By Face Off Theatre Company
KALAMAZOO, Mich. – It was 15 years ago that African-American playwright Kermit Frazier’s “Smoldering Fires” play about two boys trying to address violence in their neighborhood debuted, but its message of the need for people to act individually and collectively to move the needle is still relevant today as Kalamazoo’s premier Black theater company, Face Off Theatre, offers a filmed staged reading of this youth play from August 20-22, 2021. It will be streamed only.
The production comes at a time when police report an uptick in shootings in the city of Kalamazoo since the pandemic, as well as in the region and nationwide. Just this month, a Kalamazoo County sheriff’s deputy was shot, and in a separate incident, two people were shot on a South Haven beach in broad daylight. These casualties leave families devastated and law enforcement and community and government leaders seeking solutions. The play leaves us with much to ponder at this somber moment.
Streaming starts Friday, August 20 at 7:30 p.m. and continues through the 22nd at 11:59 p.m. We use a pay-what-you-can model to make theatre accessible to everyone. Click here for tickets, or scroll down to the end of this story. You will be given a unique link to view the play.
Message of influence, change
“This is a show that we, as a company, believed had a great message—a message of influence and change,” says Bianca Washington Ciungan, who is directing the play. She is youth director at Face Off Theatre, which she and five other African-American women founded in 2015.
“We found it important to highlight specifically young Black men, specifically our youth,” Washington Ciungan adds. “It has always been important to tell reflective stories of a window of life that’s not our own, so we can better understand different sides of life. I think ALL people would enjoy this show because with every show there is an education, something that you can walk away with and think about. And for those whose lives reflect these themes, it is so important to see that theatre can speak to their lives, too.”
Two unlikely friends
Kermit Frazier crafts a story about two Black boys who seem unlikely friends. Dashaun Johnston can barely make it through the school day without getting into trouble, while Corey Tyler excels. But the two have a special bond, and together they share a dream of cleaning up their sometimes violent, urban neighborhood.
The piece is part of our Youth Series. “Smoldering Fires” touches on the power of youth activism and of collective social action, both in present day and during the Civil Rights Movement. It is the fourth of our five plays this year in our 2021 season.
Familiar and new faces
We’re delighted to have actors from past shows joining us for this thought-provoking production, including Jahleel Fisher as Corey Tyler, and Delanti Hall as Dashaun Johnston, the two young characters around which the play centers.
Also familiar faces are Ron Ware, Zaynee Hobdy, Ariel Bennett, Carter Steppes and Lars J. Loofboro. Rounding out the cast are Melinda Vanderbilt, Sanaa Olivacce and Kaelyn Averhart. This is their first Face Off Theatre Company production.
About Face Off Theatre Company
Face Off Theatre Company was founded in 2015 in Kalamazoo by six African-American women with theater and playwriting degrees from Western Michigan University. It is devoted to thought-provoking Black theater and the development of playwrights, actors and directors of color, drawing audiences from throughout Southwest Michigan to its performances. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for show updates.
For more: faceofftheatre.com
About the playwright
Kermit Frazier has been a writer — especially playwright and television writer — as well as a teacher of writing, literature, and theater for more than 40 years. His latest play, MODERN MINSTRELSY, was a finalist (60 plays out of 1,450 submissions) for the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. Another new play, FIREPOWER, premiered at the Detroit Repertory Theater in 2017. Frazier has had nearly 20 plays produced in New York and around the country. As a television writer, his series include the popular children’s mystery show “Ghostwriter” (which he helped to create and was a head writer), “Gullah Gullah Island” (co-producer and executive story editor), ABC sitcom “Married People,” Fox series “True Colors,” soap opera “All My Children," “The Misadventures of Maya and Miguel” and “The Magic School Bus.”
Sources: broadwayplaypub.com; ensemblestudiotheatre.org
Photo credits: Playwright Kermit Frazier, below (enchantedmountains.com); Director Bianca Washington Ciungan (courtesy photo)