Starting this week, a world premiere retelling of a Holiday classic will be featured at Ann Arbor’s Performance Network. Dickens: An A Capella Carol and Why Not Me? A Sammy Davis Jr. Story will run in repertory through December.
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is musically revisited in an enchanting world premiere production of Dickens: An A Capella Carol directed by Suzi Regan. A treat for the entire family, the production features classic songs, a quartet of holiday carolers, and a mysterious storyteller.
Tim Grimes is manager of Community Relations & Marketing at the Ann Arbor District Library and co-founder of Redbud Productions.
Dickens: An A Capella Carol will preview on Friday, November 27, with a Saturday, November 28 opening. Performances will vary with Why Not Me? A Sammy Davis Jr. Story Tuesday through Sunday each week, and the final performance is scheduled for Sunday, December 20. Tickets may purchased online at www.pntheatre.org or by calling the box office at 734-663-0681. Performance Network is located at 120 E. Huron in Ann Arbor.
Jonathan Richman, accompanied by his long-time drummer Tommy Larkins, gave fans an intimate and fun performance this past Sunday, November 15, at the Blind Pig. Richman, who created the well-known band The Modern Lovers in 1970, has been touring on his own for decades, often accompanied by Larkins. Their extensive time together has made them the perfect duo: on occasion, Richman will lean over and suggest a vague beat to Larkins, who always seems to know exactly what he means and adjusts his drumming without expression.
As is traditional for Richman’s style, he rarely played a complete song at his Blind Pig show. Instead, he played snippets of songs, interspersed with direct conversation with the audience and wild dancing around the stage, typically with a maraca in each hand. Heavily influenced by other cultures, Richman sang songs in Italian, Spanish, and Arabic as well as in English, generously pausing throughout each one to translate for those of us who hadn’t the faintest idea what he was singing about. He encouraged fans to dance and clap, especially during upbeat songs like “I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar” and “Keith Richards.” Every so often, Richman paused and said, “Let’s see what Tommy is up to on the drums,” stepping back to grab his maracas and take a dance break while Larkins—still expressionless, of course—regaled us with a nifty drum solo.
One of my favorite moments of the evening came in the middle of Richman’s song “When We Refuse to Suffer.” He paused and stepped forward on stage to chat with the audience about driving through the United States with Larkins on prior legs of the tour (a funny image in and of itself, when you imagine Richman talking a mile a minute and gesticulating wildly while Larkins sits unmoving and silent in the passenger seat). At a gas station in Texas, Richman was struck by a magic marker sign taped to the wall that read, “Each person we see is fighting a battle that we know nothing about.” The gas station clerk told him simply, “Yeah… my boss wrote that.” Even though Richman chuckled when he told us this, he reminded the audience to keep the sentiment in mind as we went about our days.
Richman was about to end the evening, but then hurried back on stage saying he “had one more idea to try.” He struck up a song I’d never heard before, which, frankly, may have actually been made up on the spot. As Richman played guitar and sang “This love thing…” he had the audience respond back “…let me do it right!” This continued for three or four minutes, with Richman grinning happily. He then gathered up his maracas and guitar and gave the audience a quick wave as he and Larkins hopped off the stage.
Their tour continues in California, Oregon, and Washington in December.
Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library who drives a Dodge Veg-O-Matic.
In Which Bruce Eric Kaplan Talks About his Memoir and Career, But Would be Equally Happy to Discuss 1970s TV Show Plots Instead
Bruce Eric Kaplan’s talk at AADL on Wednesday, November 11, could have been titled “How I Accidentally Sold a Publisher a Book About my Childhood” or “I Love TV.” But his talk really didn’t have or need a title, in keeping with his low-key, off-the-cuff, c’mon-let’s-just-keep-it-casual approach to the event. This left lots of room for audience questions and comments, resulting in an easy, back-and-forth conversation between the room and Kaplan, whose pithy single-panel cartoons have appeared in the New Yorker for 20+ years, and whose television work has included scripts for Seinfeld and Six Feet Under and a producer role with the HBO show Girls.
Kaplan came to Ann Arbor as part of the 28th Annual Ann Arbor Jewish Book Festival and he offered a short reading from his latest book, an illustrated memoir called I Was A Child. Kaplan's mother passed away several years ago, and then a couple of months after his father passed on as well, Kaplan found himself in a pitch meeting with a publisher, talking on and on about his parents and growing up in New Jersey. Afterward, he was so surprised to learn that the publisher wanted to buy this story, he made his agent call back to double check.
Kaplan says that working on this memoir was like spending day after day with his parents when they were young and healthy, and closing up his work each afternoon felt like losing them all over again. “We need a word for something that is both healthy and unhealthy for us,” he said, explaining that spending so much time thinking about his parents might have been unhealthy for him, but in the end, the closure he got from the process, was very positive. The process of writing the book also made him rethink parenting his own children, ages 8 and 10. “I realized they’re watching me,” he said.
The topic that really lit up the room, however, was television. Kaplan grew up watching TV, McMillan and Wife, I Dream of Jeannie, Lost in Space, Star Trek, Perry Mason, and countless old and semi-forgotten movies. (June Bride, anyone?) Even memories formed later in life are informed by his early love of television. For instance, after moving to Los Angeles as an adult, hoping to work in TV, he saw Mary Tyler Moore performing a scene on a soundstage. This was the breakthrough moment when Kaplan realized he could write television scripts, but in recounting it, he lovingly detailed watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show as a kid, when it was on in syndication, airing from 4-5 pm, EST, on Channel 4.
It was while writing spec script after spec script (he always thought he had a good Golden Girls episode in him, but he never managed to sell one), that he began submitting single panel cartoons to The New Yorker. At the time, artists could submit 10 ideas per week with a self-addressed, stamped envelope. He sent them in for years, his enclosed cover letters getting terser and terser, until finally, they bought one. He continues to submit cartoons monthly, and has been a regular contributor for more than 20 years. For people curious about the “labor of love” that is single-panel cartooning, Kaplan recommended an documentary, forthcoming from HBO, on New Yorker cartoonists called Very Semi-Serious.
Kaplan eventually sold several scripts to Seinfeld, which was the show that taught him that “you could incorporate your own existence into the half hour world.” In keeping with that lesson, he wrote the episode where George Costanza runs over some pigeons, an occurrence borrowed straight from the life of Bruce Eric Kaplan.
His experience working on Six Feet Under was a little different - while he wasn’t borrowing instances directly from his own life, he still felt an immediate connection to the characters on the show. “I read the pilot and I felt like I understood the family that doesn't talk and wants to connect but can't connect,” he said.
Because Kaplan was such a casual and conversational speaker, the event didn’t feel like a traditional lecture or a literary reading. It felt much more like sitting in someone’s living room, and chatting with a fellow guest who’s telling good stories about their interesting career. Then you remember you’re at AADL listening to the guy who drew this cartoon:
and you think, I’m really glad I came tonight.
Sara Wedell is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library and was a real I Dream of Jeannie fan herself, back in the day.
In Lynda Cole’s hands, North is not only a primer in the emotional power of abstract art—it’s ultimately as much a state of mind.
Granted by this local artist’s definition, “north” is a psychological place, but when seen at downtown Ann Arbor’s WSG Gallery, North is as much a time as it is a place. And it’s in this fusing of time and space—both melding a particular state of mind—where “north” resides.
“My future travel will have to have ice in it,” Cole says in her gallery statement. “Where ice is found I encounter stillness, a beautiful quality of light, large horizons of the sea and sky and the color and purity of the ice. These things contribute to a feeling of tranquility I don’t find in most other places.
“On a recent trip to the Arctic during the midnight sun,” continues Cole, “early one particular morning, I looked out over the Arctic Ocean and felt as if I was Alice falling down the rabbit hole. The sea was entirely still with bits of ice in it.
“The light quality of the sky was a pale palette, striped and moody. It felt unlike Earth.”
This moodiness is reasonable as what Cole seems to mean is that “north” is as much an expressive place as it is physical location. But as a depiction of emotion, it might not also be much of a stretch to say it’s rather a way of life: A durable outlook that’s as much equal part exaltation as it is seclusion.
Solitude gets short shrift today. The pace of contemporary life so often hurries our sense of self, the mere act of checking one’s perception of the environment can seem more of a burden than did the leisurely appreciation of the sublime in prior eras not so long ago. And although the exhibit is much more; if nothing else, North encourages a leisurely appreciation of the sublime.
“The paintings in this exhibition are painted with beeswax, Damar resin and dry colored pigments on various substrates,” says Cole of her work’s technical expertise. “Many layers of wax are painted on the substrate and heated with a torch to fuse them to layers below. It’s an ancient technique which has enjoyed a certain revival during the past 50 years or so.”
A certain revival, indeed—fusing her layers of wax with heat to bond her working surface to a high gloss luminosity, Cole’s wax is sculpted and combined with collage material to create swaths of incandescent facture whose flaring textures reflect a subdued solemnity. But it’s also a solemnity with purpose.
The title work illustrates the stunning effect Cole can craft with her materials. “North”—36” x 48” with an impressive two-inch depth—is a meticulous masterwork whose frosty pigments compete with beeswax to create a moody visage of abstracted ice and air. The work’s upper and lower irregular grids flank, yet do not quite contain, a center of competing blue fields whose incandescent depth pull the viewer’s eyes into the composition more by suggestion than articulation.
Not quite improvisation, for Cole’s command of her materials is far too controlled for this laxity, yet loosely enough crafted to allow for nonrepresentational inventiveness, “North” instead reflects an emotional timbre whose resonance strikes a firm expressive state. What’s outwardly rigid in its appearance is also nuanced in its form. For “North” is a kind of painting that requires a contemplative deliberation and willingness to explore the infinity of its surface.
It’s also a call for a thoughtful appreciation of our environs—here and elsewhere.
One of six other such considered paintings on display, North like the rest of Cole’s latest offerings at WSG follows in the unhurried continuum of her art. Her work is a reminder that art nature (like nature) often unfolds meditatively in its own time and in its own manner. We must merely follow in the imaginative manner of our forebears to appreciate splendor on its own terms.
John Carlos Cantú has written extensively on our community's visual arts in a number of different periodicals.
North will run at the WSG Gallery, 306 S. Main Street, through December 6, 2015. The WSG Gallery is open Tuesday-Wednesday, noon–6 pm; Thursday, noon-9 pm; Friday-Saturday, noon-10 pm; and Sunday 12-5 pm. For information, call 734-761-2287.
You’ve seen it all before. A magical kingdom. A fair maiden locked in a tower guarded by a fiery dragon. A valiant hero and his trusty steed on a quest to free oppressed subjects from a hateful despot. Yes, all this and more can be found in Shrek, the Musical. Er, sort of….
In this song-filled take on William Steig’s classic children’s book, our hero is a crabby, flatulating ogre and his steed is a smart-alecky and annoying donkey. The maiden's also not quite what she appears to be and the oppressed subjects are familiar fairy tale characters led by a Pinocchio even Papa Geppetto would be hard-pressed to love.
Details … details. Be all that as it may, Shrek, the Musical, is a lot of fun and Young People’s Theater always puts on a really big show.
Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Shrek runs Thursday, November 19 - Sunday, November 22, at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre on the University of Michigan's Central Campus. For tickets, call 734-763-TKTS. $15 adults; $10 children, students, and Seniors 65+. For more information, visit Young People's Theater's website.
He flew us into Los “Angeleez”, then to the City of New Orleans, on to Stockbridge Massachusetts (where the Massacree occurred) and then to Woodstock. It was family night for Arlo and the Guthries, and the capacity crowd at the Michigan Theater loved every minute of music and stories.
I snagged a last-minute single ticket among the few left from everyone’s favorite online ticket marketer (who shall, like Voldemort, remain nameless), and headed up to balcony right for a seat at the rail with perfect sight lines to the stage. What a spectacular and rich venue the Michigan is. I secretly hoped that the mighty Barton organ would provide a processional as we were seated – it did not.
The evening began with Sarah Lee Guthrie who joined her dad’s tour a few weeks ago as an opener. Growing up in her father’s musical world (as Arlo did with his dad Woody) Sarah appeared on Arlo’s work as both a toddler and an adolescent, and has today established a solid singer-songwriter-storyteller reputation of her own since she began recording in 2001. She channeled her dad’s stories on stage, and her grand-dad’s lyrics and music to provide a delightful introduction to a Guthrie generational anthology that was told through the rest of the evening.
The three generations have all written songs especially for children, and Sarah has made a specialty of it in recent years. She delighted the crowd with a spirited sing-along "Go Waggaloo" from Woody’s catalog. She played lovely standards in her own style such as Tim Hardin’s "If I Were A Carpenter", followed with one of her grandfather’s most loved songs "I’ve Got to Know" and finished her portion of the evening with her own "Circle of Souls".
To be clear, Sarah can hold her own, on her own, in any roots, folk, or Americana venue. There’s no need for her to borrow from that legacy to make her performance powerful. She is proud to sing her heritage on stage, and you can see that same family pride in the face of Arlo’s son Abe as he leads the band with keyboard and provides supporting vocals. The rest of the band that supported Sarah and Arlo features drummer Terry Hall, guitarist and vocalist Bobby Sweet, and guitarist Darren Todd.
As Sarah left the stage, the ornately vaulted Michigan Theater did not brighten as it would for intermission. A large screen flickered to life at the rear of the stage as we heard the first chords of "The Motorcycle Song" accompanied by a stop-motion animated short created almost 40 years ago entitled No, No, Pickle. What a delightful way to bring out a vital and still funny-as-hell songwriter, Arlo Guthrie.
Displaying youthful energy and a slightly raw throat strained by touring – Arlo Guthrie hammered out a classics-studded evening of music and stories that kept the capacity crowd laughing and singing along all evening. He first measured the crowd’s age: “For those of you who heard about this concert and asked, ‘isn’t he dead?’… well, I’m workin’ on it.”
While prefacing a story about Woodstock, he quipped, “Well, I remember getting there…” and then told the story of his history-making appearance in front of “more people than I knew I would ever see again in my entire life” while in a significantly altered state of consciousness. It was just what we wanted to hear from an icon of the era, and he kept all generations in the audience enthralled with story and song.
Arlo Guthrie Set List – November 9, 2015 – Michigan Theater
1. The Motorcycle Song
2. Chilling of the Evening
3. St. James Infirmary (Joe Primrose)
4. Ballad of Me and My Goose
5. Pig Meat Blues (Leadbelly)
6. Coming Into Los Angeles
7. Alice's Restaurant Massacree
8. I Hear You Sing Again (Janis Ian)
9. City of New Orleans (Steve Goodman)
10. Highway in the Wind
11. This Land Is Your Land (Woody Guthrie)
12. My Peace (Woody Guthrie)
The crowd lit up for the most memorable tunes, including a rousing back-to-the-60s rendition of Coming into Los Angeles to close the first set. The story of the infamous “massacree” – the namesake of Guthrie’s 50th Anniversary Tour – top-lined the second set, and you could tell the audience had not gotten tired of the telling. Somehow, Arlo told the story as though for the first time – so that those listening for the first time would not be short-changed. “If I’d known the song would be so popular, I wouldn’t have made it so long.”
According to Arlo, Steve Goodman gave him a song he had just written, "City of New Orleans", to hand off to Johnny Cash. Arlo recounted that Johnny was concerned that one more train song might pigeon-hole him…to Arlo’s eternal benefit. The words to Arlo’s greatest ballad were on almost everyone’s lips in the audience. Mr. Guthrie also presented himself as an accomplished musician throughout the evening, brandishing a number of acoustic and electric guitars and a keyboard. Most enticing was the blue-to-black Rainsong 12-string acoustic as it jangled its carbon-fiber sound across the theater as if on its own dedicated speakers.
Arlo rolled up the evening with more of his own stuff like "Highway in the Wind", a lesser-known but no-less-special cut from his 1967 breakout album, Alice’s Restaurant. He included a sweet cover of Woody & Janis Ian’s "I Hear You Sing Again" as if he was singing of his own family, and then explained that he lost his wife of 43 years, Jackie, to cancer in 2012. Arlo may still be grieving, but remains wistfully positive on stage. He spoke of their meeting in 1968, and how Jackie knew she would marry Arlo the moment she saw him. You can see the result of their love on the stage with Arlo in Sarah and Abe.
The whole family took the stage for the Guthrie past patriarch’s masterpiece "This Land Is our Land", and Arlo spoke of the song: "as though in the multitudes of re-singing by so many millions of people, the song has now acquired its own spirit and weight in the universe. He bade us goodbye by passing his peace to us – My Peace – from he and his family to the audience".
Arlo and his family are an extraordinary example of the age-old practice of passing on passion and skills from one generation to another. They don’t just want to sing their father’s – and his father’s – songs. It’s not just good folk music or good money or good politics. They must sing them. It’s a family thing.
Many, many thanks to The Ark and to the Michigan Theater for bringing the Guthrie family back to Ann Arbor.
A very similar audio version of this great live event is available on Spotify. Check it out.
Don Alles is a marketing consultant, house concert host, and musical wannabee living in and loving his recently adopted home, Ann Arbor.
Current Magazine presents the 2015 Poetry and Fiction Contest Party on Wednesday, November 18 at 6:30 pm at the Arbor Brewing Company. The event is an evening of celebrating local writers with food and friends. The winners of the contest, hosted annually by Current, had their work published in the November issue of the magazine, available all over the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area now.
Winners will be reading from their published work in an informal, relaxed atmosphere. Come for an evening of beer and food and help to support our local writers!
Contributor Saul Jacobs is Digital Media Manager for Adams Street Publishing, publisher of Current Magazine.
Community High School’s Community Ensemble Theatre (CET) will take on the highly ambitious, experimental play-of-many-plays, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind starting this weekend. This challenging interactive production, adapted for teenage performers from the Chicago production that debuted in 1988 - currently the city’s longest-running play at 25 years - is built around 30 two-minute “plays” in a 60-minute speed format.
In his 2010 review of the Chicago production, Chicago Theater Beat critic Keith Ecker described Too Much Light - then in its 21st year and still selling out every show - as “a complete and utter oddity,” citing its ideological kinship with the 20th century Italian Futurism movement.
CET director Quinn Strassel recently said, “This show is funny, edgy, and at times highly emotional. Most importantly, the unorthodox structure allows us to feature dozens of kids in lead roles."
“It's ambitious," adds Strassel, “but I think the kids are excited about taking on the challenge.”
Hardly your typical high school theater fare, Too Much Light... has only recently been made available to educational theatre companies, so Ann Arbor is finally getting its chance to see what all the fuss is about.
Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind will be performed in the Craft Theater at Community High School on November 12 & 13 at 7:30 pm, November 14 at 1 pm and at 7:30 pm, and November 15 at 2 pm. Tickets are $12.50 for adults and $9 for students and seniors, and are available online.
Having built a hometown following with My Dear Disco, and then as a solo artist, Theo Katzmann’s name is a familiar one around Ann Arbor. Although Brooklyn has been his more recent home base, he's swinging through A2 this week.
Katzman and his Vulfpeck took a creative approach to streaming/Spotify last year, and just dropped a new record last month. He also contributed his production and songwriting chops to Michelle Chamuel's 2015 pop album Face the Fire.
This time around, however, his Blind Pig date is billed as a solo affair — with a few of the 'peck backing him up.
Mariah Cherem is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
We don’t know who told the first story. Was it a cavewoman telling her cavechildren a ghost story? Was it a hunter telling others of the one that got away? Was it two people around a lonely campfire trying to pass the time? We will never know how it began, but we do know that storytelling as an art has existed for millennia. People from all over the world love a good story, and luckily for us, there is plenty of storytelling right here in Ann Arbor!
The Ann Arbor Storytellers' Guild is presenting its 24th annual Tellabration on Friday, November 13th and Sunday, November 15th. The Friday event is geared towards adults (ages 14+), while the Sunday event is especially for children and families. Tellabration is an international event celebrating the art of storytelling. Forty states and nine countries will participate in this event. The goal is to build community support for storytelling. According to local teller Lyn Davidge, expect to hear some history, some mystery, some legend, some comic relief, and even some social commentary at the event.
Davidge adds, “I love Tellabration and the Guild, with their emphasis on keeping the ancient art of traditional storytelling alive, relevant, and entertaining in the 21st century. The audience is an integral part of the storytelling experience, each person relating to the teller and the story according to his or her own unique life experiences. In a seemingly disconnected world, we find connection and common ground through story.”
In addition to Tellabration, the local guild also hosts a monthly storytelling event at Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room on the second Thursday of the month. You may hear a story about chivalrous knights from medieval times, a turtle’s journey in a sunny backyard, or how a teacher grew to love being “most improved”. The guild’s monthly meetings are open to the public and are held at Nicola’s Books on the fourth Sunday of most months. Guild members are also invited to attend member-only events such as story swaps and house concerts.
In Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, she wrote, “stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can't remember who we are or why we're here.” Events like Tellabration guarantee that our words will stay alive for a long, long time.
Patti Smith is a teacher, writer, and lover of all things Ann Arbor. She can talk and tell stories at any hour of the day or night. She has been a part of the Storytellers' Guild for two years.
Tellabration will be held at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1400 W Stadium Blvd on November 13 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $15. The Family Storytelling concert will be held on November 15 at 2 pm. The event is free and co-sponsored by the Ann Arbor District Library and will be held at the Pittsfield Branch, 2359 Oak Valley Drive.