Q&A: Meeting the Mostly Medieval Theatre Festival

Posted by Lofton Durham on May 8, 2017 1:16:35 PM



This week, alongside the 52nd International Congress of Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University will host the inaugural Mostly Medieval Theatre Festival. This new biennial event, designed to increase the availability of high-quality performances to public audience and Congress attendees alike, will feature regionally-produced music and theatre, as well as touring performances by universities and other theatre and music troupes. Given this festival is in its first year, we're sure that audiences have some questions.

What is the Mostly Medieval Theatre Festival? Why is this happening at WMU? What can audiences expect?

Artistic director of the festival and Department of Theatre professor Lofty Durham provides some answers in the discussion below.

Why is this happening at WMU?

For thousands of people around the world, the word “Kalamazoo” means one thing: the annual International Congress on Medieval Studies. Amongst scholars of the Middle Ages, it’s shorthand to ask, “Are you going to Kalamazoo?” to find out if a colleague is attending the Congress. Working “at Kalamazoo” can also work like a secret handshake, opening up access to all kinds of spaces in all kinds of places. Nearly every medieval scholar who works here on campus--and there are a lot of them!-- has a story to tell about how working “at Kalamazoo” has brought them special privileges abroad.


MMTF_Logo_color.jpgWhat is the Mostly Medieval Theatre Festival? 

The story of the Festival really begins with the Congress, which is the world’s largest gathering of people who study the Middle Ages. Since Kalamazoo is a mecca to those invested in seeing, hearing, and learning about all aspects of the medieval period, nearly 3,000 descend on campus to indulge their interests each May. This year, there will be a completely new way to experience the Middle Ages: through music, dance, theatre, and performance: The Mostly Medieval Theatre Festival. It’s taking place over four days, from May 10 through May 13, with performances each evening at 8 pm, and a matinee on Saturday May 13 at 3:30 pm. These events include not only fully produced plays, but also dance and live music. They all take place in the Williams Theatre at the Gilmore Theatre Complex on Western’s main campus.


What is the “mostly” all about?

The real goal of the Festival is to expand the audience for these works beyond the scholars who are already interested, and to do that we want to bring our 21st century skills, techniques, and approaches to bear. I’m less interested in trying to replicate what medieval audiences might have experienced, and much more interested in trying to speak to our audience today, and share the wisdom, fun, and wildness of these texts with all kinds of people. So few folks really know very much about the Middle Ages, and there’s such fascinating material there that deserves a wider audience. Since these works about have a lot to say about community, I think there’s a lot we could stand to think about: so much of our theatre today depends on rooting out the psychological motivations of individuals. But medieval performance was usually created by and for groups, and the idea of community is usually central: starting with the idea that the performers and the audience are really part of the same community: rarely do medieval texts demand that actors pretend the audience aren’t there! Instead, medieval texts demand that actors interact with the audience--they expect to create new ways of understanding the community of participants.


What are the Middle Ages?

The time period between the fifth and the fifteenth centuries is most often categorized as “medieval,” because it fell between the “classical” era of antiquity, and the “modern” period. If your history has a beginning and an end, then you’ve got to have a middle. But this way of organizing things makes it easy to miss how much of our contemporary world has its origins in the medieval period: urban areas, global trade, universities, multi-course meals, algebra, cartography, and so much more!


What kind of theatre can audiences expect from the Festival?

First of all, you’re going to be seeing and hearing things that, in some cases, have not been performed for hundreds of years. So it’s like a whole series of world premieres, right here in Kalamazoo! Wednesday night is a concert of 12th century music by a woman visionary, Hildegard of Bingen, accompanied by modern dance choreography--Cosmic Dance promises to transport you to another world.

On Thursday, there are two plays, one a staging of a JRR Tolkien fairy tale, Leaf-by-Niggle, and the other a colloquial translation of a filthy French farce Cooch E. Whippet. These are both brand-new productions.

On Friday evening and Saturday afternoon, you’ll have the chance to see WMU’s productions of two Middle Dutch plays, Esmoreit, a romance and adventure story, with Lippijn, a farce, featuring local Kalamazoo actors as well as members and alumni of Western’s BFA Acting and Design/Tech Theatre programs. This production in particular really attempts to reinvigorate the 14th century text with 21st century technology and theatre know-how.

Finally, Saturday night features two groups from Toronto, Canada: the early music band Pneuma Ensemble, and the Poculi Ludique Societas (PLS), the oldest group in North America committed to the production of medieval drama, doing a new translation of the 10th century Latin play by a German nun called Dulcitius, or, Sex in the Kitchen.


How do I get tickets?

Please call Miller Auditorium at 269-387-2300, or visit www.millerauditorium.com, choose “Order” and then “Other”, or follow the link below.

$15 General Admission

$10 Students


Purchase Tickets



Topics: Department of Theatre

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