Preview: The 14th Annual Kerrytown BookFest



An array of books and authors from last year's BookFest.

You needn’t pack a suitcase to attend the 2016 Kerrytown BookFest’s “Travels with Books” programs; you just need a sense of adventure and a passion for the written word.

Yes, the 14th annual BookFest, happening Sunday, September 11 from 10:30 am to 5 pm at the Ann Arbor Farmers’ Market and Kerrytown Concert House, is a free celebration of authors, books, bookmaking and more, with events and activities for kids, too.

The day kicks off with coffee and doughnuts, as well a short presentation of the 9th annual Community Book Award; this year’s recipient is Washtenaw Literacy, which provides literacy support, free of charge, to adults by way of trained tutors.

“That was a pretty easy decision,” said KBF president and Aunt Agatha’s Book Shop co-owner Robin Agnew. “There was unanimous agreement. It’s a great organization, and they’re now celebrating their 40th year of doing great things in our community.”

In keeping with the “Travels with Books” theme, “Under the Radar Michigan”’s Tom Daldin will talk at 11 am about the some of the state’s best-kept secrets, which he regularly explores on his PBS series.

But you might wonder: does each BookFest’s theme come first as an organizing principle, or does the BookFest team connect the dots as guest speakers are lined up for the following year?

“Kind of both,” said Agnew. “It’s pretty organic. … It has to be general, or it’s too hard to program things around it. But last year, Daldin was one of the first people we booked, so we chose ‘Travels with Books’ and thought it sounded like a fun theme.”

This year’s KBF writer-in-residence is Huron High teacher and author R.J. Fox (Love & Vodka), who will be critiquing attendee-submitted manuscripts. All the slots for this program are already full, but there’s still a book fair, author signings, and some enticing panel discussions to check out.

“I always have some spidey sense about what people are most excited about, and this year, I think [mystery writer William Kent Krueger will be a big draw, because he’s got a new book out,” Agnew said, referring to Krueger’s Manitou Canyon. “But I also think the identity quest panel will be pretty popular. It’s an interesting group.”

The panel, titled “The Quest for Identity,” features Desiree Cooper (Know the Mother), Kelly Fordon (Garden of the Blind), and Andrew Mozina (Contrary Motion) talking about their work with moderator Donald Lystra (Something That Feels Like Truth).


Items for sale at the Kerrytown BookFest.

Other events include a thriller writer (Brian Freeman) sharing photos from a domestic “photo safari” that informs how he uses settings in his fiction; a “Travel the Lakes” featuring writers Loreen Niewenhuis and Maureen Dunphy discussing their Great Lakes adventures; Eating Wildly author Ava Chin, who will speak about urban foraging (and Food Gatherers will be accepting donations on-site); and a pragmatic talk called “Writing for Hire,” during which three writers will talk about the myriad ways they support themselves through writing.

“That panel is going to be so good,” said Agnew, noting that the panelists wrote under multiple names and did projects as various as Goosebumps installments, sci-fi and mystery books-for-hire, and flashcards.

But one talk that Agnew herself is most excited about it “Travel through Time,” featuring novelist B. A. Shapiro (The Art Forger and The Muralist).

“I’m really interested in art history, and we’ll be having an art historian interview (Shapiro), so it should be a really interesting conversation,” said Agnew.

The children’s tent will host a Mother Goose program, author readings, storytellers, a craft, and a drawing workshop.

Regular KBF attendees may notice one new addition this year. “It’s not a big thing, but people will see ‘The Book I Love’ signs, with slips to fill out. Every bookstore will have a box or a table devoted to it, and we’ll probably share some of the responses on social media or the website. We may even have a panel about it next year.”

So bookmark your latest read for a while and head to Kerrytown on September 11th!

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.

Preview: A2 Jazz Fest Lives Up To Past Musical And Historic Legacies


Jazz Fest collage.

Some of the performers at the upcoming A2 Jazz Fest: Bassist, band leader, and festival organizer Dave Sharp (top left), saxophonist Tim Haldeman (bottom left, photo courtesy Mark Bialek), and bassist and vocalist Gwenyth Hayes (right).

The tradition of Ann Arbor jazz festivals is storied and resplendent, with a history that spans generations like few events ever have. There is great precedent in building foundations and interest, then following through with sustainable, creative ideas to make these events successful models for the many other festivals that have followed in their wake.

The inaugural A2 Jazz Fest starts yet another tradition with new ideas, a modern promotional approach, and an emphasis on local, younger performers who play jazz their own way while remaining true to what makes the music our great American artistic treasure.

In the late 1960s - early 1970s, the original Ann Arbor Blues Festival morphed into the legendary Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival held at Otis Spann Memorial Field next to Huron High School, and then concluded in Windsor. It was revived at Gallup Park, the Michigan Theater, the Bird of Paradise, the Firefly Club, and downtown Ann Arbor from 1992-2007. In between, Eclipse Jazz presented three memorable Ann Arbor Jazz Festivals indoors at Hill Auditorium from 1978-1980.

Now the A2 Jazz Fest extends these events with a one-day, two-stage, continuous music presentation at the near side West Park Band Shell, a location that has over the decades hosted concerts ranging from civic bands to the Count Basie Orchestra, to the Grateful Dead.

Jazz Fest collage.

Organizer and bassist Dave Sharp is taking the reins as an extension of his work booking weekday jazz club dates at the Old Town Tavern. The endless logistics, financial details, and working with various players have not fazed cool customer Sharp in bringing this dream to realization.

In a recent interview, Sharp said he realizes all of the issues the site has presented. “I feel it’s an underutilized resource. I thought, why not do a jazz club type festival with primarily trios and quartets – not Latin-jazz, big bands, blues and loud bands. My aim is to use the engineering of the band shell to project the sound.”

A small side stage at West Park will bring school bands to the festival to perform between sets on the Band Shell. Groups of students will come from the Ann Arbor Music Center (where Sharp teaches), Community High School, Ann Arbor Academy, and the Community Music School.

In thirty-minute sets, the Main Stage will showcase up-and-comers, including Max Brown & The Cosmonauts, drummers Sam Genson and Jesse Kramer leading trios, saxophonist Tim Haldeman, vocalist Gwenyth Hayes, veteran bassist Kurt Krahnke, trumpeter Ingrid Racine’s quartet, Sharp’s Three Worlds Trio, and saxophonist/U-Michigan professor Andrew Bishop and his creative jazz quartet.

Sharp has secured a unique partnership with Art Train to accept and funnel tax-deductible donations as a 501(c)(3)non-profit. A Kickstarter campaign has been completed to help defray production, park rental, insurance, artists fees, hospitality, and promotional expenses.

Though it's been time consuming as he played the waiting game, Sharp says, "The main logistic was applying for the permit and waiting for it to clear City Hall and the Parks & Rec Department. It wasn’t necessarily difficult, but everything is locked up and all set.”

There have been a few pre-festival activities, including jam sessions at the Old Town and the Ann Arbor District Library. An A2JF jam session showcase will take place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, September 8, in-store at festival associate sponsor Encore Records at 417 E. Liberty St.

While anticipating a successful event, Sharp envisions it as a smallish festival with room to grow: “I don’t want it to be with a large beer tent with BBQ. Instead, take a subset of groups from the Old Town, have a rhythm section back line with a piano and not a lot to move around, a small P.A. for horns and announcements, and a moderate volume - that’s what it is.”

Complete A2 Jazz Fest Line-Up

12:00 noon: Blueprints: Ann Arbor Music Center Youth Jazz Band

12:30 pm: Ann Arbor Guitar Trio

12:45 pm: Ingrid Racine Quartet feat. Rob Avsharian, Ben Rolston, Chuck Newsome

1:15 pm: Student Jazz Ensemble TBA

1:45 pm: Max Brown & The Cosmonauts

2:00 pm: Student Jazz Ensemble TBA

2:15 pm: Kurt Krahnke Trio feat. Tad Weed & Pete Siers

2:45 pm: Student Jazz Ensemble TBA

3:15 pm: Sam Genson Trio

4:00 pm: Jesse Kramer Trio feat. Kris Kurzawa & Damon Warmack

4:45 pm: Tim Haldeman Quartet feat. Ben Rolston & Nick Collins

5:35 pm: Three Worlds Trio feat. Dave Sharp, Gayelynn McKinney, Elden Kelly

6:25 pm: Gwenyth Hayes Trio feat. Jake Reichbart

7:15 pm: Andrew Bishop Quartet

Michael G. Nastos is known as a veteran radio broadcaster, local music journalist, and event promoter/producer. He is a former music director and current super sub on 88.3 WCBN-FM Ann Arbor, founding member of SEMJA, the Southeastern Michigan Jazz Association, Board of Directors member of the Michigan Jazz Festival, votes in the annual Detroit Music Awards and Down Beat Magazine, NPR Music and El Intruso Critics Polls, and writes monthly for Hot House Magazine in New York City.

The inaugural A2 Jazz Fest takes place from 12 noon to 8 pm on Saturday, September 10, at West Park, 215 Chapin St. Admission is free. Food vendors will be on site. In case of rain, an alternate date and venue is secured. For more information go to

WordFest Review: Variety is the Spice of Life!


WordFest Review: Variety is the Spice of Life!

WordFest brought a variety of shows to the Ann Arbor Civic Theater stage.

Variety shows were a huge part of my childhood - Sonny & Cher, Sha Na Na, even Lawrence Welk - I especially loved Welk’s accordions, although the rest of my family gently teased me about this. These were the shows that we watched in my family. They offered enough variety (as the name promises) to entertain my Silent Generation grandparents, Baby Boomer parents, and a young me. Thus, it was an absolute pleasure to see a live variety show at the Ann Arbor Civic Theater this past Saturday!

WordFest One: A Spoken Word Variety Show was the brainchild of Lyn Davidge. Davidge says she made her stage debut at age 61 with six lines in an Ann Arbor Civic Theater play. She then met other actors and playwrights, and became fascinated with “how all the spoken art forms complement and contrast with each other, and how different artists had different ‘takes’ on their particular art form.” Conversations with her fellow artists inspired Davidge to put on an independent show. “My wish to do a variety show just evolved. I had time this summer, and just decided to do it!” Davidge said.

The sold-out event began with a charming story from Davidge, about her grandfather who made and sold rat poison all around the greater Midwest. Poet and storyteller Bob Brill followed up with a “flash fiction” (a story less than 1,000 words) story about a dying man who revisits some key moments of his life. Bob’s genuine, authentic voice gave so much to this story that I really began to believe that the man ran off to chase the moon with his five-year old self.

The last act in the first half was the reading of an original play by Glen Modell called Death of a Poet. This play also dealt with death, but in such a way that I felt hopeful and full of life. An elderly poet is finishing a poem and needs just a little bit of help, which comes in the forms of the human embodiments of other poems he has written throughout his lifetime. They—and the millions of other poems written throughout history—are all waiting for him once he finished that last line. Performers included Dave Keren, Glen Modell, Sanders Hamson, Susan Klein, Lorelle Otis, Jean Leverich, and Marilyn Scott.

The second half opened with stand-up comedy by improv actor Andy Jentzen. If you know Andy, then you know there were plenty of Santa Claus jokes mixed in. Next was a monologue written by Lori Reece and performed by Jean Leverich. This poignant and witty piece, Professor Parker on Pot, dealt with a professor whose first experience with marijuana coincided with her terminal illness. Lastly, the revue featured a play by Steve Daut, a riff on our reality show obsessed society that asked “so, who wants to elect a president?” The humorous one-act featured Don Pardo, played by Andy Jentzen, Bill Rodman, played by Dave Keren, Penny Salin played by Susan Klein, Clio Hill played by Lorelle Otis, and the narrator played by Sanders Hamson. We eventually got a president, but there were some fun twists and turns along the way!

WordFest One was a great way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon, just like the way I used to watch Lawrence Welk every weekend—and not an accordion in sight!

Patti Smith is a special education teacher who lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and cats. She is the author of two books about Ann Arbor, the most recent is a history of the People’s Food Co-op. Visit her at or @TeacherPatti on Twitter.

Preview: From Shakespeare to Rock and Roll, Area Theaters Have Something for Everyone



Kidd Pivot and Electric Company Theatre bring Bettrofenheit to the Power Center in March 2017.

The overture is about to start
You cross your fingers and hold your heart
It’s curtain time and away we go –
Another opening of another show

~ Cole Porter

Autumn is just around the corner, school is back in session or soon will be, and another vibrant theater season in about to raise curtains all over Washtenaw County.

One of the perks of living here is access to so much great performing arts, from small jazz, folk and rock venues to huge arenas reverberating with mega amps and stomping fans; from intimate chamber recitals to resounding symphonies by the greatest musicians in the world; to quality professional and non-professional theater that ranges from challenging and experimental to comforting and familiar.

The theater season is especially noteworthy for the variety offered, something for every taste and numerous opportunities for sampling something that you might not think is to your taste until you try it. Two state universities, several professional and non-professional theater groups, and dramatic offerings by the outstanding University Musical Society make for a full menu of promising theater.

The Ann Arbor Civic Theatre continues a tradition that dates back to 1929 when it launches its new season with the musical comedy The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Sept. 8 at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre on the University of Michigan Campus. It soon shifts gears from this light-hearted musical comedy for its second offering of the season, William Shakespeare’s Othello.

“We are a director driven company and have a director driven process,” said Alexandra Berneis, executive director of the AACT. “The directors come in with a play of musical in mind and a summary of ideas.”

The process for the next season begins in October. A committee of seven winnows through as many as 30 proposals, invites directors to come in to share their visions for the productions they’ve proposed, and narrows it down to a diverse season of plays.

“Usually, we end up with three musicals and three plays, but this season we had more play suggestions and we have four plays and two musicals,” Berneis said.

As a volunteer, non-professional theater, AACT tries to provide a wide range of opportunities for actors and production crew.

“We ask for plays to have at least six characters because of the venues we are working in and to involve as many people as possible,” Berneis said.

For smaller, more intimate and more experimental works, AACT created a Second Stage program for its small stage at its office at 322 Ann St.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will be presented Sept. 8-11 at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre on the main campus of the University of Michigan. A middle school spelling bee is the scene for a light-hearted look at childhood angst with adults playing the children.

Othello will be presented Oct. 27-30 at the Arthur Miller Theatre on the UM north campus. Shakespeare’s tragedy deals with complex themes of racial tensions, jealousy, deception, and stifled emotions.

In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play will be presented Jan. 12-15 at the Miller Theatre. Sarah Ruhl’s Tony-nominated play about the 19th century invention of the vibrator to ease “female anxiety” deals sensitively with various aspects of a woman’s life.

Almost, Maine, nine stories set in a small town in Maine, will be presented March 9-12 at the Miller Theatre.

Morning’s at Seven is a drama about four sisters in a small town during the 1930s. It will be presented April 20-23 at the Miller Theatre.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is a musical based on Charles Dickens unfinished novel in which the audience helps solve the mystery. It will be presented June 1-4 at the Mendelssohn Theatre.

Second Stage productions are Sylvia, Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 and Criminal Hearts, June 16-18.

Order tickets at or by phone at (734) 971-2228.

Purple Rose's Odd Couple

Last season's The Odd Couple at the Purple Rose Theatre. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

The Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea opens its 26th season of professional theater on Sept. 29. The season features the world premiere of two comedies by Michigan writers, a revival and a Pulitzer-Prize winning American classic.

Artistic director Guy Sanville said the Purple Rose doesn’t usually build a season around a particular theme.

“But I would say this is a season about second chances, and we’ve always been drawn to that,” he said.

The Purple Rose is about developing new talent and introducing new plays.

“We’re constantly developing new work, it’s a key component of our mission,” he said. “This will be our 65th or 66th world premiere, at least half of our plays.”

He said the company currently has eight plays in development and that it sometimes takes years to develop a production.

“We have a group of playwrights we work with - Carey Crim, (Purple Rose founder) Jeff Daniels, Matt Letsher and Brian Letscher. We’re always interested in what they’re doing,” Sanville said.

Carey Crim was asked to write this season’s first play with a couple of actors in mind for a romantic comedy about retired people.

Sanville, managing director Katie Doral, and others read the plays submitted, but the final choice is made by Jeff Daniels from their suggestions.

“He’s never turned anything down,” Sanville said.

“You read something and think hmm, this has possibilities. It might be a great speech or one great scene but you know the person can write,” Sanville said.

Purple Rose works with writers through its Greenhouse Workshops at the Chelsea Library to develop their talents. Sanville said the 2017-18 season is already in development.

Morning After Grace by Carey Crim has its world premiere Sept. 29 and runs through Dec 17. The comedy tells the story of Angus and Abigail, who meet at a wedding and wake up together after a wine-fueled night. The cast includes Randolph Mantooth, who many may remember as a regular on the TV series Emergency.

Smart Love by Brian Letscher is the other comedy having a world premiere. This “dark comedy” with some sci-fi elements is about a brilliant young man who struggles with his father’s sudden death and the revelation that his parents’ marriage wasn’t everything he was led to believe. The play explores the implications of artificial intelligence. The play opens Jan. 19 and runs through March 4.

The revival is Vino Veritas by David Macgregor. On Halloween night two couples prepare to attend an annual costume party. Their evening unravels after they share a bottle of South American ceremonial wine. The play opens March 23 and runs through May 27.

The season ends with the classic Harvey by Mary Chase. The award-winning play concerns one Elwood P. Dowd and his pooka companion, Harvey, a six-and-a-half-foot tall rabbit. The play opens June 15 and runs through Aug. 26.

For ticket information and reservations, call the box office at (734) 433-7673 or visit

Always...Patsy Cline

Always...Patsy Cline from Encore's 2015-2016 season. / Photo by Michele Anliker.

The Encore Musical Theatre in Dexter is also offering a diversity of productions ranging from the heyday of rock and roll to the glory that was King Arthur’s Round Table.

The season opens Sept. 29 with The Full Monty. The popular film about a group of unemployed steel workers in northern England who form a striptease act has been transformed into a musical reset in Buffalo, N.Y. The production runs through Oct. 23.

The mildly naughty Monty gives way to the squeaky clean family classic Disney version of Mary Poppins, the story of a magical English nanny and her effect on a banker’s family, Nov. 25-Dec. 23.

The non-musical backstage comedy Noises Off follows Feb. 2-19. The comedy shows the frantic activities backstage to present a door-slamming farce. If you ever wondered how they do it, this play gives you an idea.

Rock and roll royalty is the theme of The Million Dollar Quartet, an imaginary recreation of the famous afternoon when Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash converged on the Sun Records studio after Elvis had become a star at RCA. The musical celebrates the music of these rock pioneers, April 14 to May 7.

Another country music legend, Dolly Parton provides music and lyrics for this musical stage version of 9 to 5. Parton starred with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in the film about secretaries rising up against a terrible boss that inspired the musical.

The Encore season ends as the last season ended with a Lerner and Loewe musical classic, Camelot, the story of Arthur, Guenevere, and Lancelot. The story of the Knights of the Round Table will run Aug. 3-27.

For tickets and information, call (734) 268-6200 or visit

The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance is preparing the next generation of great actors by presenting a richly varied season of straight plays and musicals.

The new season begins with Eugene O’Neill’s nostalgic comedy Ah, Wilderness Oct. 6 at the Arthur Miller Theatre. The play is O’Neill’s fond remembrance of growing up in small town America circa 1906. The production runs through Oct. 16.

The Drowsy Chaperone is a musical comedy about obsession with musical comedy as a theater fan’s favorite cast album comes to life with hilarious results. The musical runs Oct. 13-23 at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre.

Clybourne Park

Last year's Clybourne Park, the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

A Man of No Importance is another look at the theater. The musical, based on an Albert Finney movie, concerns an amateur Dublin theater group and their leaders attempts to stage a production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome. The play runs Nov. 17-20 at the Lydia Mendelssohn.

Peter and the Starcatcher is a prequel to Peter Pan. This fanciful play follows Lord Aster and his daughter Molly on a mission from the Queen to destroy “starstuff”. Molly meets an orphan boy and adventure ensues. The play is based on the Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry book. Starcatcher runs Dec 8-11 at the Power Center on the central UM campus.

Mr. Burns: A Post Electric Play by Anne Washburn is a dark comedy about a group of survivors after a global catastrophe who retell the story of an episode of The Simpsons and how that story-telling evolves over time. The production runs Feb. 16-17 at the Lydia Mendelssohn.

Insurrection: Holding History by Robert O’Hara is an award-winning play described as “Roots meets The Wizard of Oz,” a time-travel fantasy of black history set around the Nat Turner uprising. The dark comedy runs March 30 to April 9 at the Arthur Miller Theatre.

The UMSMTD season concludes with Disney’s The Little Mermaid. The stage version of the popular movie is based on a Hans Christian Anderson’s story about the mermaid Ariel, who wants to experience life on land. The musical features songs from the movie by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman and 10 new Menken composed songs with lyrics by Glenn Slater. The musical runs April 13-16 at the Power Center.

For information and tickets, call (734)764-2538 or visit

Eastern Michigan University has a full season of plays and musicals ranging from Shakespearean tragedy to provocative plays about current issues to a Christmas classic.

The season opens with the musical The Last Five Years about a New York couple who fall in and out of love over five years. The musical runs Sept. 9-11 at the Sponberg Theatre on the EMU campus.

Shakespeare’s Scottish play Macbeth about the ambitious Scot warlord and his equally ambitious wife runs Oct. 21-30 at the Quirk Theatre on the EMU campus.

Vital Signs by Jane Martin tells inspiring stories about women Nov. 18-20 at the Sponberg.

Dickens classic Christmas Carol is dramatized by Joseph Zettelmeir and runs Dec. 2-11 at the Quirk.

Lorraine Hansberry’s still relevant drama of black family’s fight for a better life, A Raisin in the Sun runs Feb. 8-12 at the Sponberg.

The Butterfly is the story of conflict between a butterfly and a spider based on a Persian fable. The play runs March 3-5 at the Sponberg.

Spring Awakening is a rock musical based on the German play by Frank Wedekind about restless adolescents. It will be presented March 31 to April 9 at the Quirk.

The EMU season ends with a production for children, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, based on the book by Kevin Henkes. It runs June 2-9 at the Sponberg.

For information about times and tickets, visit or call (734) 487-2282.

Beauty Queen of Leenane.

UMS brings The Beauty Queen of Leenane to the Power Center in March 2017.

The University Music Society has added drama in recent years to its world-class musical series. This years UMS will present three dramatic presentations:

RoosevElvis by the TEAM imagines an hallucinatory road trip from the Badlands to Graceland as Teddy Roosevelt and Elvis Presley battle over the soul of a woman. TEAM has been described as “Gertrude Stein meets MTV.” The production runs Sept. 29-Oct. 1 at the Lydia Mendelsohhn.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh is presented by the Irish theater Company Druid. The play features McDonagh biting dialogue in a story about a conflict between mother and daughter in a depressed Irish village in the early 1990s. The production runs March 9-11 at the Power Center.

Betroffenheit is a combination of dance and drama exploring trauma, addiction and recovery. The production by Kidd Pivot and Electric Company Theatre runs March 17-18 at the Power Center.

The Encounter uses hi-tech audio to tell the story of National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre 1969 encounter with people in the remote Javari Valley in Brazil. Simon Burney’s solo performance immerses the audience in the sounds of the rainforest. The play runs March 30 to April 1 at the Power Center.

For ticket information, call (734)764-2538 or visit

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.

Preview: Dancing in the Streets on 9/4


They're dancin' in Ann Arbor.

They're dancin' in Ann Arbor. / Photo from The Grand River Folk Arts Society

As a kid, I flunked jazz, tap, and ballet. I could never quite get the hang of a shuffle or a step-ball-change. And forget the ballet positions. As an adult, I tried taking ballroom dancing, and while I didn’t flunk out, I still wasn’t able to master the one-two-three rhythm without stepping on my partner’s feet.

So I figured that dancing just wasn’t in the cards for me, until a few years ago when I happened to be in downtown Ann Arbor on the Sunday before Labor Day. The streets were blocked off and people were dancing in them. But these weren’t any dances I had ever seen before: someone was calling out the steps, minimal hopping around, and there certainly weren’t any chassés with jazz hands.

While I was standing there, someone asked if I wanted to do the dance. Immediately I told him that I couldn’t dance. He asked if I could walk. Um, yeah. “Then you can do this,” said my new friend. “Come on!”

And dance friend was right—if you can walk, you can do these dances! I later found out that the style of dance I was doing was called an English Country Dance. In this type of dance, the caller tells you to do things like take hands with your partner, turn all the way around, or skip up four steps. I followed the caller’s directions and sure enough, I was dancing! When I asked my dance partner what this wondrous event was, he told me it was called Dancing in the Streets because, well, that is literally what everyone was doing.

Lucky for all of us wannabe dancers, this event takes place every Sunday before Labor Day—September 4th this year!

If the English dance doesn’t get your toes tapping, there are many other fun things to do! There will be three Maypole dances, several swing dance lessons, and concerts from local acts including Annie and Rod Capps, Blue Caledonia, and Commonwealth Collective.

The North Main stage features the international dances where dancers can receive lessons in the dances of North Africa and the Middle East, belly dancing, flamenco dancing, and international folk dance; performances will follow the instruction.

The stage on East Washington showcases Anglo-American dances such as the Scottish dances, contras, and English Country.

With this much variety, there is something for everyone! Even for those of us who still can’t do a plié.

Patti Smith is a special education teacher who lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and cats. She is the author of two books about Ann Arbor, the most recent is a history of the People’s Food Co-op. Visit her at or @TeacherPatti on Twitter.

Dancing in the Streets will take place in downtown Ann Arbor on Sunday, September 4 from 1:30-6:30 pm.

Review: Ann Arbor Summer Festival's presentation of "L'Homme Cirque"



Lord of the Wire, David Dmitri.

On Saturday evening, I sat inside a white tent in Burns Park and watched veteran performer David Dimitri’s one-man-show, “L’Homme Cirque” (presented by Ann Arbor Summer Festival), under what might be ideal circumstances – which is to say, I had a five-year-old on my lap.

This wasn’t “ideal” because of comfort – five-year-olds rarely stop wiggling, and the weather was post-storm muggy besides – but rather because, as Dimitri performed his wordless, hour-long circus show for a capacity crowd (220), my daughter repeatedly voiced questions like, “How’s he going to get down?” “What’s he going to do with that?” “What’s he going to do next?”

Neve’s stream-of-consciousness curiosity underscored Dimitri’s playfulness and demonstrated to me how the show is ultimately built on a kind of repeating pattern: stoke anticipation, tease the audience, and finish with a moment or two of joyous wonder.

With bleachers surrounding the small performance space in the tent, Dimitri began the show by changing his shoes.

This may sound painfully banal, but as is true for all the show’s transitions, Dimitri finds a way to make even the most ordinary moments whimsical and fun. And soon enough, Dimitri uncovered a treadmill that launched him into a routine – set to recorded music that could easily accompany a Woody Allen comedy’s opening credits – that involved him gradually dialing up the machine’s speed, as well as his feats’ level of difficulty, until you wondered how on earth he was going to get on, let alone how he’d pull off a cartwheel or a walking handstand.

Dimitri then incorporated a small pommel horse – decked out with a mane, a painted face, a tail, and legs – and propped it alongside the treadmill, so as to give the crowd the experience of watching a trick rider without a ring to run around. This bit of physical comedy was pure fun, yet you never lost awareness regarding the skill necessary to achieve these stunts.

While he is certainly a man of multiple circus talents, including playing the accordion (proven when he provided a hilariously suspenseful soundtrack for himself while he performed a backflip off a seesaw), Dimitri’s calling card has always been his work on the high wire. Inside the small tent at Burns Park, the crowd got to watch as he pulled himself up without a ladder, played trumpet while lying on the wire (offering a more laid back musical backdrop this time), and jumped rope.

Then, finally, Dimitri pulled a large cannon from the sidelines, made an amusing show of dressing in a flight suit and helmet, got the cannon properly positioned, pulled himself up inside it and lit a fuse.

At this point, my notoriously skittish five-year-old covered her ears and burrowed into me, but she ultimately couldn’t look away, either – which shows exactly how much she’d connected with Dimitri. This is one moment when the intimacy of “L’Homme Cirque” really pays a dividend. Every second of the show happens in close-up, so that Dimitri’s warm, witty personality shines through, and we quickly feel like friends more than an audience.


David Dmitri walks on air. / Photo by Jenn McKee.

Even so, precision within each of Dimitri’s set pieces must be crucial for their successful execution, and while he clearly takes pains to get each object into the correct position, the fact that he does so so quickly and cleanly, by himself, is almost as astonishing as the feats themselves. And he never seems rushed, either. During one transition, he pretended to give a little girl in the audience a handful of feed, and as she walked over to feed the horse, at Dimitri’s urging, we all briefly believed in this flight of fancy as much as she did.

The show’s big finish, though, was far more broadly dramatic, as Dimitri pulled himself up onto another high wire, opened a flap on the tent, and waved for the audience to follow him outdoors. We tumbled out of the tent to watch him climb 150 feet into the air on a wire, toward the blue sky and clouds of the evening.

I’m pretty sure this magical sight is one that my inquisitive 5-year-old, as well as my 8-year-old, won’t soon forget.

But the same could be said of their parents, too.

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.

L’homme Cirque ran through August 28 at Burns Park.

Preview: The University of Michigan Museum of Art's "Nights at the Museum"

UMMA's Nights at the Museum

Settling in for a Night at the Museum / Photo by Leisa Thompson

Nights at the Museum, the University of Michigan Museum of Art's exterior media arts initiative, will illuminate the museum's facade with artwork, performances, and family-friendly movies from September 2 - 9.

Events are open to the public and will run each night from 8:30 pm to dawn along its State Street-side facade, on the west side of the Maxine and Stuart Frankel and the Frankel Family Wing.

A digital art installation by Quayola titled "Pleasant Places" will be projected overnight, from dusk to dawn, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. From Tuesday through Thursday, UMMA will collaborate with U-M arts partners, including the University Musical Society, Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, and School of Music, Theatre & Dance, with each organization showcasing a related video performance or art installation.

Here's the full schedule:

Friday, Sept. 2
7 - 10 pm: Artscapade!,/a> a Welcome Week events for students
10 pm - 7 am: "Pleasant Places" installation by artist Quayola

Saturday, Sept. 3
8:30 pm - 7 am: "Pleasant Places" installation by artist Quayola

Sunday, Sept. 4
8:30 pm - 7 am: "Pleasant Places" installation by artist Quayola

Monday, Sept. 5:
8:30 - 10 pm: Family-friendly movie night with a screening of Toy Story
10:15 pm - 7 am: "Pleasant Places" installation by artist Quayola

Tuesday, Sept. 6
8:30 - 10 pm: Performances by U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance students and faculty, including the Men's Glee Club, University Symphony Band, University Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Choir. Love, Life & Loss, a 30-minute film featuring the Michigan Men's Glee Club performing "The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed," will kick off the performances.

10:15 pm - 7 am: "Pleasant Places" installation by artist Quayola

Wednesday, Sept. 7
8:30 - 10 pm: Short art films created by U-M Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design faculty and students, including:

Zoe Anderson (BFA 2007): "Little Luminaries"
Ashley Bock (BFA 2018): "Fission"
Alexa Borromeo (BFA 2016): "Stay Out of the Sun"
Shane Darwent (MFA 2018): "Orquesta de las Calles"
Niki Horowitz (BFA 2016): "Personal Projections"
Carol Jacobsen (Stamps professor): "Prison Diary"
Andy Kirshner (Stamps associate professor): "Liberty's Secret" (segment)
Rebekah Modrak (Stamps associate professor): "Re Made Best Made Echo"
Zoe Brendan Widmer (BFA 2016): "Does My Undercut Make Me Look Queer?"
Niki Williams (BFA 2016): "Grimestone"

10:15 pm - 7 am: "Pleasant Places" installation by artist Quayola

Thursday, Sept. 8
8:30 - 10 pm: Screening of Snarky Puppy's Family Dinner-Volume Two in collaboration with UMS. (Snarky Puppy is a Grammy Award-winning "quasi-collective" that will perform at Hill Auditorium March 17, 2017.)
10:15 pm - 7 am: "Pleasant Places" installation by artist Quayola

Friday, Sept. 9
7 - 10 pm: UMMA After Hours
10:15 pm - 7 am: "Pleasant Places" installation by artist Quayola

Preview: Jenn McKee's Most Anticipated Theater Events for 2016-2017



TEAM's RoosevElvis, courtesy of UMS

September isn’t just back-to-school season; it’s also the moment when most theater companies (and universities’ performing arts departments) launch into a brand new year of programming.

It’s enough to make a dramaphile downright giddy.

But because we’re blessed with a perennially rich, vibrant arts scene here in Ann Arbor, it can be challenging to keep track of all the good stuff on the horizon – so I’ve compiled a list of theater offerings that I’m most excited about for the coming year. The list is organized by date, so mark your calendars!

Theatre Nova’s Dear Elizabeth, playing Sept. 2-25 at the Yellow Barn, 410 W. Huron in Ann Arbor.

Hearing about a play that’s built from the decades-long correspondence between poets Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop may not, at first blush, get your blood pumping (unless you’re a writer-nerd like me), but you should also keep in mind that Dear Elizabeth playwright Sarah Ruhl is the mastermind behind fantastical, witty works like The Clean House and In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play. I’m excited to take a more personalized dive into these poets’ lives, by way of Ruhl’s proven skills as a dramatist.

Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, playing September 8-11 at Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, 911 N. University in Ann Arbor.

A2CT often stages big musicals, but Spelling Bee is a smaller, more intimate look at a group of driven, misfit kids (played by adults) who gather together to see where they fit into the spelling bee world’s pecking order. Sweet, heartbreaking, and hilarious, the Tony-winning Spelling Bee will likely charm your socks off. (Even though the show’s about kids, though, please be advised to leave kids younger than 12-14 at home.) Plus, one of my favorite parts of William Finn’s winning score is a love song about a dictionary – which may just say a little too much about me. Ahem.

The TEAM’s RoosevElvis, presented by UMS, playing September 29-October 1, Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, 911 N. University in Ann Arbor.

I’m super-excited to see this show, which sounds trippy and fun and fascinating. (The UMS website calls it “a halluncinatory road trip from the Badlands to Graceland.”) In the show, the spirits of Elvis Presley and Theodore Roosevelt, played by women, battle over the soul of Ann, a shy meat-processing plant worker. This surreal mash-up of the past and the present, icons and “regular people,” history and mythology, and gender definitions promises to be a memorable night of theater, courtesy of UMS and the Brooklyn-based company, The TEAM.

U-M Musical Theater Department’s The Drowsy Chaperone, playing October 13-23, Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, 911 N. University in Ann Arbor.

U-M’s musical theater program is one of the best in the country, so this goofy, Tony-winning show promises to be a blast. In Chaperone, an anti-social musical theater buff puts the score of a beloved, over-the-top, 1928 show on his record player, and the show comes to life on stage, with hysterical asides and commentary from the narrator. Get your tickets now, folks.

U-M Theatre and Drama Department’s Peter and the Starcatcher, playing December 8-11, Power Center, 121 Fletcher in Ann Arbor.

Inspired by a 2006 novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Starcatcher sketches out Peter Pan’s backstory, acting as a kind of prequel to the story we all know and love. Plus, this will be the first time local audiences will get the chance to see the magical, award-winning show, which made its Broadway debut in 2012.

EMU Theatre’s A Raisin in the Sun at EMU, playing February 8-12, Sponberg Theatre, 124 Quirk Hall on EMU’s campus in Ypsilanti.

I’ve studied the play, I’ve seen the movie, but I’ve never in my life seen a live production of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic play about a poor black family in Chicago who struggle to decide what to do with the patriarch’s life insurance payout check when it arrives. Each person wants the family to have a better life, but how to get there is the subject of an impassioned debate that reflects ideas about race, class, generational conflict, and familial love.

U-M’s Theatre and Drama Department’s Mr. Burns, a post-electric play, playing February 16-19, Mendelssohn Theatre, 911 N. University in Ann Arbor.

Anne Washburn’s 2012 play is where pop culture and edgy theater meet. In Mr. Burns, a group of post-apocalyptic survivors gather to recount an episode of “The Simpsons”; seven years later, we see these same characters as a theater troupe that specializes in re-enacting episodes of “The Simpsons”; and 75 years beyond that, we see how this story has been altered and interpreted by a culture still reeling from near-extinction.


The Million Dollar Quartet graces Encore's stage.

Druid Theatre Company’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane, presented by UMS, playing March 9-11, Power Center, 121 Fletcher in Ann Arbor.

Druid, based in Galway, Ireland, last came to Ann Arbor via UMS in 2011 to present a fantastic production of The Cripple of Inishmaan, so color me excited to see yet another Druid production of a Martin McDonagh drama. “Beauty Queen” chronicles a battle of wills between an aging, manipulative mother, Mag, and her plain and lonely 40 year old daughter, Maureen, who’s been playing the thankless role of caregiver in an economically depressed Irish village in the 1990s. Marie Mullen, who won a Tony Award playing the daughter, plays Mag in Druid’s production. A can’t miss in my book.

Purple Rose Theatre’s Vino Veritas, playing March 23-May 27, 137 Park St. in Chelsea.

David MacGregor’s comic drama had its world premiere at the Purple Rose in 2008, and it became one of my all-time Rose favorites. In the play, on Halloween night, two suburban couples agree to drink an exotic Peruvian wine – made from the skins of blue dart tree frogs – that acts as a truth serum. They soon learn, though, that while the truth can set you free, it can also make your closest relationships profoundly tricky.

Complicite’s The Encounter, presented by UMS, playing March 30-April 1, Power Center, 121 Fletcher in Ann Arbor.

Complicite has become one of my favorite theater companies in the world, thanks to UMS repeatedly bringing it to Ann Arbor to present mesmerizing, technically innovative past productions like The Elephant Vanishes, A Disappearing Number (my favorite), and Shun-Kin. This time, we get to see The Encounter, inspired by a National Geographic photographer’s experience, in 1969, of getting lost among the people of Brazil’s Javari Valley. The audience will wear headphones for the show, which makes use of “3D Audio” to more fully submerge audience members into the Amazon rainforest experience.

Encore Theatre’s Million Dollar Quartet, playing April 13-May 7, The Encore Theatre, 3126 Broad St. in Dexter.

Though this musical has toured in recent years, I’ve never had the chance to catch it, so I’m excited to see it at Encore, which has really upped its game, in terms of production quality, in the past year. Quartet dramatizes a December 4th, 1956 recording session with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and newcomer Jerry Lee Lewis, with all the actors playing live music on stage. Given the huge success Encore had earlier this year with Always … Patsy Cline, I have high really hopes for Quartet.

U-M Musical Theater Department’s Disney’s The Little Mermaid, playing April 13-16 Power Center, 121 Fletcher in Ann Arbor.

I know, I know. But I’ve got young kids who love going with me to shows, and not only will this stage production of Mermaid probably be top notch – simply because it’s Michigan’s musical theater program putting it on – but it will make them happy to sing along to Menken and Ashman’s still-infectious score (“Under the Sea,” “Part of Your World,” etc.). Yes, we will likely have a post-show discussion about whether Ariel should be willing to give away a significant part of her identity to chase after a guy (sigh), but even so, the potential for stage magic is pretty high with Mermaid, so I assure you we’ll be there.

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.

Preview: The Ypsilanti Heritage Festival Returns for its 38th Year!


The Ypsilanti Heritage Festival Returns for its 38th Year!

Scenes from last year's Ypsilanti Heritage Festival. Photos from Ypsi Real.

The tents are going up, the buzz is in the air, and it’s easy to tell that a long-running local celebration is back for another year! This weekend the annual Ypsilanti Heritage Festival returns to Riverside Park with live music, entertainment, food, vendors, and countless other activities. This year marks the 38th annual celebration of this community festival, which started as the Ypsilanti Yesteryear Heritage Festival back in 1978 and has been honoring the city of Ypsi, its quirky culture, and its rich history every year since.

Highlights for this year include a community food tent, a magic show, a rubber ducky race, bounce houses, a touch-a-truck event, free access to many of Ypsi’s local historical buildings and museums, and a presentation by local historian Matt Seigfried on the incredible tale of local legend HP Jacobs. This year also features the triumphant return of Noise Permit, a musical event showcasing Ypsi’s talented teens in Frog Island Park.

The festival will once again sprawl between Riverside Park, Frog Island Park, and Depot Town. Entry to the festival and many of its events are free, but some events will require tickets or payment. If you’re the plan-ahead type, a full schedule of the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival’s events can be found on their website.

The Parkridge Summer Festival and DIYpsi craft fair will both take place over the next couple of days as well, so there will be no shortage of noise, fun, and sights to see in Ypsi this weekend!

The Ypsilanti Heritage Festival will take place on August 26, 27, and 28, 2016. For more information and a full schedule of events, visit YHF's website.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #610


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #610

One of Bon Appetit's 8 New Food Novels to Read This Year - The City Baker's Guide to Country Living is a debut novel by Boston pastry chef Louise Miller.

Running away is what thirtysomething Livvy (Olivia) Rawlings does best. After her Baked Alaska sets fire to Boston's exclusive Emerson Club, she packs up and heads north to Guthrie, Vermont where her childhood (and only) friend Hannah lives. Luck would have it, the Sugar Maple Inn needs a pastry chef, a job that comes with a charming little cottage - the Sugarhouse.

Margaret Hurley, the cantankerous and demanding inn owner puts Livvy through her paces but is soon won over by Livvy's creations, along with the guests and the town-folks. Before long, Livvy finds herself immersed in small town life and intense scrutiny when she gets involved with Martin McCracken, a prodigal son who has returned to tend his ailing father.

After a Rockwell-worthy Thanksgiving, a funeral, and a surprise visitor shake things up, Livvy must decide whether to do what she does best and flee--or stay and finally discover what it means to belong.

This August Indie Next and LibraryReads pick, will appeal fo fans of Kitchens of the Great Midwest by Ryan Stradal; South of Superior by Ellen Airgood; novels by Erica Bauermesiter and the Little Beach Street Bakery series by Jenny Colgan.