Redbud Productions takes on the power of family in the Michigan premiere of "The Herd"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Redbud Productions' The Herd

Lisa Coveney as Carol in Redbud Productions' presentation of The Herd.

Redbud Productions explores with humor and heart the dynamic of a family raising a child with special needs in The Herd by Rory Kinnear.

Mother Carol (Lisa Coveney) is anxiously putting together the perfect 21st birthday party for her son Andy, who is severely disabled and living in a care home. Also invited to the party are Carol’s parents, Patricia (Lenore Ferber) and Brian (Michael Haifleigh), and Carol’s adult daughter Claire (Katie Whitney), who takes this opportunity to introduce her new boyfriend Mark (Chris Krenz) to the family. Carol’s estranged husband Ian (Brian Hayes), who abandoned the family when Andy was a baby, also chooses to attend unannounced. In the words of producer Tim Grimes, “The intrusion does not go well.”

Now in its 20th year, Redbud Productions, offers acting classes for adults and high school students using the techniques of Sanford Meisner, which, among other things, focus on emotional work. 

Musical Scrappers: Akropolis Reed Quintet's Together We Sound Festival showcases the group's penchant for outside-the-box collaborations

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Akropolis Reed Quintet

The Akropolis Reed Quintet's second annual Together We Sound Festival begins May 28 at Cass Tech High School in Detroit and continues in various spots in the city before moving to Ann Arbor on Friday, June 7, at Kerrytown Concert House (KCH). It concludes June 8 back in Detroit. Over the course of fest, Akropolis will also play two evening concerts in Detroit and Hamtramck, plus three lunchtime workplace concerts, six K-12 school presentations, a side-by-side student concert with an Akropolis concerto, and two pop-up events in public spaces. featuring world premieres by Akropolis in collaboration with local and national artists. 

Founded in 2009, Akropolis members Matt Landry (saxophone), Kari Landry (clarinet), Tim Gocklin (oboe), Ryan Reynolds (bassoon), and Andrew Koeppe (bass clarinet) met when they were students at the University of Michigan. Since then the quintet has won numerous national awards, has premiered more than 50 reed quintet works, and has released three recordings. In 2014, Akropolis became the first-ever ensemble of its makeup to win the prestigious Fischoff Gold Medal chamber music award.

Akropolis will premiere a new work, Sprocket: A Scrap Metal Sextet, at the KCH concert, a collaboration combining the music of composer Steven Snowden, and a rideable percussion bicycle designed and built by Detroit metal artist and Kresge Arts fellow Juan Martinez. Percussionist Zac Brunell will join Akropolis and ride/play the tricycle which will make familiar and unusual sounds powered by the gears attached to the pedals.

I interviewed Landry, who is also Akropolis’ executive director, and Juan Martinez, the creator of the musical tricycle for Sprocket, via email to talk about the quintet's work, Together We Sound Festival, and commissioning new compositions.

Paul Vachon's "Detroit: An Illustrated Timeline" explores three centuries of history

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Detroit: An Illustrated Timeline

Detroit has lived under the flags of three countries, watched its fortunes soar with stove and automotive manufacturing and then crash back to earth with bankruptcy, and the city continues to evolve and change in myriad ways today.

Three centuries of this fascinating city’s history are explored in the new book by Paul Vachon, Detroit: An Illustrated Timeline

“I always wanted to write,” the author says. “The Great Recession led to a job loss, which led to writing for trade publications and to my first book for Arcadia Publishing, called Forgotten Detroit.” 

Since then, Vachon has published South Oakland County: Then & Now, Legendary Locals of Detroit, and Lost Restaurants of Detroit, as well as two guidebooks, MOON Michigan and MOON Michigan's Upper Peninsula. “History has been my passion in many ways,” he says. “And about two years ago Reedy Press approached me to do a timeline book about Detroit.”

The book is a chronological telling of events in Detroit, broken up into chapters that correspond to periods within the city’s history. “The subject matter ranges from military conquests to industry to individual people who shaped Detroit in some way," Vachon says. "The book examines political developments, business trends … all the way up to the bankruptcy.”

Connor Coyne's novel "Urbantasm: The Dying City" deals in nuances not dichotomies about his Flint hometown

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Urbanism by Connor Coyne

There’s usually more than meets the eye in both fiction and nonfiction. There’s more to Jean Valjean than just taking that loaf of bread. Moby Dick was more than a whale. And Flint isn’t just a town with a water crisis -- it is a city full of artists, activists, and everyday people trying to live their best lives. 

And that’s the picture author Connor Coyne aims to paints in his new serial novel set in a city based on Flint, Urbantasm: The Dying City. Coyne lived in the city until he was 12 and returned after the birth of his daughter. “I loved Flint and wanted to be part of the community again,” he says. “I’ve always had this sense of the vitality and creative energy in this area ... that doesn’t always get talked about.” Coyne hopes that readers recognize his passion for the city in the book. 

Urbantasm tells the story of 13-year-old John Bridge, whose big plan to become the most popular kid at his new junior high school is put on hold by a series of strange events. After taking an enigmatic pair of blue sunglasses from a person who is homeless, Bridge soon finds himself mysteriously dropped into the middle of a gang war in his hometown of Akawe. This formerly great Rust Belt city is home to a gang of white supremacists, a homegrown drug called O-Sugar that was responsible for the deaths of a group of local kids, and suspicious deaths that may have been murders. Bridge must navigate these mysteries while adjusting to a new school and dealing with problems at home and in his city.

FRANNY CHOI’S POETRY COLLECTION “SOFT SCIENCE” STUDIES FOREIGNNESS AND NATURALNESS IN IDENTITY AND WITH TECHNOLOGY

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Franny Choi and her book Soft Science

Author photo by Graham Cotten.

Soft Science, the title of Franny Choi’s second book of poetry, is meant as a pun. In one sense, it is a term sometimes used in academics to refer to the social sciences. Alternatively, this title describes the collection’s study of softness and vulnerability, Choi told Pulp. Both of those meanings convey the book’s examination of what it means to be alive and live with technology, a matter that Choi does not see as only binary. 

“There is an alternative to simply being afraid of the ways that technology steals from our humanity,” she said. “I think that the primary way that we’re allowed to think -- not to think, but to feel -- about technology is either like [it’s] this unfeeling, perversely optimistic god that will save us, or the enemy that’s here to replace us. I think that there are more options for feeling.” 

You can hear poems that explore those options when Choi, who lives in Hamtramck and recently earned an MFA at the University of Michigan, reads at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor on Tuesday, May 14, at 7 pm. 

D.C.-area rapper Joey Blanco makes his Michigan debut at AADL

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Joey Blanco

Northern Virginia rapper Joey Blanco been called a modern Big Pun or Noreaga because of his suave vocal style and Latin heritage.

And when asked about his influences, Blanco admits that Pun, along with Jay-Z, Big L, Nas, and Biggie, is one of his favorites.

But Blanco has his own cadence and tone, marked by assertive vocals rapping English lyrics peppered with colorful Spanish ad-libs.

"I think it’s doing great," Blanco said of Latino hip-hop, "I just feel as though there’s no artists that perform in English and that are killing it with the Spanish ad-libs. I feel like I’m bringing that to the game. I’m just trying to bring something new to the Spanish culture."

“Ecologies braid into the everyday" for Leslie Carol Roberts, author of "Here Is Where I Walk"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Leslie Carol Roberts by Mara Holt Skov

Leslie Carol Roberts photo by Mara Holt Skov.

Walking in a place can be a way to become more intimately connected to it. That is just what author Leslie Carol Roberts does at the Presidio National Park in San Francisco, California, where she lives. She wrote about these walks and places, including the Presidio, in her new nonfiction book, Here Is Where I Walk: Episodes From a Life in the Forest.

“For what is a walk in the forest if not a chance to fully and deeply celebrate the sauntering and reflective mind?” she asks in the introduction.

Through her walks and the months of the year, which structure the book, she reflects on ecology, experiences from her life, and stories and research on places, including California, Iowa, Maryland, and Tasmania. Through these reflections, she contemplates what nature and wild places are and what humans’ relationship with them is.

Formerly of Michigan, Roberts has covered news around the world as a journalist. She earned her MFA at the University of Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program and teaches and chairs the MFA Writing Program at California College of the Arts. Her first book, The Entire Earth and Sky: Views on Antarctica, discusses Antarctica and New Zealand.

Roberts will read at Literati Bookstore Monday, May 6, at 7 pm and at Source Booksellers in Detroit on Wednesday, May 8. Here, she shares about her experiences in Michigan, her new book, and her own reading.

Fangs and Twang celebrate a monster of a new album at Ziggy’s

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Fangs & Twangs

The local band Fangs and Twang may have started out as a joke, but it’s turned out to be a really good one. 

Combining a rootsy, country-rock sound -- that’s the “twang” -- with songs about monsters and other scary things -- that’s the “fangs” -- the band has been sharpening its sound for the past four years, releasing three albums along the way. 

The core band consists of Joe Bertoletti on bass, Andy Benes on guitar and mandolin, and Billy LaLonde on drums. All three contribute vocals, and the band's sound is augmented by keyboards and fiddle on the album. “This band is all about collaboration and I'm really proud that this collaboration also extends to vocal duties,” Benes says.

Their latest album, the just-released Spirits and Chasers, perfectly balances Fangs and Twang’s offbeat outlook with the members’ first-rate musical chops. The band will celebrate the new album with a record-release show April 27 at Ziggy’s in Ypsilanti.

The title track on the new album is a standout, featuring some clever lyrics over a gritty roots-rock sound. “The Ballad of the Legend of the Saga of Swamp Thing” encapsulates the band’s goofy sense of humor. The infectious “Ogo Pogo” sounds like straightforward country, with a long instrumental intro that showcases the band’s instrumental abilities. The album’s six original songs are rounded out by a perfectly-on-point cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla.”

The band members jointly answered a few questions via email:

U-M music professor / Beatles expert returns to AADL to discuss the "White Album"

MUSIC PREVIEW

The Beatles' White Album

Walter Everett, professor of music theory at the University of Michigan and author of The Beatles As Musicians: Revolver Through the Anthology, returns to AADL on Thursday, April 25, to deliver a lecture titled "Children of Nature: Origins of the Beatles' Tabula Rasa" in honor of the Fab Faux's upcoming performance of the "White Album" at Michigan Theater on Saturday, May 11.

The Beatles continually reinvented themselves. In 1966, Revolver announced itself with a warped reinvention of the 1-2-3-4 count-off that had introduced their first album. A year later, for Sgt. Pepper's, they created another band in their own image. The slate was wiped clean again with the "White Album," not only by their desire to return to the natural state sought in their early-1968 Himalayan meditative rituals but also through their 180-degree turn from the lavish artifice of Pepper, an album high with artistic pretensions, groundbreakingly imaginative lyrics, radically colorful instrumentation, and a deep exploration beyond the limits of four-track recording, its extravagance marked by a groove intended only for dogs, all wrapped in a cover as opulent as it was mystifying.

In contrast, the plain white cover of the 1968 double album emblematized the group's return to nothingness just as surely as did their removal of the garish 1967 paint jobs from three of their guitars, now stripped down to bare wood. This new blank slate cast the group not in the austere, somber tones of the With the Beatles cover photo from 1963, but in a new light as if an optimistic eggshell of unlimited possibilities was about to hatch. In this presentation, Everett aims to show that in many ways, a post-India back-to-nature simplicity may be seen to have guided much of the "White Album"'s motivational impulses.

Check out the videos below of Everett's previous visits to AADL when he discussed Sgt. Pepper's and Abbey Road.

UMGASS Delights with "The Gondoliers"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

The Gondoliers and their Wives. None of them will be a Queen.

In foreground, left to right: Chris Kendall and Megan Maloney as Marco and Gianetta, and Ben Powell and Laurel Baker as Giuseppe and Tessa. Photo courtesy of UMGASS.

Beloved community institution UMGASS (The University of Michigan Gilbert and Sullivan Society) is back this weekend with a lovely production of Gilbert & Sullivan's last hit, The Gondoliers, or the King of Barataria.

Director and UMGASS staple Lee Vahlsing points out in the show notes that The Gondoliers was the product of a compromise by producer Richard D'Oyly Carte to get another comic opera out of the simmering tensions of the relationship between Gilbert and Sullivan (at the time in 1889, Sullivan had already been knighted by Queen Victoria, but Gilbert would not be knighted until years later, in 1907, by King Edward); if they would collaborate on another comic opera, D'Oyly Carte would produce Sullivan's Grand Opera, Ivanhoe, and he would be taken seriously by high society at last, or something.

At any rate, as Vahlsing notes, this arrangement led to greater collaboration between the two than the rut they had fallen into, and the result is one of their best and most beloved Operettas. Lovingly staged with two charming sets and including truly impressive costuming, the only hint of modernity in this faithful production is a bit of Charleston in the choreography -- and perhaps a touch of Iron Maiden here and there.