My Destination Ann Arbor Great Minds Think A Lot profile of Nikki Sunstrum

Screen Shot 2019-10-03 at 4.05.13 PM.pngThis profile is part of Destination Ann Arbor’s Great Minds Think a Lot series, highlighting influential leaders in Washtenaw County who make a positive impact within our community.

Between having six young, active kids and working as the University of Michigan’s Director of Social Media Communications and Public Engagement, Nikki Sunstrum’s leisure time has been, well, pretty sharply limited since she moved to the Ann Arbor area five years ago.

“I must admit, we haven’t done a really good job of exploring Ann Arbor,” said Sunstrum. “ … And we actually did an entire content series this year for the University called ‘Summer at Michigan.’ It was a series specifically for Youtube that showcased everything that was happening over the course of the summer. However, I executed that from my office, and didn’t actually go (to the events).”

Hopefully, Sunstrum will get to experience more Ann Arbor things in person in the coming years. But in the meantime, let’s find out more about her, since she somehow managed to carve out a few moments to talk about her work, her home life, and what drives her. READ THE REST HERE

My Metromode story about downtown Farmington playing host to the VegMichigan Free Festival

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Photo by David Lewinski

If you passed by downtown Farmington’s Riley Park on Sunday and spotted white tents, food trucks, and entertainers, you may have done a double-take and thought, “Wait … wasn’t the farmers’ market yesterday?”

It was, but the vibe of Sunday’s all-afternoon VegMichigan Free Festival had the same kind of energy and communal warmth.

With a variety of vegan-friendly vendors, a kids’ activity area, long tables set up under the pavilion (where attendees could sit and sample the vegan food on offer), and live music from Sinjon Smith, the festival drew a pretty big crowd, despite some raindrops.

“(My daughter) and my 10-year-old were mesmerized by (Clark the Juggler), who was quite the entertainer,” Farmington Hills resident Kristin Dwyer says. “They cuddled under the clouds watching, laughing, and talking. My son was even 45 minutes late to a play date because he didn’t want to leave the scene.”

This is the first year that downtown Farmington has played host to the four-year-old event, which previously called Livonia’s Madonna University home. Construction on Madonna’s campus this year necessitated a change of locale for the festival (which used to be scheduled in August and was then called VegMichigan SummerFest).

“We did a search,” says VegMichigan president Tom Progar. “When we looked at Riley Park, we just thought it was the perfect venue.” READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp review of Encore Theatre’s ‘Fun Home’

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Sarah Stevens and Dan Cooney in Encore Theatre’s “Fun Home.” (Photo by Michele Anliker Photography)

When I first read Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir Fun Home — the basis for a Tony Award-winning musical of the same name, now on stage at Dexter’s Encore Theatre — I immediately sent copies of the book out to my three closest girlfriends.

It wasn’t Christmas or anyone’s birthday, but I couldn’t contain myself. Bechdel’s groundbreaking, bracingly candid, and bittersweet chronicle of a family tragedy gripped me so profoundly that my first, undeniable impulse was to share her story with others.

The stage musical adaptation — with music by Jeanine Tesori, and book and lyrics by Michigan’s own Lisa Kron — necessarily pares Bechdel’s tale down to its essentials, but it’s no less poignant while depicting Bechdel’s gleeful, college-age “coming out” and, shortly thereafter, her closeted father’s sudden suicide.

At Encore, Sarah B. Stevens plays the always-on-stage, present-day version of Bechdel, who’s struggling to sketch out and narrate her family’s history. (The “Fun Home” of the title is the nickname Alison and her younger brothers had as kids for the funeral home that has long been the Bechdels’ “family business.”) As she draws, she remembers various moments from her childhood and college days as they play out in front of her, until she finally can’t resist inserting her present-day self into the last late-night drive she ever took with her father (Daniel C. Cooney), urging herself to say something that will alter the course of what’s about to happen.

Fun Home, while moving, poses some significant production challenges for director Vincent J. Cardinal and his Encore team. With an intermission-less run-time of just 90 minutes, the memory-driven musical requires numerous scene changes, given its lightning-quick jumps in time and place. At Encore, some of these changes are more awkward and clunky than others, and one of Alison’s flights of imagination as a child — an escapist, groovy Partridge Family fantasy — felt pretty murky in its transition from the family’s dark reality.

Even so, there are goosebump moments in Encore’s show, particularly surrounding the triumvirate of actresses who play Alison at different ages. Stevens’ reactions to watching her younger self are sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking — and that the actress must do this continuously, while sidelined during much of the show, is no small feat of acting. Plus, her self-flagellating, achingly restrained performance of “Telephone Wire,” in the show’s tensest scene moment, perfectly captures Bechdel’s helplessness in the face of certain, crushing knowledge. READ THE REST HERE

My Metromode feature at downtown Farmington’s Art 101

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(Photo by David Lewinski)

Art 101’s debut in downtown Farmington, in November of 2017, was – well – subtle.

How subtle?

One of Art 101’s classes that fall consistently had a roster of one.

“But Sophie kept that class alive,” co-owner and manager Kim Messing says with a laugh.

Part of the challenge, of course, was the art studio’s peek-a-boo location behind The Rocking Horse (now closed) and next to Neu Kombucha.

But outreach efforts, online marketing, and word-of-mouth soon brought many more kids and teens to Art 101 for (pay as you go) classes, so that now, they occasionally have to turn students away.

“That first year, we had about 80 students a week, and by the second year, we were at over a hundred a week,” says Art 101 co-owner Kevin Messing (who met wife Kim when they were both art students at Wayne State University). “ … We’ve constrained our growth because we’re so big on quality. … There’s no point in growing if the instruction’s not as good.” READ THE REST HERE