The funny, punny title of Urinetown: The Musical may wrinkle some noses, but the show has been a smash hit off and on Broadway and at theaters across the United States since it opened in New York in 2001. On Sept. 12, the pee-centered satire will kick off the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s 90th anniversary year.
“Urinetown: The Musical is the most important musical of the 21st Century with the worst title,” said Rob Roy in an email interview. “In fact, it’s that meta approach to the subject matter that makes it even more relevant to the audience. One is never allowed to just sit and be entertained. Authors Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman specifically brought Bertolt Brecht’s verfremdungseffekt to the show to force the audience to pay attention to the vital subject matter: our way of life is unsustainable.”
Verfremdungseffekt is a German word for a distancing technique used in theater and film to prevent an audience from getting too wrapped up in the story instead of bringing a critical mind to the ideas being explored.
This meta-comedy is a shrapnel satire aiming for big capitalism and populism, bungling government bureaucracy and corrupt business with a format and musical score that lampoons the very idea of serious-minded musical entertainment, including the seminal work of Brecht and his musical collaborator Kurt Weill on The Threepenny Opera. Urinetown was a critical as well as popular success, winning three Tony Awards and many other honors.
The Michigan Electronic Music Collective (MEMCO) is made up of U-M student DJs, producers, and party planners. But these sonic scholars didn't take the past summer off -- at least not from music-making and mixing. MEMCO members past and present were hitting the decks throughout the summertime, recording remixes, generating jams, and creating more mixes than the Jiffy plant.
MEMCO is recruiting members for this school year -- visit the collective's FB page for details -- and soon enough it will start throwing parties around town at familiar venues like Necto, Club Above, Lo-Fi, Alley Bar, Ann Arbor Art Center, and more (Edit: Put on your dancing shoes because the first fall 2019 MEMCO event is happening September 20 at Club Above.)
But until then, below are eight MEMCO mixes that run the gamut -- from trippy techno to funky footwork -- created during the hazy days of summer 2019. And if that's not enough music to keep you moving, MEMCO members sometimes host the long-running electronic music show Crush Collision on WCBN 88.3-FM every Thursday at 10 pm.
Two Ann Arbor visits by the Art Ensemble of Chicago were documented on recordings made 46 years apart
The 2018 Edgefest at Kerrytown Concert House was the launchpad for a year-long celebration of the legendary avant-garde jazz collective Art Ensemble of Chicago. The group not only performed at the long-running, annual Ann Arbor festival, it recorded a studio album during its stay here.
“This is the first performance of this 50th-anniversary project," Deanna Relyea, Edgfest’s artistic director, told me last year for a Pulp post. Ensemble co-founder "Roscoe [Mitchell] has written music for this group based on music written for the Art Ensemble years ago by Joseph Jarman, Malachi Favors, and Lester Bowie. (Bowie and Favors are deceased; Jarman is retired.)
The recorded fruits of the Art Ensemble's Ann Arbor labor, We Are on the Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration, was released in April on CD/digital via Pi Recordings and on vinyl in July via Erased Tapes. One part of the We Are on the Edge is live from the Kerrytown Concert House and the other section is music recorded at Big Sky, with University of Michigan professor Stephen Rush -- a longtime Mitchell collaborator -- conducting the large ensemble.
“I have been asked to conduct two pieces by Roscoe Mitchell and one by Don Moye," Rush told me last year. “I’m also providing instruments from my own collection for [percussionist] Don Moye. No question I would get involved a little bit in editing the scores, too. These things are extremely fluid and not at all like recording some of my other works like symphonies and chamber stuff. And the musicians are all amazing readers and amazing improvisers, which makes it really exciting.”
We Are on the Edge isn't the first Art Ensemble record made in Ann Arbor. Recorded on September 9, 1972, at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, Bap-Tizum is a free-wheeling, politically charged performance. (The first track on the LP is a band introduction by John Sinclair.)
Check out music from both albums below as you buy tickets to the 2019 Edgefest, which happens October 16-19:
In Elizabeth Smith's Pulp review of Nora Venturelli's Vice Versa exhibition at WSG Gallery in 2017, she noted that it consisted of "large-scale mixed-media paintings of the human figure in motion, with gestural lines and overlapping forms suggesting the trajectory of the body through space."
That description is true for Venturelli's new WSG exhibition, Body of Work -- except for the "large-scale" part. In an interview published on wsg-art.com, Venturelli says she hasn't "had the time to work on bigger pieces these past two years. Therefore, I decided to show what I had been doing since my last solo at the gallery. Most of the work in this show is the result of short poses during weekly 3-hour sessions."
Ruth Leonela Buentello's "Yo Tengo Nombre" evokes the horrors immigrants face at the U.S.-Mexico border
Ruth Leonela Buentello's Zero Tolerance series was inspired by the Trump administration's inhumane immigration policy at the U.S.-Mexico border and the subsequent mistreatment of migrant individuals as revealed by media investigations. Six paintings from the series will be displayed at the University of Michigan's Institute for the Humanities under the title Yo Tengo Nombre [I Have a Name] from September 19 to October 31.
While the San Antonio, Texas-based Buentello is an interdisciplinary artist, the works in Yo Tengo Nombre are all acrylic-on-canvas paintings. She asked members of her family to pose for the paintings, telling them to imagine what it would be like if they were in the position of these migrants. "Family and immigration enforcement are personal to many of us with migrant roots," Buentello said in a press release and she tried to capture the terror in her relatives' faces as they acted out moments that immigrants deal with every day.
Buentello, the 2019 Efroymson Emerging Artist in Residence, will talk with curator Amanda Krugliak during the opening reception on September 19, 5:30-7 pm.
Below is a sneak peek at the paintings.
Rachel DeWoskin's Banshee is a novel about Samantha Baxter, a woman who faces a serious medical diagnosis and casts about for meaning while acting out in ways inconsistent with the life she has lived so far. She crosses lines in her job as a professor and her roles as wife and mother. Through it all, she recognizes the incongruencies of her actions, but she does not just plow ahead disrupting her middle-aged life; instead, she both makes her choices and contemplates how they unfold.
While her actions appear extreme, ranging from sleeping with a student to alienating her husband, Samantha does not leave her life and home. Her defiance centers on how she acts within her existing family and professional relationships. Samantha says what she wants to, unapologetically follows her impulses, and lets the consequences unfold. Accordingly, the prose consists of her first-person narration of her experiences and perspective as she transforms and reacts to her major health problem and to how she feels in new situations. The plot becomes about what she does or doesn’t do, what she says or doesn’t say, and what she thinks and feels about all of it.
Writer, poet, and Ann Arbor native DeWoskin previously acted in a Chinese soap opera and now teaches at the University of Chicago. She will speak about and sign Banshee at Literati Bookstore on Monday, September 9, at 7 pm. Beforehand, I interviewed her about her writing and new novel.
What do you do?
It’s what people ask when they first meet as a way to identify each other, yet our jobs do not have to define us.
When I asked Jeff Kass this question, he answered with three jobs: a full-time English teacher at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, part-time pizza delivery person, and part-time director of literary programs at the Neutral Zone for a year in 2016-2017. During that time, he also worked on drafting the autobiographical poems about this experience that form his new collection, Teacher/Pizza Guy (Wayne State University Press).
Teacher/Pizza Guy reveals Kass’ experiences in the classroom and pizza place, including issues with service industry jobs, challenges of aging, and relationships with colleagues, youth, and family. Despite the possible mundanity of work, Kass offers poetic insights on the situations. The first poem in the collection, “Oh, Splotch of Blue Paint,” not only addresses the paint on the sidewalk outside of the school where Kass teaches but also ruminates about its origins:
…were you trying to paint the sea? A place
for you to float in? The breeze a lovely, reassuring
friend who brings you cookies and iced tea
and listens to you without judging…?
This speculative question, in turn, raises a question for me: Isn’t that what we’d all like, a pleasant place, a friend who shares treats, and good conversation? Another poem depicts colleagues crossing paths in the night as Kass returns to home from his pizza-slinging job to see a fellow pizza slinger working his other job of delivering newspapers.
Amidst dishwashing, disastrous delivery runs, and the grind of teaching students in class after class how to write essays, Kass pulls out moments of clarity that describe the working life. One poem describes a break during which he makes a pizza for himself, one that’s not on the menu, and writes, “Believe / for a moment / your time / belongs / to you. / Savor. / Chew.”
Within the drudgery of going from job to job, Kass is not all work; he observes and shows parallels between his jobs and life, recognizing and taking ownership of those moments rather than letting work consume him, almost as if he is both living his life and watching it from the outside. Kass finds meaning in those fleeting moments of entering and exiting customers’ lives to bring them pizza and also seeks respect as he makes ends meet.
Kass, who lives in Ann Arbor with his wife, Karen Smyte, and their children, Sam and Julius, will read from his collection at Literati Bookstore on Tuesday, September 10, at 7 pm. I interviewed him about his poetry and work.
Brazilian mandolinist Danilo Brito returns to Ann Arbor with a new album and the history of choro at his fingertips
Brazilian mandolin wizard Danilo Brito is returning to the Metro Detroit area for what now annual performances in Ann Arbor (September 1 at Kerrytown Concert House), the Detroit Institute of Arts (August 30), and the GlasSalon in the Toledo Museum of Art (August 29). Brito (mandolin and tenor guitar) will be joined by Carlos Moura (7-string guitar) and Guilherme Girardi (6-string guitar).
Brito's new album, Da Natureza das Coisas (The Nature of Things), is bookended by two important works of Heitor Villa-Lobos, closing with "Melodia Sentimental" and opening with "Chôros No. 1 (Chôro típico Brasileiro)," which was composed for guitar in 1920 in tribute to composer Ernesto Nazareth. Villa Lobos grew up among choro musicians and said that the soul of Brazilian people is found in choro. Many classical guitarists play this work, but Brazilians such as Turíbio Santos play it with a distinctive verve absent in the others. Brito takes this a step further -- arranging the work for his mandolin in the lead voice with two guitars carrying the others. The bright, clarion sound of his mandolin riding the group's Brazilian drive leaves Brito thinking that it would make Villa Lobos smile.
"Chôros No. 1 (Chôro típico Brasileiro)" sets the tone for the album which journeys through composers venerated and new. Works of Garoto and Jorge Santos are mingled with newcomers Brito, Penezzi, and Arante.
Brito's U.S. booking agency, Musica Extraordinaria, is based in Ann Arbor and its leader, Michael Grofsorean, conducted an interview with the Brazilian mandolinist. (For even more Brito, Pulp editor Christopher Porter interviewed him before his April 1, 2017, appearance in Ann Arbor.)
University of Michigan Museum of Art’s Connector Gallery frequently displays new acquisitions to the public. Recently, UMMA received four works by early 20th-century Austrian artist Egon Schiele. These four works include pencil drawings and paintings that convey the unconventional figural style for which Schiele is well-known.
Schiele’s figural works make up the majority of his oeuvre, and these gifted artworks represent his investigations into the human figure, each featuring a nude female, sometimes posed with accessories such as jewelry, stockings, or shoes.
The four pieces were donated to UMMA's permanent collection by retired University of Michigan professors Frances McSparron and the late Ernst Pulgram. These four works by Schiele represent a small portion of UMMA's collection of Austrian and German Expressionist works, many of which the professors later donated to the museum.
The best-known graffiti in Ann Arbor is in an alley off East Liberty.
But through March 29, 2020, the most important graffiti will be at the University of Michigan Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.
Graffiti As Devotion Along the Nile: El-Kurru, Sudan explores the practice of carving a picture into the walls of pyramids and temples as an act of religious ritual during the ancient Kush period, which was ruled from the capital of Meroe (300 BCE to 300 CE), a city along the Nile that's around 100 miles north of modern-day Khartoum. The exhibition displays a series of graffiti discovered during a Kelsey Museum archaeological field project on a pyramid and in an underground temple at the site of El-Kurru.
Co-curator Geoff Emberling -- an associate research scientist at the Kelsey Museum and co-director of the International Kurru Archaeological Project -- says the graffiti includes Kush symbols such as the ram, which represents the local form of the god Amun, and a long-legged bowman who symbolized Kushite prowess in archery. There are also intricate textile designs, as well as animals: horses, birds, camels, and giraffes. A press release states: "The most common marks are small round holes gouged in the stone -- by analogy with modern practices, these are likely the areas where temple visitors scraped the wall of the holy place in order to collect powdered stone that they would ingest to promote fertility and healing."