REVIEW (EncoreMichigan.com): ‘The Color Purple’ touring production

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The fantastic touring production of John Doyle’s “The Color Purple” recently came to Detroit’s Fisher Theater for a limited engagement.

If you’re part of a historically oppressed demographic – or even if you’re just a person who tries to focus on people’s potential for kindness and empathy – this year has been brutal. Between white supremacists openly marching in Charlottesville and planning to come to Michigan, to Hollywood’s seemingly endless supply of real-life sexual assault and harassment stories, and horrifying mass shootings, it’s been harder than ever to find reason to hope.

Which may be why the touring production of The Color Purple, now in Detroit for a limited engagement at the Fisher Theater, feels so electric, and so emotionally satisfying in this moment.

Based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1982 novel, and set in rural Georgia in the early twentieth century, The Color Purple tells the story of Celie (Adrianna Hicks), a poor young black woman who’s repeatedly told she’s ugly – especially when compared to her studious, pretty, beloved sister Nettie (N’Jameh Camara) – and who’s been twice impregnated by the man she believes is her father (J.D. Webster). The man gives both of Celie’s babies away, then brokers a deal with a gruff, mean, widowed farmer named Mister (Gavin Gregory) to marry her off.

The story spans 40 years in Celie’s life, and the show’s wonderfully rich music (by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray, with a book by Marsha Norman) nods to popular genres of the early twentieth century, including boogie woogie, ragtime, blues, and gospel. READ THE REST HERE

My Concentrate story about AADL’s new book imprint for local authors, Fifth Avenue Press

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 7.01.03 AM.pngThe Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) has long offered a staggering range of materials and resources, but the library recently added yet another community role to its ever-growing list: publishing books.

 “It’s like we’re book doulas,” says AADL deputy director Eli Neiburger, referring to the library’s newly launched Fifth Avenue Press. “We help with the birth, and then we hand the baby to you and say, ‘Good luck!'”

Inspired in part by AADL’s well-attended monthly creative writing classes and workshops, Fifth Avenue Press (FAP) – named for the street the downtown library is located on – just held an official launch party for its first nine titles by local writers. The nonuplets, to continue Neiburger’s analogy, are a diverse bunch, ranging from poetry to memoirs to a comic book. READ THE REST HERE

My Michigan Alumnus newsletter recap of the Ann Arbor to Entertainment panel

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 6.49.49 AM.pngCall it musical chairs meets the media panelists. Last Friday, Nov. 3, in the Rackham Assembly Hall, nearly 30 lucky students enjoyed not just a steaming smorgasbord of gourmet dishes, but the wisdom of alumni in the entertainment industry. What’s more, it was all free, courtesy of the Alumni Association.

The event, titled “Ann Arbor to Entertainment,” featured a panel of five alumni, followed by a dinner in which each hosted a table. The students were able to table-hop twice, giving them a chance to have personal conversations with three of the five alumni over coffee and dessert.

Here are some of the secrets of success they shared. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp preview of Ann Arbor playwright David Wells’ world premiere production, ‘Resisting,’ at Theatre Nova

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 11.29.57 AM.png“Resist” is not only a rallying cry of our political times; it was the seed of Ann Arbor-based playwright David Wells (“Irrational,” “Brill”) latest world premiere play at Theatre Nova.

Resisting, which runs Oct. 27-Nov. 19, grew out of a news story Wells read about what’s called “broken windows policing.” Born in New York City in the ‘90s, “It’s essentially a zero-tolerance approach, that was combined with ‘stop and frisk,’” said Wells. “(Broken Windows) started with a scholarly paper that suggested that … if one window in a building is broken, and it’s not fixed immediately, all of them will be broken. … So the police were compelled to start ticketing or arresting people for every little infraction, no matter how small — whether it’s jumping a turnstile, or jaywalking, or spitting in public. This led to a more antagonistic relationship between the police and the citizens they were supposed to serve. And these policies also only seemed to be applied in low-income neighborhoods.”

The article Wells read tracked the legacy of these policies, including a 2012 Baltimore incident involving Makia Smith who got stuck in traffic while coming home from a doctor’s appointment. When she saw police beating a young black man, she started filming the incident with her phone (which is legal). One of the officers involved grabbed it from her and smashed it, and she was charged with various offenses (resisting arrest, obstructing an officer, etc.).

“I used that story as the play’s jumping off point,” said Wells. “So much of what I was learning about was how much systemic racism there is in our justice system. And I thought, if I don’t know much about this, than most other people don’t, either.” READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp preview for U-M’s beloved annual Halloween Concert – this weekend!

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 11.26.23 AM.pngSunday’s 40th annual Halloween concert at Hill Auditorium — which combines the Campus Symphony Orchestra with the Campus Philharmonia Orchestra — will mark conductor Kenneth Kiesler’s 23rd time on the podium while in costume. (What he’ll be dressed in this year is under wraps.)

But what you might not know is that he and the student musicians get one chance each year to raid the theater department’s costumes.

“They have a huge warehouse,” said Kiesler. “You could get just about anything you want.”

One legendary U-M Halloween concert costume, apparently, involved conductor Richard Rosenberg who, in the late ’80s, dressed as a bat and directed a selection from Strauss’ Die Fledermaus while — you guessed it — suspended upside down.

Believe it or not, some in Sunday’s audience may be able to provide a first-hand account. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp recap of Charles M. Blow’s keynote address at Rackham

Screen Shot 2017-10-23 at 5.18.12 PM.pngReading a long list of sponsors doesn’t usually prompt a standing ovation; but because celebrated New York Times op-ed columnist Charles M. Blow couldn’t hear, while backstage at Rackham Auditorium on Friday evening, what was being said while waiting to make his entrance, he gamely emerged before his official introduction had even gotten underway.

Not that the adoring, full-capacity crowd minded the miscue in the least. Presenting the keynote speech of a Humility in the Age of Self-Promotion Colloquium at U-M, Blow spoke for 40 minutes on the topic of Trump, arrogance, and democracy, and answered audience questions for an additional half hour.

Though some in the crowd strained to hear Blow — whose tall, lanky frame kept him farther-than-usual from the lectern’s microphone — his insights on the President, the election, the media, and race regularly drew nods and murmurs of agreement, as well as applause.

“Donald Trump doesn’t let facts slow him down,” said Blow, quoting a passage from Trump’s 1987 book, The Art of the Deal, that read, “People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call this truthful hyperbole.” Socially, or in business, Blow noted, this practice may simply operate as an exaggeration. “But in politics, that’s called propaganda, and it’s not so innocent,” said Blow. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp Q&A with Welcome to Night Vale podcast creator/’It Devours!’ author Jeffrey Cranor

Screen Shot 2017-10-22 at 11.19.30 PM.pngOne article about the popular, fiercely beloved Welcome to Night Vale podcast begins with the line, “Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of” the show.

But until I’d received a copy of the novel It Devours! written by the podcast’s creators, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, and researched Night Vale in preparation for a recent phone interview with Cranor, I’d been one such under-the-rock dweller.

Yet because the podcast could be described as the David Lynch version of A Prairie Home Companion — focusing on a fictional desert town in the American Southwest, where all conspiracy theories are true — I asked Cranor if any of Night Vale’s residents also live under rocks.

“No, but one of the characters is a rock — the dean of the Night Vale Community College, Sarah Sultan,” said Cranor without missing a beat, referring to a character who communicates via telepathy.

Well, then. At least I might have some company. READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW (Pulp): Théâtre de la Ville’s ‘State of Siege’ looks slick, but feels leaden

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Théâtre de la Ville’s “State of Siege” achieves a nightmarish look and atmosphere, but fails to have much emotional impact.

I once spent a summer reading just about everything Albert Camus wrote. Not exactly beach reading, I know — I jokingly referred to it as “my crazy summer” — but I’d been hired to write the preface of a book about the French writer’s work, so I dove in.

I hadn’t counted Camus’ seldom-produced 1948 play L’Etat de siège (State of Siege) among my favorites of his writings, but I was intrigued to learn that Théâtre de la Ville was staging it. Having seen previous Théâtre de la Ville productions courtesy of University Musical Society (UMS), including Ionesco’s Rhinoceros in 2012 and Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author in 2014, I was hopeful the Parisian company would find a way make Siege sing.

And yes, Theatre de la Ville’s take on Siege at the Power Center on Friday and Saturday looked slick and offered some truly inspired moments of stagecraft, but Camus’ heavy-handed political allegory still ended up feeling pretty leaden. READ THE REST HERE