Cover artwork of the Season in review 2020/21: A group of friends open a time capsule labelled 2020.
Michigan Season in Review 2020/21
  • Michigan Banner for Season in Review 2020/21
    Artwork by Bekka Lindstrom, Drawings by Ian Sklarsky
  • Morgan Breon performs her one-act W.I.T.C.H via Zoom.
    Morgan Breon performs her one-act W.I.T.C.H via Zoom. Photo courtesy of Theatre Nova.

In Michigan, theatres and dramatists kept the lights on for new and developing works through a series of innovative events during the COVID quarantine. Theatre Nova led the charge with multiple online ticketed performances featuring both Michigan based artists and DG members from around the country. In October 2020, Nova presented a five-day festival of fifteen short plays written specifically for Zoom, including works by Stephanie Butler (Graven Images), Henry "Hank" Greenspan (Done is Done), Conrad Panganiban (River’s Message), Cleavon Smith (A Hero of Our Time), Isabella Waldron (Matching), Donna Warfield (Meet Cute Medium), and Marilyn Zerlak (Werewolves of London - Arkansas). Nova continued its online programming in 2021 with a Play of the Month series with four Michigan artists: Morgan Breon (The W.I.T.C.H.), Jacquelyn Priskorn (Whatcha Doin?), Ron Riekki (4 Genres), and me (Mortal Fools). The Jewish Ensemble Theatre also went virtual, hosting its annual JETFest online. The JET presented four new plays in the month of March 2020. The festival featured DG Members from across the country: Alan Brody (The Kistiakowsky Affair), Tom Lavagnino (Eleanor Tuesday), and Mike Solomonson (The Goodbye Levee). Williamston Theatre took their performances outside with a strolling play series. Michigan playwright Annie Martin wrote Harriet Oriona specifically for the April 2020 installment.

Intrepid Michigan dramatists also found ways to develop and promote their work outside of the state. Anita Gonzalez’s ten-minute opera, Courthouse Bells, was featured as part of Boston Opera Collaborative Opera Bites series. She had additional work, Home Of My Ancestors and Dance Off, performed in Fort Worth and Chicago, respectively. The Portland Opera premiered Night Trip, an opera by Sandra C Seaton (librettist) and Carlos Simon (composer) online in April through May 2021. This summer, Seaton is heading to Cooperstown, New York, to quarantine with artists to work on The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson for the Glimmerglass Festival in August 2021. She collaborated with Carlos Simon on this work, as well, which honors the founder of the National Negro Opera Company. David Quang Pham, a young artist, also collaborated across state lines. His apprenticeship with Working Title Playwrights in Atlanta has helped develop his opera, Ellipses, a family drama of galactic proportions, over the past year. Michael Vigilant’s mini-musical Kip Trash was published as an audiobook on Findaway Voices. Plays without music also graced the digital stage: Ann Eskridge’s (The Art Play) and Gordon Bolar’s (Hard Boiled) comic short plays appeared in A2CT’s Zoom series; Gary Sironen’s dramatic monologue I Can Fly was livestreamed by the Columbus (Ohio) Black Theatre Festival. Additionally, The Remember Project in Minneapolis Zoomed Steering into the Skid, a one-act about Alzheimer’s by Arnold and Debby Johnston.

Digital theatre was a painful necessity this past season, but Michigan dramatists have managed to survive and thrive. Online presentations even have an upside, offering greater connectivity for artists. Tanya Shaffer, a recent transplant to Michigan from the Bay Area, turned necessity into a virtue by co-founding Remote Theater. Based in California, Remote is dedicated to exploring mixed-media live performance and held the first public reading of Shaffer’s Manatee on Mars, a dramedy about the struggles of children on the spectrum and their families. This summer, Anita Gonzalez, formerly an Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs and Professor at the University of Michigan’s Theatre Department, is leaving for a new adventure as a Professor of Performing Arts/African American Studies and co-Founder of the Racial Justice Institute at Georgetown University. But the magic of technology allows her to continue collaborations with Michigan based colleagues. The 2021-22 season is likely to see a continuation of online content as well as hybrid and outdoor performances. Michigan dramatists are ready.


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Catherine Zudak

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