U-M professor José Casas' "The Imagination Place" is a play to be performed by families at home

THEATER & DANCE

Jose Casas

Have you ever wanted to direct a play? Have you ever wanted to cast your kid in the leading role? Have you ever wanted to stage the whole theatrical event in your living room?

If your answer to every question is "no," that's reasonable because directing is a lot of work, nepotism is bad, and who wants to mess up an adequately clean living room?

But perhaps the Covid crisis has you saying "yes" to things you would've never considered before since you're running out of things to do in the adequately clean house you've been cooped-up in for five months.

Well, then, perhaps the idea of directing a play in your living room starring your kid is back on the table.

If you don't know which play to produce, you're in luck: U-M professor José Casas joined seven fellow playwrights who wrote commissioned scripts for California's La Jolla Playhouse. The works are free to access online for everyone and are aimed, respectively, at elementary, middle, and high school students. The plays can be performed with two to six people, depending on the story, with no requirements for costumes, props, or sets -- since we all know the set will be your adequately clean living room or even your mostly maintained backyard.

Not a Fake Ad: I Spy two new books from the Ann Arbor Observer highlighting its beloved monthly contests

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Fake Ad and I Spy books

If you live in the Ann Arbor school district, you are a recipient of the Ann Arbor Observer. The monthly magazine offers in-depth reporting on local issues and residents, a robust calendar of area events, and two long-running contests that are often the first things to which readers turn: "Fake Ad" and "I Spy."

If you're a superfan of these challenges, you won't have to wait until the next Observer arrives because the magazine is publishing two books of highlights from the contests: I Spy…Architecture: Photo Puzzles From the Ann Arbor Observer, Vol. 1 by Sally Bjork and The Fake Ad Book: 47 of the Best Fake Ads of All Time by Jay Forstner.

Forstner has worked on "Fake Ad" since the early 1990s when he had his “dream job” of being a staff writer for the Observer.

“I came up with the 'Fake Ad' as a way of trying to contribute more to the Observer because I loved the publication and the people I worked with," Forstner says. "The funny thing is that in the first years after I started writing the 'Fake Ad,' I also wrote some of my best articles for the magazine. I think the 'Fake Ad' was my way of connecting with my work.”

Bjork proposed the "I Spy" feature to editor John Hilton in late 1998.

“It originally focused on historic architecture and eventually expanded to include other things," Bjork says. "It began in February of 1999 and, thankfully, it has been going ever since."

Picking favorites from these beloved features proved difficult for both writers. Forstner recalls the fake ad for the Victorious Egret lingerie shop for ornithologists. “It combines three of my passions: wordplay, sexy lingerie, and bird watching," Forstner jokes, "which are very difficult to pursue all at the same time, sadly.”

Theaters Still in the Absurd: An update on the Washtenaw County stage scene

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

tragic masks

When Pulp published this article on May 4 about how area theater companies were dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, all had lost their current seasons and canceled most of the next ones.

But in the two-plus months since then, theater companies -- like the rest of us -- have had time to navigate this plague and try to make plans for what they can offer creatively knowing this pandemic isn't ending soon. 

So we decided to check in with the Washtenaw County theater world and see how their plans may have changed.

While all the info for The Purple Rose Theatre, Eastern Michigan University theater, and UMGASS remains the same from the May 4 article, here are updates for 12 other companies:

Saturday Looks Good to Me discovered some live gems during lockdown

MUSIC

Saturday Looks Good to Me

Back in April, Saturday Looks Good to Me singer/songwriter/guitarist Fred Thomas was using some of his quarantine lockdown time to explore piles of cassettes he had featuring all manner of music from his various projects.

"I found this cassette that simply said 'Mar 11 2005' and was amazed to discover it was a show from one of Saturday's dreamier configurations during our peak touring times," Thomas wrote on the Bandcamp page featuring the live recording now titled March 11, 2005 • Champaign.

The "dreamier" Saturday sound on this tour -- compared to its more typically rollicking indie rock -- happened because Thomas didn't remember that drummer Steve Middlekauff couldn't come along for the tour until the night before. But rather than try to rope in a percussionist at the last minute, the group switched gears and adapted to the drummerless tour on the fly.

Ordinary People: UMMA's "Take Your Pick: Collecting Found Photographs" asks us to help curate the everyday

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Photos from UMMA's Take Your Pick exhibit

This review was originally published October 8, 2019. We're rerunning it because UMMA just launched a virtual version of this exhibit featuring 250 photographs that visitors selected to enter the museum's permanent collection. View the online exhibit and learn about the history of snap photography here.

In the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s latest photographic exhibit, Take Your Pick, viewers are asked to participate in the selection of images to be added to the permanent collection. UMMA asks us to head to the gallery and look at the 1,000 amateur photographs collected by Peter J. Cohen and decide on our 20 personal favorites. Ballots are available at the entrance of the gallery, with 20 slots to vote for your favorite photographs. On the exhibit's webpage, potential visitors are asked to “Come help build [UMMA's] collection of ‘ordinary’ American 20th-century photographs.” With an emphasis on the word ordinary, the curatorial team is asking viewers to consider how “ordinary” photographs of the 20th century may be reconsidered as objects worthy of preservation and study. 

The photographs on display are part of a larger collection of 60,000 snapshots collected by Peter J. Cohen. Cohen acquired his collection by searching through flea markets and buying online. The majority of the images portray candid American life, distilled imagery of private family life: birthday parties, family vacations, school portraits. 

Female protagonists populate U-M MFA graduate Sara Schaff's new collection of short stories

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Sara Schaff, The Invention of Love

What you have. What you want. What you hang on to. What you give up. 

Jeans. A house. A spouse. Drawings. Places. Jobs. A fantasy. 

Sara Schaff’s second collection of short stories, The Invention of Love, invests in these questions of possession and ownership, of affiliation and surprising loss. The best way to understand the characters’ distinct circumstances and the fine lines between one version of their life or another that they choose, or that gets chosen for them, is by looking at the plots themselves. For example, two half-sisters lose their mother, and both covet her pair of jeans used for dancing in “Our Lady of Guazá.” In another story called “Noreen O’Malley at the Sunset Pool,” Noreen must let go of the narratives about her friends and lovers that she hoped for as she cares for her new baby. 

Still, a character may make a delightful discovery amidst a seemingly unbearable situation, such as a woman eventually becoming enthralled by Anna Karenina despite the fact that her ex-husband’s new wife (and their family friend) had been the one who recommended the book. These observant views of these women show their realizations and complicated hardships as they navigate life and its turns. 

Schaff will speak with Greg Schutz, writer and lecturer at the University of Michigan, in an At Home with Literati virtual event on Tuesday, July 21, at 7 pm. Schaff and Schutz are friends and fellow graduates of the MFA program at the University of Michigan. Information to join via Zoom is on the event webpage. We corresponded via email beforehand, and here are my questions and Schaff’s responses. 

A2SF's "The Future of the Arts Must Be Antiracist" explores the pitfalls P.O.C. face in creative communities

PULP LIFE REVIEW

As a finale to its virtual Top of the Park series, the Ann Arbor Summer Fest (A2SF) had a vital discussion called "The Future of the Arts Must Be Antiracist" on July 7 about racism in the arts, streamed live on YouTube and other platforms.

While we’ve seen many discussions on race as of late, this one was particularly interesting because it addresses an issue that has been looming for a long time in Washtenaw County: the lack of racial diversity inside the local arts scene.

As a Black classically trained musician, I’ve had my fair share of feeling like an outsider in musical circles so I was delighted by this discussion. Lack of diversity is not unique to Washtenaw County, of course; it plagues all of society. But it was refreshing to hear the topic addressed in a city like Ann Arbor where there is such an influential arts festival like A2SF.

A2SF Programming and Operations Manager James Carter invited several prominent Washtenaw County Black artists and executives to describe their experiences working in the arts here. The panel consisted of Jamall Bufford, Omari Rush, Jenny Jones, and facilitator Yodit Mesfin Johnson, who talked about their backgrounds and described why it’s important to create a more inclusive environment for African-Americans in the arts.

Strike Up the Bands: New music from Washtenaw County artists and labels

MUSIC

Washtenaw County map

I had originally titled this post like I did the previous eight in this series: "New Washtenaw music in the time of quarantine."

That headline implied quarantine was for a limited period of time, but with the pandemic mishandled every step of the way by the federal government, there is no timeframe for the end of lockdown. <Insert 40,000-word diatribe>

The time of quarantine is now and for the foreseeable future.

It's how we have to live in order to stay alive.

Artists are resilient and they create because they have to, no matter the circumstances. So, this post is highlighting new music made by or released by Washtenaw County artists and labels -- the same as they did during normal times. Because our current time is our normal time even if it doesn't look like it did in the past.

Shoutout to the creators persevering through this mess.

Nevertheless Film Festival persists during the pandemic, goes virtual for 2020

FILM & VIDEO PREVIEW

Nevertheless Film Festival 2020

Stills from three 2020 Nevertheless Film Festival features, clockwise from top: Asking for ItWaging Change, and First Vote.

This time last summer, Meredith Finch was in the final stages of debuting her Nevertheless Film Festival, held at the Michigan Theater July 11-14.

"I have my fair share of stories of being the only woman or underrepresented person on a film crew," Finch told Pulp last year. "To combat this lack of representation, film festivals around the world have announced their own initiatives to increase representation in their programming within the next few years, but what I found myself thinking a little over a year ago was, 'Why not now?'"

The inaugural Nevertheless Film Festival featured 26 movies -- narratives, documentaries, shorts -- and the 2020 edition, which runs July 9-12, will include a similar mix by womxn creatives. But you'll have to imagine sitting at the Michigan Theater while at home viewing the films.

Gutman Gallery reopens, features artists who were supposed to be in the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair

VISUAL ART

Gutman Gallery exterior

Photo courtesy of the Gutman Gallery.

The Gutman Gallery opened just in time to close.

The Guild of Artists & Artisans’ showcase spot at 118 N. 4th Avenue in Ann Arbor debuted in mid-February with the Amor: Looking Through the Eyes of Love exhibition, highlighting its creative members' takes on all things lovey-dovey.

A month later, the Gutman Gallery closed like everything else due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Guild that runs Gutman Gallery also produces the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair, which is canceled this summer. So the group is opening its doors three days a week with limited hours to display works from 38 of the jury-selected 2020 Art Fair artists.

The Gutman Gallery has an online shop and offers virtual art classes, but the Art Fair show is its first physical exhibition since the shutdown.

Below are the participating artists and some examples of their creations.