It was a dark and stormy night as the attendees huddled in the library basement to hear three mystery writers talk about their new books. As the first author began to speak, thunder crashed, the lights went out, and a scuffle broke out in the dark. When the lights returned, the entire audience was kidnapped!
OK, I should probably keep my day job and leave the mystery writing to the professionals. Lucky for us, Michigan is the birthplace of some of the best mystery writers in the country and three of them -- Loren Estleman, Doug Allyn, and Laura Joh Rowland -- are appearing at the Ann Arbor District Library's Downtown branch on Friday, March 3.
It’s six days before opening night and a group of young singers stand around the lobby of the Encore Musical Theatre in Dexter listening intently to musical director Cheryl VanDuzen lead them carefully through an ensemble number from Once Upon a Mattress.
Inside the theater, three actors are working on blocking a bit of stage business, getting used to a set that only became available a couple days before. It will be an intense few days for the young performers in preparation for a March 3 opening night.
For many stars of stage, movies, and television it was in theaters like this that a love of acting began -- in acting camps and after school programs. Thalia Schramm is casting and program director for Encore and directs many adult shows for the company and is the director of the youth theater production. She had worked as a camp counselor up north and “loved working with kids.”
“When I started working at Encore in 2009, when [the company] started, they didn’t have a summer program, so in 2010 I started a summer program, which has grown from four sessions and about 30 kids to 10 sessions and about 200 kids every summer,” she said.
Last year Encore started a winter youth program with a production of Seussical the Musical. The program is open to children up to 18 years old. This year 31 students are participating, ages 7 to 16.
This year’s show is called Getting to Know ... Once Upon a Mattress as a requirement of Rodgers and Hammerstein licensing for junior versions of established adult musicals. The additional intro is taken from the song "Getting to Know You" in the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic The King and I.
Guitar maestros Julian Lage and Chris Eldridge gave Ark-goers a show to remember on February 27, deftly weaving a rangy array of influences into a coherent and lively musical conversation.
Equally at ease in the company of jazz greats (Gary Burton, Fred Hersch) and bluegrass luminaries (Béla Fleck, David Grisman), Julian Lage continues to cover new ground while honoring the traditions that have informed his evolution as a musician. Chris “Critter” Eldridge is no slouch either, having cut his teeth on the national stage with The Seldom Scene and the Infamous Stringdusters before bringing his nimble and artful guitar work to the inventive, genre-bending Punch Brothers.
While much of the duo’s 2015 effort, Avalon, featured Eldridge’s vocals, their latest, Mount Royal (released last week) carves out more space for the interplay between the voices of their vintage Martin guitars. This heightened focus on instrumental improvisation, evident in concert, was a key driving force behind the songwriting process for the new album, which Lage and Eldridge discussed in greater detail with Pulp last week.
When Harry Allen was a sideman for drummer Oliver Jackson on long European tours, Jackson introduced the up-and-coming tenor saxophonist to the local promoter in every city they played. “He would say, ‘Remember this name, you’re going to want him,’” Allen recalls. Thirty years later, some of the same people book Allen regularly.
Now an internationally acclaimed jazz artist, Harry Allen swings into town with his quartet to play the Kerrytown Concert House on Wednesday, March 1. They will perform audience favorites from the Great American Songbook as well as a few new songs Allen recently wrote. Joining him on this date are Chicago-based guitarist Andy Brown and Ann Arbor veterans Paul Keller, bass, and Pete Siers, drums.
After graduating college and spending a year abroad in Ghana, Kahil El'Zabar came home to Chicago excited to tell his dad what he wanted to do with his life.
"I’m gonna play in a badass band," El'Zabar recalled telling him. "No bass, no piano, no guitar, no chromatic chordal instrument to set the tonic sensibility of the music."
His new vision called for a tonal center set by the "various rhythmic impulses" and "harmonic syntax of the music," African influences, and "urban contemporary expression" from his own experience.
"And he says, 'Man, it sounds hip, boy. But you’ll never make a living.'"
The Photo-Secession movement is one of those rare historic instances where radicalism won -- and still wins today.
As seen in “The Aesthetic Movement in America: Artists of the Photo-Secession” at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, this turn-of-the-20th-century American creation became “the first truly international photography movement,” as noted in the gallery statement by UMMA Curator Emerita Carole McNamara. She also wrote that the movement's practitioners -- among them ringleader Alfred Stieglitz as well as Alvin Langdon Coburn, Gertrude Käsebier, Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, and Clarence White -- “sought to position photography as a legitimate aesthetic artform.”
Because nearly 900 letters were exchanged between soldier-journalist Charles Kiley and his fiancee, Billee Gray, during World War II, Ann Arbor’s David Kiley has an amazing window into not only his parents’ courtship, and their lives as young adults, but also what it was like to live in that era, both on the front lines and at home.
For this reason, he collaborated with his sister (Anne Kiley) and brother-in-law (Thomas Pellechia) to edit their 2015 book, Writing the War: Chronicles of a World War II Correspondent. But because Kiley -- director of communication at U-M’s Ross School of Business and publisher/editor-in-chief of the professional theater website EncoreMichigan.com -- is passionate about theater, he soon started thinking about how to adapt the material into a stage play.
The resulting show, I’ll Be Seeing You, will have its world premiere at U-M’s Arthur Miller Theatre this weekend, with performances on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm. In the show, two actors play Charles and Billee as they write and read each other’s letters; plus, two radio singers perform music from that era, while a radio announcer -- played by Kiley, who’s also making his directing debut -- offers news from the front.
Guitarists Julian Lage and Chris “Critter” Eldridge have formidable track records in jazz and bluegrass, respectively. Lage has worked with Gary Burton, Fred Hersch, Nels Cline and more. Eldridge is widely known as a member of the innovative Punch Brothers.
So when Lage and Eldridge play as a duo -- on their new album Mount Royal, their 2015 gem Avalon and their 2013 five-track EP Close to Picture -- there’s a whole universe of music open to them, a wide range of shared tastes and enthusiasms.
Playing rare Martin acoustic guitars from 1937 (Eldridge) and 1939 (Lage), they survey the varied lineage of acoustic music and Americana while pursuing their own contemporary aesthetic. The music is improvisational, lyrical, whimsical, textural, and highly virtuosic. While Eldridge sang on much of Avalon, Mount Royal is mainly instrumental, though there are two vocal covers of bluegrass classics and even a reading of one of Eddie Vedder’s Ukulele Songs. We caught up with them shortly before their February 27 gig at The Ark.
“When someone else tells your story, you lose power,” said Amir Khafagy on the portrayal of Muslims in popular culture.
On February 18 at the Power Center in Ann Arbor, UMS presented Ping Chong + Company’s Beyond Sacred: Voices of Muslim Identity. This interview-based play analyzed the complexities of Muslim identities post 9/11.
Aside from the state-of-the-art projection, light, and sound design, there were no theatrical thrills. No dressings for the set, or costumes, and the performers were storytellers, not trained actors. The script was comprised of their own personal stories, creating a completely raw and enveloping experience. Often interview plays such as The Laramie Project are written based on true stories, but retold by actors. The entire show was performed with the actors sitting in chairs, reading off of scripts. This is to allow non-actors the chance to feel comfortable on stage, and able to tell their story. The script bounces from person to person with interludes of clapping, connecting the performers and audience to the rhythm of the experience.
Although Ping Chong + Company have developed dozens of plays utilizing this “formula,” the bravery of these individuals to take control of their story during heightened political tensions was therapeutic for everyone involved.
Sometimes what you see in an artist's work isn’t nearly as important as what you don’t see. Nancy Feldkamp’s Watercolors at the Kerrytown Concert House shows the Chelsea resident's transformation from a geometrically focused painter to one who uses subtle inferences to give shape to her renderings.
As ever, her pastoral themes remain, as Feldkamp modestly says in her KCH gallery statement: “My work honors the beauty of farm life and its interaction with nature in intuitive ways. The shapes and lines suggest distant farmsteads as they nestle together in their actual settings and this stirs my responses.”
Quite right, yet looking at Feldkamp’s work in this light only tells half the story in this show. While nature and rural settings still play a significant role in her paintings, how she depicts those scenes has changed considerably during the two decades I've observed her output. Back in the 1990s, Feldkamp’s art was rigorously geometrically driven. Her countryside settings were activated by a compositional style whose expression was subordinated to her rectilinear line.