Tellebrate Good Times, Come On! It’s a Tellabration!

PREVIEW WRITTEN WORD

The Ann Arbor Storytellers' Guild high-tales it to Trinity Lutheran Church and AADL's Pittsfield Branch for Tellebration

The Ann Arbor Storytellers' Guild high-tales it to Trinity Lutheran Church and AADL's Pittsfield Branch for Tellebration

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.

Review: Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien Fall 2015 Chinese Film Festival

REVIEW PREVIEW FILM & VIDEO

Dust in the Wind, directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien, kicked off the Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien Fall 2015 Chinese Film Festival

Dust in the Wind, directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien, kicked off the "Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien Fall 2015 Chinese Film Festival"

Hou Hsiao-hsien’s film Dust In the Wind opens with the puzzling image of a tiny rectangular shape, its top rounded, hovering against a black background. It appears at first to be an animated image, crudely rendered given the film’s 1986 release date. But it quickly becomes clear that we are swiftly traveling towards the image, rather than it floating towards us, and that it’s not a man-made drawing but a depiction of natural splendor. The shape is the light at the end of a pitch-black train tunnel, and the camera swiftly explodes out of the passage to reveal the stunning greens of the lush forest beyond.

This striking opening shot may be the most obvious way Taiwanese director Hou leads us to find beauty in seemingly mundane moments in Dust In the Wind, but it’s certainly not the last. The film screened Monday at the Michigan Theater to kick off “Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien,” a series of free screenings running through Nov. 11. The plot of Dust In the Wind is simple, almost pedestrian: a young couple, Ah-yuan (Wang Chien-wen) and Ah-yun (Xin Shufen), seek to escape their impoverished life in a Taiwanese mining town. Mining life has already left Ah-Yuan’s father injured and at the mercy of greedy pharmaceutical providers. Ah-yuan and Ah-yun travel to Taipei, where they take tedious jobs–he as a print shop assistant, she as a seamstress–to send money home and to fund their own night school and eventual wedding. They make a few friends and go out to drink and socialize when they can. Hardly leading a robust life to begin with, Ah-yuan and Ah-yun face their greatest challenge yet when the draft board calls Ah-yuan up for a lengthy tour of military service.

Hou is noted as a major voice in the Taiwanese New Wave cinema of the ‘80s, which emphasized realistic stories of everyday life in Taiwan. As such, having noted the rather bleak circumstances of Ah-yuan and Ah-yun’s lives and their tenuous young love, it’s not too difficult to predict the fate that will befall their relationship when Ah-yuan departs for the military. But Hou finds many a moment of warmth, beauty and wisdom in what could be a much more harrowing tale. He repeatedly frames the exterior of Ah-yuan’s family home in an extreme wide shot, encouraging us to appreciate not only the colorful hustle and bustle on the steps of the home but also the action that takes place in the courtyard beyond. There’s even gentle humor in the tale, as when Ah-yuan’s father accidentally lights a firecracker rather than a candle in the dark. (Ah-yuan’s grandfather, beautifully played by Li Tian-lu, is a repeated source of both sly humor and somewhat dark wisdom.) Hou repeatedly directs us toward the kindness and love in this dark story, from family members comfortably sharing food and drink to Ah-yun quietly nursing Ah-yuan back to health during a bout of bronchitis.

As the title of the film would suggest, the characters seem battered by life’s trials, cast adrift in an uncaring world they have little ability to fully comprehend, let alone control. But in the many warmer moments Hou creates here, he also seems to suggest that the characters are equally ignorant of some of the gifts that are present in their lives. It seems no mistake that Hou follows his spectacular opening POV shot from the train with a shot of Ah-yun and Ah-yuan onboard the vehicle, complacently reading, paying no attention to the spectacular scenery we’ve just been treated to. In a simple but metaphor-laden exchange between Ah-yuan and his grandfather at the film’s end, it’s difficult to tell just how much our characters’ eyes have really been opened. But Hou has certainly opened our eyes to some of the beauty in these difficult lives, and perhaps encouraged us to think differently about our own lives as well.

The “Also Like Life” series will continue through Nov. 11 with the following free screenings at the Michigan Theater:

  • Flowers of Shanghai screens Nov. 10 at 6 pm. Multiple prominent film critics have named this elegant, slow-paced 1998 film following the courtesans and patrons in four different brothels as one of the best movies of the ‘90s. The film stars Tony Leung, well-known for his appearances in Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood For Love and Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution.
  • Good Men, Good Women screens Nov. 11 at 5 pm. This 1995 release concludes a trilogy of historical films by Hou, preceded by 1989’s A City of Sadness and 1993’s The Puppetmaster. The story of a Taiwanese couple who journey to the Chinese mainland to fight the Japanese during the 1940s is told as a film within a film about an actress who is preparing to play the role of one of the main characters.
  • Millennium Mambo screens Nov. 11 at 7 pm. The 2001 film follows a young woman’s work life and romantic entanglements at the beginning of the new millennium. Although Hou uses vibrant cinematography and techno music in his storytelling, his portrait of recent youth culture is dark and somewhat despairing.

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor Observer, and other local publications. He can be heard most Friday mornings at 8:40 am on the Martin Bandyke morning program on Ann Arbor's 107one.


The “Also Like Life” series will continue through Nov. 11 with the following free screenings at the Michigan Theater: Flowers of Shanghai on Nov. 10 at 6 pm; Good Men, Good Women on Nov. 11 at 5 pm; and Millennium Mambo on Nov. 11 at 7 pm. More information can be found on the University of Michigan Kenneth G. Lieberthal and Richard H. Rogel Center for Chinese Studies page.

Preview: Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Skyline Theatre

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

Belle (Leah Bauer) and the Beast (Luke Renken) waltz together in Skyline Theatre’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Belle (Leah Bauer) and the Beast (Luke Renken) waltz together in Skyline Theatre’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast / Photo by Lisa Gavan

“There is the great lesson of 'Beauty and the Beast,' that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.” G. K. Chesterton

Skyline Theatre presents Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, beginning this weekend and running through November 22.

This tale, seemingly as old as time, dates back to the traditional French fairy tale La Belle et la Bête written in 1756 and has resulted in numerous adaptations including the famous 1991 animated classic (although, admittedly, my personal favorite version is Jean Cocteau's surreal 1946 French film).

In this stage adaptation of the animated film, beautiful Belle is, improbably, the village outsider who prefers books to the advances of the hunky, yet shallow Gaston. When she goes looking for her hapless father, an inventor who’s lost his way in an enchanted forest, she discovers him in a haunted castle, captive of a mysterious Beast. She then wins her father's freedom by reluctantly trading places with him. Thus begins the most unlikely of romances, made considerably more tolerable, if occasionally adorable, by singing teapots and waltzing silverware.

"Belle and the Beast’s story is timeless," observes Skyline Theatre director Anne-Marie Roberts. "It contains the universal themes of love and self-sacrifice. Children in all their innocence innately understand and connect with these truths.”

Best of all, following each of the performances, guests can meet and have their pictures taken with Belle, the Beast, and other memorable characters in the musical.


Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


Disney's Beauty and the Beast performs at Skyline High School (2552 N. Maple Rd in Ann Arbor) on November 14, at both 2:30 and 7:30 pm; November 20 & 21, at 7:30 pm; and November 22, at 2:30 pm. Tickets are available online or at the door. For more information, visit Skyline’s website.

Matt Jones' River Street Anthology featured in Concentrate

MUSIC

Matt Jones at the keyboard
Matt Jones at the keyboard / Photo by Doug Coombe

Check out the piece the folks over at Concentrate Media did on Ypsilanti musician Matt Jones and his River Street Anthology project. The project has been underway since March and is Jones' attempt to record as many Michigan musicians as he can.

From the article:

"I'm obsessed with history. I'm obsessed with preservation," he says. "It's so important that things like this never die out. All of us songwriters and bands, we can't just—poof—disappear. I need to keep everybody on the books."

Good luck to Matt on this noble endeavor! We hear you on the preservation thing, man, and it's really great to see folks taking it on.

Preview: Arlo Guthrie: The Alice's Restaurant 50th Anniversary Tour

MUSIC

Arlo Guthrie brings his red VW Microbus to town this Monday at the Michigan Theater

Arlo Guthrie brings his red VW Microbus to town this Monday at the Michigan Theater

The son of pioneering folk icon Woody Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie grew up with a unique perspective on a genre he would later adopt as his own. Surrounded by folk and “beat” greats, he was forged in a smelter of arts and artists like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg, Bill Monroe, and Doc Watson.

And then came Alice’s Restaurant. This presumably true – albeit festooned with literary license – story of a garbage dump run gone horribly wrong, pushed Arlo Guthrie to the front of the folk and rock stages in an era of general angst and wrenching generational change. The musical and spoken story, released in 1967 about the fateful day in 1965, along with the “the twenty-seven 8-by-10 colored glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one”, became a cult classic, earning him a spot at Woodstock and a place in the hearts of counter-culture music lovers around the world.

50 years later, Arlo Guthrie will re-tell his story – perhaps with a few new verses thrown in – this Monday night at The Michigan Theater, at the latest stop of The Alice’s Restaurant 50th Anniversary Tour. Those of us desiring to re-live our hazy youths will want to see this brilliant and funny performer once again, and those of us who just want a great evening of songs and storytelling will want to see Arlo for his enduring humor and musicality.


Don Alles is a marketing consultant, house concert host, and musical wannabee living in and loving his recently adopted home, Ann Arbor.


Arlo Guthrie brings Alice's Restaurant to the Michigan Theater on Monday, November 9, at 7:30 pm . Tickets are available through Ticketmaster online or by phone at 800-845-3000.

Preview: David Mitchell reading from his new novel Slade House

REVIEW PREVIEW WRITTEN WORD

David Mitchell brings his latest novel Slade House to Ann Arbor this Saturday

David Mitchell brings his latest novel Slade House to Ann Arbor this Saturday / Photo by Paul Stuart

Author David Mitchell will be giving a reading from his newest novel Slade House this Saturday, November 7, in the sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church, followed by a conversation with author and UM faculty member Peter Ho Davies. Fans of speculative fiction may be familiar with Mitchell through his previous novels including The Bone Clocks, number9dream, and, most famously, Cloud Atlas. This event is sponsored by Literati and University of Michigan Helen Zell Writers' Program.

Slade House is an outgrowth of Mitchell's last novel, The Bone Clocks, set in the same universe. It started as a short story that Mitchell published on Twitter. This story, revised and added to, is now the first chapter of Slade House. It might be this that we have to thank for the fact that this novel is by far Mitchell's shortest and by all accounts his most accessible.

As with several of Mitchell's books, Slade House makes use of multiple narrators and crosses through time, each section set nine years later than the previous. Every 40 pages or so we get a new narrator and the degree to which we are pulled into the life of each protagonist is astounding. A fully imagined character with a complete backstory and well-drawn secondary characters emerges in the first dozen pages every time. Each of these stories has a definite ending before a new narrator takes over, so Mitchell doesn't fall into the trap of Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler of leaving the reader hanging before moving on, never to return (though perhaps this is only a trap for those of us who want those books-within-the-book to keep going). In Slade House, you understand very quickly where each of these stories is going, and the inevitable ending of each.

To some extent it begins to feel like a procedural, a backwards Law & Order where you know the culprit, you know the crime, you know the ending, and it is the main character/detective (one time a literal detective) and the situation that switches out. The result of this is that by the second story you start reading it like a mystery, looking for patterns and clues (was that jogger there the last time? what's the significance of the grandfather clock? why the portraits?).

Slade House is difficult to classify; at first it seems to be a ghost story. But it isn't quite horror, as it isn't horrifying. And though it starts off with the trappings of a classic ghost story, by the end of the first section, it becomes something else, and by 2/3 through the novel, it is apparent that what you are reading is no less than high fantasy. There is a haunted house, sure, and there are ghosts, yes. But the ghosts aren't the thing to be scared of, and what does the haunting is far less malicious than the house being haunted. The final section of the novel and its ending did not appeal to me, but that's a matter of taste, not a failing on Mitchell's part. A high fantasy ending felt a bit like a bait-and-switch to me, but that's because I want my ghost stories to be ghost stories. Those more in sync with epic battles between forces of light and darkness will be more sympathetic to it.

The biggest failing of this novel may actually be how well thought-out its world is; Mitchell has so much to explain about what is happening that at times it starts to feel like the latest Bond villain laying out his whole plan. But this exposition is necessary as Mitchell needs you to understand what is happening for it all to come together. And it never gets bad enough that all of the magic is stripped out (no midi-chorians here), just enough that you get pulled out of the world by it. But the fact that new worlds are created again and again in the span of 240 pages is in itself an achievement that makes Slade House well worth the read.


Andrew MacLaren is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library and the only parlors he haunts are pizza parlors.


David Mitchell's reading takes place this Saturday, November 7, at 6 pm (doors open at 5:15 pm) in the sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church. A copy of Slade House is included in the $30 admission price (this price also includes entry for either one or two people). Tickets are available online.

Review: Tubas on Film

REVIEW FILM & VIDEO MUSIC

Octubafest brought film and horns together for Celluloid Tubas

Octubafest brought film and horns together for Celluloid Tubas

There's so much going on in town every weekend, it's easy to overlook the multiple waves of consistently astounding student recitals coming out of the UM Music School. But to do so risks missing some extremely rare opportunities to hear top-notch musicians tackle enormously exciting and engaging work, such as last weekend's simply jaw-dropping Celluloid Tubas performance, put on by the University of Michigan's Euphonium and Tuba Ensemble (UMETE), led by visiting conductor and arranger E. Todd Fiegel.

Fiegel and UM Tuba & Euphonium Professor Fritz Kaenzig met as students and have remained friends ever since; Fiegel arrangements and appearances have been periodic features of Octubafest concerts over the years. Fiegel is a lifelong fan of film and film scores, and has brought his challenging and faithful arrangements of famous film themes to brass ensembles across the country through his Celluloid Tubas and Celluloid Brass series. The program for last Sunday's recital at the Stamps Auditorium on North Campus featured eight of Fiegel's arrangements of famous film themes for Professor Kaenzig's ridiculously talented Tuba & Euphonium students, accompanied by a team of five percussionists, each set of pieces played in sync with video.

It's not unheard of for a live ensemble to play along with a video; in fact there are several touring arrangements of video game or film music, such as the Legend of Zelda tour (that comes as close as that town to the south in 2016), and most of these shows use a digital click track in earphones, or a special video feed for the conductor, to show exactly when each beat must happen for the music to stay in sync with the video. The Celluloid Tubas Show utilized no sync tools at all; Feigel simply watched the video on the screen along with the audience, and conducted the ensemble to keep the music matched up with the action. This was an extremely impressive feat, demonstrating Feigel's deep knowledge of the scenes and the scores, and while not every beat was precisely perfect, the musicianship on display by the conductor and the ensemble was simply staggering.

Starting off with a suite of themes from Bruce Boughton's score for Silverado (1985), the richness and warmth of a Tuba & Euphonium ensemble was immediately on display, very well suited to the panorama-evoking score from the film and the Coplandesque open harmonies that are shorthand for cowboy movies. Beef, it's what's for dinner. Feigel carefully set the stage for each section, explaining what was going on with the plot and how the score amplified and reflected the emotions, while lovingly protecting the audience from spoilers, such as that Kevin Kline would not die in the climactic gunfight against Brian Dennehy.

The next piece was a very famous sequence from 1955's The 7th Voyage of Sinbad: the epic Skeleton Fight, scored by Bernard Herrmann, who went on to score most of Hitchcock's best films, including, as Feigel noted, the music-less score of The Birds. The ensemble did an amazing job with a very difficult piece, and my post-millennial 13 year-old son was also astounded by the quality of Ray Harryhausen's entirely hand-animated special effects. Even all these years later, that post-production Skeleton is convincing in a way of which Jar Jar Binks can only dream.

The first half of the concert featured what Feigel described as "Two vocal soloists at the top of their game," in an arrangement he calls It Ain't Over 'til the Fat Instrument Plays. My son and I had this one pegged for What's Opera, Doc? from the moment we got the program in hand, and we were delighted to be right, with the original vocal performances carefully separated from the original music and accompanied by the power of an ensemble of which Wagner could barely have imagined. Also, it was only 5 minutes long, which Wagner certainly could not have imagined.

The second half began with one of the most famous fusions of animation and music ever produced, Paul Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Arranging this woodwind-heavy piece for a low brass ensemble truly showed off Feigel's chops as an arranger, as well as the ranges of the performers, but the truly impressive feat was the timing of the very specific, spread out beats at moments in the short, such as when the splintered broomsticks come back to life, or the final potch Mickey receives at the end of the short. Every single pulse of the music is evident in Disney's animation, and the ensemble nailed them all.

Of course, you can't do a program of Movie Music without something by John Williams, and Fiegel brought three outstanding picks from Williams' catalog. Send in the Clones is the score of the final scene of the otherwise execrable Attack of the Clones, where the famous Imperial March is heard for the first time, a piece extremely well suited to the naturally sinister Euphonium. Then, after a beautiful but undeniably maudlin excerpt from Saving Private Ryan, the ensemble launched into Fiegel's vrOOM vrOOM Scherzo, an arrangement of William's Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra that scores Henry Jones Jr. and Senior's escape from the Nazis. One of the best bits of Indiana Jones music, this piece catches every bump and jostle of the scene with the Last Crusade's Nazi Theme underscoring throughout.

But the most impressive achievement of the evening, and the closing number, was Eine Kleine Tubamusik für Roadrunner und Coyote, a very faithful conversion of Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn's score for the Roadrunner Cartoon Zoom and Bored. The scoring of a Roadrunner cartoon is so distinctive, from the alternating fury and depression of Wile E. Coyote's efforts, to the signature xylophone blinks of confusion, that despite the unusual instrumentation, the score fit right in, from the Beyooooop to the That's All Folks. But you don't have to take my word for it, here's a video of a performance of the arrangement from a previous Celluloid Tubas show at Umich in 2005:

It was a delightful evening of film, commentary, rich tones, and lots of spit. UMETE is one of the most impressive ensembles on campus, and with arrangers like Todd Feigel pushing their boundaries, it's worth taking the time to see what Tubas and Euphoniums can do, without a full band holding them back.


Eli Neiburger is Deputy Director of the Ann Arbor District Library and was one of the worst Sousaphone players in the Michigan Marching Band.


You can stay on top of what the University of Michigan Tuba & Euphonium Studio is up to on their facebook page .

Preview-Julian Schnabel in Dialogue with Peter Brant

PREVIEW VISUAL ART

Divan, 1979, Oil, plates, bondo on wood, 96 x 96 x 12 inches, Photo by Farzad Owrang, Copyright Julian Schnabel Studio, Courtesy The Brant Foundation // Julian Schnabel on the set of Miral / Photo by Jose Haro

"Divan", 1979, Oil, plates, bondo on wood, 96 x 96 x 12 inches, Photo by Farzad Owrang, Copyright Julian Schnabel Studio, Courtesy The Brant Foundation // Julian Schnabel on the set of Miral / Photo by Jose Haro

Julian Schnabel, painter and filmmaker, will take the stage at the Michigan Theater this Thursday evening as part of the Penny Stamps Speaker Series. Originally scheduled to kick off the Fall 2015 season in September, Schnabel’s appearance was rescheduled due to unforeseen circumstances.

Schnabel’s paintings were on display at the University of Michigan Museum of Art from July 5–September 27 of this year. In case you missed it, they were huge. His paintings are made up of unexpected materials–including broken dinner plates and Bondo putty (yes, the automotive body filler)–and took up two galleries, engulfing the walls from floor to ceiling. He is a well-known figure in the Neo-expressionism art movement, but he may be better known for his films. Schnabel wrote and directed the films Basquiat, a biopic on the painter Jean-Michel Basquiat (1996), and Before Night Falls (2000), an adaptation of Reinaldo Arenas' autobiographical novel. He also directed The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) and Miral (2010).

The Patricia Urquiola talk originally scheduled for November 5 will take place as part of the Winter 2016 Penny Stamps Speaker Series, to be announced later this month. The Penny Stamps Speaker Series brings innovators from a broad spectrum of fields to Ann Arbor to conduct a public lecture and engage with students, faculty, and the larger University and Ann Arbor communities, and they are a great way to spend a Thursday evening.


Anne Drozd is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library and once owned a car that was 57% Bondo.


Julian Schnabel's appearance is Thursday, November 5, 2015. The Penny Stamps Speaker Series takes place Thursdays at 5:10 pm at the Michigan Theater, located at 603 E. Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor, and all events are free of charge and open to the public. The entire lineup can be seen at the Penny Stamps site.

Night Vale Book Tour Slays Hundreds

REVIEW WRITTEN WORD

None of the attendees at the Welcome to Night Vale event recall host Dessa Darling or authors Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor devouring any audience members

None of the attendees at the Welcome to Night Vale event recall host Dessa Darling or authors Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor devouring any audience members (CC-by-NC)

It was a dark and stormy night.

Dreary gray clouds dragged themselves across a dreary gray sky. It was cold. It was raining.

Inside there was a shuffle of feet. The scrape of a door. A slight sense of…apprehension? And a sound. A peculiar sound. A murmur of hundreds of voices. A whisper of a thousand turning pages. A low hum. What was that peculiar, whispering, humming sound?

Oh. It was the sound of 500 podcast-obsessed book nerds vibrating in their seats waiting for the Welcome to Night Vale book tour to start.

On October 24th, the city of Ann Arbor opened wide its many sets of alien arms to welcome Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, creators of the popularly creepy and creepily popular Welcome to Night Vale podcast to town. The show is about a fictitious desert town where werewolves, ghosts, and mysterious lights in the night sky are familiar and routine, the weather is music, and the sleepy town’s supernatural goings-on are all calmly broadcast over the radio for everyone to hear.

Hosted by Literati Bookstore, Fink and Cranor came to Ann Arbor for an hour of questions, answers, and a brief reading as part of a nation-wide tour for their newly released novel Welcome to Night Vale.

Included in the price of the ticket were the following essential items:

-One seat (mostly for sitting, but possible for use as a shield against wild beasts, unknown hooded figures, or existential crises)
-One copy of the new book to take home and read to yourself, to your family, or loudly to strangers at the bus stop
-Human contact (optional)

In the auditorium of Emerson School, the authors took their seats on stage and faced the terrifying horde: hundreds of Night Vale fans wearing their most intricate costumes, their most supportive Night Vale T-shirts, screaming their sincerest screams of excitement.

For a fandom that prizes the mysterious, eerie, and monstrous so highly, it was probably the friendliest event I’ve ever been to.

Singer, rapper, and host Dessa Darling provided most of the questions and all of the enthusiasm allowed by law. She opened the event with a simple question for creator Joseph Fink: “If I were to corner your grandmother in an elevator, what would she have to say about Night Vale’s success?”

From there, it was pretty much a delightfully wacky journey from hilarious anecdotes about Welcome to Night Vale's narrator doing podcasts in his underwear to some Super Heavy Serious Metaphysical Stuff.

This was what impressed me most about the event. The questions, the authors' answers, and the brief reading of the book itself all proved the depth of feeling and philosophical thought that the Night Vale universe both creates for and evokes in its listeners.

I don’t know if you knew this, guys, but despite being pretty funny, Welcome to Night Vale is some deep shit.

Sure, the Q & A included questions as simple as “Do you think this book is going to be banned?” (to which Fink replied, “I hope so!”). But there were also questions as complex as asking the authors what it means to have a body, a physical form as a catalyst for all of your interactions with the world, and if our bodies ultimately determine our destinies.

Yeah. See? Deep.

As an occasional Night Vale podcast listener at an event that seemed to consist entirely of fans who had already heard all 80-or-so episodes and devoured half the book in the fifteen minutes between the hardback hitting their palms and the two creators appearing onstage, I realized one thing pretty quickly: the Night Vale fandom is one that makes you want to be pulled down into its gaping maw. The fans at this event cheered at everything. They clapped at everything. They laughed at everything. They told the guy who took to the microphone before the event had even started—the dude who was only up there to tell them the boring rules of safety and not to trample each other on the way out—that they loved him.

They screamed this. Repeatedly. And they meant it.

Between the positively-charged atmosphere of the event, the clearly devoted and downright pleasant fans, and the creators who have put way more thought into their writing than you might imagine, it was enough to make you wonder: Can I please take a bus to this Night Vale place, or do I need to be dropped from a mother ship into their town square?

Based on the brief 3-page reading done by Jeffrey Cranor and the 20 pages I got through while waiting for the show to start, readers of Welcome to Night Vale can expect the usual dark humor, a cast of strange and mysterious characters, an equally mysterious double-mystery, shape-shifters, sentient houses, and a lot of made-up quotes from famous people.

But, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “This is the end of the article.”


Nicole Williams is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library. She prefers her meat rare and has never been seen at work on a full moon.

Preview: Grease, Pioneer High School's Theatre Guild

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

Summer nights come this November in Pioneer High School Theatre Guild's production of Grease

Summer nights come this November in Pioneer High School Theatre Guild's production of Grease / Myra Klarman Photography

“Grease is the word,” sang Barry Gibb nearly 40 years ago. It was 1978 and John Travolta had just discoed his way to superstardom in Saturday Night Fever. This time he’d spark some summer lovin’ and help spin the 1971 stage musical Grease into a cult film and a staple for high school musical theater programs across the county.

This weekend Pioneer High School’s Theatre Guild offers its take on Rydell High’s class of 1959, with direction by Matthew Kunkel, University of Michigan Directing Major.

The story centers on Danny Zuko, a too-cool-for-school hot-rodder who reluctantly crosses clique lines and kills it at the high school dance for his sweetheart, Sandy Dumbrowski, who in turn is negotiating her own way among the bad girls. At its core are the timeless high school high jinks and teen angst that make Grease the perfect high school musical.

Peer pressure played out by duck-tailed T-birds and gum-smacking Pink Ladies? What’s not to like?


Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


Grease opens Friday, November 7, at 8:30 pm and runs through Sunday, November 15, at 2 pm. Tickets are $10 (students, Seniors 65+, and PHS staff) and $15 adults. For more information, visit Pioneer Theatre Guild's webpage.