My Communication Arts magazine profile of Chicago-based caricaturist Jason Seiler

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The new Communication Arts Design Annual has arrived!

In illustrator and caricaturist Jason Seiler’s North Chicago apartment, there’s little to no separation between family and art.

Seiler’s tidy in-home studio—a white-walled den that branches off from the living room—is decorated with a large portrait painted by his wife, Jackie (who’s expecting the couple’s first child in the fall); a couple of paintings and a duck stamp by his award-winning wildlife painter father, Larry; a mounted fox that was a Christmas gift from his younger brother, Jeremy, who only recently began dabbling in taxidermy as a hobby (yet he has already won statewide awards in Wisconsin); a crayon drawing of Supergirl, created by one of Seiler’s two daughters (aged ten and thirteen) from his first marriage; and some of his own favorite projects, including covers from magazines and newspapers like the New York ObserverThe Weekly Standard and Time that take up every inch of the room’s folding closet doors.

Seiler—who wears a newsboy cap, often smokes a pipe when walking around his Rogers Park neighborhood and sports a number of tattoos—embraces the collision of art and family in his life now. But as a young, small-town Wisconsin kid who couldn’t stop sketching, he was driven to forge a space for himself, by himself. READ THE REST HERE

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REVIEW: Encore Theatre’s ‘9 to 5: The Musical’ labors with thin story

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Alex Koza, Stacia Fernandez, and Thalia Schramm in Encore Theatre’s production of “9 to 5: The Musical.” (Photo by Michele Anliker Photography)

I thought that my un(der)employed status might make “9 to 5: The Musical” – which concluded its run at Dexter’s Encore Theatre on Sunday, August 27 – a double-edged sword: it would likely remind me of the workplace collegiality I miss, but also the office politics that I don’t.

Yet for me to have this response, the 2009 stage adaptation of the 1980 hit movie (starring Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, and Jane Fonda) would have to present an office culture and characters that felt, for a couple of hours at least, palpably real. But there’s ultimately not enough meat on the show’s bones to achieve that effect.

“9 to 5: The Musical” largely stays quite faithful to its original source material. Timid and broken Judy (Thalia Schramm) gets a job in the office pool when her husband Dick (Daniel Helmer) runs off with his own young secretary; Doralee (Alex Koza), a happily married blond bombshell, gets harassed daily by the unapologetically sexist boss Mr. Hart (Ernest William); and a highly capable widow named Violet (Stacia Fernandez) keeps getting passed over for promotions because she’s a woman. One evening, the three women bond over a joint, so later, when Violet believes she may have accidentally put rat poison in Mr. Hart’s coffee, she turns to her new friends for help. The poison turns out to be a false alarm, but when Hart tries to blackmail Doralee for sexual favors, the trio kidnap him and keep him hostage in his own house while they re-make the office in their own image.

The logistics and nature of this sustained detention, by the way, raised some pretty distracting questions for me, which pulled me out of the story now and then. For although the show is meant to be cartoonish, its real world setting means that the narrative must take that context, and its rules and rhythms, into account. Continue reading

REVIEW: Purple Rose Theatre’s ‘Harvey’ proves the classic show still has hops

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David Bendena, Michelle Mountain, Richard McWilliams, Hugh Maguire, Rusty Mewha, and Caitlin Cavannaugh in the Purple Rose Theatre’s “Harvey.” (Photo by Sean Carter Photography)

When we’re stressed, we turn to comfort food – which may be one reason why Chelsea’s Purple Rose Theatre had a hit on its hands via Mary Chase’s 1944 comedy classic, “Harvey.”

Yes, people who sought a small break from anxiety about nuclear annihilation, white supremacy, and impending natural disasters were likely more than happy to be temporarily transported to a time when a man with a huge, imaginary bunny friend was of great concern.

The play – which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, and is largely known these days through a 1950 film adaptation starring Jimmy Stewart – begins as Veta Simmons (Michelle Mountain) is throwing a high society coming-out party for her daughter, Myrtle Mae (Caitlin Cavannaugh), while Veta’s eccentric brother Elwood Dowd (Richard McWilliams) is supposed to be out playing cards. When Elwood arrives home unexpectedly and starts introducing Harvey, his invisible, six foot three inch tall rabbit friend, to party guests, Veta finally decides she needs to have Elwood committed. But when Elwood keeps charming everyone he meets, and the question of Harvey’s existence becomes murkier, Veta must decide what version of her brother she wants to have in her life. Continue reading

My latest WEMU 89.1 FM Art & Soul segment for September, with Lisa Barry and UMS President Matthew VanBesien

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 10.41.24 PM.pngWe talked with new UMS prez Matthew VanBesien about upcoming music and theatrical presentations. We also mention September performances presented by Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra (I appear to have mispronounced “Bernstein” on air – facepalm – I blame my German language training) and The Ark – Ann Arbor. Check out the entire 8 minute segment here!

My Concentrate story on the near-extinction of arts criticism in Washtenaw County

Screen Shot 2017-08-23 at 9.58.27 AM.pngIn my past life as a staff arts critic for The Ann Arbor News, I sometimes worried that my hard-fought battles to articulate my responses to shows might be, in the end, little more than a self-indulgent (albeit personally satisfying) intellectual exercise.

 But then I’d run into the occasional person who took my reviews to heart. For instance, I once had lunch with my father and his former boss, and before we even sat down, my dad’s boss peppered me with questions like, “Why didn’t you care for The Mountaintop? I really liked that show. I mean, I read your review, but I really want to talk more about that show with you.”

So while not every Ann Arbor News subscriber read the paper’s locally produced cultural reviews, those who did often had strong reactions, and felt compelled (and downright excited) to extend the conversation further. Yet because of the revenue struggles news outlets have faced across the country, arts critics have been among the first journalists shown the door, rendering regional reviewers nearly extinct in many markets. And here in Washtenaw County, many in the arts community are bemoaning the effects of that transition. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp preview of Grown Folks Story Time at Bookbound

Screen Shot 2017-08-23 at 9.46.11 AM.pngAs adults, we often forget how pleasurable it can be shut everything off, stop talking for a while, and just listen to someone read a story out loud.

But Ann Arbor educator — and frequent Pulp contributor — Patti F. Smith remembered that childhood joy while skimming local event listings.

“There were all these different storytimes for children, and I thought about how much I loved story time as a kid when I was in school,” she said, adding that she then noticed that a group of young Detroiters “had an event that had interesting people reading interesting things. I went to it, and a woman — not an author — brought a book she just really liked, a memoir, and read some quick little lines from it. There was a brunch with mimosas, and it was just a lovely event. It wasn’t political, it wasn’t deep, it only lasted about an hour, but it just made me remember that it’s really, really nice to be read to. So I thought, well, why not have something in Ann Arbor?”

With this in mind, Smith has planned Grown Folks Story Time at BookBound on Thursday, August 24, at 7 pm. The theme is “childhood,” since the three participants will read from books they loved as kids. READ THE REST HERE

My CultureSource story about the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum’s ‘Wonder of Learning’ exhibit

Screen Shot 2017-08-10 at 7.50.02 AM.pngThe Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum (AAHOM) currently has an exhibit that you might initially walk past without realizing it.

Why? Because the AAHOM atelier designed in conjunction with the exhibit The Wonder of Learning: The Hundred Languages of Children—now on display at U-M’s Duderstadt Center and Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design through August 26th—has dim lighting in order to accommodate activities involving shadow play and flashlights.

“The idea of the atelier is to have a kind of art studio,” said Lorrie Beaumont, AAHOM’s Director of Education. “ … Shifting Forms is the name of ours.”

Indeed, light, color, shadow and movement are all points of exploration in the semi-dark room. Visitors can make their own shadow puppets, or play with more intricate puppets available on-site; they can shine a flashlight through small shapes of colored plastic, and rotate them in space to see how this affects the shadows they cast; and they can turn a large mobile in front of a flashlight, to see how movement alters its shadow-image on the wall. No two visits to the exhibit will be alike, encouraging repeat visits for parents and children looking for summertime activities. The exhibit is on view through Labor Day weekend. READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW: Michigan Shakespeare Festival’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ feels light on its feet

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Janice L Blixt, Robert Kauzlaric, and Alan Ball in Michigan Shakespeare Festival’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”

When a comic Shakespeare production includes a tip of the Elizabethan muffin hat to the Three Stooges (playful poking and slapfighting), Monty Python (an underling standing in for a horse, complete with clicking coconut halves), and Marx Brothers-style vaudeville (sight gags like a bucket being kicked when death is mentioned, and a huge stack of books being rendered light by the removal of the smallest volume), you know the director’s main goal is to turn up the laughs.

Such is the case with John Neville-Andrews’ Michigan Shakespeare Theatre production of “The Taming of the Shrew,” now playing at Canton’s Village Theater. The choice may well be strategic, since the bard’s classic war between the sexes often gives modern audiences – particularly those of the feminist persuasion – a panoply of reasons to cringe. Continue reading