Our Favorite “Underrated” Playwrights

Written by Rebecca Chan ’22. Published by Aly Homminga ’20.

While we are all familiar with the household names of Shakespeare, O’Neil, and Beckett, there are many, many playwrights who go unnoticed. Whether these playwrights are under-produced, underrepresented, or just under-the-radar for most undergraduate theatre students, here are a few of our recommendations…

Rane Arroyo

An openly gay American poet and playwright, Arroyo was born in Chicago to Puerto Rican parents and earned a Ph.D. in English and Cultural studies from the University of Pittsburgh. His work explores themes of homosexuality, Latinx culture, intersectionality, and immigration.

Rane Arroyo’s characters are raw and unapologetic. His stories have me questioning any true sense of reality.

Paige Chung ’20

Plays to start with: Buddha and the Señorita, Honeymoon Rehearsals, Dancing at Funerals: Selected Plays

Jessica Hagedorn

Raised in Manilla, Hagedorn moved to San Francisco during her teenage years and later moved to New York City. Her work focuses on Filipino-Americans and the complexities of their interactions with both the Philippines and America. Her writing spans several genres such as theatre, music, prose, film, and poetry.

She is an incredible playwright with masterful skill of representing the specific angst that many Filipino Americans feel toward the diaspora and our origins, using not only the “traditional” play structure but also blending elements of song, poetry, and images in a way that pushes the norm of what a typical “play” experience looks like. Her work truly embodies what “theatrical” means to me.

Ynika Yuag ’21

Plays to start with: Dogeaters, Mango Tango, Teenytown

Leah Nanako Winkler

Winkler’s early childhood was spent in Kamakura, Japan before moving to Kentucky with her Japanese mother and American father. Many of her plays center the biracial, Asian-American experience. She is currently a labbie at Ma-Yi Theatre Company and a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre.

I love how Winkler’s work combines surrealist worlds with grounded characters. The language is both believable and poetic.

Rebecca Chan ’22

Plays to start with: Kentucky, God Said This, Nagoriyuki & Other Short Plays

Suzan-Lori Parks

During undergraduate school at Mount Holyoke College, James Baldwin encouraged Parks to pursue playwriting. Since then, she has written screenplays, essays, and several stage-plays. In 2002, Parks became the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Her plays are provocative and socially relevant. She is an exceptional storyteller and many of her plays are written with non-traditional story structures. 

Aly Homminga ’20

Plays to start with: In the Blood, Topdog/Underdog, White Noise, The America Play

Why Recognize “Underrated” Playwrights?

Even when we think we are doing our best to diversify our reading, we are stuck in both a society which values white, intellectual voices and an academic hierarchy which privileges plays and playwrights that have been noteworthy and successful (as determined by those with the power to write history and those with the resources to distribute grants and awards).

I need to read more obscure playwrights! I definitely try to read plays that are lesser read by acclaimed writers, but I don’t read a lot of plays where I don’t know the playwright’s name first. Even with marginalized voices, I tend to read the Pulitzer winners and the big names. I definitely need to try and support new and local writers!

Lukia Artemakis ’21

It is important to support marginalized writers at all stages of their careers. By purchasing their plays, we show publishing companies that those are stories we want to read. By attending performances, we encourage theatre companies to continue producing underrepresented work. By merely reading their plays, we broaden our own capacity for understanding and empathy and can then advocate for that work within organizations like the Theatre Arts Department’s Play Selection Advisory Committee.

Further Resources

By/For Publishing: A new, Michigan-based publishing company that seeks to publish and license plays written by and for those with marginalized genders. (You can publish your work here!)

Black and Brown Theatre Artist Database: An online database featuring theatre artists, including playwrights, of color, compiled by the Detroit-based Black and Brown Theatre (Artistic Director Emilio Rodriguez).

Echo Young Playwrights: An organization of young, LA-based playwrights that both supports early-career playwrights and develops work for LA theatre.

Plays Compiled by Jeremy O. Harris: A collection of scripts compiled by Jeremy O. Harris for his masterclass, including his own Yell. (Recommended by Lukia Artemakis ’21)

2020-2021 Season- Our Time is Now: #ourstories

Festival Playhouse of Kalamazoo College presents its 57th season:  Our Time Is Now:  #ourstories.  We at Festival Playhouse believe there is no better time than now to express the ideas, challenges, and celebrations of our community.  Our productions this year focus upon the stories and ideas that celebrate our uniqueness and reflect upon that which brings us together.  Our fall Devised Theatre Production reflects a one-and-a-half year process of outside guest-artists working alongside our students, creating, and telling #ourstories.  Our second Fall production of Kokoro: True Heart allows us to experience cultural viewpoints through a lens which may be very different than our own.  In Winter, we produce one of our own storytellers, Joe Tracz’s (K’04) Broadway musical Be More Chill And, in Spring, our interactive production of The Compass (originally devised and produced at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago) will include your idea of telling the story with ours.

Fall 2020

October 22-25

Kokoro: True Heart by Velina Hasu Houston

Produced by our students as a main stage show, this heartbreaking story explores the struggle of a young Japanese mother as she tries to navigate the foreign culture of the United States. The audience is forced to reckon with the clash of two very different cultures’ moral codes after she commits a horrible crime. 

November 5 – 8 (Family Weekend)

Original Devised Theatre Production  (This is a work in progress and yet to be titled.)

Guest-Artist-in-Residence Emilio Rodriguez (Artistic Director of the Black and Brown Theatre, Detroit, MI) will direct this original piece developed and written by students from our ‘Community Dialogue Techniques’ class, as well as Winter 2020 and Spring 2020 Devised Theatre Workshop participants.This world-premiere work is based on themes relevant to current students at Kalamazoo College offering audience members fresh reflections and the opportunity to see how their stories relate to #ourstories.

Winter 2021

February 11-14

Senior Performance Series

Despite a variety of factors including the pandemic, we hope to produce student-created work, and we will confirm a plan as we are able.

February 25 – 28

Be More Chill: The Musical.  Book by Joe Tracz (K’04). Music and Lyrics by Joe Iconis.

This Tony Award-nominated musical comes to Kalamazoo College!  Be More Chill follows the story of social outcast Jeremy Heere as he climbs the social ladder with the help of a tiny super computer (or, SQUIP). But is popularity all it’s cracked up to be? We are proud to bring more of Alumnus Joe Tracz’s (K’04) work back to Festival Playhouse!

Spring 2021

May 20 – 23

The Compass by Michael Rohd

Originally devised and produced at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, this interactive play explores technology’s impact on decision-making. When an app tells a teenager to call a bomb threat into her school in order to prevent a mass shooting, can she be held accountable? You, the audience, will decide her fate. 

Theatre that is always provocative. Theatre that is always thoughtful.

WMU Audiology Department Field Trip

Group Photo at the Department of Audiology at Western Michigan University. The group is posing around a case of ear trumpets.
Pictured from Left to Right: Laura Livingstone-McNelis ’89 (Company Manager), Lori Sands (Costume Designer), Hal Bate, Aly Homminga ’20 (Dramaturg/ Henrietta Leavitt), Lanny Potts (Lighting/Scenic Design and Director of Theatre, Abby Barnum ’23, and Angela Mammel ’22

On January 30, 2020 some of the production staff of Silent Sky visited the Audiology Department of Western Michigan University to learn about antique hearing aids. The tour was lead by Laura De Thorne, Chair and Professor of Speech, Language & Hearing Sciences at WMU, and audiology expert and WMU professor emeritus, Hal Bate.

The main character of Silent Sky, famous astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, was hard of hearing in real life. The actress playing Henrietta (Aly Homminga ’20) will be wearing a period accurate hearing aid in the show.

Hearing aid and audiology expert, Hal Bate, showed the team turn of the century hearing devices, ranging from ear trumpets to a hearing aid concealed in a string of pearls. The team did a lot of reflecting on the stigmas around hearing impaired individuals and whether or not the thoughts surrounding hearing impairments have changed.

The hearing aid Henrietta will be wearing on stage will consist of a receiver on her chest what would receive and magnify the sound to an ear piece in her right ear. During the course of her life, the real Henrietta Leavitt experienced many health issues, including gradual hearing loss throughout her life. Thankfully, her hearing loss did not hinder the important discoveries and accomplishments she made throughout her life.

Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson is running

February 27-Mar 1 in The Playhouse.

Thurs-Sat @ 7:30PM and Sun @ 2:00PM

Directed by Ren Berthel. Silent Sky tells the story of Henrietta Leavitt, a gifted astronomer, is relegated to the role of “computer” at the Harvard Observatory while her male colleagues take credit for her celestial discoveries. Silent Sky pays homage to Henrietta Leavitt’s mind, discoveries, and struggle to be recognized.

The Silent Sky play poster of a dark profile of a woman in the sky. The play is by Lauren Gunderson.

American College Theatre Festival 2020 in Madison, WI

January 7-12, 2020, 8 students and 4 faculty members attended the American College Theatre Festival in Madison, WI.

All the students participated in a variety of workshops and competitions including Musical Theatre Intensive, Design Storm, Irene Ryan Competition, knife fighting- stage combat, improvisation, playwrighting, and MORE!

We had two students win awards this year!

Aly Homminga ’20 won a scholarship to attend a theatre intensive at California State University’s Summer Arts Program in Fresno, CA. The intensive will focus on collaboration through devised theatre and becoming a fuller theatre artist.

Milan Levy ’23 won the Golden Collaborator Award for her work on the festival’s Devised Theatre Workshop.

To learn more about our experiences at ACTF and how you can be involved next year, check out our KCACTF webpage.

Group Photo from the American College Theatre Festival
From Left to Right: Rebecca Chan ’22, Sedona Coleman ’23, Sophie Hill ’20, Lanny Potts, Aly Homminga ’20, Mars Wilson ’20, Teyia Artis ’21, Angela Mammel ’22, Milan Levy ’23, Lori Sands, ‘C’ Heaps, Laura Livingstone-McNelis