was such a great note to end on. It was so rewarding to play Odessa because it was the first time I played a character like her and there was just so much meaningful work that went into embodying her and her experience. The AMAZING cast and crew really made it all worth while. It was an energetic, honest, and open space to really bring these characters to life and to tell their story well!
Emma Fergusson ’22 (Prosecutor, Ms. Ellis): This was a really cool show. Being able to put this production on a physical stage and perform it in-person during such a crazy time to be doing theater was a super fun (if not a little stressful) experience that I’m very grateful for. The ever-looming threat of being shut down stopped me from taking the show for granted and made me all the more thankful for everyone on the cast and crew. I’ll probably never see a real day in court but having had the opportunity to play a prosecuting attorney on stage, I can confirm that interrupting a cross-examination by jumping up and shouting, “I object!” is extremely satisfying.
Festival Playhouse of Kalamazoo College presents its 58th season, Black is Beautiful: An Ode to Black Life, Love, and Strength. This season will support living Black playwrights by producing their work and support our own community though access to Black narratives that are not tragedy-centric or exploitative of trauma. These upcoming productions use wit, satire and thoughtfully complex storytelling to showcase a variety of intersectional Black experiences.
Our Fall production will be Rachel Lynett’s Well-Intentioned White People, a play that cleverly depicts how the performative activism of predominantly white institutions, like ours, can harm the very community members it attempts to support. In Winter, we will produce Kevin Renn’s BLACKS+PHATS, a vignette-driven satire challenging stereotypes and assumptions about people devalued by society simply because of their bodies. Our season will conclude in Spring with Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Marcus; or the secret of sweet, a Black and queer, heartfelt and humorous, coming-of-age tale.
This season will also include the Senior Performance Series, in which senior Kalamazoo College students write, direct, perform, design, and manage both original and published works. This year’s productions are Unzipped by Rebecca Chan and Acting Shakespeare by Sir Ian McKellen. There will also be a production of The Conviction of Lady Lorraine, written and performed by Dwandra Nickole Lampkin, offered free to our entire community as part of our Martin Luther King, Jr. week celebrations.
Unzipped by Rebecca Chan
October 21-24, 2021
Unzipped, an original show of alternating music and monologues, explores the perception of East Asians in the dominant United States’ culture and Rebecca’s own coming-of-age as a queer Chinese-American. The production will also feature set and projection design from Angela Mammel ’22.
Well-Intentioned White People by Rachel Lynett
November 4-7, 2021
After experiencing an anti-Black hate crime, college professor Cass wants to forget about it and move on with her life. But her white roommate/ex-girlfriend and the dean of the university push her to “do something” about it. Suddenly, Cass is roped into planning an Equality Day/Unity Week while trying to convince her roommate not to plan a sit-in. Well-Intentioned White People explores how liberals attempt to deal with discrimination not directed at them and how sometimes “well intentions” can be just as problematic. The stereotypical white saviors, white liberals, and white allies seem humorously over-exaggerated, but those caricatures aren’t too far, if different at all, from the truth.
The Conviction of Lady Lorraine by Dwandra Nickole Lampkin
January 14-15, 2022
An original one-woman play written and performed by Dwandra Nickole Lampkin.
This production is produced by Festival Playhouse of Kalamazoo College and is offered free to our entire community as part of our Martin Luther King, Jr. week celebrations.
Set in Memphis, TN near the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated—a writer (Lampkin) has a brief but powerful encounter with a homeless woman, Lady Lorraine. She finds herself transformed by Lady Lorraine’s more than 20-year quest to right a social wrong. One year later, the writer returns to Memphis, hoping that Lady Lorraine will share her full story of conviction. But the writer quickly finds herself asking new questions about many things, and realizing that Lady Lorraine is not the only one on a quest for recognition.
Dwandra Nickole Lampkin serves as Associate Professor of Theatre at Western Michigan University, and has been a prolific performer. With a career spanning over two decades, her television credits include Law & Order, Law & Order SVU, Third Watch and Wonderland. She has performed at the Tony Award winning Denver Center Theatre, The Huntington Theatre in Boston, The Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton and the Indiana Repertory Theatre in Indianapolis. The Conviction of Lady Lorraine is directed by Dee Dee Batteast.
Acting Shakespeare by Sir Ian Mckellen
February 10-13, 2022
Matthew Swarthout ’22 will be undertaking Sir Ian McKellen’s one-person show Acting Shakespeare. This show will encompass both Matthew’s and McKellen’s insight into Shakespeare’s plays, featuring monologues and scenes from Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s dream, Hamlet, Macbeth and more.
BLACKS+PHATS by Kevin Renn
February 24-27, 2022
Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the Black Panther Party, and Michael Jackson? BLACKS+PHATS is a satirical, vignette play about Black cultural issues, body image, fetishism, and their representation in modern society. This quick-witted comedy is sure to challenge your mind and tickle your comfort zone, touching on various themes like beauty ideals, relationship dynamics, and levels of attraction–all while attempting to find enlightenment in the stereotypes placed on minorities and full-bodied people.
Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet by Tarell Alvin McCraney
May 12-15, 2022
Marcus is sixteen and “sweet.” Days before Hurricane Katrina strikes the projects of Louisiana, the currents of his life converge, overflowing into his close-knit community and launching the search for his sexual and personal identity in a cultural landscape infused with mysterious family creeds. The provocative, poignant, and fiercely humorous coming-of-age story of a young gay man in the South, Marcus is the stirring conclusion of The Brother/Sister Plays.
This winter, we’re continuing our alumni spotlight series, featuring even more of our favorite Kalamazoo College Theatre Arts Department alumni!
This week, we talked to Hutch Pimentel ’12. While at K, he/they directed two shows: Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis and Yussef El Guindi’s Back of the Throat. He/they also wrote a Theatre Arts SIP titled Growing Pains: Becoming Queerer.
Since graduation, he/they founded a theatre company called First Floor Theater. There, Hutch serves as Artistic Director.
Read more to learn about what Hutch is up to now!
What was your experience founding First Floor Theatre like?
I came to be a part of First Floor in a somewhat unorthodox way. The theater was originally founded by a group of folks I met while interning at About Face Theater (which I wrote my SIP about). They were seniors at the University of Chicago and came to see Back of the Throat (the final show I directed at K) and asked me to join them when I moved to Chicago. I started as the producer and became the Artistic Director after our second season. The mission and aesthetic of the company has shifted significantly since then, largely to focus on new work, specifically by queer and POC writers.
What has being Artistic Director during the pandemic been like?
Running a storefront theater company is everything and nothing you’d think it’d be. I spend a lot more time figuring out where the money is going to come from than what play we should do. During the pandemic my focus has been on keeping the company financially solvent, and beyond that we’ve dedicated most of our time to working on two commissions from playwrights Terry Guest and Ariel Zetina. Since becoming Artistic Director my goal was to found a commissioning program so The Blueprint Commission has really been a dream come true.
I’m really impressed that First Floor Theatre has an audience base 70% under-40 and 50% BIPOC! How did you achieve that?
This is probably the most common question I get. I think the easy answer is, I program work that I want to see in the world, and Chicago audiences have begun to look to us for cutting-edge, sexy, funny, weird plays about what people our age are going through. In a regular season we typically program two BIPOC writers and one white writer, so that’s helped diverse audiences identify us as somewhere they’ll feel represented on stage.
What inspires you to do theatre?
The moments that take your breath away, sitting in the dark, surrounded by a hundred other people, watching something magical happen. Whether it’s visual spectacle, great dialogue, or an unorthodox choice by an actor, that’s why I keep making art. Because I want to share those moments of glory with audiences.
What plays, TV shows, or movies have been bringing you joy lately?
My favorite pandemic theater piece was Circle Jerk Live by Fake Friends (not porn I promise). The play I’m currently obsessed with is Botticelli in the Fire by Jordan Tannahill. The TV show I’m currently binging is It’s a Sin. And the last great movie I watched was Judas and the Black Messiah.
How are you taking care of yourself during the pandemic?
I am trying to relax as much as possible. It’s so easy to COVID-spiral and so whenever I feel that about to happen I go for a walk or do some stretches or eat some soup.
What’s your favorite memory from theatre at K?
It has to be the first play I ever directed, 4.48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane. Directing that play changed my life forever and I’ll never forget it.
Thank you so much to Hutch Pimentel ’12 for answering our questions! To learn more about First Floor Theater, check out their website. And if you want to know more about our alumni, see our Notable Alumni page.
Two Kalamazoo College Theatre Arts alumni have recently been involved with projects which are sparking discussion about Asian-American representation in United States media. Joe Tracz ’04 created the Netflix show Dash & Lily, which is an adaptation of the Dash & Lily book series. Steven Yeun ’05, on the other hand, stars in an A24 film titled Minari.
Read on to see how these works, and the societal response to them, has affected the Asian-American community. We’ll start with Tracz’s Dash & Lily then discuss Yeun’s Minari.
Dash & Lily
The Netflix series Dash & Lily, based off a book series with two white protagonists, features Midori Francis playing a now-biracial white/Japanese-American Lily. Much of the script represents a new cultural perspective: Lily encourages Dash to make mochi (餅); Lily’s grandfather offers her and her brother otoshidama (お年玉) on New Year’s Eve; everyone takes their shoes off in the apartment of Lily’s grandfather. The casting committee also made sure every actor within Lily’s Japanese family, whether monoracial or biracial, was of Japanese descent.
In an interview with People magazine, Francis said, “This was the first time that I’ve really even been on a set or in any kind of production where they took the time and care to make sure that every single Asian actor on set was of Japanese descent.”
In the same interview, Troy Iwata, who plays Lily’s brother, said, “One thing that our show does such a wonderful job of doing is portraying this mixed family, but not making it so heavy-handedly about the fact that they’re mixed race. It’s two backgrounds coming together, this is just a family. It’s very matter of fact that half of them are Japanese and half of them are white.”
Not only did Tracz ensure cultural integrity and casting specificity, he also allowed Francis herself to make changes to the script so the show would be more specific to her own experience. In a scene from the episode “Edgar & Sophia,” Lily addresses her white middle school bully, saying “I’m tired of boys pulling our pigtails and getting called cute … I wish I could have stood up to all the bullies who made me feel too weird, too different, too Asian.”
This monologue, as originally scripted by episode writer Lauren Moon, did not include the phrase “too Asian.” As she revealed in an interview with Refinery29, Francis wanted to insert that detail. “For me, a big part of being bullied growing up — because I was. Or teased — was the way I looked. Especially at that time, when there was no representation. If you don’t fit that kind of Eurocentric mold, you’re not attractive. I talked to our showrunner, Joe Tracz, about it. I was like, ‘Hey, what do you think about this speech being the time where we bring it up?’…So that was such a special cap for that speech for me. Because me, as Midori, if I was going to stick up to any of my bullies, that would be a part of it.”
Francis also had power to make creative decisions beyond just her own lines. As mentioned in the same interview with Refinery29, “It turns out that Joe was so receptive to everything. He honestly kind of diverted to me whenever he felt he didn’t know [something]. He was able to have talks with the set designer and the directors. Together, we were able to make [my input] a reality.”
Francis also mentioned that she has had opportunities that previous generations were not fortunate enough to receive. “I have an aunt who worked in the industry in the ‘80s and this just couldn’t have happened back then. There were times when I felt a bit of sadness. Like, ‘Why do I get to be the one who gets to have this positive experience? How messed up is it for all these years, people who look like me couldn’t have it?’ And then there was also so much relief and joy and gratitude that I was paired with someone like Joe who really cared.”
This show’s care did not go unnoticed by the Asian-American community. As The Literary Dumpling’s Natasha writes, “2020 has done a lot in terms of furthering diversity and representation, and being able to see a mixed-race family represented on screen as well as [seeing] how Western and Asian culture combines has been really uplifting for me. Whilst there are many ways it could go wrong, the creators of Dash & Lily manage to present Lily’s family in [a] natural way without shoehorning it in. In my opinion, it is never done in a way that requires you to think too much about how the family works, rather you just accept it as it is and overall it’s a great way to demonstrate how Lily’s family works in comparison to Dash’s (which is non-existent), as well as presenting a different kind of family dynamic on the silver screen.”
All that said, judging from the series’ IMDB page, it appears as though there were very few Asian-Americans on the film’s creative team and crew, and even fewer, if any, Japanese-Americans. How much more compelling could the biracial white/Japanese-American representation be if there were more Japanese-Americans in positions of power on the creative team?
For the Minari, Yeun not only served as the top-billed actor, but also as an executive producer. Set in rural Arkansas, the film follows the story of a Korean family moving to the United States.
The specific, accurate representation in this film is so important because as Yeun puts it, “This is not a Korean movie, [and] this is not an American movie—as you understand it. This is such a uniquely American tale. And I think the third culture of it, the Korean Americanness of it, that specific lane that it inhabits, hasn’t necessarily been claimed in wider American society. The narrative of Korean America is this—of pizza and kimchi together at the same table. It’s caught between two worlds…but ultimately, it’s its own thing. That’s what we’re trying to get to.”
Even though the film is set in the United States and is specific to an American experience—the Korean-American experience—the Hollywood Foreign Press Association categorized Minari as a foreign language film, supposedly because it features more Korean than English. This barred Minari from competing for Best Motion Picture at the Golden Globes; it has instead been nominated only for Best Motion Picture, Foreign Language.
As filmmaker Lulu Wang said on Twitter, “I have not seen a more American film than #Minari this year. It’s a story about an immigrant family, IN America, pursuing the American dream. We really need to change these antiquated rules that characterizes American as only English-speaking.”
Author Min Jin Lee also spoke out on Twitter, “#Minari is an American film about new Americans. Everyone in America except for indigenous people came from somewhere else by choice or force. The English language is not an indigenous language. Enough of this nonsense about Asian-Americans being permanently foreign. I’m done.”
Many other Asian actors, directors, and artists criticized the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s decision. Glee actor Harry Shum Jr pointed out that Inglorious Bastards featured more German, French, and Italian than English and did not receive the same treatment as Minari. Actor Daniel Dae Kim said that this incident is “The film equivalent of being told to go back to your country when that country is actually America.”
In regards to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s decision, Yeun suggested that instead of using the phrase “specificity is universal,” artists should adopt the phrase, “humanity is universal.” As Yeun said, “That was the central focus for us in Minari. [The film didn’t say,] ‘Hey, America, this is what Korean Americans are.’ Instead, it focused on being a father or mother or family, or desiring something or striving for something. Or just living. It allowed more people into the narrative to enjoy it, because there wasn’t this wall up of authenticity that people had to scale.”
In an interview with Variety, Yeun said, “I think a Korean audience from Korea will watch Minari and say, ‘that is the story of an American family.’ And I think an American audience will watch Minari and say, ‘that’s the story of a Korean family.’ And that’s the void that we’re caught in. We wanted to profess that this is an Asian American story, where it is American.”
Minari and Yeun’s work in it are critical to the future of Asian-American representation in cinema. While Asian-American films are still treated by America’s predominantly white institutions as foreign, an emulation of the “perpetual foreigner” stereotype, the increased visibility of Asian-Americans in media could be the catalyst for more change.
As Yeun described, “I’d seen John Cho start popping off, and it was really cool to watch him. He hadn’t gotten the shine that he deserved at the time, and it took a little bit for him over time. I watched him, and I was like, ‘Wow!’ Here’s a Korean American actor that I’ve never seen before, and he’s on the screen, and it’s pretty incredible. He was the first one not to be objectified or fetishized. He was a new version of what an Asian man is seen as. He was something new and fresh and gave me a roadmap to emulate. I thought it was possible for me.”
Yeun’s work in films like Minari could inspire the next generation of Korean-American artists, and Asian-American artists more broadly, to continue the work toward better representation and, eventually, liberation from predominantly white institutions.
Tracz and Yeun have both been doing the important work of platforming Asian artists and humanizing Asian-Americans through compelling storytelling. Here at Festival Playhouse, we are very proud. But as we celebrate, we also have to ask, “How much more work is yet to be done?”
To watch Dash & Lily, go to Netflix. Minari will be available to stream on various platforms starting February 26. To learn more about our Theatre Arts alumni, including Tracz and Yeun, check out our Notable Alumni page.