Face to Interface: A2SF’s "Temping" is an uncanny, moving performance for one

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Ann Arbor Summer Fest's Temping

I double-checked that I was at the correct address, but the unmarked doors to the office building were locked.

After I tried the handles one more time to see if there was something I had missed, an extremely polite office worker let me in and gave me a welcome packet and some paperwork to sign.

At my appointed time, I was ushered into an isolated cubicle with the usual setup—computer, printer, shredder—but also, family pictures, sticky notes, and office cartoons.

However, I was not here to work but to watch a performance. Or was I the performer?

This is Temping, a show for one that is part of this year's Ann Arbor Summer Festival.

Much like an actual temp job, the show plunks you down into an already-established office eco-system and gives you little training or context for the tasks you are asked to complete. As you receive voicemails, printouts, and emails, you begin to understand your new job: filling in as an actuary for the firm Harold, Adams, McNutt, & Joy. While Sarah Jane Tully is on vacation, it is now your job to mark her clients’ employees deceased or estimate their life expectancy.

Ann Arbor Summer Festival announces 38th season, "Stories From the Top" podcast

MUSIC THEATER & DANCE

A2SF logo

Ann Arbor Summer Festival (A2SF) has a full slate planned for its 38th season:

The Ann Arbor Summer Festival (A2SF) announces a mix of new, in-person, and digital events that kick off on June 11. A2SF’s season anchor this year is a pop-up concert series Live Here Now presented by Toyota and will take place in public parks and spaces throughout Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. A2SF is engaging a diverse group of community partners throughout the two cities and presenting many in partnership with the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) this summer.

In-person events include Live Here Now pop-up neighborhood concerts, RSVP-based concerts and movies at Fuller Park in Ann Arbor, a downtown Ann Arbor theater installation for one audience member at a time titled Temping, a community-based Indian dance event Garba360, and Sidewalk Chalk Day featuring local favorite David Zinn. 

Digital events include the premiere of an A2SF new commission by New York-based Theater in Quarantine, an interactive performance by Brooklyn-based 600 Highwaymen titled A Thousand Ways (Part One): A Phone Call co-presented with University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA), and the second season of the A2SF podcast: Stories from the Top.

A2SF is working closely with local officials on event safety protocol for all limited capacity, in-person events. All in-person events will follow current safety guidelines from the State of Michigan, Washtenaw County, the City of Ann Arbor, and other local municipalities as well as national best-practice.

Reservations and tickets to most programs will become available at a2sf.org.

The Brass Tacks Ensemble Theater offers season two of "Our Regularly Scheduled Program"

THEATER & DANCE

The Brass Tacks Theater Ensemble's Our Regularly Scheduled Program

Last October, The Brass Tacks Ensemble Theater released Our Regularly Scheduled Program, a unique take on quarantine theater, created by Isaac Ellis and James Ingagiola. The 10-part original YouTube series features short performances that touch on comedy and drama, featuring people who must show off their talents to the public, which demands entertainment 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Should these people refuse to perform? The consequences are dire.

The Brass Tacks have just announced that the second season of Our Regularly Scheduled Program will debut on June 3:

Wild Swan Theater closes after 40 years of theater-making for kids

THEATER & DANCE

Wild Swan Theater closing collage

Pulp received some sad news from Ann Arbor's long-running Wild Swan Theater:

Curtain Call for Wild Swan Theater

Dear Friends,

It is time to bring down the curtain on Wild Swan Theater. After more than four decades of joyful, exuberant, sometimes zany, sometimes poignant, always heartfelt theater making, it is time to say our goodbyes. 

U-M Dept. of Theatre & Drama's "Romeo and Juliet" reflects the play's pandemic-informed origins

THEATER & DANCE

U-M's spring 2021 production of Romeo and Juliet

Post-modern takes on Shakespeare and especially his Romeo and Juliet feel as common as classic versions. But accompanying the techno music and blue jeans in the University of Michigan's Department of Theatre and Drama's post-modern version are pandemic masks.

Directed by Shakespeare in Detroit's Sam White, this edition of Romeo and Juliet also reflects our current era by playing up the extreme divisiveness between the two main clans, but a pandemic also informed the play when it was written around 1594.

A plague hit London in 1593 and more than 10,000 city residents died. Shakespeare's play features a scene where Friar John tries to tell Romeo about Juliet's faked death, but because the monk was suspected to be from a place infected by the plague, he's forced to quarantine and is unable to deliver his message.

You know what happens next.

The U-M Department of Theatre and Drama put the whole performance on YouTube for free, which you can see below as well as find out about four more free online shows in the school's spring schedule:

IS/LAND's "Lost Constellation (Pt. 1 + II)" explores individuality and interconnectivity through movement, sound, words, and video

THEATER & DANCE

IS/LAND, Lost Constellation

IS/LAND is a Southeast Michigan collective of Asian Pacific Islander American and Asian artists, and the group's "In Isolation Pt. 1 - SYNODIC" was a welcome respite of verdant color and light during January's gray darkness. Filmed and soundtracked by Chien-An Yuan, the video features dancer J Amber Kao moving and gesturing within a tightly prescribed area of Ann Arbor's Saginaw Forest, exploring change in a year where everything in the world was transformed and yet some days it felt like time stood still. (Read the review here.)

Kao and Yuan are back with fellow IS/LAND's members ciale and writer Frances Kai-Hwa Wang for two more performance pieces as part of the Detroit Institute of Art's celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Filmed at the DIA's Detroit Film Theatre, the two works in Lost Constellation explore individuality and interconnectivity:

Theatre Nova’s Zoom play series continues with "Mortal Fools" by Ann Arbor playwright Catherine Zudak

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Theatre Nova, Zoom Play of the Month graphic

The Goldilocks Principle, though not regularly cited in reference to storytelling, can nonetheless be maddening for those who build narratives.

For how does a writer determine, in each scene, what’s too much information (thus bogging things down and killing suspense) and what’s too little (leaving audiences confused and frustrated)? How do you consistently land upon what feels “just right”?

It’s a notoriously tough needle to thread—particularly within the tight parameters of a 30-minute Zoom play—and this notion was something I thought about often while watching the third and newest entry in Theatre Nova’s Play of the Month series, Mortal Fools, by Ann Arbor-based playwright Catherine Zudak. (The live performance recording of Fools may be viewed—along with the first two entries in Theatre Nova’s Zoom play series, Jacquelyn Priskorn’s Whatcha Doin? and Ron Riekki’s 4 Genres—with the purchase of a $30 series pass, which also covers admission for the fourth and final play in the series, Morgan Breon’s The W.I.T.C.H., scheduled to be performed April 28 at 8 pm) 

UMS's stage-film hybrid production of "Some Old Black Man" explores race and generational conflict

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Wendell Pierce and Charlie Robinson in UMS's Some Old Black Man. Photo by Doug Coombe.

Wendell Pierce and Charlie Robinson in UMS's production of Some Old Black Man. Photo by Doug Coombe.

This review originally ran on January 19, 2021. We're featuring it again because UMS is streaming "Some Old Black Man" for free March 1-12, 2021, but you have to register for the screening here.

The closer we are to someone, the more likely we are to engage in picayune arguments that quietly scratch at, and chafe against, far deeper issues.

Which is to say, a family clash about what to eat for breakfast—a conflict that kicks off early in the recently streamed University Musical Society theater production of James Anthony Tyler’s two-hander Some Old Black Man—is often about something else entirely.

In the case of NYU literature professor Calvin Jones (Wendell Pierce) and his ailing, 82-year-old father, Donald (Charlie Robinson)—who’s just been relocated from his home in small-town Mississippi to Calvin’s posh Harlem penthouse—a conflict about a yogurt parfait strikes notes of really being about control, and conflicting generational perspectives, and blackness, and ego, and masculinity.

That is an awful lot for a soupy bowl of granola and fruit to carry.

But Tyler understands that to mine down to the heavy, hard-to-face stuff, humans inevitably have to start the process by hacking away at nonsense for a while—with absurdly tiny pickaxes.

IS/LAND's "In Isolation Pt.1 - SYNODIC" performance video explores the subtleties of change

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

IS/LANDS, still from In Isolation Pt. 1 - SYNODIC

It's fitting that J. Amber Kao is listed as "mover" in the website bio section of IS/LAND, a performance collaborative comprised of Asian Pacific Islander American and Asian artists. Yes, she's a dancer, but as shown in the performance video "In Isolation Pt. 1 - SYNODIC," it's movement that matters most, not a prescribed notion of dance. 

Recorded last year in Saginaw Forest before the leaves changed, Kao and fellow Ann Arborite Chien-An Yuan (aka Jienan Yuan) created this video and soundtrack as a "meditation reflecting on both the passage of time and the nature of change—embodied in the dancer’s movement between, around, and within the changing sunlight."

Accompanied by Yuan's ghostly soundtrack, Kao cuts a hypnotizing figure among the tall trees, her movements so slow and controlled that you might think it's a camera trick. While the choreography is for a solo performer, Kao's active dress makes it a duet. The billowy garment almost looks like a special effect, with its horizontal lines implying a landscape, or even a face, its colors syncing with the washed-out greens and blown-out backlighting. But even when Kao bounces the dress, it looks like she has perfect dominion over the fabric's movement, leading the raiment through the dance like a patient teacher.

Over the course of nearly five minutes, it's easy to be transfixed by Kao and ignore her surroundings, but on subsequent viewings, you'll see how the video's contrast subtly changes. While Kao's movements stay in a tight radius, time slides up the path toward her as the colors move from pale to saturated, the backlight dimming with time, the foreground becoming more and more vibrant. Yuan's quivering drone accompaniment is occasionally punctured by a treated piano chord, which introduces a sharp video edit that indicates the next stage of the forest's evolving hues. 

It's the perfect video for January, when we're huddling inside our homes, hiding away from the season's browns and grays, waiting to glide in tandem with the verdant world once again.

AADL 2020 STAFF PICKS: BOOKS, MUSIC, MOVIES & MORE

2020 Staff Picks

Normally, you might come into the library, talk to someone on staff, get some recommendations, perhaps share a few of your own, and we'd go on our merry ways, content we could engage in a positive social interaction while discussing whatever book, movie, TV show, music, or more that came up.

Art is life and life is people.

But we've not seen most of you since March 13, the last time the Ann Arbor District Library was fully open to the public—and to the staff. While many AADL staffers have returned to the buildings to do important behind-the-scenes work since the summer, many others have been working from home since the closure. And we miss being able to share what we're currently loving not just with patrons but also with each other.

So, to staffers and patrons alike, these are the movies, TV shows, music, books, and more that helped the AADL crew get through 2020.