Cover of the March/April 2022 issue of The Dramatist
Michigan: A More Inclusive Theatre Community
Papa Jennings Is Gone by Aseneth Elizabeth Parker in rehearsal at Obsidian Theatre Festival, March 2021. Two actors seated with crew members beside and behind them. Another crew member stands in front of the stage gesturing with his arms.
Papa Jennings Is Gone by Aseneth Elizabeth Parker in rehearsal at Obsidian Theatre Festival, March 2021.

The  effects of COVID in limiting live, in-person theatre in Michigan continued into early 2022 with some productions cancelled, postponed, and moved online. However, the spring and summer look more promising as long delayed and brand-new productions take to the stage. The future also may continue some pandemic and social justice inspired elements that will benefit Michigan dramatists and create a more inclusive theatre community.

The Purple Rose Theatre will present the world premiere of Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Ghost Machine by David MacGregor, April 14-August 22, 2022. The play is the third installment in a series, which will be published by Theatrical Rights Worldwide (TRW) later this year. 

Kitty Dubin plans to further develop her new play, The Marriage Spectrum, about a family dealing with an autism diagnosis. Oakland University hosted a virtual reading in November 2020, that included a panel discussion with autism experts. 

Sandra Seaton is excited about the possibilities for The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson, a play with music about the founder of the National Negro Opera Company. Last summer, the play was presented outdoors during the day as part of the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York. In August 2022, an expanded version will be staged indoors creating many more opportunities for theatrical elements.

Despite the limitations of an open-air stage, Seaton said outdoor play development and production may last beyond pandemic-induced shutdowns. Last summer, many Michigan based theaters presented work outdoors in parks and other public spaces. 

The Flint Rep postponed its New Works Festival in 2021 in favor of an innovative outdoor production from June to August. It partnered with the Flint Public Art Project in presenting Flint Mural Plays; 25 micro audio plays, each corresponding to a different mural around the city, were commissioned from playwrights around the country. 

The Flint Rep’s festival returns in April 2022 as a three-day event and will present staged readings and workshops of new plays and musicals. Past festival shows, like Josh Wilder’s Wrong River, about the Flint water crisis, is being fully staged this season. The notice for next year’s submissions will appear in December 2022. 

Another pandemic inspired innovation, presenting productions virtually, may also remain in some form. The Detroit-based Obsidian Theater Festival: Black Stories, New Stage launched during COVID, inspired in part by the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the founders’ long-standing advocacy for artists of color. The festival streamed filmed productions of six original plays in March 2021. Producing Artistic Director John Sloan III said the upcoming festival, June 22-26, 2022, will be a hybrid. Selected plays will be performed in traditional spaces in front of live audiences and streamed.

Sloan said online presentation of live theatre is a must do in the age of content on demand. “If we’re not careful, plays will go the way of ballet and opera,” he said. “Now, I love opera, but it is perceived as being only for a very few.”

Playwrights interested in submitting for the 2023 festival should check OTF’s website.

Ann Eskridge found that the impact of COVID and the Black Lives Matter movement offered new and different ways to share her work. For instance, her play A Rose By Any Other Name was read via Zoom as part of a new play festival at The Purple Rose Theatre in February 2021. 

Eskridge noted that all social movements wax and wane and the COVID pandemic will become endemic eventually, but these forces have created opportunities for a new norm.

She wrote in an email, “I hope what will be lasting is theatre that is new and different—with partnerships we never thought of before—that uses technology to reach the underserved and provide them with a way to express their own voices.”

Catherine Zudak

is a writer, producer and storyteller in Southeast Michigan. She serves as the DG Regional Rep for Michigan.