Cognitive Overload: NY Times' Charles Blow talked truth & Trump at Rackham


Charles Blow

"A free, fearless, adversarial, in-your-face press is the best friend a democracy can have," said Charles Blow at U-M on Friday. Photo by Chad Batka for The New York Times.

Reading a long list of sponsors doesn’t usually prompt a standing ovation; but because celebrated New York Times op-ed columnist Charles M. Blow couldn’t hear, while backstage at Rackham Auditorium on Friday evening, what was being said while waiting to make his entrance, he gamely emerged before his official introduction had even gotten underway.

Not that the adoring, full-capacity crowd minded the miscue in the least. Presenting the keynote speech of a Humility in the Age of Self-Promotion Colloquium at U-M, Blow spoke for 40 minutes on the topic of Trump, arrogance, and democracy, and answered audience questions for an additional half hour.

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Youth Theater Productions: Fall 2017


High School Musical

So literal: The Pioneer High School musical cast of High School Musical.

Area high school drama clubs and other youth-theater ensembles are about to stage their annual fall productions. Below are descriptions of the shows provided by the theaters and production companies.

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Mythological Duty: "Welcome to Night Vale" creators visit Ann Arbor


Jen Mann

It Devours is the new novel by Welcome to Night Vale podcast creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. Photo by Nina Subin.

One 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.

Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor will be with artist and illustrator Jessica Hayworth at U-M's Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre on October 23 at 7 pm, courtesy of Literati Bookstore. The three will be interviewed by Detroit writer, actor, comedienne, and The Moth Storyslam Ann Arbor host Satori Shakoor, followed by an audience Q&A and signing.

Cranor answered questions for Pulp about Welcome to Night Vale and It Devours!.

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Imaginary Landscapes: UMMA concert explores the sonic side of abstraction


Jonathan Ovalle

U-M assistant professor of percussion Jonathan Ovalle compiled a program of music that complements the visual art in the exhibit Victors for Art: Michigan's Alumni Collectors -- Part II: Abstraction.

When most of us think about the word “abstract” our minds go directly to pieces by artists like Jackson Pollock or Pablo Picasso. But "Angles of Abstraction" will let guests see -- well, hear -- that the word abstract can apply to much more than just visual art.

Curated by University of Michigan's Jonathan Ovalle, "Angles of Abstraction" (Sunday, Oct. 22, UMMA) started to come together after the assistant professor of percussion was approached by a colleague over the summer and asked him to create a concert that tied into the themes of the UMMA exhibit Victors for Art: Michigan's Alumni Collectors -- Part II: Abstraction.

“The big buzz words were ‘abstract’ and ‘exploration,’” Ovalle said. “Both of those words are super intriguing to me.”

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Edgefest & Piotr Michalowski have helped make A2 a haven for avant jazz


Ballister by Geert-Vandepoele

Piotr Michalowski, Andrew Drury, and Joe McPhee played Encore Records on October 17 as a warm-up to Kerrytown Concert House's annual Edgefest (Oct. 18-21). Photo by Eric Gallippo.

As free-jazz hero Joe McPhee got started on the third movement of Tuesday night's Fringe at the Edge concert at Encore Records, he settled into a minimalist, two-beat groove that was sometimes barely audible.

While McPhee patted his palm against the mouthpiece of his pocket trumpet, drummer Andrew Drury fell in, lightly tapping skins, rims, and cymbals for a nervous, anti-beat.

Piotr Michalowski held his sopranino saxophone and listened a moment, then completed the percussive theme by popping and puffing through his horn, before the trio opened up into long-toned exuberance. When it was over, Drury made Michalowski jump and then grin, as he frantically bowed away at some metal for a screeching effect.

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In Their Own Voices: Michelle Held & Frank Allison at Crazy Wisdom


Frank Allison & Michelle Held

Frank Allison and Michelle Held have found their voices through song. Allison photo by Doug Coombe.

Detroit-based Michelle Held was a professional actress, appearing at the best theaters in Michigan, including the Purple Rose, where she trained, and the Williamston Theatre near Lansing. Her then-boyfriend gave her a guitar, but Held hardly touched it because she was busy with day jobs and rehearsals. And when she did try to play it, it didn't go well. “I would pick it up and get frustrated,” Held says.

When she took a full-time job at a production house, Held took her guitar to work but had too little time to do more than tinker with it. It wasn't until she was laid off from that job in 2009 that Held could work on her guitar skills and, finally, she says “began to get the hang of it.” In 2011, she wrote her first song.

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Musical Royalty: Ann Arbor Symphony performs "Ludwig and the Kings"


Katie Geddes and David Vaughn at The Ark

Arie Lipsky will conduct cellist Zlatomir Fung and the Ann Arbor Symphony is an eclectic program of music that evokes King Solomon.

On Saturday, Oct. 21, the Ann Arbor Symphony will present a program called “Ludwig and the Kings.” “Ludwig,” of course, represents luminary German composer Ludwig van Beethoven. But who is the King in question?

“Growing up in Israel, I had daily bible studies and was fascinated with the complex characters of some of the prophets and kings," said conductor Arie Lipsky, who has led the symphony for 17 seasons. "This concert presents a rare musical outlook on King Solomon, known to be the wisest man on earth.”

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They Did It: Nearly 4,000 Rosies riveted down the world record


Rosie the Riveter

A gathering of 3,755 Rosie the Riveters in Ypsilanti smashed the previous record of 2,229. Photo by Sherlonya Turner.

I was on a bike ride with a friend when he told me about the Saturday, Oct. 14, attempt to reclaim the Guinness World Record for the biggest gathering of women dressed as Rosie the Riveter. My knee-jerk response was that this wasn’t my scene. I’m not a fan of crowds, and more specifically, a bunch of women coming together at the Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center to dress up like Rosie the Riveter was definitely not my scene.

Rosie the Riveter is a representation of the women who worked in factories during World War II to support the war effort. The character is based on several people, including Rose Will Monroe, who worked as a riveter at Ypsilanti's Willow Run Aircraft Factory building B-24 bombers. But Rosie's didn’t resonate with me personally. I come from Southern black stock, and the women I am descended from always did some sort of work, primarily domestic, outside of their homes, paid or otherwise. Also, it’s in my nature to take icons and popular narratives and complicate them; it’s what I was taught as a history student, and it has become second nature. I didn’t think that there was anything here for me.

However, my friend’s prompting had given rise to a question, “Who are these women. Whose scene is this?”

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Camus' leaden "L’Etat de siège" is a slog even for the great Théâtre de la Ville


L’Etat de siège by Théâtre de la Ville

Director Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota and Théâtre de la Ville’s take on L’Etat de siège is a feast for the eyes, but not much can be done about Albert Camus’ ham-fisted postwar tale.

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 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's past lavish renderings of absurdist classics would nonetheless 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.

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After threatening retirement, folk legend Tom Paxton rambled back to The Ark


Tom Paxton

Tom Paxton.

When Tom Paxton played The Ark two years ago as one of the final stops on what was advertised as his national farewell tour, it was hard to believe that he’d really retire. Yes, he had just turned 78, had been writing and performing his songs for nearly 60 of those years, and had earned the right to get off the road. But he still looked like he was having a good old time on stage, his voice sounded great, his guitar playing was as clean and crisp as ever, and he had a new CD of his recent songs.

Yes, he did say he was sick of airports, but was that reason enough to stop touring? Apparently not.

Like the Energizer Bunny, Paxton has kept going and he returned to The Ark again on October 13 with a couple of new collaborators, The Don Juans, some new songs, and even plans for the foreseeable future.

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