Roustabout Theatre Explores the Life and Works of The Bard in "Big Daddy Shakespeare"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Roustabout Theatre's Big Daddy Shakespeare

Roustabout Theatre's Big Daddy Shakespeare looks at The Bard in a more personal and humanizing lens than is generally studied in school. A one-act play adapted from several of Shakespeare’s works by Anna Simmons and directed by Josie Lapczynski, shows him as a son, husband, and father who he left his young family to be a playwright in London. What was he thinking? Feeling? And how could his plays reflect his state of mind through separations -- and grief?

The Ypsi Experimental Space (YES) is decorated throughout with a specific theme. A popcorn machine greets you at the door, the warm scent of the freshly popped treat filling the air. Posters from past Roustabout Theatre shows are plastered on the walls like old circus playbills. The stage is draped in the unmistakable striped fabric of a circus tent. 

The vehicles for our exploration of Shakespeare are, fittingly, four roustabouts, or circus workers who erect and dismantle tents, care for the grounds, and handle animals and equipment. Our four roustabouts (Amanda Buchalter, Julia Garlotte, Russ Schwartz, and Cynthia Szczesny) enter the stage to put up another poster (for the show we are about to see) and set up some stage equipment and costumes the circus might need, but are, of course, used for their own show. 

All the Small Things: Rick Bailey's essay collection "The Enjoy Agenda" is a humorous and touching look at some of life's little moments

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Rick Bailey and his book The Enjoy Agenda

Author photo by Tiziana Canducci.

With warm and inviting prose, Rick Bailey takes us through life's hilarious and melancholy moments in The Enjoy Agenda: At Home and Abroad. 

“Part of the pleasure in writing these essays is capturing moments that go flying by and would otherwise be forgotten," says Bailey. "Every moment is potentially reverberant. In the essay 'iSmell,' after a not particularly successful home repair event, the scent of WD40 on my fingertips causes me to remember my first experiences wearing cologne in seventh or eighth grade, and then to recall the smell of Dow Chemical in Midland, Michigan, and tobacco in Durham, North Carolina, where I spent some time in graduate school, leading to some thoughts on possibilities of digitized smell and the chemistry of smell in outer space. Reverberance is cool.”

These sorts of memories resonate through this charming book which includes stories of Bailey’s recruitment to a high school wrestling team, attempts to use mindfulness as a way to control blood-pressure results, and a long path to find just the right kind of milk. 

Sonic Resistance in the Motor City: "Call & Response" at U-M's Penny W. Stamps Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Tylonn Sawyer, 3 Graces: Nina, 2015

Tylonn Sawyer, 3 Graces: Nina, 2015

In keeping with recent exhibition themes at the Penny W. Stamps Gallery, its most recent show asks audiences to imagine a better future through the works of innovative and iconic contemporary artists. 

Call & Response brings together diverse works and combines elements of the traditional exhibition space, a performance space, and a soundstage. Featuring the works of Romare Bearden, Chakaia Booker, Tony Cokes, Saffell Gardner, Allie McGhee, and Tylonn Sawyer, the gallery asks visitors to consider “sonic resistance in Detroit and beyond” through visual art, sound, and a restored historical stage from jazz-era Detroit. The central hub of the exhibition starts with the refurbished Blue Bird Inn stage and includes representational and abstract artworks responding to the cultural music scene of Detroit and beyond. 

The glittering Blue Bird Inn stage was recently rescued from obscurity by Detroit Sound Conservancy. Opening in the late 1930s, the Inn was located on Tireman Street, Detroit’s “Jim Crow line.” In the 1940s, the bar’s owner, Clarence Eddins, used the space as a jazz club until the early 2000s. The exhibit notes that the stage is an “iconic example of African-American mid-century vernacular art and design,” and it's easy to imagine iconic musicians such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane standing on it and playing jazz to bustling audiences in Detroit.

Unmasking Herstory: Nastassja E. Swift's "she was here, once" at U-M's Lane Hall

VISUAL ART REVIEW

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Nastassja E. Swift wants to know what's behind the mask. 

The Virginia-based artist's exhibit at Lane Hall, the home of the LSA Women’s Studies program at the University of Michigan, is part of a larger performance piece, titled she was here, once. Swift, in her artist statement, expands upon the intent behind her work:

Circling within conversations of marginalization, use of the black body and otherness, my work incorporates the idea of masking as a metaphorical tool to explore what it means to cover one’s face with another, questioning who’s being hidden and who’s being amplified. The mask themselves often acting as vessels of stories told through movement and in form, depicting the faces of our ancestral mothers as a way of demanding space for her and retrieving her power in the form of visibility of homage. Through fusing these larger-than-life size felted wool portraits with dance, I am able to shape experiences through storytelling and articulate self-identities in relation to ancestry.

 

Lane Hall’s gallery space is filled with various components of the project. Originally enacted by Swift and a group of eight women in the summer of 2018. The performance took place in Swift’s home city, Richmond, Virginia. First, the artist has suspended three of the large sculptural, white fiber masks worn and made by the women in the project from the ceiling in the main hall. Second, photographic stills from the initial performance line the walls of the gallery space. Finally, two television screens play both a mini-documentary and short film about Swift’s project on a loop.

A Night of Fiction: Bookbound Bookstore hosts Elizabeth Ellen, Juliet Escoria, and Mary Miller

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

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Left to right: Juliet Escoria, Elizabeth Ellen, and Mary Miller.

While other towns struggle to maintain bookstores and aren’t able to host author events, Ann Arbor hosts myriad events featuring the writers behind the pages.

Bookbound Bookstore is hosting a night of fiction on July 10. But what isn't fictional is Ann Arbor's dedication to independent bookstores and author events.

“We are very lucky to be in a city with so many avid readers and folks who make an effort to shop local," says Bookbound co-owner Megan Blackshear. "Each local bookstore has their own areas of specialty and programming, so we complement one another to provide something for everyone. After the loss of Borders, Shaman Drum, and plenty of other great shops, we are grateful that Ann Arbor is proving that it is still Booktown.”

Bookbound's triple bill of celebrated authors on Wednesday evening features Elizabeth Ellen, Juliet Escoria, and Mary Miller

Nevertheless Film Festival persists to show that female-identifying moviemakers are making great cinema

FILM & VIDEO PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Nevertheless Film Festival director Meredith Finch

Meredith Finch, founder and director of the Nevertheless Film Festival.

The film industry does not celebrate women as it should.

Only five women have ever been nominated for an Academy Award for directing. Less than a quarter of the top 100 grossing films have sole female protagonists. And way too many movies still don’t pass the Bechdel test.

But as a balm for these grim figures, we have the Nevertheless Film Festival, which runs July 11-14 at the Michigan Theater and is named after the feminist rallying cry “nevertheless, she persisted."

“Statistics are widely available about the lack of representation in the entertainment industry,” says festival director and U-M grad Meredith Finch. “But what I think is even more important than talking about the disparity in opportunities between men and women in Hollywood is saying, 'Women are out here making incredible work all the time.'”

Painting the Everyday: Sarah Innes' "Around the Table" at Ann Arbor Art Center focuses on the small moments in life

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Sarah Innes' painting Duncan and Arlo

Duncan and Arlo by Sarah Innes, watercolor on paper.

Ann Arbor artist Sarah Innes is a radical.

The fashion of the day in contemporary art is that we concern ourselves with the Big Issues: gender equality, climate change, gun violence, and the like.

Instead, Innes commits to painting only what she knows, deep in her bones.

She knows that life is precious and brief and consists of moments strung together like pearls on a necklace.  She knows that children are born, make fun and mischief, move away. Parents, friends, colleagues, and significant others visit and dine, celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. Pets appear under the table and nestled in arms. Sometimes there is a death.

Around the Table, a small selection of her intimate paintings, is on view now at the Ann Arbor Art Center through July 23. Innes employs the image of the dining table, both as an organizing compositional device and as a metaphor for her life. Minute changes in the menu, changing seasons and an ever-mutating cast of characters provide a travelogue of her journey through time. 

Pulp Bits: A Roundup of Washtenaw County Arts & Culture Stories, Songs & Videos

Christopher Jemison of Strange Flavors playing Fuzz Fest 6 at The Bling Pig. Photo by Chuck Marshall/Life in Michigan.

Christopher Jemison of Strange Flavors playing Fuzz Fest 6 at The Bling Pig. Photo by Chuck Marshall/Life in Michigan

A round-up of arts and culture stories featuring people, places, and things in Washtenaw County, whether they're just passing through or Townies for life. Coverage includes music, visual art, film & video, theater & dance, written word, and Pulp life (food, fairs, and more). If you're reading this in the future and a story link is dead, look up the URL on web.archive.org; we've cached every post there.

This is a music-crazy post. We have 28 links to various new albums, singles, videos, interviews, and more. Plus, several Ann Arbor Art Fair previews and stories about Washtenaw Dairy turning 85.

Chloe Gray’s Fun Girl dance company blends quirky movement with thoughtful activism in “Girlfriend”

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW INTERVIEW

Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray photo by Erika Ruch.

On June 22 at Riverside Arts Center, I had the pleasure of attending the first show presented by Fun Girl, a new Ypsilanti-based contemporary dance company created and run by Artistic Director Chloe Gray.  The company offers paid rehearsals and performances to their dancers, as well as apprenticeships, and acts as a platform for technically based dancers to explore quirky movement while applying thoughtful activism.  

Artistic Director Chloe Gray’s credentials are extensive, with her training beginning at the age of 6 with the Toledo Ballet and continuing at the Toledo School for the Arts throughout her high school years.  She graduated from Eastern Michigan University where she double majored in Dance Performance and Women’s and Gender Studies, and her choreography and dancing have been featured in performance opportunities through Kristi Faulkner Dance (Detroit), ARTLAB J Dance (Detroit), Koresh Dance Company (Philadelphia), and Side Street Art Studio (Chicago).

“I always thought that I was going to wait until I was older to start my own company,” says Gray.  “My plan was to graduate from college, move to a big city to dance, and then eventually come back to Ypsi to plant some roots. Through careful consideration and after falling in love with a Michigander, I decided to stay in Ypsi and go for it. We have to create in places and spaces where the art we want to see does not exist. If we all take off to big cities, how will art exist in our community?”

The show, entitled Girlfriend, featured four original pieces choreographed by Gray and performed by Fun Girl, as well as four pieces that were chosen through the Ypsi Dance Swap organized by Gray in January, in which choreographers from across the state could submit their work to be performed in a show at Riverside Arts Center.  Several of the choreographer’s pieces would then be chosen by a jury to be presented at Fun Girl’s Girlfriend recital in June. 

What's Love Got to Do With It: The Purple Rose's comedy "Welcome to Paradise" offers a dreamlike romance -- or is it real at all?

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

The Purple Rose Theatre's Welcome to Paradise

Rory (Ryan Black) and Evelyn (Ruth Crawford) trip the light fandango in The Purple Rose Theatre's production of Julie Marino’s Welcome to Paradise. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

In Julie Marino’s play Welcome to Paradise, a young man who has been backpacking through Europe helps an elderly woman who is having difficulty at the airport. Rory doesn’t just help Evelyn to her cab. He accompanies her to her beach house on the fictional Caribbean island of St. Sebastian, a beautiful spot in the middle of nowhere. Exhausted, he tries to find an inexpensive place to spend the night, but accommodations are costly in paradise. She invites him for the night.

He stays a good deal longer. He rearranges her flowers. He rearranges her furniture to better see the sunset from the couch.  And just by being there, he rearranges her life. 

In a detailed and nuanced performance, Ruth Crawford embodies Evelyn, at turns feisty and flirtatious, basking in the attention of an attractive fellow as young as her grandson who caters to her needs before she knows she has them. Ryan Black is a fine Rory, thoroughly at home in Evelyn’s home and life.