It’s not unusual for well-known performers to speak to students at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance. Just last year, Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons both stopped at the school.
Alec Baldwin’s visit this week is a little extra special, however: He’ll take part in a full reading of Death of a Salesman that involves students, faculty, and members of the community, presented by the University Musical Society along with the SMTD.
UMS President Matthew VanBesien came to town from the New York Philharmonic, which has worked with Baldwin in the past. Word got around that Baldwin was interested in working with students, he heard that Salesman author Arthur Miller was a U-M graduate, and everything fell into place.
“We wanted to use a combination of faculty, students, and guest artists,” said Daniel Cantor, an associate professor of theater and drama who is directing the play. “All those things came together in this reading.”
Artists, whether of visual, performance, musical, or writing persuasions, are highly imaginative and generally motivated individuals. The trouble with surrounding yourself with creative people is that you want to create. You throw ideas out there, bounce them around; sometimes they land, sometimes they float away into the ether. It’s most fun when they land, but that can also mean a lot of hard work for these ideas to claw their way to fruition.
For example, a year of pummeling away at stubborn obstacles, wrangling six other people, recruiting still more people to help in the fight, battling back and forth with a totally uncooperative corporate entity whose official help policy is “we don’t help.” It’s frustrating, it’s time-consuming, and it’s so worth it. Seeing your name on the printed page provokes a singular, feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. Before long, you’ve forgotten all the pain and miserable moments, and you can only think about doing it again.
Encore Musical Theatre continues its love affair with Stephen Sondheim with A Little Night Music, Sondheim’s wistful and rueful look at love.
Night Music, with music and lyrics by Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, was, as the Encore program notes “suggested by” one of Ingmar Bergman’s rare comedies, Smiles of a Summer’s Night. The setting is still Sweden at the turn of the 20th Century. A successful lawyer has recently married a much younger woman who has remained virginal during their eight months of marriage. She has developed a growing attraction to the lawyer’s seminarian son, who is wrestling with deep sexual conflicts of his own.
Things become complicated when the lawyer, Fredrik, comes home with tickets to see the noted stage actress Desiree Armfeldt, an old flame for whom the embers are still glowing. Desiree has started to grow weary of life as a touring actress and her affair with the obnoxious and married Count Carl-Magnus. Fredrik’s troubled married life and his love triangle with Desiree and Carl-Magnus eventually play out in the pastoral setting Desiree’s mother’s country house.
This might sound very serious, and it is, but it’s also serious comedy.
Molly has a hole in her head. Memories are escaping through it. Her doctor thinks that’s entirely possible. At least, that’s the way Molly hears what he says.
Fred Smith, who built a statue park in Milvotchkee, Visconsin--Molly gave tours of the park for many years -- was struck by lightning. He lived for 12 years after that. What happened during those years? Molly is obsessed with this story, which may or may not have some relationship to reality.
The Kickshaw Theatre’s current offering, Laura Jacqmin’s Milvotchkee, Visconsin, is set in various locations in Milvotchkee, a place you won’t find on any map, and in Molly’s mind as she descends into dementia. Molly encounters a variety of people in places that include a hospital, a movie theater, and her distorted memory.
Through a combination of grit, trial and error, an ear for music, and an engineering mind, my brother-in-law Tom Rein has managed to make a living for 40-plus years as a string-instrument maker (also called luthier). Tom started his luthier business, Tom Rein Guitars, in the mid-1970s when there were under 50 in the entire U.S. Now, he estimates, there are over 1,000.
After my sister, Laura, retired as dean of libraries for Webster University, Tom moved his luthier business to Saline, Michigan.
Tom has been involved with music from age 10 when he took up the clarinet. The clarinet gave way to the tenor and baritone sax, which gradually gave way to the guitar.
“Being a player helps a lot in developing a signature sound,” Tom explained. “Musicians are always looking for the instrument that manifests the sound that they hear in their head. I’m able to tailor the sound to suit individual players while remaining true to the sound I’ve developed over many years.”
A huge part of Tom’s process is to figure out what type of wood to use for each soundboard, and he has developed an incredible appreciation for trees.
I love the energy of the Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series, where one can go to the Michigan Theater, join a multi-aged crowd, then sit back and hear the perspective of a creator who has been selected to create a dynamic learning experience for the audience members.
But I hate that idea of Afrofuturism confounds me.
I once had a friend who was into Afrofuturism and I could never quite understand what he was talking about. I’ve been to some Afrofuturism-themed exhibits, I’ve listened to a speaker or two, and I’ve seen a movie about it. I tried to get into it but remained confounded.
Kenyan photographer Osborne Macharia stood on the stage of the Michigan Theater on September 13 and said he hoped the audience would have a better understanding of the Afrofuturism concept by the end of the evening. Mancharia’s website describes Afrofuturism as “an artistic repurpose of the post-colonial African narrative through integrating historical elements, present culture and future aspirations of people of colo[u]r by using narrative, fantasy, and fiction to highlight African identity.”
At the Michigan Theater, I felt the same as I once did as a math student before my algebra breakthrough: I’d give it a try but didn’t feel confident that I would leave the session with any grand revelations.
But I came with an open mind.
“The past is never dead," wrote William Faulkner. "It's not even past.”
The Sri Lankan civil war lasted more than 25 years, officially ending in 2009. The 10 interlinked stories in Half Gods tell the story of Nalini and her family, for whom the war is neither dead nor past. After the slaughter of her mother and brothers, Nalini and her father escape to New Jersey with their grief following right along with them. The stories travel through narrators with some of the focus on Nalini as a child and then as a grown woman with children of her own. Other stories include a man in Sri Lanka looking for a missing child, a butcher from Botswana transplanted to New Jersey who falls in love with Nalini all told through short stories.
How do obligations and desires compete in our lives?
Li presents a broad cast, ranging from restaurant staff to the family members who own the Beijing Duck House. In fact, the family tree -- or rather the map of characters -- is on the inside cover of the book, which proves quite useful when reading. (You can have your book signed by Li at Nicola’s Books on September 20 at 7 pm.)
The Ann Arbor-based Li teaches at the University of Michigan and works at Literati Bookstore. She earned her MFA from the University of Michigan and is originally from the D.C. metro area.
Vision for Flint: Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha's “What the Eyes Don’t See” tracks the city's public health crisis
While it’s easy to see the Flint water crisis as a story of government failing the people it’s supposed to serve, it’s a lot more than that. It’s also the story of a resilient community, the determined people who live there, and the activists who helped bring the situation to light.
Those stories meet in the work of Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, director of the pediatric residency program at Hurley Medical Center. She played a pivotal role in the crisis, conducting research and publicizing results that showed how lead levels rose alarmingly in Flint children after the city switched its water source.
Now “Dr. Mona” has published a book about her experience, What the Eyes Don’t See. She will discuss the book at Rackham Auditorium with Chris Kolb of the Michigan Environmental Council, an event sponsored by Literati Bookstore and the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability, where Hanna-Attisha earned her bachelor’s degree (under its earlier name, the School for Natural Resources and the Environment).
“I never set out to write a book in my career,” Hanna-Attisha said in a recent phone interview. “It’s not about Flint, it’s about who we are and who we want to be.”
The Ann Arbor Art Center’s most recent juried exhibition asks: “When does action transcend habit to become something more meaningful? RINSE/REPEAT explores concepts of ritual or routine in creative practice, where the experience is intentional, sacred -- not solely focused on the product or outcome, but on the set of actions.”
The Art Center frequently hosts exhibitions curated by guest jurors, and like many of its recent exhibits, the show continues to bring a variety of multi-media works by contemporary artists, both local and non-local. The exhibition as a whole has a strong emphasis on fiber arts and less traditional “fine art” media.
Juror Marlee Grace conceptualized RINSE/REPEAT, which addresses artists’ processes, and has selected a group of pieces that, in different ways, address the often intense, repeated processes behind the finalized works. Grace is most known for her Instagram account “Personal Practice,” where she posts videos of herself exploring movement, and many works in the show comment on movement and motion, approaching the subject of repetition literally.