Taking Control of the Story: Ping Chong + Company’s "Beyond Sacred: Voices of Muslim Identity"


“When someone else tells your story, you lose power,” said Amir Khafagy on the portrayal of Muslims in popular culture.

On February 18 at the Power Center in Ann Arbor, UMS presented Ping Chong + Company’s Beyond Sacred: Voices of Muslim Identity. This interview-based play analyzed the complexities of Muslim identities post 9/11.

Aside from the state-of-the-art projection, light, and sound design, there were no theatrical thrills. No dressings for the set, or costumes, and the performers were storytellers, not trained actors. The script was comprised of their own personal stories, creating a completely raw and enveloping experience. Often interview plays such as The Laramie Project are written based on true stories, but retold by actors. The entire show was performed with the actors sitting in chairs, reading off of scripts. This is to allow non-actors the chance to feel comfortable on stage, and able to tell their story. The script bounces from person to person with interludes of clapping, connecting the performers and audience to the rhythm of the experience.

Although Ping Chong + Company have developed dozens of plays utilizing this “formula,” the bravery of these individuals to take control of their story during heightened political tensions was therapeutic for everyone involved.

Subtle Switches: "Nancy Feldkamp, Watercolors” at Kerrytown Concert House



Nancy Feldkamp's Simplicity House, mixed media. Photo by Patrick Young.

Sometimes what you see in an artist's work isn’t nearly as important as what you don’t see. Nancy Feldkamp’s Watercolors at the Kerrytown Concert House shows the Chelsea resident's transformation from a geometrically focused painter to one who uses subtle inferences to give shape to her renderings.

As ever, her pastoral themes remain, as Feldkamp modestly says in her KCH gallery statement: “My work honors the beauty of farm life and its interaction with nature in intuitive ways. The shapes and lines suggest distant farmsteads as they nestle together in their actual settings and this stirs my responses.”

Quite right, yet looking at Feldkamp’s work in this light only tells half the story in this show. While nature and rural settings still play a significant role in her paintings, how she depicts those scenes has changed considerably during the two decades I've observed her output. Back in the 1990s, Feldkamp’s art was rigorously geometrically driven. Her countryside settings were activated by a compositional style whose expression was subordinated to her rectilinear line.

The "Plague" Year: Hate Unbound celebrates album debut at Ypsi's Maidstone Theatre


Hate Unbound

Hate Unbound offers a boundless hatred of boundraries.

There’s a whole mess of influences on Hate Unbound’s debut album, Plague, which came out on the Finnish label Inverse Records. Reviewers have mentioned brutal bands (Lamb of God, Gojira, Hatebreed) along with thrashier groups (Exodus) and death metal pioneers (Death) -- but not enough have acknowledged Hate Unbound’s occasional laser-sharp deployment of twin-lead guitars, evoking classic Judas Priest and Thin Lizzy.

“I actually wanted to be KK Downing when I grew up,” said guitarist Daryl Mitchell, naming the ax partner of Glenn Tipton in Judas Priest. (Hate Unbound's other guitarist, William Cundiff, is Mitchell's Tipton.)

But don’t mistake Hate Unbound’s love of twin leads fool you: This southeastern Michigan group, which includes bassist Sean Demura and drummer Franklin "Foot" Hannah, is primarily about pummeling you with riffs, not tickling you with harmonized solos.

You'll be able to have your chest caved in by said riffs when Hate Unbound celebrates the release of Plague at the Maidstone Theatre in Ypsilanti on Saturday, February 18. We talked to Mitchell and vocalist Art Giammara about the Plague year, song meanings, and whether too many influences is too many.

While reading our chat, stream all of Plague at Zero Tolerance Magazine.

No One Thing Without the Other: Dave Douglas Quintet at Kerrytown Concert House


Dave Douglas

Hymns from him: Dave Douglas.

Trumpeter Dave Douglas prepared to play his mom’s funeral by arranging the hand-picked hymns and Bible verses she wrote down on a scrap of paper and gave to him.

“I didn’t do too much to them,” Douglas said, whose jazz can edge toward the avant-garde at times. “I thought these are pretty straight-ahead renditions of these hymns.”

Douglas’ Brass Ecstasy band -- with the New Orleans-type front line of trumpet, French horn, trombone, and tuba, plus drums -- was the group he picked to play his mother’s chosen hymns at the funeral, with the sung verses handled by the church’s congregation.

“We got to the service and we go through the first chorus,” Douglas said, “and I turned around to hand it to the congregation and they’re all just looking at me like, ‘Whaaat?’ It was way over their heads. We had to totally adapt and have the [church’s] organ player come help out.”

He laughs about the event now, but that was a tumultuous period for Douglas.

The Art of Storytelling Is Celebrated This Month With Two Big Events


Ann Arbor Storytellers Guild

The Ann Arbor Storytellers' Guild cracks up during its monthly meeting at Crazy Wisdom.

When we think of storytellers, we think of "olden times," before electricity, even before paper. The oral tradition is like an ancient audiobook -- but pre-dating actual books.

But Steve Daut and the Ann Arbor Storytellers' Guild beg to differ. For the past 25 years, this group has met monthly -- most recently at Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tearoom -- to engage in the still au courant art of reciting verbal tales that run the gamut, from funny to high falutin'.

"For instance, at the last Crazy Wisdom event we had three personal stories, one traditional Russian folk tale, and one literary story from Mark Twain," Daut said. "Three of the stories were very funny, one was thought-provoking, and the other was just a warm and human tale. If you come to a regular Guild meeting, you can just listen or try your hand at telling, and everyone will be very supportive with tips and suggestions if you request it."

Doh! High art and pop art merge in U-M’s head-spinning "Mr. Burns"


Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play

Meditating on The Simpsons becomes a balm after a catastropic world event in Mr. Burns.

Shell-shocked people sit around a campfire discussing a favorite episode of TV series. They try to remember each detail to amuse each other and as a distraction from the problems all around them. The world has been thrown into darkness following a worldwide catastrophic event and stories are all that remain.

This is the premise of Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play, opening February 16 at the University of Michigan’s Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre.

“It’s a postmodern play, a pastiche of forms and thematically it goes to the heart of what it means to tell stories, why human beings tell stories,” said Daniel Cantor, the play’s director and head of performance for theater at the university’s School of Music, Theater, and Dance. “Why they need stories, why stories evolve and change across time but have different meanings for people in different contexts.”

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #628, Parts 1 & 2


"If you are here today ... you are a survivor. But those of us who have made it through hell and are still standing? We bear a different name: warriors.” ~Lori Goodwin.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #628, Pt.1

Two extraordinary debut novels set during WWII came out on Valentine's Day, and both speak to the capacity of the human spirit to endure in the face of the 20th century’s darkest moment.

We Were the Lucky Ones is based on the true story of the Kurc family of Radom, Poland. In 1939, prosperous and educated, Jewish merchants Sol and Nechuma were trying their best to live normal lives with their family as war was looming, observing religious holidays and doting on their new grandchild. When Germany invaded Poland, Sol and Nechuma decided to stay with daughters Halina and Mila, while their sons Genek and Jakob joined the Polish army.

Middle son Addy, an engineer and budding composer was stuck in France and was eventually conscripted. Over the course of the war, the three generations of Kurcs were flung to distant points on the globe, from the jazz clubs of Paris to the beaches of Rio de Janeiro to Kraków’s most brutal prison and the farthest reaches of the Siberian gulag, they were driven by an extraordinary will to survive and to reunite.

Roustabout Theatre Troupe's "Shakespeare, You Sexy Beast" Was Refreshingly Risque


Shakespeare, You Sexy Beast

The Bard got positively bootyful in Roustabout Theatre Troupe's show.

Who knew Shakespeare could be so racy?

On February 9, Roustabout Theatre Troupe presented a sold-out performance titled Shakespeare, You Sexy Beast!, a montage of scenes and sonnets all centered around the theme of sweet, sweet love. (The show was also repeated February 10-11.)

As a local, it’s always exciting to see live theater in the Ypsilanti community. This used to be a rare opportunity, but now with Roustabout Theatre Troupe, Neighborhood Theatre Group, and PTD Productions live theater in downtown Ypsi is an actual “thing.”

Niceland and Forest Art House Are Using the Old Tiny Buddha Space for Pop-Up Art Events



Niceland popped-up a weekend of art, including this forest faun mask by Lavinia Hanachiuc. Photo by Patti Smith.

Art is everywhere in this town; you just need to know where to look. The Niceland art show, a pop-up exhibit that took place last weekend, is a perfect example of how tucked away spaces can be transformed into showrooms for painters and sculptors.

The Tiny Buddha Boutique was previously above Totoro at 213 S. State Street. But the shop, which specializes in yoga wear, recently moved to a new location inside Babo in the Nichols Arcade, though Tiny Buddha still has rights at the moment to use the old space.

"We wanted to take advantage of the space while it is available," said artist Helen Gotlib (sister of Tiny Buddha Boutique owner Risa Gotlib) to display works by local artists.

That led to the Niceland art show, which ran February 10-13. The show featured work from local artists Dylan Strzynski, Lavinia Hanachiuc, and Gotlib.

Behind the Black Star: Jonathan Barnbrook's Stamps talk at the Michigan Theater


Jonathan Barnbrook

Despite its simple presentation, Jonathan Barnbrook's cover for David Bowie's final album, Blackstar, is full of hidden surprises.

Designing album covers for a legendary musician has its perils and its perks. According to Jonathan Barnbrook, they're sometimes one in the same.

"Can you imagine how scary it is to have David Bowie sitting next to you when you're listening to his album?" the British graphic designer asked the audience at Ann Arbor's Michigan Theater on Thursday, February 9. "He's going, 'What do you think?'"

As the crowd laughed, Barnbrook's tone shifted from comedic to grateful: "It's actually fantastic."

The self-described "non-designer" was in Ann Arbor as part of the Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker series. In addition to his collaborations with Bowie, Barnbrook's often-humorous talk covered highlights from his career, including his anti-corporate work with Adbusters magazine in the early '00s, the creation of several well-known fonts, and political and socially minded exhibits and campaigns, including his logo for the Occupy London movement.