Theaters Still in the Absurd: An update on the Washtenaw County stage scene

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

tragic masks

When Pulp published this article on May 4 about how area theater companies were dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, all had lost their current seasons and canceled most of the next ones.

But in the two-plus months since then, theater companies -- like the rest of us -- have had time to navigate this plague and try to make plans for what they can offer creatively knowing this pandemic isn't ending soon. 

So we decided to check in with the Washtenaw County theater world and see how their plans may have changed.

While all the info for The Purple Rose Theatre, Eastern Michigan University theater, and UMGASS remains the same from the May 4 article, here are updates for 12 other companies:

Female protagonists populate U-M MFA graduate Sara Schaff's new collection of short stories

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Sara Schaff, The Invention of Love

What you have. What you want. What you hang on to. What you give up. 

Jeans. A house. A spouse. Drawings. Places. Jobs. A fantasy. 

Sara Schaff’s second collection of short stories, The Invention of Love, invests in these questions of possession and ownership, of affiliation and surprising loss. The best way to understand the characters’ distinct circumstances and the fine lines between one version of their life or another that they choose, or that gets chosen for them, is by looking at the plots themselves. For example, two half-sisters lose their mother, and both covet her pair of jeans used for dancing in “Our Lady of Guazá.” In another story called “Noreen O’Malley at the Sunset Pool,” Noreen must let go of the narratives about her friends and lovers that she hoped for as she cares for her new baby. 

Still, a character may make a delightful discovery amidst a seemingly unbearable situation, such as a woman eventually becoming enthralled by Anna Karenina despite the fact that her ex-husband’s new wife (and their family friend) had been the one who recommended the book. These observant views of these women show their realizations and complicated hardships as they navigate life and its turns. 

Schaff will speak with Greg Schutz, writer and lecturer at the University of Michigan, in an At Home with Literati virtual event on Tuesday, July 21, at 7 pm. Schaff and Schutz are friends and fellow graduates of the MFA program at the University of Michigan. Information to join via Zoom is on the event webpage. We corresponded via email beforehand, and here are my questions and Schaff’s responses. 

Nevertheless Film Festival persists during the pandemic, goes virtual for 2020

FILM & VIDEO PREVIEW

Nevertheless Film Festival 2020

Stills from three 2020 Nevertheless Film Festival features, clockwise from top: Asking for ItWaging Change, and First Vote.

This time last summer, Meredith Finch was in the final stages of debuting her Nevertheless Film Festival, held at the Michigan Theater July 11-14.

"I have my fair share of stories of being the only woman or underrepresented person on a film crew," Finch told Pulp last year. "To combat this lack of representation, film festivals around the world have announced their own initiatives to increase representation in their programming within the next few years, but what I found myself thinking a little over a year ago was, 'Why not now?'"

The inaugural Nevertheless Film Festival featured 26 movies -- narratives, documentaries, shorts -- and the 2020 edition, which runs July 9-12, will include a similar mix by womxn creatives. But you'll have to imagine sitting at the Michigan Theater while at home viewing the films.

The Great Michigan Online Art Fair looks to help creators "uncancel" their livelihoods

VISUAL ART PREVIEW INTERVIEW

The Great Michigan Art Fair landing page

Brian Walline's work is instantly recognizable. The Ann Arbor artist creates Michigan scenes in the style of vintage travel posters, using bright colors and bold typography to convey a deep love for his home state.

While Walline takes freelance commissions -- he did the art for AADL's 2019 Summer Game -- a significant part of his income is derived from tabling at art shows across Michigan. But most of the major art shows for the summer have been canceled, and since they all take a while to organize, it's unlikely any will attempt to reopen even in a modified fashion that's in line with the current phase 4 guidelines for the way businesses can operate.

With his fellow artists in mind, Walline took it upon himself to create The Great Michigan Online Art Fair as a virtual way for creators to display their wares in a playful, interactive environment.

"We are trying to uncancel our livelihoods," Walline writes on the art fair's website.

Artists and vendors can apply to be a part of The Great Michigan Online Art Fair through 11:59 p.m. EST on Sunday, June 7. The site will host 31 artists and 16 vendors between June 15 and July 13, and the art fair is also accepting sponsorships.

We emailed with Walline about his creation of The Great Michigan Online Art Fair:

Polly Rosenwaike's stories give an intimate glimpse into the contexts of motherhood

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Polly Rosenwaike and her book Look How Happy I'm Making You

Author photo by Michael Lionstar.

This story was originally published on March 29, 2019.

Women who want babies. Women who do not. Women who try hard for a baby, and women who easily become pregnant. Women who lose a baby, and women who have one. 

These women populate the stories in Look How Happy I’m Making You, the debut collection by Polly Rosenwaike. Efforts to conceive and be mothers -- and the effects of those efforts on these women -- engage them. 

Rosenwaike’s stories, however, do not only center on the processes and acts of conceiving, birthing, and parenting. This collection moreover illustrates the complexities of the feelings and relationships surrounding motherhood and the wish for it. 

Rosenwaike draws inspiration from her own experiences as a mother and often works from branches of the Ann Arbor District Library. A resident of Ann Arbor, she is the fiction editor of Michigan Quarterly Review, is widely published in literary magazines, reviews books, teaches at Eastern Michigan University, and has two daughters with her partner, poet Cody Walker. 

Rosenwaike will read and discuss Look How Happy I’m Making You at Literati Bookstore Wednesday, April 3, at 7 pm. She answered questions about life in Ann Arbor and her new collection.

Valencia Robin’s poetry collection "Ridiculous Light" spans time, space, and seasons -- from Milwaukee in the 1960s to Ann Arbor in the 1990s

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Valencia Robin, Ridiculous Light

Author photo by Jennifer Walkowiak.

This story originally ran August 12, 2019.

Valencia Robin’s new poetry collection, Ridiculous Light, spans time, space, and seasons -- from Milwaukee in the 1960s to Ann Arbor -- and offers moments of distinct observations. The speaker invites readers into specific recollections and, within them, shares not just what happened but vivid descriptions and sublime reflections on the natural world, people, identity, and experiences. 

A poet and painter, Robin is one of the founding members of GalleryDAAS at the University of Michigan. She now lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

She will return to Ann Arbor to read at Literati Bookstore on Friday, August 16, at 7 pm, and Pulp interviewed her before her visit.

Jimi Hendrix's Experience: Jas Obrecht's "Stone Free" goes deep into the guitar great's transformative 10 months in London

MUSIC WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jas Obrecht and Jimi Hendrix

This story originally ran February 11, 2019.

The life of guitar legend Jimi Hendrix has been explored in numerous biographies and documentaries, so you could be forgiven for being skeptical as to why the world needs another book about the man widely considered to be the greatest guitarist of all time and a major influence on the sound of rock music. Jas Obrecht's new offering on the subject, however, takes a much closer look at a specific period in the life of Hendrix.

Stone Free: Jimi Hendrix in London, September 1966-June 1967 is a detailed, day by day look into the guitar great's arrival in England and his rapid rise from obscurity to fame. Obrecht's book puts into perspective just how quickly and completely Hendrix revolutionized pop music. The supporting cast is a who's who of British rock icons including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Animals, and many others. I had the pleasure of sitting down for an interview with the author, who has written nearly 200 cover stories for Guitar Player and other music magazines as well as a number of books on blues and rock.

Obrecht will be reading from his new book on Thursday, February 14, 7 pm, at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor. Below is the conversation we had, slightly edited for flow.

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.”