You’ve seen it all before. A magical kingdom. A fair maiden locked in a tower guarded by a fiery dragon. A valiant hero and his trusty steed on a quest to free oppressed subjects from a hateful despot. Yes, all this and more can be found in Shrek, the Musical. Er, sort of….
In this song-filled take on William Steig’s classic children’s book, our hero is a crabby, flatulating ogre and his steed is a smart-alecky and annoying donkey. The maiden's also not quite what she appears to be and the oppressed subjects are familiar fairy tale characters led by a Pinocchio even Papa Geppetto would be hard-pressed to love.
Details … details. Be all that as it may, Shrek, the Musical, is a lot of fun and Young People’s Theater always puts on a really big show.
Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Shrek runs Thursday, November 19 - Sunday, November 22, at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre on the University of Michigan's Central Campus. For tickets, call 734-763-TKTS. $15 adults; $10 children, students, and Seniors 65+. For more information, visit Young People's Theater's website.
Community High School’s Community Ensemble Theatre (CET) will take on the highly ambitious, experimental play-of-many-plays, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind starting this weekend. This challenging interactive production, adapted for teenage performers from the Chicago production that debuted in 1988 - currently the city’s longest-running play at 25 years - is built around 30 two-minute “plays” in a 60-minute speed format.
In his 2010 review of the Chicago production, Chicago Theater Beat critic Keith Ecker described Too Much Light - then in its 21st year and still selling out every show - as “a complete and utter oddity,” citing its ideological kinship with the 20th century Italian Futurism movement.
CET director Quinn Strassel recently said, “This show is funny, edgy, and at times highly emotional. Most importantly, the unorthodox structure allows us to feature dozens of kids in lead roles."
“It's ambitious," adds Strassel, “but I think the kids are excited about taking on the challenge.”
Hardly your typical high school theater fare, Too Much Light... has only recently been made available to educational theatre companies, so Ann Arbor is finally getting its chance to see what all the fuss is about.
Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind will be performed in the Craft Theater at Community High School on November 12 & 13 at 7:30 pm, November 14 at 1 pm and at 7:30 pm, and November 15 at 2 pm. Tickets are $12.50 for adults and $9 for students and seniors, and are available online.
Having built a hometown following with My Dear Disco, and then as a solo artist, Theo Katzmann’s name is a familiar one around Ann Arbor. Although Brooklyn has been his more recent home base, he's swinging through A2 this week.
Katzman and his Vulfpeck took a creative approach to streaming/Spotify last year, and just dropped a new record last month. He also contributed his production and songwriting chops to Michelle Chamuel's 2015 pop album Face the Fire.
This time around, however, his Blind Pig date is billed as a solo affair — with a few of the 'peck backing him up.
Mariah Cherem is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
We don’t know who told the first story. Was it a cavewoman telling her cavechildren a ghost story? Was it a hunter telling others of the one that got away? Was it two people around a lonely campfire trying to pass the time? We will never know how it began, but we do know that storytelling as an art has existed for millennia. People from all over the world love a good story, and luckily for us, there is plenty of storytelling right here in Ann Arbor!
The Ann Arbor Storytellers' Guild is presenting its 24th annual Tellabration on Friday, November 13th and Sunday, November 15th. The Friday event is geared towards adults (ages 14+), while the Sunday event is especially for children and families. Tellabration is an international event celebrating the art of storytelling. Forty states and nine countries will participate in this event. The goal is to build community support for storytelling. According to local teller Lyn Davidge, expect to hear some history, some mystery, some legend, some comic relief, and even some social commentary at the event.
Davidge adds, “I love Tellabration and the Guild, with their emphasis on keeping the ancient art of traditional storytelling alive, relevant, and entertaining in the 21st century. The audience is an integral part of the storytelling experience, each person relating to the teller and the story according to his or her own unique life experiences. In a seemingly disconnected world, we find connection and common ground through story.”
In addition to Tellabration, the local guild also hosts a monthly storytelling event at Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room on the second Thursday of the month. You may hear a story about chivalrous knights from medieval times, a turtle’s journey in a sunny backyard, or how a teacher grew to love being “most improved”. The guild’s monthly meetings are open to the public and are held at Nicola’s Books on the fourth Sunday of most months. Guild members are also invited to attend member-only events such as story swaps and house concerts.
In Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, she wrote, “stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can't remember who we are or why we're here.” Events like Tellabration guarantee that our words will stay alive for a long, long time.
Patti Smith is a teacher, writer, and lover of all things Ann Arbor. She can talk and tell stories at any hour of the day or night. She has been a part of the Storytellers' Guild for two years.
Tellabration will be held at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1400 W Stadium Blvd on November 13 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $15. The Family Storytelling concert will be held on November 15 at 2 pm. The event is free and co-sponsored by the Ann Arbor District Library and will be held at the Pittsfield Branch, 2359 Oak Valley Drive.
Hou Hsiao-hsien’s film Dust In the Wind opens with the puzzling image of a tiny rectangular shape, its top rounded, hovering against a black background. It appears at first to be an animated image, crudely rendered given the film’s 1986 release date. But it quickly becomes clear that we are swiftly traveling towards the image, rather than it floating towards us, and that it’s not a man-made drawing but a depiction of natural splendor. The shape is the light at the end of a pitch-black train tunnel, and the camera swiftly explodes out of the passage to reveal the stunning greens of the lush forest beyond.
This striking opening shot may be the most obvious way Taiwanese director Hou leads us to find beauty in seemingly mundane moments in Dust In the Wind, but it’s certainly not the last. The film screened Monday at the Michigan Theater to kick off “Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien,” a series of free screenings running through Nov. 11. The plot of Dust In the Wind is simple, almost pedestrian: a young couple, Ah-yuan (Wang Chien-wen) and Ah-yun (Xin Shufen), seek to escape their impoverished life in a Taiwanese mining town. Mining life has already left Ah-Yuan’s father injured and at the mercy of greedy pharmaceutical providers. Ah-yuan and Ah-yun travel to Taipei, where they take tedious jobs–he as a print shop assistant, she as a seamstress–to send money home and to fund their own night school and eventual wedding. They make a few friends and go out to drink and socialize when they can. Hardly leading a robust life to begin with, Ah-yuan and Ah-yun face their greatest challenge yet when the draft board calls Ah-yuan up for a lengthy tour of military service.
Hou is noted as a major voice in the Taiwanese New Wave cinema of the ‘80s, which emphasized realistic stories of everyday life in Taiwan. As such, having noted the rather bleak circumstances of Ah-yuan and Ah-yun’s lives and their tenuous young love, it’s not too difficult to predict the fate that will befall their relationship when Ah-yuan departs for the military. But Hou finds many a moment of warmth, beauty and wisdom in what could be a much more harrowing tale. He repeatedly frames the exterior of Ah-yuan’s family home in an extreme wide shot, encouraging us to appreciate not only the colorful hustle and bustle on the steps of the home but also the action that takes place in the courtyard beyond. There’s even gentle humor in the tale, as when Ah-yuan’s father accidentally lights a firecracker rather than a candle in the dark. (Ah-yuan’s grandfather, beautifully played by Li Tian-lu, is a repeated source of both sly humor and somewhat dark wisdom.) Hou repeatedly directs us toward the kindness and love in this dark story, from family members comfortably sharing food and drink to Ah-yun quietly nursing Ah-yuan back to health during a bout of bronchitis.
As the title of the film would suggest, the characters seem battered by life’s trials, cast adrift in an uncaring world they have little ability to fully comprehend, let alone control. But in the many warmer moments Hou creates here, he also seems to suggest that the characters are equally ignorant of some of the gifts that are present in their lives. It seems no mistake that Hou follows his spectacular opening POV shot from the train with a shot of Ah-yun and Ah-yuan onboard the vehicle, complacently reading, paying no attention to the spectacular scenery we’ve just been treated to. In a simple but metaphor-laden exchange between Ah-yuan and his grandfather at the film’s end, it’s difficult to tell just how much our characters’ eyes have really been opened. But Hou has certainly opened our eyes to some of the beauty in these difficult lives, and perhaps encouraged us to think differently about our own lives as well.
The “Also Like Life” series will continue through Nov. 11 with the following free screenings at the Michigan Theater:
- Flowers of Shanghai screens Nov. 10 at 6 pm. Multiple prominent film critics have named this elegant, slow-paced 1998 film following the courtesans and patrons in four different brothels as one of the best movies of the ‘90s. The film stars Tony Leung, well-known for his appearances in Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood For Love and Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution.
- Good Men, Good Women screens Nov. 11 at 5 pm. This 1995 release concludes a trilogy of historical films by Hou, preceded by 1989’s A City of Sadness and 1993’s The Puppetmaster. The story of a Taiwanese couple who journey to the Chinese mainland to fight the Japanese during the 1940s is told as a film within a film about an actress who is preparing to play the role of one of the main characters.
- Millennium Mambo screens Nov. 11 at 7 pm. The 2001 film follows a young woman’s work life and romantic entanglements at the beginning of the new millennium. Although Hou uses vibrant cinematography and techno music in his storytelling, his portrait of recent youth culture is dark and somewhat despairing.
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor Observer, and other local publications. He can be heard most Friday mornings at 8:40 am on the Martin Bandyke morning program on Ann Arbor's 107one.
The “Also Like Life” series will continue through Nov. 11 with the following free screenings at the Michigan Theater: Flowers of Shanghai on Nov. 10 at 6 pm; Good Men, Good Women on Nov. 11 at 5 pm; and Millennium Mambo on Nov. 11 at 7 pm. More information can be found on the University of Michigan Kenneth G. Lieberthal and Richard H. Rogel Center for Chinese Studies page.
“There is the great lesson of 'Beauty and the Beast,' that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.” G. K. Chesterton
Skyline Theatre presents Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, beginning this weekend and running through November 22.
This tale, seemingly as old as time, dates back to the traditional French fairy tale La Belle et la Bête written in 1756 and has resulted in numerous adaptations including the famous 1991 animated classic (although, admittedly, my personal favorite version is Jean Cocteau's surreal 1946 French film).
In this stage adaptation of the animated film, beautiful Belle is, improbably, the village outsider who prefers books to the advances of the hunky, yet shallow Gaston. When she goes looking for her hapless father, an inventor who’s lost his way in an enchanted forest, she discovers him in a haunted castle, captive of a mysterious Beast. She then wins her father's freedom by reluctantly trading places with him. Thus begins the most unlikely of romances, made considerably more tolerable, if occasionally adorable, by singing teapots and waltzing silverware.
"Belle and the Beast’s story is timeless," observes Skyline Theatre director Anne-Marie Roberts. "It contains the universal themes of love and self-sacrifice. Children in all their innocence innately understand and connect with these truths.”
Best of all, following each of the performances, guests can meet and have their pictures taken with Belle, the Beast, and other memorable characters in the musical.
Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Disney's Beauty and the Beast performs at Skyline High School (2552 N. Maple Rd in Ann Arbor) on November 14, at both 2:30 and 7:30 pm; November 20 & 21, at 7:30 pm; and November 22, at 2:30 pm. Tickets are available online or at the door. For more information, visit Skyline’s website.
Author David Mitchell will be giving a reading from his newest novel Slade House this Saturday, November 7, in the sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church, followed by a conversation with author and UM faculty member Peter Ho Davies. Fans of speculative fiction may be familiar with Mitchell through his previous novels including The Bone Clocks, number9dream, and, most famously, Cloud Atlas. This event is sponsored by Literati and University of Michigan Helen Zell Writers' Program.
Slade House is an outgrowth of Mitchell's last novel, The Bone Clocks, set in the same universe. It started as a short story that Mitchell published on Twitter. This story, revised and added to, is now the first chapter of Slade House. It might be this that we have to thank for the fact that this novel is by far Mitchell's shortest and by all accounts his most accessible.
As with several of Mitchell's books, Slade House makes use of multiple narrators and crosses through time, each section set nine years later than the previous. Every 40 pages or so we get a new narrator and the degree to which we are pulled into the life of each protagonist is astounding. A fully imagined character with a complete backstory and well-drawn secondary characters emerges in the first dozen pages every time. Each of these stories has a definite ending before a new narrator takes over, so Mitchell doesn't fall into the trap of Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler of leaving the reader hanging before moving on, never to return (though perhaps this is only a trap for those of us who want those books-within-the-book to keep going). In Slade House, you understand very quickly where each of these stories is going, and the inevitable ending of each.
To some extent it begins to feel like a procedural, a backwards Law & Order where you know the culprit, you know the crime, you know the ending, and it is the main character/detective (one time a literal detective) and the situation that switches out. The result of this is that by the second story you start reading it like a mystery, looking for patterns and clues (was that jogger there the last time? what's the significance of the grandfather clock? why the portraits?).
Slade House is difficult to classify; at first it seems to be a ghost story. But it isn't quite horror, as it isn't horrifying. And though it starts off with the trappings of a classic ghost story, by the end of the first section, it becomes something else, and by 2/3 through the novel, it is apparent that what you are reading is no less than high fantasy. There is a haunted house, sure, and there are ghosts, yes. But the ghosts aren't the thing to be scared of, and what does the haunting is far less malicious than the house being haunted. The final section of the novel and its ending did not appeal to me, but that's a matter of taste, not a failing on Mitchell's part. A high fantasy ending felt a bit like a bait-and-switch to me, but that's because I want my ghost stories to be ghost stories. Those more in sync with epic battles between forces of light and darkness will be more sympathetic to it.
The biggest failing of this novel may actually be how well thought-out its world is; Mitchell has so much to explain about what is happening that at times it starts to feel like the latest Bond villain laying out his whole plan. But this exposition is necessary as Mitchell needs you to understand what is happening for it all to come together. And it never gets bad enough that all of the magic is stripped out (no midi-chorians here), just enough that you get pulled out of the world by it. But the fact that new worlds are created again and again in the span of 240 pages is in itself an achievement that makes Slade House well worth the read.
Andrew MacLaren is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library and the only parlors he haunts are pizza parlors.
David Mitchell's reading takes place this Saturday, November 7, at 6 pm (doors open at 5:15 pm) in the sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church. A copy of Slade House is included in the $30 admission price (this price also includes entry for either one or two people). Tickets are available online.
Julian Schnabel, painter and filmmaker, will take the stage at the Michigan Theater this Thursday evening as part of the Penny Stamps Speaker Series. Originally scheduled to kick off the Fall 2015 season in September, Schnabel’s appearance was rescheduled due to unforeseen circumstances.
Schnabel’s paintings were on display at the University of Michigan Museum of Art from July 5–September 27 of this year. In case you missed it, they were huge. His paintings are made up of unexpected materials–including broken dinner plates and Bondo putty (yes, the automotive body filler)–and took up two galleries, engulfing the walls from floor to ceiling. He is a well-known figure in the Neo-expressionism art movement, but he may be better known for his films. Schnabel wrote and directed the films Basquiat, a biopic on the painter Jean-Michel Basquiat (1996), and Before Night Falls (2000), an adaptation of Reinaldo Arenas' autobiographical novel. He also directed The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) and Miral (2010).
The Patricia Urquiola talk originally scheduled for November 5 will take place as part of the Winter 2016 Penny Stamps Speaker Series, to be announced later this month. The Penny Stamps Speaker Series brings innovators from a broad spectrum of fields to Ann Arbor to conduct a public lecture and engage with students, faculty, and the larger University and Ann Arbor communities, and they are a great way to spend a Thursday evening.
Anne Drozd is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library and once owned a car that was 57% Bondo.
Julian Schnabel's appearance is Thursday, November 5, 2015. The Penny Stamps Speaker Series takes place Thursdays at 5:10 pm at the Michigan Theater, located at 603 E. Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor, and all events are free of charge and open to the public. The entire lineup can be seen at the Penny Stamps site.
“Grease is the word,” sang Barry Gibb nearly 40 years ago. It was 1978 and John Travolta had just discoed his way to superstardom in Saturday Night Fever. This time he’d spark some summer lovin’ and help spin the 1971 stage musical Grease into a cult film and a staple for high school musical theater programs across the county.
This weekend Pioneer High School’s Theatre Guild offers its take on Rydell High’s class of 1959, with direction by Matthew Kunkel, University of Michigan Directing Major.
The story centers on Danny Zuko, a too-cool-for-school hot-rodder who reluctantly crosses clique lines and kills it at the high school dance for his sweetheart, Sandy Dumbrowski, who in turn is negotiating her own way among the bad girls. At its core are the timeless high school high jinks and teen angst that make Grease the perfect high school musical.
Peer pressure played out by duck-tailed T-birds and gum-smacking Pink Ladies? What’s not to like?
Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Grease opens Friday, November 7, at 8:30 pm and runs through Sunday, November 15, at 2 pm. Tickets are $10 (students, Seniors 65+, and PHS staff) and $15 adults. For more information, visit Pioneer Theatre Guild's webpage.
Southern band The Avett Brothers will play Hill Auditorium on November 6th. I stumbled into The Avett Brothers purely by accident: I bought their album Emotionalism solely based on the cover art, which was printed with silver ink (what can I say? I have simple, glittery tastes). Luckily for me, I actually liked the music in addition to the sparkle. The Avett Brothers play folk rock with a bluegrass twist, which translates to plenty of banjos AND indie rock lyrics.
Between the band’s experience (they’ve been playing together since 2000) and the fantastic Hill Auditorium acoustics, this show is sure to be wonderful.
Evelyn Hollenshead is a Youth Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
The Avett Brothers play Hill Auditorium this Friday, November 6, at 7 pm. Purchase tickets online or in person at the Michigan Union Ticket Office.