Innovation & Education: "Welcome to Commie High" documents the history and influence of Ann Arbor's legendary school

FILM & VIDEO PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Welcome to Commie High

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing teachers and administrators to improvise ways to serve their pupils academically, mostly through virtual learning and online academies. Other imaginative approaches will be introduced as the pandemic drags on, spotlighting the skills of educators and showing how resourceful they can be when not stuck on a treadmill of prepping kids for standardized tests.

But one school in Ann Arbor has been using innovative educational approaches for nearly 50 years.

Ann Arbor's Community High School started in 1972 with a "school without walls" concept. A handful of other schools across the country adopted similar approaches, where structured curricula were abandoned in favor of flexible programs that best fit individual students' needs, with a focus on real-world education.

But the Community model never expanded deeply into the mainstream. 

Until now. (Kinda.)

A heavily modified variation of Community's wall-free education approach is being tested during the coronavirus pandemic, and it seems inevitable that some of these outside-the-box ideas will be incorporated into schools once this over and society deals with our new normal.

Welcome to Commie Higha new documentary by Ypsilanti-based filmmaker Donald Harrison, shows the school's unique approach to education, from its hippie-era beginnings to its place in the modern landscape, talking to students and teachers from the past and present about what makes Community special -- and effective.

The movie was to premiere as part of the 58th Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF). But with the entire event being moved to a livestream on Vimeo due to the lockdown, Harrison and the AAFF are are offering Welcome to Commie High as fundraising rental. The movie will be available to rent for $9.99 from 10 am, March 30 to 10 am, April 1; each rental will be active for 48 hours. The rental fee will be split two ways: 50 percent of the proceeds will go to the AAFF to help offset costs and the rest will be put toward the distribution of the documentary. Click here to pre-order the rental.

Harrison answered some questions via email about Welcome to Commie High.

Night Moves & Funny Dudes: Matt Braunger at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Matt Braunger

Matt Braunger thinks Ann Arbor is a hellhole, which is why he does stand-up here a lot.

This interview originally ran on March 9, 2017. Braunger returns to the Ann Arbor Comedy Club from March 12-14, 2020.

Portland-raised, Los Angeles-based stand-up comedian Matt Braunger has been a regular fixture in comedy clubs and on late night talk shows for over 10 years with his brand of introspective observational comedy. Braunger, 42, will be getting married later this year for the first time and is currently working on new material for a new hour-long special during his Enraged to be Married tour that hits Ann Arbor this week.

In the late 1990s, fresh out of college, Braunger moved to Chicago where he worked with improvisational guru Del Close, and along with comedians like Hannibal Buress and Kyle Kinane helped create an alternative comedy scene in a city that didn’t have one. Finally deciding on stand-up instead of improv, Braunger moved to Los Angeles to further his career, eventually landing a spot on the final season of MADtv in 2009.

Since the end of MADtv, Braunger has been a regular on the NBC comedy Up All Night, had a recurring role in the second season of Agent Carter on ABC, and most recently appeared on Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher’s Seeso comedy Take My Wife. Along with his acting appearances, Braunger has also released three comedy albums and appeared as Bruce Springsteen in the Channel 101 series Yacht Rock.

Braunger will appear Thursday, March 9 through Saturday, March 11 March 12-14, 2020, at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, and we talked to him about Midwestern comedy scenes, his upcoming special, politics, his podcast, a new Amazon Prime series, and Bob Seger.

The Music Overfloweth: A Snapshot of March 2020 Jazz, Classical & Folk Concerts in Ann Arbor

MUSIC PREVIEW

March 2020 jazz, classical, and folk concerts in the Ann Arbor area

The Pulp email inbox is overflowing with jazz, folk, and classical pitches related to upcoming Ann Arbor-area concerts -- more than we can cover with individual posts. So, here's a curated compilation of these genres' March 2020 events in sonically rich Washtenaw County. It's just a fraction of concerts in the area, but more than enough to fill your dance card. For more jazz listings, visit Lifting Up A2 Jazz; for classical, visit U-M's School of Music, Theatre and DanceUMS, and Kerrytown Concert House; for folk, rock, hip-hop, electronica, and more, visit Ann Arbor Loves Live Music and The Ann Arbor Observer

Tanya Shaffer and Vienna Teng's musical "The Fourth Messenger" offers a contemporary view of the Buddha  

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

The Fourth Messenger

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.”

Encore Theatre's junior production of "James and the Giant Peach" finds a way to make everything better

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

James and the Giant Peach

A Nancy Ekholm Burkert illustration from the 1961 edition of Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach.

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.”

Wordplay and funny fisticuffs highlight "Jeeves Intervenes" at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's Jeeves Intervenes

Agatha Spencer-Gregson (Ann Stoner) comforts her niece Gertrude Winkelsworth-Bode (Veronica Long) as Eustace Bassington-Bassington (Ryan Mauritz) fights with Bertie Wooster (Sean Magill) with the help of Uncle Rupert (Chris Martin), as Jeeves (Rory Quist) remains calmly in control in Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's Jeeves Intervenes. Photo by Aaron C. Wade | Lions Paw Films and Photography.

Monty Python didn’t invent the upper-class Brit twit. That honor goes to P.G. Wodehouse with his man-about-town Bertie Wooster. 

Wodehouse was a humorist, novelist, short-story writer, Broadway lyricist (teaming with composer Jerome Kern), and man about town in the 1920s when he created Bertie. But he didn’t leave his inept creation without support, because he also created a witty man’s man, the very epitome of the valet, Reginald Jeeves, but always called just Jeeves.

Ann Arbor Civic Theatre will take audiences back to Wodehouse’s fanciful, upper crusty London of the 1920s when it presents Margaret Raether’s stage adaptation of Wodehouse in Jeeves Intervenes, March 12-15 at the Arthur Miller Theatre on the University of Michigan North Campus.

Director Andy Jentzen said it was Wodehouse’s playful use of language and a BBC series that got him interested in Jeeves and Wooster.

Interlocking Parts: Hi Potent C and Dyelow's "War Medicine" highlights the KeepItG Records collective's creative bond

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Hi Potent C & Dyelow, War Medicine

Hi Potent C (left) and Dyelow at WCBN-FM. Photo by Herb Read.

The Ypsi-Arbor hip-hop collective KeepItG Records isn't just a rap crew with a tight handle. The various MCs, producers, musicians, and filmmakers treat KeepItG like a band, with scheduled practices, interlocking their skills and lifting each other up to create audio and visual art.

"The entire KeepItG Records meets and rehearses weekly, and each individual sets up their personal studio time around what’s going on for them at the time being," said rapper Hi Potent C, who has a new album, War Medicine, with KeepItG producer Dyelow. "A lot of the music gets made on the spot, but everyone is always cooking up something on their own time, too. For this specific project, we did a lot of the outlining in person in order to make sure we were sticking to the theme and storyline. From there it made it easier to fill in the blanks separately because we both knew what was needed and expected."

War Medicine is a loose concept record that takes some cues from Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, and Prodigy’s 2017 LP, Hegelian Dialectic (The Book of Revelation). Lamar's album recounts his rough teenage years in Compton and Progidy's record is named after the philosophical model that posits thesis, antithesis, then synthesis -- or problem, reaction, solution -- is the way to determine "truth" or "the way."

"The personal ins and outs of living and not only the 'good side,'" is how Hi Potent C describes War Medicine's theme. "At the same time, keeping familiarity with people by showing them how to keep your head up no matter how unfavorable things might be going, because we all need that motivation from time to time."

Dorrance Dance brings musicality to the rhythms of life in tap

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

Dorrance Dance

I grew up studying and loving ballet and modern dance, but I always felt a little “meh” about tap. But after I watched MacArthur “Genius” award winner Michelle Dorrance perform with New York City Ballet dancer Tiler Peck in the Hulu documentary Ballet Now, I realized how wrong I’d been.

Dorrance brings her tap dance company Dorrance Dance to Ann Arbor on February 21-22 -- and trust me, you should be there. Her company’s style calls back to early black American tap dance and also pushes the art form forward effortlessly. Dorrance Dance will perform three works in Ann Arbor: Jungle Blues, a jazz-age inspired piece; Myelination, the titular ensemble piece; and Three To One, a more experimental work featuring only one dancer in tap shoes.

Ann Arbor-raised Adam Falkner returns with his new poetry collection, "The Willies," and a better sense of his authentic self

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Adam Falkner, The Willies

Adam Falkner probes the paradox of how hard it is to be yourself sometimes in his new poetry collection, The Willies. One of the poems, “Let’s Get One Thing Halfway Straight,” exposes this emotional labor in the following lines:

                        The not-so-funny thing about spending a 

life proving you aren’t something is that any story that isn’t

the story is survival or more like a brick for laying until the

wall is high enough that you’re safe inside and you wake up

and say whoops whose house is this who did I hurt to get

here and is it too late to call for help.

The real risk lies not in being yourself but rather in suppressing yourself based on people’s opinions or your perceptions of how you’re supposed to be. Falkner finds this identity issue to be a common experience to which many readers relate and also one that is very personal to his life.

“There’s something deeply universal about the idea of being closeted and longing for something bigger than this version of yourself," Falkner said. "That fear associated with who we might become if we don’t ask ourselves who we want to become is a very real thing for everyone.”

Theatrical Poetry: Director Malcolm Tulip discusses his U-M production of Federico García Lorca's "Yerma"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

Yerma

“Theater is poetry that gets up from the page and makes itself human. And when it does that, it talks and shouts, cries and despairs.”

--Federico García Lorca 

The plot of Yerma -- a story about a woman’s struggles with societal pressures to conceive -- isn’t what makes Lorca’s 1934 tragedy a must-see classic.

What gives it power are the songs, dance, heightened gesture, and visual elements -- the poetry. “Lorca called Yerma ‘a tragic poem in six paintings,’” notes Malcolm Tulip, director of the University of Michigan production running February 20-23 at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre.  

“Most people assume Yerma is the name of the protagonist, a woman who hasn’t been able to have a child," Tulip says, but the word means “barren” in Spanish and perhaps it isn’t a name at all. Perhaps it “describes this woman’s inner and outer worlds. Yerma here might be a naming of the woman's reluctance or inability to accept the seed of a man who she married out of duty. ... The landscape, like her womb, is uninhabited, possibly uninhabitable."