By Face Off Theatre Company
KALAMAZOO, Mich. – Ever had a big crush on someone only to find there’s a competing admirer? Or a major love relationship end? Or, suffered a huge blow to your sense of community?
These very relatable experiences are unpacked in eLLe, a thought-provoking, witty, sexy play opening in November designed to open our eyes about the issues facing queer women of color, a not-often-talked-about segment of the LGBTQ and Black communities.
The play is the first-ever collaboration between the Black Arts & Cultural Center's Face Off Theatre Company and Queer Theatre Kalamazoo. Four performances will be offered Nov. 14-17, 2019 in the Judy K. Jolliffe Theatre in the Epic Center in downtown Kalamazoo.
Part humorous, part heart-wrenching and set in Kalamazoo, eLLe - This Lane Open is the 10th installment in an episodic series by Western-Michigan-University-educated playwright Shawntai Brown, of Detroit, herself an out African-American queer woman.
For six of its 10 years, Queer Theatre Kalamazoo has staged the eLLe series, which was inspired by the popular Showtime “L Word” show.
Then it reached a point in the development of Brown’s series where it made sense to partner with Face Off. Six African-American female theater and playwriting WMU grads created Face Off Theatre Company in 2015 to be the theater arm of the Black Arts & Cultural Center; it is housed in the Epic Center.
Issues of race, safe spaces
“The playwright has begun including more characters of color and more important issues about race, biases and queerness in the Black community,” explains Sarah E. MacLean, resident company director of Queer Theatre Kalamazoo. “We are grateful for the collaboration with Face Off to support and portray these messages successfully.”
The production is jointly directed by MacLean and Marissa Harrington, artistic director of Face Off Theatre Company.
Both say eLLe has general themes with which all adult audiences should be able to connect.
“We hope that audiences will see a little bit of themselves in each character and each story line,“ Face Off’s Harrington says. “But we also hope that this play will spark conversation surrounding safe spaces in the Kalamazoo community not only for queer individuals, but everyone.”
The show stars: Elizabeth Field, Shannon Fleckenstein, Laura Kay Henderson, Zaynee Hobdy, Quinn Hornick, Celine Justice, Brooke Lindley and Jayla Smith.
Each performance is preceded by “A Ligature for Black Bodies," a short play about police brutality by Kalamazoo playwright Denise Miller, executive director of OutFront Kalamazoo, a LGBTQ advocacy group. The powerful piece debuted at Face Off Theatre Company's New Play Series this past July.
eLLe will be staged 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 14-16; 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17 at the Judy K. Jolliffe Theatre, Epic Center, 359 S. Kalamazoo Mall, downtown Kalamazoo.
The lives of queer Kalamazoo women intertwine even more when Izabel and Naya, sworn enemies competing for Lane's attention, begin working at the same Kalamazoo grocery store. Their competition turns outward when their friends start carting their issues of loneliness through the aisles. Devon and Mia are searching for intimate connections while Carrie and Lane are determined to remain solitary.
Shawntai Brown is a Detroit writer, literacy coordinator and teaching artist with a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from Western Michigan University and a Master of Arts in Literacy Learning Education from Marygrove College. She serves as a resident playwright adviser for Queer Theatre Kalamazoo. Her poetry and plays have been performed and published in various venues and publications. (Source: Michigan Council of the Arts and Cultural Affairs)
About the Partnering Producers
Face Off Theatre Company
Face Off Theatre Company became the new face of theater for Kalamazoo’s Black Arts & Cultural Center in 2015. It is devoted to thought-provoking Black theater and the development of playwrights of color, drawing audiences from throughout Southwest Michigan to its performances at the Epic Center’s Judy K. Jolliffe Theatre and nearby artistic venues. Purchase tickets for shows anytime online or, at the door. For more: faceofftheatre.com
Queer Theatre Kalamazoo
Queer Theatre Kalamazoo formed in 2013 to be an inclusive, welcoming, exploratory theater that regularly produces new works in collaboration with local artists and organizations, and serves as a safe physical space to find community and build friendships. It has a performing space at 315 W. Michigan Ave. in downtown Kalamazoo (inside the First Baptist Church building). For more: queertk.com
Black Arts & Cultural Center
The Black Arts & Cultural Center, headquartered at downtown Kalamazoo's Epic Center, is widely known for its annual Black Arts Festival since founding in 1986. The organization develops the potential and creativity in Blacks in the Kalamazoo area, advances the awareness of Black artistic ability, helps to preserve Black cultural heritage and enhance interactions among diverse groups. For more: blackartskalamazoo.org