We’re now in March, of course, but Pagán’s new tale of contemporary friendships and romance gone askew offers a temporary escape hatch appropriate for any time of year.
Forever is Pagán’s third novel; her debut was The Art of Forgetting (2011), followed by Life and Other Near-Death Experiences (2015), which was a bestselling Kindle First selection that got optioned by Jessica Chastain’s production company Freckle Films.
Forever tells the story of James Hernandez, a would-be novelist who ends up writing copy for U-M’s business school. (Pagán is a U-M grad who grew up in Dearborn.) Though James falls for his childhood best friend Rob’s fiancee/wife (Lou) upon meeting her, he buries his feelings, delivers a toast at the wedding, and tries to build his own life. But years later, when Rob and Lou’s marriage falls apart, James is torn between what he wants and loyalty to his friend. In the end, he can’t resist acting on his long-repressed attraction, and the consequences for all three are far-reaching and life-changing.
“I didn’t plan on writing this book,” said Pagán. “I’d planned on writing one about a married couple, and I was just slogging through that when I had the idea for the first chapter [of Forever], and in a day or two, I had the opening chapters done. I just felt like, I know who these people are, whereas with the other project, I didn’t know who I was writing about. … With every book it seems like there’s a fire under me, where I had to get the story out.”
Whether he's reframing William S. Burroughs' cut-up prose as opera with his long-running Anagram Ensemble, fusing progressive rock riffing with avant-jazz in electric trio Hypercolor, or bowing his strings with multiple bows and springs on his own, bassist James Ilgenfritz is regularly questioning perceptions and pushing back against sound barriers.
"Music is a fundamentally abstract art form, as it does not have the type of figurative quality words or images can communicate," Ilgenfritz wrote in an email, describing what inspired him to transcribe the work of composer and saxophonist Anthony Braxton for his 2011 debut solo album, Compositions (Braxton). "But we often give in to the temptation to shoehorn music into fixed narratives and the illusion that meaning can be an absolute."
The Brooklyn, New York-based musician grew up in Monroe and studied music at the University of Michigan. He played with several Ann Arbor and Detroit-based groups, including Bill Brovold's experimental rock troupe Larval, before moving out of state to further his musical path.
In January, Ilgenfritz led a string section playing arrangements he'd written for composer and performer M. Lamar's Funeral Doom Spiritual in Brooklyn. The new monodrama written by Lamar with musician Hunter Hunt-Hendrix (of "transcendental" metal band Liturgy) takes place in the future and "explores radical historical expressions and futuristic longings for destruction of the white supremacist world order."
On Wednesday, March 15, Ilgenfritz will give a solo contrabass performance at Kerrytown Concert House featuring music from his new album, his Braxton transcriptions, and an old favorite from his Ann Arbor days by a U-M professor.
Bill Van Loo is a polymath.
“The description I use to describe to people what I do is I’m a maker, teacher, musician, and photographer,” he said, “and at any given point in my life, one or more of those areas is going to be more prevalent or in the forefront than others.”
In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Van Loo was part of the Detroit techno scene, including performing on the Underground Stage in 2000 at the first Detroit Electronic Music Festival, the now-legendary electronic-music event now known as Movement. He released most of his music on his own chromedecay label, and was part of a collective called Thinkbox, which created audio-visual multimedia performances and performed at the Movement Festival in 2003 and Montreal’s huge Mutek fest in 2004.
But for much of the past decade-plus, Van Loo has focused on his teaching career. He’s currently the technology, engineering, and design educator at A2 STEAM, the three-year-old K-8 school that has a heavy focus on project-based learning and tech. At the end of 2016, Van Loo finished his master’s degree in educational media and technology from Eastern Michigan University -- and suddenly found himself with enough free time to bring music to the forefront once again.
Van Loo’s currently working on new material in his home studio and hopes to release an EP or mini-LP on Bandcamp in the spring. We took advantage of Van Loo's sudden return to music by having him be the featured artist in our second Tools Crew Live video series where we have musicians use gear from the Ann Arbor District Library's Music Tools collection to create jams. (Fred Thomas was our first artist, which you can view here.)
Van Loo recorded the videos on January 3 and on February 16 we talked about the songs he performed -- one techno banger, one ambient guitar bliss-out -- and the gear he chose.
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 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.
Tristan Cappel may have never picked up the alto saxophone were it not for his sister.
“My sister is four years older and I always looked up to her growing up, following in her footsteps in any way I could,” said the 21-year-old junior at the University of Michigan. “In 5th grade, band class was an option at my elementary school and my sister, who also played clarinet in the band, urged me to join and play saxophone. Wanting to be like her, I did.”
If you consider the long tail of her influence, his sister's encouragement all those years ago is ultimately what lead to Cappel making his debut album, Deadbird. The LP features eight original jazz compositions by the native of Sterling Heights, Michigan, all composed between ages 17 to 20. He recorded the album at U-M's Duderstadt Center studio and mixed the album himself.
Cappel’s alto sax sound is dry and lean, filled with rhythmic attacks as much as harmonic exploration. His bandmates do a great job of dipping into the avant-garde without falling into wholesale honking, in large part because they don’t need to play extreme for Cappel’s catchy songs to sound edgy as well. His compositions allow plenty of space for rhythmic interplay and chromaticism while maintaining a solid base of hooks and beats that quickly rope listeners into his sound world.
Cappel celebrates the release of Deadbird with a show at Canterbury House on Saturday, March 11. We emailed with the multitalented altoist, who gave long, thoughtful answers to our questions. At the end of the interview, you can stream Deadbird and read Cappel's track-by-track tour of the album.
Women comprise about 51% of the country’s population. But according to the Wikimedia Foundation, they make up less than 13% of Wikipedia's contributors.
Fortunately, some folks aim to change that.
On Saturday, March 11, the University of Michigan Library, in conjunction with UMMA and the Ann Arbor District Library, will present the Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon from 12-5 pm at the Shapiro Design Lab in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library. The event started in 2014 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and has grown to include over 175 satellite locations.
Ann Arbor organizer Meghan Sitar stressed the need for women-focused editing: “After Wikimedia reported that less than 10% of contributors identified as female, Wikipedia set a goal of increasing that number to 25% by 2015. That didn’t seem to happen, so what you have is a gender bias in what is covered."
Men and women really do see the world through disparate points of view, and those divergences show up in Wikipedia entries.
Wild Swan Theater's family concert truly is "An Afternoon of Ann Arbor’s Best" -- and its plays are pretty fun, too
Sandy Ryder represents some of the best things about Ann Arbor. She's someone who came to town for school, never left, and then went on to create businesses and good works that she has generously shared with the community for decades.
After graduating from the University of Michigan with a degree in theater, Ryder taught, worked as a clown and a mime, and did improv with a children’s theater group. In 1979, she started Say Cheese Cheesecakes bakery (which closed in 2006 under different owners). Then in 1980, she cofounded Wild Swan Theater with Hilary Cohen.
Over the past 27 years, Wild Swan has distinguished itself as a place for all people, especially children with disabilities.
“My favorite thing is to have everything accessible -- workshops, traveling shows, everything," Ryder said. "We have ASL shadowed into the show, kids with visual impairments can come to a touch tour on stage. Everyone can share the experience together, everyone can enjoy the play.”
Artist Andrew Logan is probably best known as the founder, organizer, host, and hostess (he wears a costume split down the middle) of the Alternative Miss World, a "surreal art event for all-round family entertainment" he started 45 years ago in London.
Since then, he and a team of volunteers, including longtime partner Michael Davis, have staged a dozen more events for contestants of "any species, any size" competing in a dog-show-and-TV-beauty-pageant inspired dress-up party of daywear, swimwear, and eveningwear judged on "poise, personality, and originality." This longstanding celebration of transformation, imagination, and adult silliness is well-documented in the highly entertaining 2011 film The British Guide to Showing Off.
Some contestants -- many of whom are Logan's friends and family -- return year after year. Better known participants, serving as contestants or judges, have included film director Derek Jarman, artist Grayson Perry, and musician Brian Eno.
Logan is also a prolific visual artist who transforms metals, plaster, glass, and thrift-store finds into objects of "happiness and joy" in his U.K. studio with blue-collar dedication and eccentric flair. His works include large commissioned monuments, portraits of close friends, and wearable sculptures we might call jewelry. In the 1990s, he set up a small permanent display of his work in a remote part of Wales.
On Thursday, March 9, Logan will speak on his artistic adventure, the Alternative Miss World, and his "little museum" at the Michigan Theater as part of the Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series.
Because of the weight of its subject matter and the demands of its production, Giselle is seldom tackled in student performance. Yet, here is Ballet Chelsea, a relatively new pre-professional company, mounting a full-length Giselle on March 11 and 12 at the CHS Performing Arts Complex.
Giselle is serious business -- and I mean that in a couple of ways.
First, there’s the matter of its plot. Giselle, a young peasant girl, falls in love with Albrecht, whom she meets when his hunting party passes near her village. He promises to marry her, but before Act I is over she has learned the extent of his deception: he is not just some hunter, he is a duke, and furthermore, he is already betrothed to Bathilde. Giselle goes mad and dies of a broken heart -- both literal and figurative (the idea that she has a weak heart and should not dance so much was planted early in the act).
In Act II, Giselle has become a Wili, the spirit of a young woman jilted at the altar. She is not alone; there’s a whole gang of Wilis and they are out for revenge on the men who betrayed them. Their queen orders Giselle to dance with Albrecht until he dies of exhaustion. Instead, Giselle stays with him until the dawn, when Wilis lose their power, thus saving his life. She returns to the grave and he, presumably, to a life of guilt and remorse.
So the story is a far cry from the fluffy stuff of, say, The Nutcracker. Furthermore, it is a formidable production to tackle.
John Cariani’s Almost, Maine is set in a fictional town so named because it’s so far north that it’s almost in Canada. It’s distant from the urban chatter of Boston or Montreal, but that physical distance also suggests the emotional distance that the play’s characters have to bridge.
“Distance is a big issue in the play,” said Elizabeth Docel, who plays two parts in the production. “The town is distant from everywhere and the play is about the distance between people.”
The Ann Arbor Civic Theater is presenting Cariani’s play March 9-12 at the Arthur Miller Theatre. It’s a play that has won wide support at regional and school theaters for its mix of comedy, drama, and a little magic realism.
“When I first read the play, it was so different from what I usually do,” said director Kat Walsh. “I usually do Shakespeare and works centering on social justice, and I found this play simple, sweet, and quirky.”
As she looked deeper into the play she also found a running theme.