Talent Show: "Shakespeare Unplugg’d" at The Ark

Ann Arbor theatergoers usually have to travel to Jackson to see performances by the critically acclaimed Michigan Shakespeare Festival (MSF). But on Monday, July 31, MSF company members will come to The Ark in Ann Arbor to perform. Granted, it's not a play; it's MSF's seventh annual Shakespeare Unplugg’d, a no-holds-barred variety show.

MSF has been the “Official Shakespeare Festival of Michigan” since 2003, but it has been entertaining Michigan audiences since 1995. The festival is in the midst of its 23rd season and is presenting The Taming of the Shrew, starring Producing Artistic Director Janice L. Blixt as Katharina and Artistic Associate David Blixt as Petruchio, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, and Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. (Read Pulp's season preview here.) Shakespeare Unplugg’d will feature actors from all three of these productions, but will be comprised of material not found in any of the season’s offerings.

"Last year we had a banjo rendition of "Paper Moon," an a capella showtune, some Simon and Garfunkel, a faux Shakespeare monologue alongside a real one, dancing, and a whole lot more," Blixt said. "We have a couple of saxophonists in this year’s company, so personally, I’m hoping for a sax battle. But I can almost guarantee there will be some Gilbert and Sullivan."

The impetus behind Shakespeare Unplugg’d is simple: "Each year the Michigan Shakespeare Festival hires amazingly talented people, and the shows don’t always utilize each and every one of their talents," Blixt said. "Unplugg’d was created as a way for company members to share their most wonderful, bizarre, and hilarious abilities with the public -- and each other."

While Shakespeare Unplugg’d gives MSF's actors a chance to show off their other various talents, the evening isn't put together casually or haphazardly.

"The members of the MSF company prepare all season for this one night, reveling in a chance to employ unusual talents," Blixt said. "We’ve had tap-dancing, Bollywood dancing, monologues, improv sessions, jokes, rap, poetry, blues, '30s standards, banjo serenades, and much more.

Started in 2011 by Blixt and Rich Griffths, MSF's former managing director, Shakespeare Unplugg’d began in a bar in Jackson before moving to The Ark last year, which is a fitting venue.

"This is much more an Ark event than a theater show, so The Ark stage is perfect for us," Blixt said. "At Shakespeare Unplugg’d, there’s actually very little of Shakespeare himself. It’s the company of Michigan’s official Shakespeare festival, let off the leash.


Emily Slomovits is an Ann Arbor freelance musician, theater artist, and writer. She plays music with her father and uncle (aka Gemini) and others, is a member of Spinning Dot Theatre, and has performed with The Encore Musical Theatre Company, Performance Network, and Wild Swan Theater.


"Shakespeare Unplugg’d" is at The Ark on Monday, July 31, at 8 pm. Free but donations are accepted. More information can be found at theark.org.