Neighborhood Theatre Group’s new play "Thoughts and Prayers" explores what happens when a high school is upended by violence


Neighborhood Theatre Group’s Thoughts and Prayers

Eric Hohnke as Andy Webber in Neighborhood Theatre Group’s Thoughts and Prayers. Photo by Sun Chao. 

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.

Michigan-based theater artists create "The Call of the Void," a sci-fi audio drama set in New Orleans


The Call of the Void

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."

Taking Control of the Story: Ping Chong + Company’s "Beyond Sacred: Voices of Muslim Identity"


“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.

Roustabout Theatre Troupe's "Shakespeare, You Sexy Beast" Was Refreshingly Risque


Shakespeare, You Sexy Beast

The Bard got positively bootyful in Roustabout Theatre Troupe's show.

Who knew Shakespeare could be so racy?

On February 9, Roustabout Theatre Troupe presented a sold-out performance titled Shakespeare, You Sexy Beast!, a montage of scenes and sonnets all centered around the theme of sweet, sweet love. (The show was also repeated February 10-11.)

As a local, it’s always exciting to see live theater in the Ypsilanti community. This used to be a rare opportunity, but now with Roustabout Theatre Troupe, Neighborhood Theatre Group, and PTD Productions live theater in downtown Ypsi is an actual “thing.”