One of the things I love most about the arts is the way they can be beautifully connected. On Sunday, October 23, the arts of music and photography combined when artist Catie Newell's exhibition Overnight at the University of Michigan Museum of Art inspired a University of Michigan Chamber Choir performance at the museum. The performance was themed around the concepts of darkness and light, in honor of Newell's work.
The award-winning conductor, Dr. Jerry Blackstone, opened the concert by encouraging the audience to review the exhibit after the performance. Blackstone also presented the listeners with the arrangement of the concert: the theme of darkness to be set in the first half of the performance, with light theme being presented afterwards.
This was a sensational concert. The vocalists were some of the most talented musicians I’ve heard. With each vocalist standing beside a vocalist with a different voice part, the whole choir was beautifully balanced. In every song, you could hear the gorgeous melodies each section could be proud of. In some pieces, the harmonies were so tight that the sound was like how I’d imagine water running would sound as it splits from one stream into many – effortlessly smooth. I could have believed in magic that night the way Dr. Blackstone used his hands, like a magician conjuring sonic enchantment out of thin air.
The musical selections were overwhelmingly beautiful. From pieces totally new to the ones more familiar, each song was a joy to the ear. The Rachmaninoff “Bogoroditse Devo (Ave Maria)" is one I’ve sung before, but this performance of the piece still knocked me off my feet. If you consider yourself a music lover and have never heard it, get thee to YouTube. A new piece I heard that night was “Ev’ry night, when the sun goes down” arranged by Gwenyth Walker. With the soulful tenor solo and the gorgeous choral sections, I had to close my eyes and focus all my senses on those heartwarming sounds. I attended the concert with someone totally new to choir concerts, and even he had chills during that piece.
I heard other favorites, like Brahms’ “Der Abend” and the “O nata Lux” from Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, but overall my favorite had to be “Northern Lights” by Eriks Esenvalds. As hand-chimes came to the stage along with wine-glasses filled with water, Dr. Blackstone introduced this piece as an expression of first seeing the lights from the perspective of a ship crew, previously bunkered down under the docks in darkness. Throughout the piece, the choir mimics the lights with their shimmering and smooth tones as the notes rise and fall. I could also hear the urgency in the captain’s voice when the choir sings “Come above,” the part of the story just before the crew rises to see the night’s spectacle. During the part of the song when the crew finally climbs up into the night from below, the choir bursts into the poetic line that Dr. Blackstone prepared us for before beginning: “the sky was aflame.” From then to the end, the chimes and water glasses are played to create a tinkling, ringing sensation that sends your thoughts to the shine of those lights. The whole piece was incredible – it melted my heart.
Not only was the music stunning - the atmosphere was equally appealing. A long time choir geek myself, I’ve sung in plenty unique places, but setting the performance in the lobby of UMMA was a spectacular experience. The space gave the effect of a European cathedral, with the glass above, the pillars all around, the resonation of the room, even with the choir beginning along the balconied edge of the second floor (just as if they were singing in a cathedral’s choir loft). Seriously, I could not have asked for a better way to end the weekend.
Liz Grapentine is a desk clerk at AADL. A graduate from Oakland University with a major in Music Education and a minor in English, Liz enjoys all the arts in every form. Liz is also a true Ann Arbor townie and a proud patron of the library since 1995.
I’ve always thought it was just me. That is, that my comfort with the night’s glimpse into the unknown was an element I alone enjoyed.
Little could I know that Catie Newell: Overnight at the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s Irving Stenn, Jr., Family Project Gallery would be such a vivid entry in the outsider’s world of artful darkness.
Atmospheric darkness is a rather difficult concept with which to fully come to terms. Simply said, there’s a seeming absence of something—through the presence of nothing.
Perhaps night light is the unacknowledged underbelly of the sublime - that exalted aesthetic quality distinct from manmade beauty. Which is to say, what we appreciate in nature is supposedly qualitatively different from the pleasure we receive from viewing art.
Think along the lines of standing aside Yosemite’s Half-Dome; overlooking Lake Superior at the Upper Peninsula’s Pictured Rocks Natural Lakeshore; or contemplating the dazzlingly azure beauty of Italy’s Amalfi coastline. All are indeed awe inspiring experiences.
But this yawning of nature’s infinity has always been a troublesome concept—or, at least, I’ve always thought it so. If only because there can also be no mistaking of the thrill to be found standing dead-center in the junction of New York City’s Broadway and Seventh Avenue at Times Square; or studying the overwhelming intricacy of Chartres cathedral; or, for that matter, walking the expansive panorama of St. Peter’s Square.
Yet all these glorious experiences—as magnificent as they may be—do not really hit the curious spot of simple night light. And Newell’s Overnight is as handsome an exploration of this singularity as one is bound to find.
It’s definitely been a long time coming for someone whose favorite backdrop encompasses the night’s perimeters.
An Assistant Professor of Architecture at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Newell joined that faculty in 2009 as their Oberdick Fellow after receiving her Masters of Architecture from Rice University and a Bachelor of Science in architecture from Georgia Tech University.
Winner of the 2011 Architectural League Prize for Young Architects and Designers; the 2011 ArtPrize Best Use of Urban Space Juried Award; and the 2011 Architectural League Prize for Young Architects and Designers, Newell has exhibited at the 2012 Architecture Venice Biennale. And after attaining the Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon Polsky Rome Prize Fellow in Architecture for 2013-2014, she’s now a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome.
UMMA Director Joseph Rosa and Exhibit Manager Jane Dechants say in their introduction to the exhibit, “Newell’s fascination with light is also a fascination with darkness."
“Darkness and its surrogates—ambient light; residual light; shadows, haze, and other ‘interruptions’—give the environment what she calls its double-life in daytime. A landscape may be seen and known—familiar, predictable, trustworthy—but at night it succumbs to a darkness that, in her words, removes its walls, alters its spaces, and haunts—becoming risky, even dangerous, and ultimately alien.”
This nod to darkness—and the strategic absence of darkness—is the essential element of Newell’s installation and its spectacular accompanying untitled color photography.
Newell writes in her gallery statement, the “installation is attuned specifically to the gallery’s exposure to daylight and its transformation into night. During the day, natural illumination catches reflections on the aluminum wire, and provides the best light to view the 'Nightly' [color photographic] series.
“In the evening hours after sunset and for the duration of the show, the Museum will leave its exterior lights off, allowing the installation spotlights to draw out different lines of light on the aluminum [Overnight] and create the impossible architectural moment captured in the 'Nightly' series.”
Impossible might indeed be the right word here. Because these observations indirectly infer that what one sees of Overnight is only a portion of what one does not see—at least not directly.
The installation definitely is a nocturnal treat to observe overnight. Two chevrons of multi-strand aluminum wires shimmering as they hover from the gallery’s ceiling with a single spot light shining on each aggregation, Overnight is haunting in its suspension. Tiny LED lights at the bottom of selected strands give occasional bursts of light as one passes the UMMA. There’s a decidedly ghostly ambiance to the work.
Yet perhaps it’s the photographs that are the most distinctive element of the exhibit. A series of 19 color photographs set in irregular groups of two, three, and four images around two walls of the Stenn Gallery, the 'Nightly' series is easily some of the most dramatic photography seen in Ann Arbor through this last year.
Each composition is really no more than a strategically placed spotlight that captures the mood of its surrounding landscape in an otherwise ordinary urban setting. The nocturnal iridescence of this light creates an otherworldly intimacy that dramatically dominates the photo’s milieu. As such, perhaps the most overwhelming effect of this masterly work is Newell’s keen sense of the psychological tension this imagery can have on its viewer.
If it’s a valid truism that profundity of art lies in simplicity, Newell has crafted some of the most insightful art we’re likely to see any time soon. Playing off the observation that absence can have as strong an attraction as presence, the simplicity of Newell’s Overnight installation and her 'Nightly' series is as visceral an experience as art can be.
John Carlos Cantú has written on our community's visual arts in a number of different periodicals.
University of Michigan Museum of Art: "Catie Newell: Overnight” will run through November 6, 2016. The UMMA is located at 525 S. State Street. The Museum is open Tuesday-Saturday 11 am - 5 pm; and Sunday 12–5 pm. For information, call 734-764-0395.
If you're looking for some fun events around town for the Halloween weekend, read on for creepy cemetery tours, devilish dance parties, shadow puppet theatre, and more Halloween arts & culture:
Book-Themed Halloween Costume Contest
Monday, October 31st - 10:00am-9:00pm
Literati Bookstore - Ann Arbor, MI
Halloween at the Market
Saturday, October 29th - 12:00pm-2:00pm
Ann Arbor Farmer's Market - Ann Arbor, MI
Highland Cemetery Lantern Tours
Sunday, October 30th - 7:00pm-9:00pm
Highland Cemetery - Ypsilanti, MI
Shadow Puppet Double Feature
Saturday, October 29th - 9:00pm-11:00pm
Triple Goddess Tasting Room - Ypsilanti, MI
Cultivate Masquerade & Costume Bash
Friday, October 28th - 8:00pm-12:00am
Cultivate Coffee & Taphouse - Ypsilanti, MI
Black Cat Cabaret - Neighborhood Theatre Group
Friday, October 28th and Saturday, October 29th - 8:30pm
Bona Sera - Ypsilanti, MI
Halloween Treat Parade
Monday, October 31st - 11:00am-5:00pm
Main Street Area - Ann Arbor, MI
A2DC Presents: Hullabaloo Halloween Spooktacular
Sunday, October 30th - 6:00pm-10:00pm
Ann Arbor Distilling Company - Ann Arbor, MI
The Bang! Halloween Dance Party
Saturday, October 29th - 9:30pm
The Blind Pig - Ann Arbor, MI
Nightlife Arcade Gaming Spooktacular
Friday, October 28th - 6:00pm-9:00pm
The Forge by Pillar - Ann Arbor, MI
Directors are forever trying to make Shakespeare more relevant for contemporary audiences. They place the Bard’s plays in new settings, emphasize themes that seem more relevant, sometimes even tinker with the text to clear up muddy passages.
Director David Widmayer makes an interesting attempt to breathe new life into Shakespeare’s tragedy of jealousy and rage Othello for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre. His conceit is to move the play from its Renaissance time and Venetian setting to Saigon in 1969 and American soldiers preparing to fight in the jungle war with North Vietnam and the Viet Cong.
Widmayer also shifts some thematic emphasis, while staying true to Shakespeare’s language. The play is primarily about Othello as a stranger in a strange land, a black Moor in a white European city (here meant to represent Washington D.C.), who has emerged as a critical military leader. The Venetians (the government) need him but also never let him forget that he is not one of them. This leads to a fatal insecurity in his relationship with his new wife, Desdemona, daughter of a senator. The racial implications remain but Widmayer puts emphasis on two other themes: male aggression and blind ambition and the manipulation and disregard for women.
Shakespeare is always a challenge for community theater groups and for established professional repertory theaters alike. The plays are primarily in verse, the structure is awkward to modern ears and some passages are difficult to decipher. But the challenge is worth it for the rich beauty in the verse and deep insights in character and relationships.
Few relationships are more intense then the one between Othello and his conniving subordinate Iago, a man as jealous of Othello as he makes Othello jealous of the loyal and loving Desdemona.
Widmayer succeeds in drawing attention to other the themes and, in some aspects, bringing a modern attitude to the portrayals. He keeps the place names the same, as the program notes, to preserve the meter of the verse but this somewhat defeats the change of place. A 60s soundtrack between scenes is nice but doesn’t quite do it either.
The acting styles do not all mesh well though there is commendable effort throughout and some performances perfectly match what Widmayer sets out to do, make the play more contemporary.
The play’s plot, of course, revolves around Othello’s rapid advancement in the military. He marries a senator’s daughter and the senator is irate but tempered by the impending military crisis. Iago is a lieutenant to Othello and a man who uses his tongue and his wiles to poison Othello into believing Desdemona is having an affair with a rising young officer and Othello aide, Cassio. Iago uses his bright and loving wife Emilia and a former suitor of Desdemona, Roderigo, in his plot.
In the two major female roles, Annie Dilworth as Desdemona and Carol Gray as Emilia find that sweet spot that Widmayer was aiming for. They read Shakespeare’s language naturally, conversationally and without broad gestures. They also move with the ease and self-possession of modern women. These are women who are sorely wronged by their men. Dilworth makes Desdemona a witty, kind, and loving spouse whose later despair and resignation is all the more tragic. Gray’s Emilia is not the nagging wife of many productions but a spirited woman expecting to be treated as an equal partner by the man she loves but doesn’t really know.
Russ Schwartz as Cassio also speaks the language naturally. He portrays Cassio as a vulnerable subordinate wanting to prove himself but not quite at home in the uber macho military environment. Schwartz seems to combine a boyish charm with a deep insecurity. Greg Kovas brings humor to the role or Roderigo, a loud-mouthed drinker with a clumsy man-to-man bonhomie attitude.
Sean Sabo’s Iago is performed in a more traditional style. His gestures are broader, the language less conversational. He seems a bit stiff at first but as he outlines his deadly plot, Sabo digs deeper into the character. In many ways, Iago has the greatest burden of language and complexity of character. In his mind, he is a man denied who must bend to someone he sees as an inferior. But he conceals his evil with a sly and twisted charm and show of innocent good will. Sabo makes that difficult connection.
Justin Gordon brings a ferocity to his portrayal of Othello. He struts with the bravado of a man who knows that what matters is how he shows himself to these men who will always regard him as a lesser man no matter how much they depend on him. However, Gordon does not project or enunciate clearly enough, and in the final scenes he doesn’t capture the tension or sadness of realizing fully the mistake he’s made. In earlier scenes, he shines in showing a playful side to Othello’s relationship with Desdemona, but overall, the play’s crucial bitter sweetness is lost.
This is a good effort and worth seeing for the interesting shift in emphasis, especially at a time when male attitudes about women have played a prominent role in our current presidential election. As in Othello, the personal and the political have become sadly entangled.
Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.
The Ann Arbor Civic Theatre production of Othello continues 8 pm Oct. 28-29 and 2 pm. Oct. 30 at the Arthur Miller Theatre on the North Campus of the University of Michigan. For tickets and information, call the box office at (734)971-2228 or go online to http://www.a2ct.org.
UMS Wallace Blogging Fellow Adam DesJardins recommends some great upcoming musical performances and art installations. From the Arab-American National Museum's exhibit of graphic novelist Leila Abdelrazaq's work to a Blind Pig appearance by Vulfpeck's Theo Katzman and collaborator Joey Dosik, he's got your early November booked.
“Thou shalt bringeth the funk” is a quote no one ever said to me. Luckily, funk-bringers Theo Katzman and Joey Dosik will be doing just that when they grace the stage at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor on November 5." writes DesJardins, in case you needed more of a reason to buy tickets for the show.
Catch more of UMS Wallace Bloggers DesJardins and Marissa Kurtzhals in their weekly roundups!
Something wicked this way comes to Huron High School beginning Friday, October 28, when the Huron Players present Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Celebrate the spooky season, enjoy some epic battles - and get extra credit in an English class - with the Shakespeare play where fair is foul, and foul is fair.
This classic tragedy of greed gone bad begins when Macbeth, a Scottish general, receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that he will one day become King of Scotland. Spurred on by his vicious wife and and consumed by his own ambition, Macbeth’s fate is cast when he murders King Duncan. And from there things get much worse.
To learn more about the cast and crew visit the Huron Players website.
Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Macbeth performances are October 28th, 29th and November 4th, 5th at 7:30 pm in Huron's New Theater, 2727 Fuller Rd. Tickets: $6 students/seniors and $8 general admission. Some themes may be unsuitable for children.
YpsiGLOW--the first annual family-friendly, multi-sensory light, art, and music celebration of fall--will be held in downtown Ypsilanti this Thursday, October 27. Festivities commence at 5 pm at the Main Branch of the Ypsilanti Public Library at 229 W. Michigan Avenue with a preGLOW kid's costume party. Treats, activities, games, and a costume contest will be followed at 6:30 pm by a walking costume and luminary parade from the library to the nearby ypsiGLOW block party on Washington between Pearl and Michigan Avenue.
As a DJ spins tracks from his scissor-lift perch, a UV light-activated dance floor and blacklight animated alleys provide space for costumed adults and kids to move with the music. YpsiGLOW artists will perform on the street and in shop windows. Blacklight body artists will be on hand to paint faces and make hair glow in the dark. Also featured will be a blacklight reactive superhero mural, a giant luminary skull, a six-foot-tall grizzly, jack-o-lanterns, shadow puppets, and much more. Dancers from the WCC Performing Arts Department and the EMU Dance crew will perform, and films and projections will light up the night. Costumes are encouraged, trick-or-treaters are welcome and stores will be open until 9:30 pm. There is ample free parking on streets and in city lots for the event.
And for adult GLOWers who want to continue the party, there is an afterGLOW in the spooky black cellars of Bona Sera with DJ Ryan Gerald until midnight.
It took a village to get this event going. It began two years ago when members of the Washtenaw Convention and Visitors Bureau, The Downtown Association of Ypsilanti and Wonderfools Productions (of Ann Arbor Festifools fame) decided a Halloween-season festival would be a great addition to Ypsilanti's already very successful First Fridays. Wonderfool organizers Shary Brown, Mark Tucker, Jeri Rosenberg, and Adriana Zardus began meeting with creative members of the Ypsilanti community, the Ypsilanti Public Library staff, and local educational institutions as well as with civic leaders. Together, they developed a plan to leverage the outsize creative capital of Ypsilanti, the under-utilized downtown real estate, and a little seed money to create the one-night annual cultural festival that is ypsiGLOW.
I asked some members of the Wonderfool production team about their process:
"Two of our first partners were Barry LaRue and Will Hathaway of Riverside Arts Center. They, in the space of less than a week, had sent out email introductions. So we spent two and a half to three months just meeting people," says Shary Brown.
Adriana Zardus adds, "Those three months were really important--we called it our discovery phase. We weren't prescribing any ideas. We were just saying that this is what our organization does: we connect different businesses, artists, and community organizations together to make their own creative vision... There's such a wealth of artists and creatives and community leaders that it was the easiest thing in the world to let go of the creative reins and hand it over.”
One thing that was very clear to the team from the start though, was that the event had to have its own unique Ypsi character that to showcase the strengths of this diverse artist, musicians, and creatives-rich community, starting with the choice of a name. They came up with ypsiGLOW in consultation with community members. It was an instant hit.
"GLOWing is positive, it's artistically descriptive and appropriate for the season,” says Shary Brown.
To prepare for the big night, 23 ypsiGLOW workshops have been held by community and arts organizations like Ozone House, Project 23, FLY Children’s ArtCenter, and many others. Masks, jack-lanterns, luminaries, and giant light creatures are now ready to make the night GLOW.
YpsiGLOW will get its first airing this Thursday but certainly not its last. The Wonderfool production team and Ypsi’s artists, educators, businesses, and community leaders are hoping to start an annual tradition that will bring everyone in the Ann Arbor/Ypsi area together for a satisfying shared community art experience for all ages.
K.A. Letts is an artist and art blogger. She has shown her work regionally and nationally and in 2015 won the Toledo Federation of Art Societies Purchase Award while participating in the TAAE95 Exhibit at the Toledo Museum of Art. You can find more of her work at RustbeltArts.com.
The first ypsiGLOW is Thursday, October 27, 2016, from 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm at Washington Street (between Pearl St. and Michigan Ave.) in Ypsilanti. Glow-gear and costumes are strongly encouraged.
When Ann Arbor punk pioneers the Stooges played a tribute show for their deceased guitarist Ron Asheton at the Michigan Theater in 2011, arthouse director Jim Jarmusch was in the house. Having announced that he was beginning work on a documentary about the Stooges just the year before, one might have guessed that the Cuyahoga Falls-born director behind Night On Earth and Broken Flowers was planning to include the Ann Arbor show in his film.
But the amusing stories of Jarmusch's terse interactions with townies are the only real creative legacy the director left behind from his Ann Arbor visit. There's no footage from the Asheton tribute in Gimme Danger, Jarmusch's Stooges documentary, which will open in Detroit on Oct. 28. And in many ways, that's for the best.
Jarmusch was at the Asheton tribute, and presumably has been around for other moments in the lives of Iggy and Co. over the past decade-plus, as a friend and casual observer, not a documentarian. Jarmusch first worked with Iggy Pop, the Stooges' legendary and arrestingly bizarre frontman, on a standout scene from Jarmusch's 2003 narrative film Coffee and Cigarettes. In 2010 Pop personally requested that Jarmusch make a documentary about the band. The resulting film plays not like a staid rock biopic but like an intimate conversation between friends, a fun, loosey-goosey retelling of the tumultuous tale behind one of the most influential bands in rock.
Jarmusch begins the film in 1973 with one of the band's apparent endings. At the time, the Stooges had already released their three seminal albums The Stooges, Fun House, and Raw Power, but as a title card puts it, "They were dirt." Critically maligned and dragged down by Pop's drug abuse and increasingly unmanageable behavior, the band called it quits in 1974. From there, Jarmusch jumps back to the Stooges' childhoods, examining how they got to that low point and how they bounced back in 2003 to begin touring extensively in response to broad recognition from a host of younger artists. The stories, from the tale of Pop calling up Moe Howard to request his permission to use the name "The Stooges" to Pop's explanation of Soupy Sales' influence on his minimalistic lyrics, are outrageous and often hilarious.
Jarmusch's focus is relatively narrow. He interviews almost no one other than Iggy and the Stooges themselves (including Minutemen bassist Mike Watt, who toured with the band throughout the 2000s). The interview settings are almost laughably casual; Pop gives one of his interviews in a laundry room, and he idly plays with his bare feet as he talks. Guitarist James Williamson appears to have given his interview in a public bathroom, guitar in his lap.
The director doesn't attempt to editorialize or add much of his own flair to the material. Compensating for the lack of archival photos or footage of the band, he frequently makes amusing use of period-appropriate stock footage and even a couple of animated sequences to illustrate the Stooges' tales of their misadventures. But overall he seems to revel in the entertainment value of letting the Stooges tell their own stories. When you've got the gaunt, bug-eyed, slightly anxious Pop alongside the gaunt, hood-eyed, utterly deadpan drummer Scott Asheton (now deceased), what better method than to just wind these two characters up and let them go?
The relatively straightforward documentary may seem to fit oddly into the oeuvre of the director who made such visually striking and idiosyncratic films as Mystery Train and Only Lovers Left Alive, but in a way it also occupies its own very singular territory. The tale told here is unlikely to throw Stooges aficionados any new curveballs; Jarmusch himself has noted the difficulty he had finding any new footage of the band to include in the film. And the film's relative modesty (especially given its frequently outrageous subjects) seems unlikely to cause enough of a stir to attract many Stooges newbies to the theater. Like any of Jarmusch's other films, Gimme Danger is perfectly happy being exactly what it wants to be – a thoroughly fun, no-frills, firsthand account of the story behind one of rock's greatest bands – and nothing more.
Patrick Dunn is the interim managing editor of Concentrate and an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in Pulp, the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor Observer, and other local publications. He ain't got time to make no apologies.
Gimme Danger premiered last night, October 25th, with a special screening at the Detroit Film Theater (DFT) featuring Iggy Pop and Jim Jarmusch. It opens officially Oct. 28 at the Detroit Film Theater, and will expand to a wider release on Nov. 4.
Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year.
This week I can choose from a wide variety of local events to get in the Halloween mood, including concerts, costume contests, hayrides and more. I may even enter a pumpkin carving contest.
Neighborhood Theatre Group, Ypsilanti’s new theater company, has a brand new Halloween offering – a delightfully entertaining mix of Halloween music and theater. Featuring a full bar, costume contest, and the NTG “Haunted” House Band, Black Cat Cabaret is directed by Kristin Anne Danko and features local performers Colleen Cartwright, Alice Duhon, Eric Hohnke, Greg Pizzino, Angela VanKempen, and Craig VanKempen.
Neighborhood Theatre Group is dedicated to cultivating a welcoming and collaborative environment for local theatre artists while providing audiences with a very unique and intimate theatre experience. Featuring original works, sketch shows, cabarets, and self-produced videos – NTG believes in theatre’s ability to bring individuals together. They guarantee that this “spooktacular evening” of music and theatre will get you in the Halloween spirit.
Black Cat Cabaret runs Friday and Saturday, October 28 & 29 at Bona Sera Underground in downtown Ypsilanti. Performances are at 8:30 pm with doors opening at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $10 General Admission, $5 Students (with a Valid ID) and can be pre-purchased at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2605416.
Tim Grimes is manager of Community Relations & Marketing at the Ann Arbor District Library and co-founder of Redbud Productions.
Black Cat Cabaret runs Friday and Saturday, October 28 & 29 at Bona Sera Underground in downtown Ypsilanti. Performances are at 8:30 pm with doors opening at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $10 General Admission, $5 Students (with a Valid ID) and can be pre-purchased at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2605416 .
The full-capacity crowd at Rackham Auditorium on Friday night not only got to hear witty insights from one of our era’s greatest, most accomplished writers, Margaret Atwood (decked out in black and orange for Halloween); they also got to hear the septuagenarian Canadian novelist/poet rap.
Why? Because her newest novel, Hag-Seed, features prisoners putting on their own version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and one excerpt Atwood read included an inmate’s extended riff that ends with “Oh no! Oh no more Prospero,/Too bad, how sad, that’s what they said:/He must be dead./So now I’m the man, the man, the big man,/I’m the duke, I’m the duke, I’m the duke of Milan.”
Hag-Seed is one of a group of books that have been published as part of the Hogarth Shakespeare project, wherein Shakespeare plays are retold by acclaimed contemporary novelists. Literati Bookstore sponsored Atwood’s Ann Arbor appearance.
Atwood - seated alone on Rackham’s stage, beside a round, low table with a floral arrangement - earned several laughs from the crowd as she read portions of her new novel, holding the book with hands sheathed in glow-in-the-dark skeleton gloves. (She said she was wearing them in honor of the upcoming U.S. Presidential election.)
When she finished, she said, “Now, if you have questions, I will answer them. If I don’t like your question, I will reformulate it. We do learn things from watching TV, don’t we?”
Many of the crowd’s questions concerned one of Atwood’s most enduring, classroom-friendly novels, The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) – a dystopian novel that imagines that, following a terrorist attack that leaves our democracy in ruins, a revolution with a theocratic bent suspends the U.S. Constitution, and as a complete societal re-organization happens, women are stripped of all rights.
Atwood said that when she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale, she’d been reading about America’s 17th century Puritan theocracy, as well as mid-century dystopian novels like George Orwell’s 1984, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
“I’d always wanted to write one, but most of them are written from a male point of view, and I thought it would be interesting to turn that around and take a female point of view for the narrator,” said Atwood. “ … I made it a rule in writing the book that I would not make anything up. I would use only things that had really actually happened somewhere at some time, or for which we had the technology.”
Atwood noted that a TV series inspired by The Handmaid’s Tale is now filming in Toronto, and she made a cameo appearance in it.
Regarding writing genre fiction, Atwood said, “I don’t divide books up that way at all. I divide them into books I like and books I don’t like. Because it doesn’t matter what genre is on the shelf in the book store. … It’s like a filing convenience. … So I do those things because it never occurred to me not to do them.”
One audience member raised the question of why Atwood set her take on The Tempest inside a prison, when the environment plays such a key role in the play. “The last three words of the play are, ‘Set me free,’” Atwood said. “ … You don’t say ‘set me free’ unless you’re not free. … Once you’re into themes of revenge, you’re always into stories about liberation from something.”
Atwood read and spoke for a little over an hour, and one of the last questions came from two high school teachers who asked what she’d tell young people about why reading is important. “Language is the oldest fully human thing that we have, and stories are pre-built-in,” said Atwood. “ … It had to have been a survival trait over long numbers of years. So stories are how we understand our world. We understand them partly through graphs and charts, but only if somebody tells us the story behind the graphs and charts. … What does this mean that the blue line is going up, and the red line is going down?”
Before wrapping up the question-and-answer portion of the evening (and beginning the book signing part), Atwood made a joke regarding the upcoming U.S. Presidential election: “In The Handmaid’s Tale, Canada’s the place she escaped to, so you’re all welcome.”
Jenn McKee is a former staff arts reporter for The Ann Arbor News, where she primarily covered theater and film events, and also wrote general features and occasional articles on books and music.