Take a Leap: Fifth Wall's new abstract chamber-rock opera "The Precipice" debuts at Riverside Arts in Ypsilanti
Our lives are not static.
We go through changes, we ask questions.
What does leaving home involve? What's it like to move on from relationships? What does any life change entail?
Fifth Wall Performing Arts, a multidisciplinary troupe that does experimental musical theater, tackles questions like these in Karl Ronneburg‘s The Precipice.
Karl, who uses only his first name professionally, created a collage, woven from journal entries, poems, letters to friends, music, and voice memos—his own and those of Grey Rose Grant—to create the abstract chamber-rock opera.
Audiences at Riverside Arts in Ypsilanti on April 29 and 30 will witness the world premiere of The Precipice before the company brings the piece to New York City.
For me, it’s telling that the most moving moment of the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance’s production of Rent on April 15 came via a curtain call reprise of the show’s iconic song, “Seasons of Love.”
Having taken their bows, the performers slowly clustered together in the middle of the stage, and you could palpably feel the camaraderie among them. That camaraderie didn’t radiate from their characters, but from their real-life experiences as college students, including graduating seniors, who’ve grown close while training and building on shows like this one. The warmth coming from that stage made my hair stand on end.
And in keeping with the program’s esteemed national reputation, the students had hit their marks and their notes (well, most of them) all evening. So why exactly did this polished production feel … well, too buttoned up and tame?
When Martin Thoburn and Donald Harrison launched the Independent Film Festival Ypsilanti (iFFY) in 2020, they offered cinema fans socially distanced, drive-in-style screenings and a momentary reprieve from the pandemic, which had shuttered movie theaters across the country.
Three years later—and one year after finding a new home at the Riverside Arts Center—iFFY is solidifying its spot on the local film scene with an ambitious scope and schedule, running April 19-23.
"There's also double the amount of programming. An extra day-and-a-half," said Micah Vanderhoof, iFFY operations manager and a University of Michigan alum with a bachelor's degree in screen arts and cultures who previously worked as a programmer for the Portland International Film Festival.
"Michigan-ish," a competitive program of a dozen short films produced in and around the region, kicks off the fest on Wednesday, April 19 at 7:30 pm, followed by an after-party at Ziggy's featuring DJ sets and decorations by House of Jealous Lovers.
Friday Five: The Solution, Telesonic 9000, Saturday's Cab Ride Home, Cat Lung, Dagoretti Records compilation
Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.
This week features soul-rock by The Solution, synth-pop by Telesonic 9000, indie rock by Saturday's Cab Ride Home, prog by Cat Lung, and a Dagoretti Records compilation of vintage Kenyan nyatiti music.
Doors of Perception: J. Michael & The Heavy Burden explores folk-rock and winding jams on its debut album
When one door closes, another may open.
That was the case in 2021 for J. Michael & The Heavy Burden leader Jeff Brach when he parted ways with one band to start another.
“I’d recently decided to close the chapter on another similar project that went by the name Stella Noon,” said the guitarist and singer. “I asked one of the newer members from that band, [singer] Shannon Lee, to join me in this new project and she soon thereafter introduced me to our drummer, Chris Georges.”
Brach combed through social media to fill out the rest of the band, which includes lead guitarist Andrew Pfeiffer and bassist Chris Peters, and the Ann Arbor area group recorded a few singles in early 2021 at Rooftop Studios in Grand Blanc.
“We fully intended on just having something out there to help garner some gigs until we had more time to record a full album,” said Brach, whose first initial and middle name provide the J. Michael part of The Heavy Burden.
That time finally came toward the end of 2022 when the band returned to Grand Blanc to record its self-titled debut and once again work with David Roof, who ended up joining the band as its keyboardist and plays various other instruments on the album.
'Til Tuesday: Terry McClymonds' idiosyncratic trivia nights have built an enthusiastic community over the past 12 years
Trivia nights in Ann Arbor are not uncommon, but Terry McClymonds' event might have the longest legacy. He started Trivia Night With Terry! in 2011 and has garnered a devoted following for his twice-a-month game, now at Argus Farm Stop’s Packard Cafe.
“It’s like a community,” McClymonds says. “There are students and graduate students, people from that neighborhood and my neighborhood, lots of ages. They’re all so enthusiastic.”
Nature's Way: Cathy Barry's "Connatural" paintings at Matthaei Botanical Gardens explore biological patterns
“Nature is the big umbrella of what inspires and has always informed my work,” the Ann Arbor painter writes in her artist’s statement. “My most recent work focuses on collecting and referencing biological sources and patterns found in nature.”
Some of those biological sources even provide colors for Barry's paintings as well as textures embedded into the works.
"I am extracting colors from local sources—in the backyard or the grocery store—including buckthorn, cattail, turmeric root, forsythia, beets, mulberry, yellow and purple onion skins," the Stamps lecturer writes in her artist's statement. "I then reference older practices by experimenting with inlay work of painted paper, traditionally used to create jewelry, furniture, mosaics and textiles. I am creating motifs and abstract compositions by cutting shapes from my plant-based paintings, fitting them together and assembling them. I am integrating materials with form and subject in my painting to evoke a peaceful wholeness that references the innate wisdom of nature."
Nature isn't the only thing referenced in Connatural, though only fans of one of the world's biggest pop stars might notice.
"For any Swifties out there, take a closer look at some of the titles in the exhibition," she said with a smile.
Barry answered a few questions about the exhibit, which runs through April 30.
Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.
This week features cosmic folk by Evan Haywood, art rock by XV, no wave by Lunch, folk-pop by Timothy Monger, and a compilation of mid-2000s Ypsilanti DIY artists.
Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1881 comic opera "Patience" skewers a popular art movement of the day—and the satire still stings
When Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta Patience opened on April 23, 1881, London’s Savoy Theatre had another hit from the popular duo. Patience had another witty and stinging libretto from W.S. Gilbert and a witty and lush score from Arthur Sullivan.
Gilbert and Sullivan once again tapped into the latest fad by lampooning the aesthetic movement of the 1880s and '90s. The art-for-arts-sake approach to the arts, including theater, was itself a critique of art with a message or political manifestos. Though the movement preceded Oscar Wilde, he is often cited as an example of the aesthetic approach.
Over time, Patience has not been performed as frequently as Gilbert and Sullivan’s other comic operas, HMS Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Mikado.
Cameron Graham is directing the University of Michigan Gilbert and Sullivan Society production of Patience, which runs April 13-16 at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater, and believes it has a lot to say about our own self-involved times as it did when it first wowed the London audiences.
In the late ‘80s, Jim Cain didn’t expect a Midwest tour with his friends’ punk band would lead to a love of acoustic music.
As the band’s roadie and road manager in college, he heard artists like Ralph Stanley, Lyle Lovett, and Bill Monroe while traveling in a crammed Oldsmobile Cutlass with his Michigan State University pals and became intrigued.
“My tastes growing up were more The Beatles, The Stones, and The Who,” said Cain, now the founder and curator of Saline’s Acoustic Routes concert series, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this month.
“A couple of friends at the same time started exploring more traditional artists like The Louvin Brothers and really went deep into the mix, and that’s just grown over time. I first got exposed to artists like Doc Watson and Mississippi John Hurt when I got inspired to attempt to learn the guitar. All of these things just kinda dovetailed.”
By 2010, Cain’s passion for country, bluegrass, folk, and other traditional acoustic-based music resulted in curating a live show at The Ark with Bonnie Rideout, Duck Baker, Bill Bynum & Co., and Rev. Robert Jones and Sister Bernice Jones.