My Pulp Q&A with Welcome to Night Vale podcast creator/’It Devours!’ author Jeffrey Cranor

Screen Shot 2017-10-22 at 11.19.30 PM.pngOne article about the popular, fiercely beloved Welcome to Night Vale podcast begins with the line, “Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of” the show.

But until I’d received a copy of the novel It Devours! written by the podcast’s creators, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, and researched Night Vale in preparation for a recent phone interview with Cranor, I’d been one such under-the-rock dweller.

Yet because the podcast could be described as the David Lynch version of A Prairie Home Companion — focusing on a fictional desert town in the American Southwest, where all conspiracy theories are true — I asked Cranor if any of Night Vale’s residents also live under rocks.

“No, but one of the characters is a rock — the dean of the Night Vale Community College, Sarah Sultan,” said Cranor without missing a beat, referring to a character who communicates via telepathy.

Well, then. At least I might have some company. READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW (Pulp): Théâtre de la Ville’s ‘State of Siege’ looks slick, but feels leaden

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Théâtre de la Ville’s “State of Siege” achieves a nightmarish look and atmosphere, but fails to have much emotional impact.

I once spent a summer reading just about everything Albert Camus wrote. Not exactly beach reading, I know — I jokingly referred to it as “my crazy summer” — but I’d been hired to write the preface of a book about the French writer’s work, so I dove in.

I hadn’t counted Camus’ seldom-produced 1948 play L’Etat de siège (State of Siege) among my favorites of his writings, but I was intrigued to learn that Théâtre de la Ville was staging it. Having seen previous Théâtre de la Ville productions courtesy of University Musical Society (UMS), including Ionesco’s Rhinoceros in 2012 and Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author in 2014, I was hopeful the Parisian company would find a way make Siege sing.

And yes, Theatre de la Ville’s take on Siege at the Power Center on Friday and Saturday looked slick and offered some truly inspired moments of stagecraft, but Camus’ heavy-handed political allegory still ended up feeling pretty leaden. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp recap of Christo’s Penny Stamps Lecture at the Michigan Theater


World-renowned sculptor Christo spoke at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater last Thursday, as part of the Penny Stamps Lecture Series. (Photo by Jenn McKee)

On Thursday evening, world-renowned sculptor Christo, 82, told a huge crowd — packed into the Michigan Theater to see him — what might be the best, most succinct courtship story of all time.

Of his longtime partnership with Jeanne-Claude, with whom he collaborated on his massive art installations (and who died in 2009), Christo said, with a shrug, “I was very young, we make love, and we like each other. That’s all.” Moments later, he added, “She was very pretty.”

But Christo — dressed in dark slacks, a collared white shirt, and a big-pocketed beige jacket that hung off his lean frame — initially kicked off his Penny Stamps Speaker Series lecture with a few parameters: “I will answer all questions, but I will not talk about politics, religion, and certainly not about other artists. I talk about myself, my work, and anything that I can tell you about my work.” READ THE REST HERE

My latest Visit Ann Arbor! blog post, highlighting community and cultural events (October)

Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 10.14.42 PM.pngAfter experiencing some dog days of Indian summer in September, fall in Michigan – with its emphasis on cider mills, colorful leaves, fleece, and football – will finally click into high gear when we reach October. The area always offers loads of opportunities to eat great food and have a good time in the days leading up to Halloween.  There are many local Halloween events throughout October, including performances, children’s activities, and outdoor fun. Plus, this year, you could help break a world record by dressing up as Rosie the Riveter on October 14!  Start planning your events schedule, and be sure to post your photos and videos on social media and hashtag #VisitAnnArbor! READ LOCAL EVENT HIGHLIGHTS HERE

My Pulp interview with People I Want to Punch in the Throat blogger/author Jen Mann

Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 2.58.56 PM.pngWhen you put the wrong date in your calendar for an interview with Jen Mann, the blogger/author behind People I Want to Punch in the Throat, you kind of fear that you’ll be added to the list.

But Mann — who will be coming to the downtown library for a moms’ night out event on Wednesday, October 11 at 7 pm, as part of a book tour to promote her latest humorous essay collection, Working with People I Want to Punch in the Throat — couldn’t have been more understanding, despite her famously feisty, tell-it-like-it-is persona.

Mann first appeared on most readers’ radars back in 2011 when her caustic blog post about failing to keep up with other Elf on the Shelf mommies went viral. The response took Mann (a realtor at the time) by surprise, but she also knew that she needed to act fast if she wanted to keep her new readers engaged.

“I had a lot of emotions,” said Mann. “On the one hand, I was terrified. I’d never had a million people read something I’d written. And while most responses were positive, there were also five percent of them that were people who were threatening my children and things like that. … I decided then and there what to do. I wouldn’t post photos of them or use their real names on my blog. But I’d also wanted to be a writer since I was five, and I had 17,000 fans by the end of that first night, so I had to figure out how to keep them fed.” READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp preview of A2SO’s ‘Star Wars’ concerts

Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 2.55.33 PM.pngNot so long ago — last year, to be precise — in a venue that’s close, close by, the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra (A2SO) played two sold-out concerts featuring John Williams’ music from the Harry Potter films. The audience response was so enthusiastic that A2SO immediately started making plans to perform two concerts featuring Star Wars music, and those concerts will happen Saturday night and Sunday afternoon (October 7-8) at the Michigan Theater.

“We were so overwhelmed (last year) … and the audience, some of whom had never seen a live symphony concert before, told us that the music evoked powerful images for them, even though there was no visual component accompanying the music,” said A2SO conductor Arie Lipsky. “They also told us that they’d never thought that music had played such a vital role in the movies, and they thanked us for highlighting the music on its own. So many said, ‘Now we’re hooked on seeing live symphony orchestra shows,’ and we responded by investing in music from all the Star Wars movies.”

In fact, the John Williams Signature Edition Orchestra Score only recently became available, so A2SO’s timing couldn’t be better.

“Before, we’d used an arrangement that was available for a band or high school orchestra, but this is the real deal for us, and it’s a challenge,” said Lipsky. “John Williams’ music is very, very demanding, very difficult. When the musicians realized we were getting the Signature Editions, they asked for the music to be made available to them as early as possible, so they could practice. So we’ve all been very excited.” READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW (Pulp): Encore Theatre’s ‘Sweeney Todd’ is a cut above

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David Moan and Keith Kalinowski in Encore Theatre’s new production of “Sweeney Todd.” (Photo by Michele Anliker Photography)

In 2015, I pronounced Into the Woods to be Encore Theatre’s strongest overall production since the Dexter company opened its doors in 2009.

Well, move over, Into the Woods. There’s a new Sondheim show in town, and when it opened on Friday night, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street quickly established itself as the best thing yet to happen on Encore’s modest, black-box stage.

This is largely due to director/choreographer Matthew Brennan, whose distinctive vision makes the classic show, which debuted on Broadway in 1979, into an entirely new theater experience. With seats integrated into the 1940s-era, London factory set — thus creating an immersive, thrust stage experience — Encore’s gruesomely comic Sweeney achieves an intensity and an immediacy that’s downright visceral. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp interview with NPR librarian (and novelist) Nancy Pearl

Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 10.08.30 AM.pngNancy Pearl — coming to Nicola’s Books on Wednesday, October 4 at 7 pm to talk about her new novel, George & Lizzie— may be the only person in America who could be referred to as a “celebrity librarian.”

For she’s regularly featured on NPR, where she recommends and discusses books; and she was the model for a librarian action figure that boasts “amazing shushing action!”

But locals who’ve heard Pearl on the radio may not realize that she has deep local roots. Though she now calls Seattle home, Pearl grew up in Detroit and studied library science at the University of Michigan.

“I remember being addicted to Judy Collins and Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell — that was the soundtrack for my time in Ann Arbor,” Pearl said during a recent phone interview. “The other thing about being in Ann Arbor at that time, of course, was the bookstores. That was when Borders was still this little bookstore. And I lived in the co-op system while I was at Michigan. I have a lot of fondness for those times.”

Regarding Pearl’s chosen profession, the die was cast early on. READ THE REST HERE

My latest WEMU 89.1 FM Art & Soul segment (for October), with Lisa Barry and Roustabout Theatre Company

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This month, we talked with “the two Joes” of Roustabout Theatre Company (playwright/director Joseph Zettelmaier and director/actor Joey Albright) about “Dark Ride Radio Hour,” a live show featuring four short radio plays by Zettelmaier, playing at Ypsilanti’s Bona Sera on October 14 and Livonia’s Trinity House Theatre on October 21.

We also talk briefly about the can’t miss production of “Sweeney Todd” now at Dexter’s Encore Theatre, “God of Carnage” at the Purple Rose Theatre and more. Listen to the 8 minute segment here.

My Concentrate story on 5 ‘hidden gem’ restaurants in Washtenaw County


Ron’s Roadside Bar-B-Q, out on Pontiac Trail, is out of the way, but worth the trip! (Photo by Jenn McKee)

The Ann Arbor area has a vibrant restaurant culture and, perhaps not surprisingly, a zealous foodie community to match. Yet we often hear the same old standbys touted in local conversations and in media lists of the area’s best eats.

With that in mind, I set out to explore some local eateries that you’ve probably driven or walked past without noticing. These places might be low on atmosphere – nearly every one features a chalkboard menu, a handful of tables, and a small dining area – but they’re big on flavorful, distinctive food. READ THE REST HERE