Cast members from U-M’s production of the opera, “The Marriage of Figaro.” (Photo by Peter Smith Photography)
56th annual Ann Arbor Film Festival. Though it’s still considered a best-kept-secret by some locals, the Ann Arbor Film Festival is the oldest experimental and avant-garde film festival in North America, running six days each March (through March 25 this year), and primarily housed at the Michigan Theater. AAFF shows over 200 films from nearly 70 countries, offering approximately $20,000 in awards each year.
You can check out wrap-up award screenings on Sunday, or you can dive in anytime. Thursday night features “Out Night”; Friday night offers up the always-popular (but not necessarily kid-friendly) animation program; the all-ages program happens Saturday; and also on Saturday this year, at 1 p.m., a new documentary titled “The Big House” will have its premiere. The film eschews gridiron glory to look closely at the labor – from cooks to snipers – that goes into hosting 100,000 people. READ THE REST HERE
Let me start this review with a confession: I’m a person who ugly cries upon hearing Olive, the sweet-but-overlooked young heroine of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” sing “My Friend, the Dictionary.” Why? Because I, too, was once a girl who seldom had a playmate, even at school, so I regularly turned to books – including the family’s dog-eared, red paperback dictionary – for company. Words never pointedly picked you last for their team, or refused to let you sit next to them on the bus. They were always there, a seemingly endless supply of them, and they offered escape and refuge to kids like me.
Which brings us to Echo, one of three characters in Lee Blessing’s 1985 drama “Eleemosynary,” now on stage at Livonia’s Schoolcraft College. In Blessing’s play, precocious, isolated young Echo (Kate Hoin) hungrily studies words, too, enthralled by both their music and their meanings; she also aims, however, to win the national spelling bee, believing that this will somehow bring together Artie (Julia Garlotte), the damaged mother who abandoned her, and Dorothea (Linda Rabin Hammell), the eccentric, doting grandmother who raised her.
To tell this story, Blessing jumps around in time, providing impressionistic snapshots of life within this highly dysfunctional matrilineal line. And while Blessing’s intentions appear to be admirably feminist in scope – all three females are extraordinarily smart, independent (particularly from men, who are notably absent), and forge unconventional paths for themselves – the self-consciously quirky quirks with which Blessing saddles the characters ultimately undercut their ability to make the leap from author-constructed devices to human beings.Continue reading →
FestiFools cofounder Mark Tucker with students building luminaries. (photo by Julie Cohen)
FoolMoon and FestiFools – two related, celebratory community art events (produced by Ann Arbor nonprofit WonderFool Productions) that happen each year during a single weekend in early April – have a long history of sneaking up on, and delighting, people who aren’t familiar with the events.
“Years ago, we were at the Food Co-op – we’d stopped for lunch – and I heard drumming,” said realtor/business owner Linda Lombardini. “So we went and stood outside on Fourth Avenue, and I said, ‘What the hell is all this craziness?’ as (the first-ever FestiFools parade) came down the street. … Soon someone involved in it ran up to me and put a headband on me, like I used to wear in the ‘60s, when I was a big old hippie, and I looked at Sandy (Smith, Lombardini’s wife) and said, ‘I think I’ve found my next volunteering opportunity.’”
Several years later, Emerson School’s art teacher, Julie Cohen, remembers having students involved in FoolMoon’s annual, Friday night processional walk to downtown – carrying light-up sculptures they made themselves – when a U-M men’s basketball game ended, and fans drove and walked past, trying to figure out what was happening.
“Some people just stopped in their cars,” said Cohen. “ … There were lots of people in town who don’t live in our community, they were here for the game, and many of them rolled down their windows and asked, ‘What’s going on? This is so amazing.’ They were just completely blown away by these beautiful creations.”
Originally the brainchild of Mark Tucker, who teaches a public art course for non-art majors within U-M’s Lloyd Hall Scholars Program, and Shoshana Hurand, then a U-M graduate student, FestiFools first came to life in 2007 when Tucker’s students, along with a few classes’ worth of U-M Stamps Art School students, were asked to design and build large, Carnival-esque, papier-mache puppets (with the community’s help) before winter semester’s end.
Which is to say, around the time of April Fool’s Day – so irreverent whimsy was in the event’s DNA from the start. READ THE REST HERE
“This guy, a college kid … bumped into me and didn’t even look at me or say anything,” said Pagán, who also noted that on other occasions while out shopping, she’d observed “when a cashier would talk to and make conversation with a middle-aged man but then not talk to the middle-aged woman who was next in line. This seemed to me to really be saying something about our society and how we view and treat women as they age.”
Indeed, Pagán’s grandmother “once made the observation that it was better to be an old woman than a middle-aged woman,” said Pagán. “She said, ‘When you’re an old woman, people open doors for you, they offer you a seat, they talk to you.’ … And I was on the cusp of middle age, so I already knew what things looked like from that perspective.”
These incidents planted the seed for Pagán’s newest novel, Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties, which tells the story of Maggie, an anxious, 53-year-old empty nester in Chicago who’s blindsided when her husband, Adam, suddenly announces he’s in love with a 30-year-old and wants out of the marriage. When Maggie decides to still take the trip to Rome the couple had been planning for their upcoming anniversary, she meets a new friend — a female painter named Jean who’s heading to Italy for a six-month-long fellowship — who offers Maggie the chance to have a change of scenery by house-sitting her place in Ann Arbor. READ THE REST HERE
Dan Johnson and Luna Alexander in Slipstream Theatre Initiative’s “Tartuffe.” (Photo by Jennifer Jolliffe)
While watching Slipstream Theatre Initiative’s zippy take on Moliere’s “Tartuffe” – the company’s adaptation runs a fleet 75 minutes – I noticed how much more angry and repulsed I felt while watching the titular con-man (Jay Jolliffe) press his unwanted advances on the lady of the house (played by Luna Alexander) than I had been when seeing previous productions of this classic.
Which is to say, I found myself suddenly having a #MeToo moment right there in Slipstream’s space in Ferndale.
But in this Weinstein age – when ugly, hard truths related to gendered power structures and cruel abuses are finally being brought to light – it’s hard not to start seeing everything through this highly charged lens.
And that kind of makes this a perfect (if complicated) moment for “Tartuffe.” The seventeenth century comedy – which employed physical humor and character types drawn from commedia dell’arte – tells the tale of a bloviating swindler and his mark (Dan Johnson), who becomes so blinded by worship that he signs over his possessions and invites Tartuffe into his home to stay. Everyone else in the family sees through Tartuffe’s false piety, but to convince the utterly smitten patriarch, the family must plot a way for him to witness Tartuffe’s hypocrisy for himself.Continue reading →
Reilly Conlon, director of this year’s Tappan Players musical production (“13”), reportedly told her middle school student cast, “This show is everything you want to say to your parents, wrapped up in a musical.”
Why? Because the show, which premiered on Broadway in 2008 (with a book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn, and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown), tells the story of 12 year old Evan, a New York kid who lands in a small Indiana town when his parents get divorced. While preparing for his bar mitzvah and adjusting to a new town and school, Evan gets caught up in a number of tween dramas. His first friend and neighbor, Patrice, develops a crush on Evan, but at school, she’s a social pariah; and while Evan schemes to get the most popular kid in school to attend his bar mitzvah, Patrice and others get caught in the crossfire.
“The reason we chose ’13’ is because it’s about the kids that are in it,” said Conlon. “We thought it was a great way to tell … stories that are relatable to kids in their age group. And the music is incredibly modern. It’s easy to grab onto, and get into, and be passionate about.”
That’s not to say that the music is technically simple, however. Far from it.
“The music is incredibly difficult,” said Conlon. “Jason Robert Brown is the composer, and he writes some of the most difficult music in the theater world today. To have (the student performers) tackle that is a challenge, but they’ve been very open to it, and very hardworking throughout the process. They’ve really made great strides.” READ THE REST HERE
Taking a beloved hit movie and transforming it into a stage musical is standard practice these days. One look at current Broadway listings — Aladdin, Anastasia, Frozen, the soon-to-open Mean Girls, and Waitress, to name a few — proves how often the stage artists are borrowing from the screen.
But of course, not every translation works.
What made School of Rock — the youth version of which is now being staged at Dexter’s Encore Theatre — a bona fide hit (and a Tony Award nominee) instead of a B-side flop?
“With a character who is essentially just Jack Black teaching kids to defy expectations and rise above the world on a cloud of rock, it’s hard to go wrong,” said David Moan, music director of Encore’s production. READ THE REST HERE
The cast of Open Book Theatre’s production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” (Photo by Jan Cartwright)
Years ago, when my husband and I had just suffered through a stiff, all-too-reverent production of a Chekhov play, he pronounced himself done-ski with the iconic Russian dramatist, arguing that life was simply too short for “Uncle Vanya.”
Which is one reason I think he’d really enjoy Christopher Durang’s witty “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” now being staged at Trenton’s Open Book Theatre.
Not that you have to be well-versed in Chekhov to laugh loudly and often while watching Durang’s play; but if, by chance, you are familiar with the likes of “The Seagull” and “The Cherry Orchard,” the characters on stage, as well as their charged interactions and existential struggles, will feel all the more familiar – albeit with a contemporary twist.Continue reading →
Even though, in this Digital Age, we tend to view things through an expansive global lens – now more than in any previous era – we still, when we want to hear a story, tend to look no further than our own backyard.
Perhaps this tendency is driven by our ever-growing hunger for familiarity and connection. Yet Ann Arbor’s Spinning Dot Theatre – which specializes in global children’s theater, and has both a youth company and an adult repertory company – believes that exploring stories from faraway places not only offers exciting new ways to connect, but also provides ways to reframe the struggles that we may be too close to to see clearly.
SDT’s latest presentation, “The Kids from Amandla Street,” is the company’s first-ever Unity Production – meaning that it features both youth and adult SDT actors, with various levels of experience – and comes from South Africa. (SDT’s age recommendation for “Amandla” is ten or older, since issues related to racism, violence, and immigration are explored.) READ THE REST HERE
When you first hear about the Threads All Arts Festival, happening for just the second time ever this weekend, you might have a vague notion, as I did, of a big event featuring local fiber artists.
Let me help: instead of focusing on the “Threads” part, focus instead on the “All Arts” part, and you’ll get a much more accurate sense of this ambitious festival’s vision, which involves bringing together local artists who create different kinds of music, dance, poetry, visual art, film and more.
“We spent a few months trying to name it, and came up with some silly names, like Local Grounds and Locally Bassed,” said co-founder/drummer Nicole Patrick. “At the end of a long night, someone was standing on a rug and said, ‘We should name it Threads, because … it’s about all these art forms coming together, and being woven together.’”
Patrick was a U-M music school senior when she and a friend (Samuel Schaefer) applied for and received a grant from the school’s EXCEL entrepreneurial program. The inaugural Threads All Arts Festival happened in April 2016 at Ann Arbor’s Yellow Barn.
“It was really an experiment,” said Patrick. “ … Being artists ourselves, it was a melting pot of things we wish would happen for us at a gig. We made all these plans to get people to help the artists carry their gear, help them get it hooked up on stage – at the end of the festival, that’s where we heard the most positive feedback. … One of our philosophies is that, if the artist is happy and appreciative, the audience feels that. … If an artist wants to perform and gives their all, and it matters to them, that reads in the audience.” READ THE REST HERE