My Pulp preview of the Cinetopia Film Festival

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 9.55.40 PM.pngThough most of us don’t sense a strong link between the auto and film industries, Michigan Theater executive director and CEO Russ Collins pointed out that the two essentially grew up together.

“In 1922, when Hollywood was deciding whether it would be based in New York or California, Ford Motor Company became one of the largest distributors of movies of anywhere in the world,” said Collins, at a recent press conference for the sixth annual Cinetopia Film Festival, which happens June 1-11 in various Ann Arbor and Detroit locales.

“Ford distributed so many educational films and newsreels that Detroit was second only to Hollywood in terms of the amount of film shot and processed. So it’s an art form that Detroit has long held dear,” Collins said, “and it’s deeply built into this community, which is why we’re so happy to bring the world’s cinema passion back here to Detroit.”

Indeed, the guiding principle of Cinetopia — which Collins founded at the Michigan Theater in 2012, showing more than 40 films that year — involves gathering together some of the best new films being screened at the world’s most prestigious film festivals. So whether you’re looking for cutting-edge comedy, drama, suspense, or documentaries, or selections from the 12th annual Arab American Film Festival (now part of Cinetopia), you’re likely to “find your film” during the 10-day fest. There’s also a competition program of Michigan-made short films, called Detroit Voices, and this year’s U-M screen arts symposium is focused on producer/distributor Ira Deutchman, so Cinetopia will show Hoop Dreams and Sex, Lies, & Videotape. READ THE REST HERE


My Art & Soul performing arts segment with Lisa Barry on WEMU-89.1 FM (for June)

Screen Shot 2017-05-26 at 11.57.27 AM.pngCheck out my latest WEMU 89.1 Art & Soul segment with the lovely Lisa Barry. This time, we spent a few minutes talking with Charlie Reischl from The Neutral Zone about the upcoming, student-curated Live on Washington music festival, and we also highlighted upcoming outdoor theater productions (via The Penny Seats and Shakespeare in the Arb), the start of Ann Arbor Summer Festival: Top of the Park and Cinetopia Film Festival and Sonic Lunch, essayist Roxane Gay‘s appearance at Hill Auditorium, and more. Spring has sprung, people!

My June event highlights for The Ann

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 9.55.40 PMThe Moth Michigan GrandSLAM. All-star storytelling showdown, featuring the winners of the last ten Ann Arbor Storyslams – monthly open mike storytelling competitions sponsored by The Moth, the NYC-based nonprofit storytelling organization that also produces a weekly public radio show. This year’s theme: “Breaking Ground.” Wednesday, May 24 at 8 p.m. at The Ark, 316 S. Main in Ann Arbor. Tickets cost $25, available in advance at

Sonic Lunch. Everyone’s favorite free, outdoor lunch concert series is back, with Ann Arbor’s own Laith Al-Saadi kicking things off on Thursday, June 1 (with special guest Phillip-Michael Scales) at 11:30 a.m. in Liberty Park Plaza. Other SL shows in June, at noon on Thursdays, will feature LP on June 8; Tuxedo – featuring another Ann Arborite, Mayer Hawthorne, with Jake One – on June 15; Michigan’s own The Accidentals (“Michigan and Again”) play June 22; and U-M grad Theo Katzman plays June 29. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp preview of Richard Prum’s AADL talk about ‘The Evolution of Beauty’

Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 2.17.59 PM.pngYale ornithology professor Richard Prum did his graduate work at U-M in the 1980s, but the two places where he spent much of his leisure time no longer exist.

“The Del Rio was a great place,” Prum said of the beloved bar that stood at Ashley and Washington for more than 30 years. “And I went to Borders, back when it was the only one in the whole world. It was such a great bookstore. I remember going to Borders and deliberately leaving my wallet in my office. Not that I ever had much money in it, anyway, but I didn’t want to be tempted.”

Temptation, as it happens, plays no small role in the former MacArthur “genius” fellow’s new book, The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World — and Us, which he will discuss at the Ann Arbor District Library Downtown Branch on Thursday, May 18, at 7 pm. The book argues that mate choice in the natural world is often driven by a subjective desire for beauty instead of more pragmatic considerations, thereby complicating the long-held notion that natural selection explains every branch on the tree of life.

“Many of my colleagues are resistant to these ideas,” said Prum. “One guy said, ‘But that’s nihilism.’ So here I am, getting goosebumps from thinking about how beauty evolves in the wild, while he sees a theory so bleak that he can barely get up in the morning. … That’s when I decided, ‘Wow, I have to embrace aesthetic Darwinian language and focus on what makes this worldview a productive and interesting mode of expression.’” READ THE REST HERE

My Detroit Free Press interview with ‘The Girl on the Train’ author Paula Hawkins

Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 11.41.28 AM.pngWhen the first novel you write in your genre of choice becomes the best-selling fiction book of its release year, how do you transcend the pressure to follow it with another literary home run?

If you’re “The Girl on the Train” author Paula Hawkins, who will appear Wednesday evening at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor,  you start writing your next novel, “Into the Water,” before the book that would go on to become a smash hit even hits the shelves.

“I was really keen to get back to writing,” said Hawkins. “Once ‘Girl on the Train’ was published, I knew I’d have lots of distractions, though, of course, I had no idea how crazy things would get. … It’s definitely been a different process writing (‘Into the Water’). I haven’t been able to totally immerse myself in the book and shut the world out in quite the same way.” READ THE REST HERE

PRESS RELEASE: Ann Arbor Summer Festival Director Amy Nesbitt to depart after this season

Image 1.jpgANN ARBOR, MI – Amy Nesbitt will be stepping down from her role as the Executive and Artistic Director of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival (A2SF). After presenting the 2017 festival season, she will be transitioning in late summer to a new post in Arizona as the Director of Performing Arts for the nonprofit Scottsdale Arts.

Nesbitt was recruited for the position after a nationwide search by Scottsdale Arts, which oversees the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA), and Scottsdale Public Art. In her new role, she will oversee programming for the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts’ year-round season and outdoor performances.

Festival board chair Wendy Lawrence notes, “The Summer Festival has been so fortunate to have had Amy’s talents and skills for the past 11 seasons. During Amy’s tenure, the Festival has significantly broadened its programming and increased its reach into our community. With an outstanding staff and a talented, diverse and enthusiastic board, we’re in a strong position to begin this new chapter in our history. This is an exciting opportunity for Amy professionally, and it builds on her A2SF considerable experience with the festival, four seasons of which she has served as the festival director.” Continue reading

My Pulp preview of Jas Obrecht (‘Talking Guitar’) event at Nicola’s Books

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Journalist/author Jas Obrecht will discuss his new book, “Talking Guitar,” at Nicola’s Books on Saturday, May 13 at 3 pm. (Photo by Saroyan Humphrey)

Longtime professional music journalist Jas Obrecht regularly tells his Washtenaw Community College creative writing students a story from early in his career.

Obrecht was sent by Guitar Player magazine to a music festival to interview Canadian rock guitarist Pat Travers, who, flanked by two young women while snorting cocaine off a mirror in his dressing room, sent Obrecht away. Obrecht stumbled upon a basketball hoop and ball, and after a few minutes of taking shots, a wiry young guy approached and asked to play.

That guy was Eddie Van Halen, who’d recently released Van Halen’s debut, self-titled album; and Obrecht found a new subject for his article.

“The story tells students that if you’re passionate about a subject, no matter what it is, there’s a good chance that others share that passion, and if you know the fundamentals of good writing, you can get paid to write about your own experiences, or about a subject you love,” said Obrecht, who’s also written for Rolling Stone, among other publications. “I did it with music, but you can do it with other things, too, like travel or history.”

More tales are in Obrecht’s newest book, Talking Guitar: Conversations with Musicians Who Shaped Twentieth Century American Music, which he’ll discuss at Nicola’s Books on Saturday at 3 p.m. READ THE REST HERE

My review of Jewish Ensemble Theatre’s ‘Act of God’

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Jaime Moyer stars in Jewish Ensemble Theatre’s “Act of God.”

Is it wrong that I kind of wish Jaime Moyer was God?

Yes or no, I got the opportunity to live out that alternative reality for about 80 minutes via “An Act of God” at the Jewish Ensemble Theatre.

Moyer’s a Detroit native, character actress, and comedienne who has, since moving to the West Coast, appeared on “Parks and Recreation,” “Two Broke Girls,” “Modern Family” and “Disney’s KC Undercover.” 

David Javerbaum’s play, meanwhile, was an outgrowth of a popular series of tweets (from @God), which led to a book, and then two limited-engagement Broadway productions starring sitcom stars Jim Parsons (“The Big Bang Theory”) in 2015 and, in 2016, Sean Hayes (“Will & Grace”).

Keeping this in mind, casting Moyer in the role of the Almighty seems a no-brainer. She’s quick-witted, crazy-likable, and fun to watch.

So why does “Act of God” fall a bit flat? Well, for a few reasons. First, the script itself feels pretty flimsy, which – given its origin story – is hardly surprising. It’s frothy and sassy, with some sharp one-liners (Javerbaum previously wrote for “The Daily Show”), but the premise, wherein God has decided to revamp the Ten Commandments, lacks a true narrative motor. Yes, there’s a defined structure, but little-to-no momentum pushing us forward. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp preview of Hank Greenspan’s ‘Remnants’ at AADL

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 11.39.50 AM.pngU-M professor Henry (“Hank”) Greenspan likes to talk — and thank goodness for that.

Greenspan has spent 40 years interviewing (and re-interviewing) Holocaust survivors, and from that trove of oral histories he compiled a radio-play-turned-one-man-show called Remnants, which he’ll perform on Monday, May 8, at the downtown library. He put together the radio play in the early ’90s, using material he first started collecting for his dissertation in the 1970s.

“The first thing I did was call rabbis who had congregations in the Southeast Michigan and Toledo area,” said Greenspan, who noted that doing survivor interviews was an uncommon practice at that time. “They’d tell people, ‘This guy from U of M wants to interview survivors.’ So initially I’d used the rabbis as matchmakers, but that quickly became unnecessary because things snowballed. People would say to me, in the middle of an interview, ‘You have to talk to my friend Zoli.’ … So I’d make an appointment to talk with Zoli, and one person led to another.”

This provided the foundation for Greenspan’s academic project, but it wasn’t until U-M’s now-defunct Talk to Us Theater Troupe asked Greenspan if he’d write something for them to perform at Hillel’s Holocaust conference that he considered taking the material in a new direction. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp preview of Ellipsis Theatre’s ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’

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Simon (Eddie Rothermel) and Grusha (Lucy Price) in Ellipsis Theatre Company’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

Bertolt Brecht’s canonical 1944 text The Caucasian Chalk Circle is the kind of play that many of us read in a college course but rarely see produced.

So it’s worth noting that locals will have the opportunity to see Circle on the stage when Ellipsis Theatre Company presents it at the Yellow Barn from May 4-21.

“Ellipsis is always very interested in the act of storytelling … so the fact that it’s so explicit in this play was appealing to us,” said Ellipsis co-founder Joanna Hastings, who’s both playing a role in and co-directing Circle with Scott Screws. “Plus, (Circle’s) so flexible. You can do it in all sorts of ways.”

Circle begins with a prologue. In the wake of a Soviet delegate settling a World War II-era dispute over land, a storyteller steps forward to tell what happens when a Caucasian city’s political revolution ends with a poor kitchen maid (Grusha) fleeing a castle with the assassinated governor’s new baby (Michael). Grusha makes tough sacrifices to keep Michael hidden and safe, but when the war ends and those who previously held power are restored, the baby’s mother comes for her son. She needs him to claim the former governor’s estate, but Grusha has come to love the boy, and the situation leads a similarly beleaguered, war-tested judge to stage a custody test involving a chalk circle. READ THE REST HERE