Nawal Motawi's strong will and fierce individuality fire her acclaimed art-tiles studio in Ann Arbor


Nawal Motawi smiles in front of a wall that is covered in her tiles.

Nawal Motawi photo courtesy of Motawi Tileworks.

It took about a year and a half before Nawal Motawi dropped out of art school. 

“I was really disgusted with what it looked like,” she says.

Motawi, who founded the renowned Motawi Tileworks in 1992, was enrolled at the Penny Stamps School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan. Abstract expressionism was in vogue and the emphasis in classes was less on how well each piece of art was made, Motawi says, than on how intricately they could be interpreted.

“What I felt like I learned in art school was that, basically, if you could tell a good story, then [your work] was [considered] good,” she says.

The Ann Arbor-based Motawi Tileworks, where Nawal Motawi continues to serve as owner and artistic director, recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. To honor the occasion, the retrospective exhibit Motawi Tileworks: A Celebration of 30 Years is on display at the Rogel Cancer Center at the University of Michigan Hospital until December 23.

Motawi’s impatience with some of its more voluble aspects of art school came to a head after a particular sculpture class. 

The Lord of the Screens: U-M professor Daniel Herbert chronicles the history of New Line Cinema in "Maverick Movies"

Daniel Herbert and his book Maverick Movies.

Late August at Hotel OzoneStuntsGet Out Your HandkerchiefsA Nightmare on Elm StreetCrittersHouse PartyTeenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesTwin Peaks: Fire Walk with MeDumb and DumberAustin Powers: International Man of MysteryHedwig and the Angry InchThe Lord of the RingsThe Notebook.

These films all have one thing in common: New Line Cinema.

University of Michigan film and media professor Daniel Herbert chronicles and analyzes the history of the production studio and its films in his new book, Maverick Movies: New Line Cinema and the Transformation of American Film.

Herbert initially launched his interest in New Line by teaching a course on the company. Back in 2010, the idea came from U-M librarian Philip Hallman, who also speculated about a possible book. The class evolved, and Herbert conducted extensive research that culminated in his book. He studied the Robert Shaye-New Line Cinema Papers and the Ira Deutchman Papers, which are in the Screen Arts Mavericks and Makers collection at the Special Collections Research Center of the University of Michigan Library. The closing lines of the book describe the origins of its title:

Natural Tendencies: Chris DuPont Shares Honest and Vulnerable Stories on “Fragile Things” EP


Chris DuPont sits against a black background and wears a yellow T-shirt underneath a red button-up shirt.

Chris DuPont explores the trajectory of relationships and the vulnerability, honesty, and wisdom that comes with them on Fragile Things. Photo by Robby Fisher of Dogtown Studio.

Chris DuPont didn’t go into making his new EP with a plan.

Instead, the Ypsilanti indie-folk singer-songwriter opted to write and record what came to him naturally.

“I just thought, ‘These songs are close to me.’ I didn’t have as much of an elevator pitch this time. It felt like a relief because sometimes I hide behind the elevator pitch. Sometimes I hide behind [this idea of], ‘Oh, this is what I’m about as an artist, and this is what I’m trying to say,’” said DuPont about Fragile Things.

“And instead, I just decided I’m gonna cut the crap and let people have it, and I hope they respond to it. If they don’t, then I will still know that those stories needed to get out of me for me to be OK.”

What resulted are five intimate songs about the trajectory of relationships and the vulnerability, honesty, and wisdom that come with them. On Fragile Things, DuPont shares those tales through emotive vocals, atmospheric folk-pop instrumentation, and ambient soundscapes.

“When I play them and share them, the consensus tends to be like, ‘Someone’s going to get something out of this,’” he said.

“When I play them live, they connect quickly—usually better than I expect. One thing I’m learning is that I think it’s just my job to create and not treat them like they belong to me as much.”

I recently spoke to DuPont about writing songs for his new EP, creating videos for the title track, recording the EP at multiple studios, preparing for a November 17 EP release show, and collaborating with Kylee Phillips on a duet EP.

My Deer Heart: Jeff Daniels' "Escanaba in Love" tracks love and laughter at an Upper Peninsula hunting camp


Jamie Lee as Albert Soady Jr. and Mark Bernstein as Albert Soady Sr. in PTD Productions' Escanaba in Love.

Jamie Lee as Albert Soady Jr. and Mark Bernstein as Albert Soady Sr. in PTD Productions' Escanaba in Love. Photo courtesy of PTD Productions.

Michiganders know the opening day of deer season is essentially a holiday for many folks, and that's definitely the case in Jeff Daniels’ Escanaba in Love, which PTD Productions is staging at the Riverside Art Center in Ypsilanti.

In this prequel to Daniels' hit show Escanaba in Da Moonlight, the audience is transported to the small Western Upper Peninsula town where the infamous Soady Deer Camp resides. It's 1944 and multiple generations of Soady men have been coming to this cabin in the woods to hunt. 

Family patriarch Alphonse Soady (Larry Rusinsky) is convinced he shot the biggest buck to ever walk the woods even as Albert Soady Sr. (Mark Bernstein) is certain Alphonse is losing his mind.

In comes "Salty" Jim Negamanee (Gary Lehman), who walks with a gimp due to a supposed boat accident and an alcohol problem. They all talk about the excitement of opening day and who will get the big buck this year.

Friday Five: JTC, Tyvek, C.R. Odette, .SSJ, Zilched


Cover art for the albums and singles featured in the Friday Five.

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features leftfield acid house from JTC, garage-punk by Tyvek, quiet synth psychedelia by C.R. Odette, forward-looking R&B by .SSJ, and noise-pop via Zilched.


EMU’s touring production of "Hare and Tortoise" is racing to a school near you


Four members of the Tortoise and the Hare crew inside the touring van.

After EMU's production of Hare and Tortoise tour to several Ann Arbor schools in a 16-person passenger van, it will perform two public shows at the Sponberg Theatre. Photo courtesy of EMU Theatre's Facebook page.

The Eastern Michigan Department of Theatre is doing a special tour of the beloved Aesop fable Hare and Tortoise. Adapted by Brendan Murray, and directed by Emily Levickas, the show is meant for kids around 3-8 years old, but anyone is welcome to come join the fun.

“We are touring to 10 different local elementary schools and libraries. We'll stop at four Ann Arbor elementary schools, including Abbot, Eberwhite, Haisley, and Wines. We also have two public performances at Eastern Michigan University in the Sponberg Theatre on Friday, November 10 at 7 pm and Saturday, November 11 at 10 am,” said Levickas.

The Tortoise and the Hare are involved in a race. The Hare, being the obvious favorite to win, is arrogant and mocks his competitor, the Tortoise. While the Tortoise knows that hard work and determination are enough to be a winner. In Aesop’s version, the Hare takes a nap during the race, underestimating his opponent, and awakes to the Tortoise crossing the finish line. We get the popular saying “slow and steady wins the race” from this tale. 

With this particular adaptation, Levickas said, “The show is based on the classic Aesop fable, but this adaptation by Brendan Murray explores themes of friendship, opposites, and the passage of time. In the introduction to the adaptation, Murray says "I hit on the idea of letting go and particularly letting go of comfortable, predictable certainties in favor of dangerous, but ultimately more fertile uncertainties. That is to say, a play about the terror and excitement of growing up.”

Public and Personal Policies: Airea D. Matthews’ autobiographical poetry collection questions economic theory amid the realities of poverty and violence


Airea D. Matthews and her book Bread and Circus.

Necessity and amusement. Sustenance and transaction. Security and turmoil.  

Airea D. Matthews’ autobiographical poetry collection, Bread and Circus, brims with contrasts. One situation or item is paired with another to show a lack or miscalculation. The poems hover on a precipice, even as the guests “…watch a lovely commodity / reluctantly agree to her own barter.” 

Early in the book, the poems witness a shotgun marriage, and the family grows in the subsequent years. Making ends meet results in how “Papa despised the vestiges of a hand- / out” – and especially “one specific symbol of his failure – corn.” Over time, the father’s drug addiction causes trauma, along with broken promises like, “I owe you a bike, right?” though it never materializes. These memories stick in the poet’s mind, as the poet reflects on a past hurt: 

Kelli O’Hara brings the bright lights of Broadway to the Michigan Theater


Black and white photo of Kelli O’Hara sitting in chair, wearing a black dress, and laughing.

Photo courtesy of Kelli O’Hara.

Kelli O’Hara is one of those versatile Broadway stars who shines in every show she’s in. 

She originated the role of Clara in The Light in the Piazza; played feisty union leader Babe opposite Harry Connick Jr. in The Pajama Game; washed a man right out of her hair as Nellie Forbush in South Pacific; originated the role of Francesca in the stage musical adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County; and charmed her young charges, royalty, and audiences alike in The King and I, for which O’Hara won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical. 

All the other O’Hara performances I mentioned earned her Tony nominations, too, plus two more besides: Kiss Me, Kate and Nice Work If You Can Get It. So to call O’Hara one of our era’s greatest leading ladies of the stage isn’t hyperbole; it’s just true.

And although O’Hara’s slated to star in the world premiere Broadway musical adaptation of Days of Wine and Roses, scheduled to start previews January 6, she’s also recently been performing concerts in different parts of the country, and she’s headed to Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater on Sunday, November 12 at 7 pm. 

In advance of the show, the native Oklahoman answered a few questions via email about what inspired the concert tour; her newest upcoming show; and her memories of working alongside Ann Arbor native Ashley Park in The King and I.

Greetings From Hell: The devil is in the details in the University of Michigan’s "Orpheus in the Underworld"


Alexander Nick as Orpheus and Goitsemang Lehobye as Eurydice in the University of Michigan's production of Orpheus in the Underworld.

Alexander Nick as Orpheus and Goitsemang Lehobye as Eurydice in the University of Michigan's production of Orpheus in the Underworld. Photo courtesy of U-M Department of Voice.

The classic Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is everywhere in the performing arts right now. The play Eurydice, written by award-winning playwright Sarah Ruhl, is being performed on stages all over the U.S. and was adapted into an opera by the same name, and the Broadway smash hit musical Hadestown, which won eight Tony awards including Best Musical, is still going strong in New York City, has a thriving national tour, and is opening on the West End in 2024. 

But before all of that, French composer Jaques Offenbach created Orphée Aux Enfers, or Orpheus in the Underworld, in 1858, and U-M's Department of Voice has put a whole new twist on it. (I went to the Thursday evening performance, and the actors I mention here may be different than those seen by others due to the double casting of the lead roles.)

Friday Five: First Tone, Liam Charron,, DÆmons, The Strange Theory of Light and Matter


Cover art for the albums and singles featured in the Friday Five.

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features drift music by First Tone, piano jazz from Liam Charron, minimalist techno via, and technical metal courtesy of DÆmons and The Strange Theory of Light and Matter.