Harmoniously Happy: Brandi Carlile at the Michigan Theater

MUSIC REVIEW

Brandi Carlile

Nobody sings like Brandi Carlile.

Her voice has so much power and force it’s like something shot out of a cannon -- except that there’s subtlety there, too, and nuance, and many different shades of feeling.

At her June 9 show at the Michigan Theater show, co-hosted by The Ark, Carlile played to an ecstatic, sold-out audience, showcasing the power of her voice and the force of her backing band.

From her first album (Brandi Carlile) to her most recent (By the Way, I Forgive You), Carlile’s songs have reckoned with late nights, stiff drinks, and love affairs gone wrong -- or, occasionally, right. But in Ann Arbor, Carlile explored a different side of herself, a more grown-up side. If there was a theme to the show, it was parenthood.

Less Talk, Rock Action: Fuzz Fest 5 at The Blind Pig

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Fuzz Fest 5 logo

Fuzz Fest lets the music do the talking.

I don't just mean the harmonious racket that'll be created by 33 bands performing nearly 18 hours of jams on June 21-23 at The Blind Pig for the fifth edition of this annual event. Well, I do mean that, but because Fuzz Fest has two performance areas in the club -- one on the main stage and one on the floor -- there are no breaks between the bands' 30-minute sets, which means no time for extraneous jibber-jabber.

It's just CONSTANT ROCK ACTION.

Chris "Box" Taylor, the primary person behind this sonic endurance event, is also content to let the music do the talking. When I asked him to name the most memorable things from Fuzz Fests past, Taylor got straight to the point:

West Park Monster: Penny Seats' "Gravedigger" begins the outdoor season with a frank retelling

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Penny Seats Theatre Company's The Gravedigger

Meet me at the cemetary gates: The monster Anton (David Galido) and gravedigger Kurt (Robert Schorr) in Penny Seats' production of Joseph Zettelmaier’s The Gravedigger.

Penny Seats Theatre Company’s two-show 2018 summer season -- cheekily called "Hail to the Victors" -- consists of two different takes on Mary Shelley’s classic horror story. Next month, PSTC will present Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan’s stage musical adaptation of Brooks’ 1974 film comedy Young Frankenstein, but the company first kicked things off this past weekend with a two-hour production of Joseph Zettelmaier’s The Gravedigger, directed by Julia Glander and Lauren M. London.

Accessing the Future: Petra Kuppers' "Ice Bar" explores disability culture via speculative fiction

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Petra Kuppers' Ice Bar

Themes of women, water, and power intertwine in delightful ways in Petra Kuppers’ latest book, Ice Bar, which features post-apocalyptic science fiction and psychedelic fantasy short stories where many of the characters are disabled in some way or another.

"They might use a wheelchair or have family members in psych wards or they themselves have been institutionalized," said Kuppers, a University of Michigan professor. "Normally in [these genres], disability is either erased or the person is made the bad guy. I wondered what would happen if I used a disability perspective to write my own stories in which [disability] is neither horrific nor celebratory but rather part of human life.” 

Dreamgate brings a homegrown immersive virtual-reality game to Ann Arbor

PULP LIFE INTERVIEW

Dreamgate VR

In a quiet corner of Briarwood Mall zombies are being destroyed, robot attacks are being fought off, and an Ann Arbor-based startup company is showcasing the potential of virtual-reality video gaming.

Dreamgate VR involves up to four game players in a 400-foot arena. Virtual-reality headsets transform the courtyard near Sears into a completely new world -- either a futuristic cityscape or an apocalyptic war zone. 

The company bills itself as “the first free-roaming, multiplayer virtual reality experience” in Michigan. And in less than a year since launching, the effort is already a success, with plans in the works to add a third game and expand to other locations.

Dreamgate founder and CEO Craig Albert has had an affinity for computers since his family bought one when he was in first grade. Growing up, he taught himself how to build web pages and do graphic design. And he played a lot of online games.

Real Love: Beverly Jenkins writes romance fiction to tell African-American history

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Beverly Jenkins

Beverly Jenkins wants to challenge your thoughts about romance fiction.

When her first book, Night Song, was published in 1994, there wasn’t a market for romance novels featuring people of color, and many African-American-focused novels centered on slavery. But Jenkins continued to pursue her vision of highlighting the love stories of black people, often set in the 19th century. Now, 37 novels later, the Detroit-raised Belleville resident is a superstar in romance fiction.

The prolific writer earned the celebrated Romance Writers of America Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017, further cementing Jenkins' status as a legend in the romance market. But Jenkins isn't just about love stories. She has said she wants to show how black people in America have “turned their lemons into lemonade,” and Jenkins continues with her mission to educate folks about African-American history with her emphasis on Juneteenth, the holiday that commemorates the end of American slavery on June 19, 1865.

On Monday, June 18 at AADL's Malletts Creek branch, Jenkins will present "The Historical Background of Juneteenth" from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm. During this event, Jenkins will talk about, educate, and celebrate this milestone in American history.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Beverly Jenkins about her literary influences, if men read her work, and the importance of providing love stories featuring minorities.

Art Matters: Jenny Robb of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

VISUAL ART PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jenny Robb

Funny stuff: Jenny Robb, director of OSU's Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Screengrab by Dave Kellett.

As curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum (BICLM) at Ohio State University, Jenny Robb may have one of the coolest jobs in the country. With its current holdings of original cartoons, books, manuscripts, and comic strips in the millions, the BICLM is the largest cartoon art library in the world. Started in 1977, the library is primarily a research collection for American cartoon art, but with the addition of three exhibition galleries in 2013, the BICLM is now a destination for comic fans as well. 

After graduating with a master’s degree in museum studies from Syracuse, Robb eventually landed at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco in 2000. In 2005, she arrived in Columbus where she spent six years under the tutelage of the BICLM’s founding curator, Lucy Caswell, before assuming the role after Caswell’s retirement in 2011. Robb is an expert on political and historical cartoons, and a firm believer in using cartoons to teach history which can be seen in The Opper Project, a collaborative effort between the BICLM and the History Teaching Institute at OSU to provide lesson plans, cartoons, and other materials online for teachers.

Robb will be the keynote speaker on Friday, June 15 at A2 Inkubate, the pre-conference of the Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival (A2CAF), where she will discuss the issues faced by institutions and artists in collecting and preserving their art both on paper and digitally. On Saturday, June 16, she’ll be hosting “Stories From the Museum” at A2CAF where attendees can hear stories about the BICLM and get an up-close look at items from the collection.

Robb was kind enough to answer some questions via e-mail for Pulp ahead of the festival. 

Culottes, Canes & "Calypso": David Sedaris at Literati

WRITTEN WORD REVIEW

David Sedaris

David Sedaris was his usual charming, generous self when gave a packed reading on Friday at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor in support of his new book of essays, Calypso. And, of course, he was hilarious, telling dirty jokes, cursing, and plotting revenge on his West Sussex neighbors.

In Calypso, Sedaris has returned to the humorous essay form with which he’s made his reputation. His siblings, parents, and boyfriend, Hugh -- familiar to long-time readers -- appear once again. But many of these essays are darker in subject and tone than Sedaris’s previous work. They describe aging, illness, and the unexpected death of his sister, among other things. In the book’s first sentence, Sedaris announces, “Though there’s an industry built on telling you otherwise, there are few real joys to middle age.”

Sedaris didn’t read that essay on Friday, but he did read the text of a commencement speech he recently gave at Oberlin College, which touched on similar themes. Encouraging young writers to pursue their vocation (at any cost), he said, “At 22 you are built for poverty and rejection. And you know why? Because you are so good looking.” He also said: “Be yourself. Unless your self is an asshole.”

Good Tickle Brain's Mya Gosling interprets Shakespeare one stick figure at a time

Mya Gosling's stick-figure Shakespeare

What if Cliff's Notes had Cliff's Notes?

Mya Gosling's Good Tickle Brain is a web-based comics series that reduce Shakespeare's works to three panels. Named after a Falstaff line from Act 2, Scene 4 of Henry IV Part 1 -- "Peace, good pint-pot. Peace, good tickle-brain" -- Gosling's stick-figure interpretations of ol' Will's works have garnered acclaim across the web for their wit, particularly her "Which Shakespeare Play Should I See?" flowchart, which has allowed her to transition from being a library cataloger to a full-time comic artist.

Gosling has expanded her focus to include Keep Calm and Muslim On, written by her friend Andrea Annaba, and Sketchy Beta, the world's only rock-climbing comic strip, as well as three-panel interpretations of many other plays and movies. But the website's namesake Shakespeare strip is when I first discovered Gosling's work during last year's Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival (A2CAF). My kids fell in love with her The Complete Works of Shakespeare in Three Panels book, which inspired them to go on and dive deep into the Bard's full catalog of plays as well as the film and graphic novel versions.

Gosling will be at this year's A2CAF festival June 16 & 17 at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, and I emailed with her about all things three-panel Shakespeare.

Shakespeare in the Arb gets to the roots of "Romeo and Juliet"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Shakespeare in the Arb's Romeo & Juliet

Flower children: Romeo and Juliet make eyes in the Arb.

It’s perhaps a little surprising that over the 18 years that the University of Michigan Residential College has presented a Shakespeare play in Nichols Arboretum, this year’s production is the first time for Romeo and Juliet.

Of course, it’s one of Shakespeare’s best-loved works, packed with some of his most memorable lines and phrases. Certainly, any play with romance at its core has a place in the idyllic Arb. So whatever the reasons that it hasn’t been done before, the important thing is that it’s being done now. For fans of Shakespeare, of the Arb, and especially of both, it’s a treat.