My AAACVB April events round-up

Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 3.20.28 PM.pngSpring has sprung in Ann Arbor, and there’s lots to do in the city and in our smaller communities, as well!

44th Annual Dance for Mother Earth Ann Arbor Powwow. This gathering of Native Americans from throughout the Great Lakes area includes social dancing and demonstrations of different styles of Native American dance, including fancy, traditional, grass dress, and jingle dress. The big attractions are drum and dance contests in a variety of styles, by children and adults, accompanied by Native American drumming ensembles. Grand entries at noon and 7 p.m. on Saturday, and at noon only on Sunday. Also, display and sale of traditional crafts and food. April 1 & 2, 10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. (Saturday) & 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. (Sunday) at Skyline High School, 2552 N. Maple. Daily admission: $10 per day (students and seniors, $7; kids ages 6-12, $5), or $15 for a weekend pass (students and seniors, $10; kids ages 6-12, $7). Kids 5 and under are free. For more information, visit

The 4th annual Big House 5K. Yes, 5K runs are a dime a dozen, but only one invites you to cross the finish line on Michigan Stadium’s hallowed football field! The course begins near the Stephen M. Ross Athletic Campus and takes you around U-M’s central campus. Awards for overall male & female winners, and for male & female winners in 3 senior (ages 40+, 50+, & 60+) age divisions. April 9, 8:30 a.m., S. State at Ocker Field (just north of Stadium). $45 in advance at READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW (Pulp): Complicite’s ‘The Encounter,’ presented by UMS

Complicite Encounter 2 by Robbie Jack.jpg

Simon McBurney in Complicite’s “The Encounter.” (Photo by Robbie Jack)

Thursday’s opening night performance of Complicite’s The Encounter, presented by UMS (and running through Saturday night), got me thinking about how, when you’re a parent of young kids, you notice on a daily basis how their powers of imagination, and capacity for wonder, utterly dwarf your own. Now, this isn’t too surprising when you consider how often kids are encouraged to conjure up stories and images, while the adults around them are stuck in “adulting” mode: worrying about work, home upkeep, money, relationships, emails, appointments, and various other responsibilities.

So how do you lure a capacity crowd of over-stressed adults down the rabbit hole of imagination and deep into the Amazonian rainforest? By finding new, innovative ways to open this often-jammed door in our brains.

With The Encounter, Complicite — one of Britain’s (and the world’s) most inventive theater companies — achieves new levels of theatrical immersion by delivering the show’s time-hopping, atmospheric narrative to the audience through headphones; employing a visceral, binaural soundscape (designed by Gareth Fry, with Pete Malkin) that does a real number on your perception; and through employing lighting (Paul Anderson) and projections (Will Duke) that make a deceptively spare set (Michael Levine) — with a textured foam backdrop, suggesting an enormous recording studio — into a hallucinatory playground. READ THE REST HERE

My Detroit Free Press preview of Complicite’s ‘The Encounter,’ presented by UMS

Complicite Encounter 3 by Robbie Jack.jpg

Simon McBurney, artistic director of London’s renowned theater troupe Complicite, stars in “THe Encounter,” which plays for three performances in Ann Arbor. (Photo by Robbie Jack)

Michael Kondziolka, programming director for University Musical Society, did some strategic eavesdropping in New York last fall when renowned, London-based theater troupe Complicite’s newest show, “The Encounter,” was in the midst of an American premiere run on Broadway.

“I ended up at a hotel on the same block as the theater where ‘The Encounter’ was playing, and, of course, I couldn’t help myself,” says Kondziolka, who had already scheduled the show for the 2016-17 UMS season. “I couldn’t help but go stand on the sidewalk and listen to audiences as they left the theater. … And the absolute intensity of the conversations that I heard going on was really exciting — the sense of magic, the sense of participation … in what they’d just experienced.”

Indeed, “The Encounter,” playing for three performances this weekend at the Ann Arbor’s Power Center, offers a unique theater experience. Audience members wear headphones throughout the performance to feel sensorially immersed through binaural sound (wherein each ear hears its own soundtrack, achieving a kind of “3D-listening” effect). Complicite cofounder and artistic director Simon McBurney is the show’s primary onstage narrator. He uses objects like water bottles and plastic bags to achieve atmospheric sound effects to tell the story of  National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre, who, in 1969, got lost deep in the Amazon rain forest and encountered the indigenous Mayoruna tribe. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp preview for Jessica Grové’s ‘I Have Found’ cabaret at Encore

Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 10.32.58 AM.png

Broadway performer Jessica Grové will premiere her cabaret, “I Have Found,” at the Encore Theatre in Dexter.

At this point in her career, actress/singer Jessica Grové — whose Broadway credits include A Little Night Music (with Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch), Sunday in the Park with George, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Les Miserables — is ready to venture into new, more personal territory: a cabaret show titled I Have Found: A Journey Through Song with Jessica Grove, which she’ll premiere this weekend at Dexter’s Encore Theater. (Friday’s performance is concert-only, while Saturday’s is Encore’s gala fundraiser.)

“I’ve done concerts before — like, an hour-long concert of songs — but cabaret is a whole different art form,” said Grové. “You have to tie them together in a meaningful way, and have a climax, and have a realization and a summation. Those are writer things, and I’ve never considered myself a writer, but I’ve really enjoyed the process.”

Grové started thinking about creating a cabaret show while pregnant with her second child (daughter Lolly, who just celebrated her first birthday). This is hardly a coincidence since motherhood has profoundly changed her life and perspective in recent years.

“The show is basically about the journey of my life so far, and the things I’ve discovered along the way,” said Grové. “Having kids changes a lot. Your priorities shift. You start thinking, ‘I can’t leave town for a few weeks,’ or else, ‘I just don’t want to,’ whereas before, I maybe would have taken almost anything. So it’s about my journey to becoming an artist, and not just an actress.” READ THE REST HERE

My one-page statement, submitted for the NYTimes theater critic job opening


Me and Lily attending “A Christmas Story: The Musical”

(Note: When Charles Isherwood – one of my favorite critics, because of his wit and intellectual honesty – recently got the boot from The New York Times, the paper sounded the call for a replacement. I knew it was a pie-in-the-sky dream kind of thing, but I submitted clips/links, a resume, and this one-page statement nonetheless. Because why the hell not?)

With politicians at every level – up to and now including the White House – suggesting the dismantling of arts-supporting organizations these days, I’ll confess that I got teary just reading that The New York Times “is seeking a critic to review and write about the vitally important world of theater.”

Why? Because I view theater as “vitally important,” too, despite the larger world’s daily attempts to beat down my enthusiasm for it; and because, after working nearly 12 years as a newspaper’s dedicated staff arts reporter and theater critic, I was laid off last January and made to believe that, because it wasn’t particularly profitable, theater criticism no longer had a place in American culture, let alone in a newsroom.

When I began working as a staff reporter in 2004 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I covered every kind of theater production in the county: touring/visiting shows, professional productions, University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University plays and musicals, quirky indie companies, and community theater groups; and because my academic training had been based in creative writing, not theater, I pursued projects that filled in my knowledge gaps. For instance, I did a series of features focused on behind-the-scenes theater artists, so that readers (and I) could learn more about what goes into lighting design, and costumes, and scenic design, and stage management.

Meanwhile, my background in creative writing paid dividends in surprising ways. Because I’d worked in so many workshop environments while earning my MFA, I was well-versed in articulating my responses to another person’s art, particularly where storytelling is concerned. This not only equipped me to provide informed, insightful critiques of new plays and musicals, but it also gave me the confidence to declare, on occasion, that the emperor’s not wearing any clothes. Continue reading

My Pulp preview of Tappan Players’ ‘Hello Dolly’

Screen Shot 2017-03-25 at 10.19.00 PM.png

Tappan Players’ production of “Hello, Dolly!” (Photo by Myra Klarman)

The current political climate impacts us in ways big and small — like factoring into the decision of whether or not to ditch the “Motherhood March” number in Tappan Players’ new production of Hello, Dolly

“We were going to cut it for time,” said the show’s co-producer Lisa Richardson. “But after the Women’s March, we decided to put it back in.”

Tappan Players is a student-run theater company that stages one big musical each year. An outgrowth of the Burns Park Players, TP is now in its 27th year, and Hello, Dolly features about 80 Tappan Middle School students in the cast, more than 30 in the crew, and 15 in the orchestra. The company was born out of a desire to give kids who age out of Burns Park Players a chance to keep learning about theater and be part of a show.

“There’s a certain amount of magic that happens,” said Richardson. “When I’ve made sure the director (Anna Martinsen) has what she needs, and the business part gets done, I spend a good chunk of time sitting in the audience during rehearsals. … And watching these kids who started out shy and unfamiliar with the process start blossoming right before your eyes — I think of it as a magic place, where kids get to be creative and free, and no one’s judging them for it.” READ THE REST HERE

My CultureSource story on founders retiring from local arts organizations

Screen Shot 2017-03-25 at 10.10.54 PM.pngBeing a founding director of a nonprofit arts organization is a bit like being a parent: if you do a really good job, your offspring should one day be able to thrive without you.

These days, many Metro Detroit-area founders are in the process of becoming “empty nesters” as they retire and hand the keys over to someone new.

Often (but not always), an organization’s board will recruit and find a new executive director, independent of the outgoing leader.

“I did not take part in the interviews because that relationship, we believe, is between (board members) and the new director,” said Peg Upmeyer, who co-founded Detroit’s Arts & Scraps in 1989 and stepped down as executive director late last fall. “The plan moving forward did not include me, because the plan moving forward doesn’t need me.” READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW ( ‘Circus 1903’ at Detroit’s Fisher Theatre

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 11.09.29 AM.pngWhen Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus announced its closing in January, after entertaining audiences for nearly one and a half centuries, the news barely registered a shrug from me. Between reports of animal cruelty, and a general sense that this kind of diversion seemed musty and outdated now, the timing of Ringling’s end felt wildly unsurprising.

Yet, because we’ve paid so much attention in recent years to what’s wrong with traditional circus entertainments, we’ve all but forgotten the sense of wonder these traveling shows once inspired, by way of performers doing things we can’t quite believe they can do. Circus 1903, now making a tour stop at Detroit’s Fisher Theatre, transports you not only to that pre-special-effects era – when trained circus artists used little more than their bodies to amaze and astonish crowds – but to a frame of mind that, with its openness to laughter and awe, feels a lot like childhood. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp story on Ann Arbor novelist Camille Pagan’s new book, ‘Forever is the Worst Long Time’

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 11.34.24 AM.pngA few weeks ago, InStyle magazine named Forever Is the Worst Long Time by Ann Arbor-based novelist (and health journalist) Camille Pagán as one of “7 Books You Need to Read in February 2017.”

We’re now in March, of course, but Pagán’s new tale of contemporary friendships and romance gone askew offers a temporary escape hatch appropriate for any time of year.

Forever is Pagán’s third novel; her debut was The Art of Forgetting (2011), followed by Life and Other Near-Death Experiences (2015), which was a bestselling Kindle First selection that got optioned by Jessica Chastain’s production company Freckle Films.

Forever tells the story of James Hernandez, a would-be novelist who ends up writing copy for U-M’s business school. (Pagán is a U-M grad who grew up in Dearborn.) Though James falls for his childhood best friend Rob’s fiancee/wife (Lou) upon meeting her, he buries his feelings, delivers a toast at the wedding, and tries to build his own life. But years later, when Rob and Lou’s marriage falls apart, James is torn between what he wants and loyalty to his friend. In the end, he can’t resist acting on his long-repressed attraction, and the consequences for all three are far-reaching and life-changing. READ THE REST HERE