Tanya Shaffer and Vienna Teng's musical "The Fourth Messenger" offers a contemporary view of the Buddha
Meditation is meant to focus the mind by clearing away random thoughts. But sometimes meditation may inspire a radical new idea.
Playwright Tanya Shaffer had such an inspiration that led to the creation of The Fourth Messenger, an unusual musical about the Buddha that will be given a concert staging at The Ark on March 14 as a fundraiser for the venue's Spotlight Series.
“The idea came to me on a nine-day silent retreat when I was supposed to be clearing my mind,” she said. “I was thinking about the story of Buddha’s enlightenment, where he sat under a tree and vowed not to get up until he found enlightenment. Then for many days and nights, all the temptations of the world are trying to get him up. And it came to me that would be cool as a song and dance, the temptations standing under a tree and then thinking the whole story would be a musical because it has that scale of a hero’s quest and so I got excited on the retreat and for many hours forgot about my breath and I thought about the musical.”
Independent content marketer Bill Kerschbaum encourages his clients to consider a comics format to convey their messages.
“Video is a powerful way to tell visual stories in marketing, but comics also provide great benefits that no other medium offers. It’s a largely untapped opportunity, but it can deliver great results,” said Kerschbaum, 49, who lives in Ann Arbor with his wife and two children.
He’s also writing a webcomic series called Forge, which is illustrated by Phillip Lowe.
Based on these details, one would assume Kerschbaum’s been a lifelong comics fan, but that’s not the case.
“Actually, I came into comics pretty late," he said. "Only in the last few years. But when I discovered comics as an adult, I was absolutely floored by one series in particular: Rust by Royden Lepp. Stunning artwork and a heart-wrenching story. It’s still one of my all-time favorites."
Valery Jung Estabrook's hand-sewn exhibit at U-M's LSA Humanities Gallery re-creates an uncomfortable snapshot of a rural American interior
The LSA Humanities Gallery is known for exhibits that raise uncomfortable questions and featuring provocative artworks that cut to the heart of American culture. With its most recent exhibit, *Hometown Hero (Chink): An American Interior, viewers are invited to explore an installation designed by multidisciplinary artist and Paula and Edwin Sidman Fellow in the Arts recipient Valery Jung Estabrook.
Estabrook’s installation is comprised of a life-sized, hand-sewn re-creation of an American interior, which casually anchors iconography of America’s racist past and present against a backdrop of brown, dreary dimness. Jung bases the recreation on her experiences growing up in rural Southwestern Virginia, though the low-wattage lightbulbs and centrally-placed television are instantly recognizable to me as a person who grew up in the rural Midwest, suggesting that Estabrook’s experiences are not unique to the American South. *Hometown Hero (Chink): An American Interior casually and precisely captures rural American life, from the guns mounted on the wall to the La-Z-Boy-style chair upholstered with a Confederate flag. This familiarity is unsettling.
Neighborhood Theatre Group’s new play "Thoughts and Prayers" explores what happens when a high school is upended by violence
Neighborhood Theatre Group’s new play, Thoughts and Prayers -- written by A.M. Dean and directed by Marisa Dluge -- is a story based in fictional but present-day Michigan where a gun and manifesto were discovered in a high school student’s trumpet case. The FBI responds by sending in Agent Sarah Allistair to implement “Project Armored Apple” in which teachers are supplied guns and training to react in the event of an attack at the school.
The story centers on Agent Allistair and Andy Webber, the awkward and ominous 17-year-old friend of Tyler, the gun-and-manifesto student. Andy’s family comprises of his mother, Melanie -- the devoted but anxious parent who is also a teacher at his high school; his father, Doug -- the cringe-inducing dad who thinks Tyler’s motive is related to receiving “too many hugs”; and Uncle Jeff -- a janitor at the high school and the relatable adult the teenager desperately needs.
There's a violent interaction in the play, but writing about it directly would be a spoiler. Trust that it comes as a surprise.
Thoughts and Prayers is directed by Marisa Dluge and stars Mimi Blackford, Eric Hohnke, Mike Sandusky, Debbie Secord, Kate Umstatter, and Craig VanKempen.
The term “thoughts and prayers” has become a common colloquialism within the discussion of school shootings. Playwright A.M. Dean uses this story to explore our reactions to these tragedies, how these tragedies may affect the afterlife, and how we prevail through our thoughts and prayers.
As to be expected, this play did not provide answers as to why these senseless acts take place in our schools. It left me feeling more nauseous about the current state of violence in our schools, more so than anything else. Perhaps that is a good thing.
Dean is the literary manager and co-founder of Neighborhood Theatre Group. He lives in Ypsilanti and received his degree from Michigan State University where he studied theater.
He answered a few questions via email.
The Huron River is one of the unifying elements of the greater Ann Arbor area, so it's not surprising that it has provided inspiration to a local singer-songwriter, Kat Steih, for her recent album, Hymns of the Huron: “I’d really like to focus on using my voice as a musician to make connections between things. I’d like to advocate for holistic music/creative education, women in creative fields, and water rights.”
Steih will get to support water rights when she performs benefit for the Huron River Watershed Council on March 27 at Triple Goddess Tasting Room in Ypsilanti.
Hymns of the Huron features a fully realized sound, led by Steih’s rich, expressive voice. She’s backed on the record by Jesse Morgan, piano; Ben Lorenz, drums (who also produced); Jason Magee, guitar; and Kristin von Bernthal, bass and backup vocals. Steih wrote all the songs on the album. It opens with “Hole in My Heart,” placing sorrowful lyrics against a jaunty melody. The poppy “I Need a Friend” similarly establishes an infectious groove over a serious theme, while “I Haven’t Seen a Couple …” is a thoughtful heartbreak song. A sense of sadness and longing runs throughout much of the album, until “Don’t Push Me Away” brings in a sense of hope and “You’re Not Gonna Lose Me” concludes the record with a reassuring promise.
Steih answered a few questions via email.
Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound puts a theater reviewer in the interesting position of reviewing a play that satirizes theater reviewers reviewing a play. It is an absurdist work that is, on the surface, like a play-within-a-play, but it becomes something more. It’s a journey that explores identity, authenticity, and what is real versus what we tell ourselves might be real. PTD Productions performs this layered classic with aplomb.
The audience is first introduced to characters Moon (Russ Schwartz) and Birdboot (Larry Rusinsky), two theater critics attending a new murder-mystery play in London in the style of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. (The title is also a reference to Christie’s famous play.) Moon is a second-string theater critic with an obsessive fixation on first-string theater critic Biggs. Throughout his monologues, Moon begins to define his existence with Biggs’s absence and ponders killing Biggs in order to take his place. We eventually learn, however, that there is a third-string critic Puckeridge behind Moon, and Moon wonders if Puckeridge yearns for Moon’s death as Moon dreams of Biggs’.
Ted Ramsay, a professor emeritus at the University of Michigan’s School of Art and Design, has long made expressionism in its many guises the focus of his painting. His last WSG exhibit, March 2013’s Spatial Narratives in Paint, was marked by expressive figuration, which Ramsay explained as, "In my figure paintings I strive for an aura of magic and mystery tempered with a subjective, but believable dose of reality." I wrote at that time that Ramsay’s “whose homage to silence is so complete, you can almost hear a pin drop.”
The paintings in Ted Ramsay: Visual Symphony Series, on display at WSG through March 14, are more boisterous than those in Spatial Narratives as Ramsay loosens his representational moorings by melodically flinging himself into his working surfaces. His Visual Symphony Series bears the conventions of abstract expressionism, but how they came into being are particular to Ramsay's working environment. As he tells us in his gallery statement:
Michigan-based theater artists create "The Call of the Void," a sci-fi audio drama set in New Orleans
The Call of the Void is a sci-fi audio drama following Topher and Etsy as they look for the truth behind a mysterious illness taking hold of victims in modern-day New Orleans. The audio drama has 10,000 listens in 54 different countries on 14 different streaming platforms -- and it was all created in a living room in Pinckney, Michigan.
Creators, lead voice actors, and engaged couple Josie Eli Lapczynski and Michael Herman are theater artists who are using podcast technology to share their talents with a global audience through a nine-part series podcast audio drama.
While immersing themselves in sci-fi culture by reading HP Lovecraft, binging shows like Stranger Things and listening to the podcast Rabbits, Lapczynski and Herman decided to make their own sci-fi audio drama.
“We wanted to make a television show for your ears,” said Lapczynski. “In the last year, we've also been getting more and more into cosmic horror. We knew we wanted to create something in this genre and this seemed like the perfect opportunity, but rather than write about Cthulhu, we wanted to make our own monster, and so The Call of the Void was born."
Encore Theatre's junior production of "James and the Giant Peach" finds a way to make everything better
Perhaps it’s a sign of how trippy a moment we find ourselves in that the work of Roald Dahl seems suddenly, particularly ubiquitous.
For just as a touring production of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory continues its run at Detroit’s Fisher Theater, regional productions of the James and the Giant Peach stage musical -- with a book by Timothy Allen McDonald, and music and lyrics by U-M grads and Oscar, Tony, and Grammy Award winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul -- have been sprouting up everywhere, including at Dexter’s Encore Theatre.
Encore’s junior production, which begins February 28 and runs for eight performances through March 8, features 22 young performers, ranging in age from eight to 18.
“One of the things I love about [the show] is, not just the chosen family aspect of it, but also, James has this ability to be dealt a terrible hand constantly, and yet he always finds a way to make it better, and always finds the good in things that other are quick to overlook and discard,” said Matthew Brennan, the director of Encore’s production. “The insects, for example, these pests people just want out of their house. … [H]e finds potential in them, and that speaks to something really cool about this story.”
“You’re a mighty and hearty lot,” said UMS President Matthew VanBesien, peering out over the snow-dusted crowd that had slowly filtered into the seats of Rackham Auditorium Wednesday evening.
It was a lighthearted joke at the expense of those would-be concert-goers who might have filled in the empty chairs throughout the venue had they not been defeated by the weather, but it wasn’t unjustified: The snowstorm that had swept over Ann Arbor throughout the previous day and night had made navigating the roads a tricky proposition, and the spacious Rackham Auditorium looked to be more empty than not.
In introducing the concert, accordingly, VanBesien invited patrons to fill in the seats towards the front, jettisoning the assigned seating in favor of creating a more compact, less spotty-looking audience for the evening’s musical entertainment. Once condensed, it looked like the venue was maybe just under half-full, give or take a few dozen people.
Those who had braved the snowstorm had turned out to see the West-Eastern Divan Ensemble, a chamber group offering sensitive interpretations of music both old and new, but perhaps better known for the quietly political origins of their parent organization, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Founded in 1999 by the famed pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim and the Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said -- famous in numerous fields for his books Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism -- the orchestra was created as a place for musicians from throughout the Middle East (notably Isreal, Palestine, and their Arab-majority neighbors) to come together to make music on an equal basis.