PTD Productions' "Humble Boy" evokes "Hamlet" while also being funny

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Humble Boy by PTD Productions

This my not seem an obvious time for a play titled Humble Boy -- ahem -- but Ypsilanti-based community theater company PTD Productions will be presenting Charlotte Jones’ award-winning 2001 comic drama at the Riverside Arts Center nonetheless.

“I love plays that are both funny and poignant at the same time, and this certainly qualifies,” said director Laura Bird. “The main character is grieving the loss of his father, but he’s also getting grief from other people about how he’s grieving. And this is a subject I’m passionate about -- that there’s no wrong way to grieve. ... Plus [the play] has these great characters, and flirts with Hamlet in a lighthearted way.”

Road of Life: Laura Bernstein-Machlay will discuss her essay collection, "Travelers," at Literati

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Laura Bernstein-Machlay and her Travelers book

There’s a moment near the end of Laura Bernstein-Machlay’s new book of essays, Travelers, in the middle of the author’s conversation with a friend on page 163, when she makes the comment, “I’m a liar … I’ve lied to everyone I know. I lie to myself every damn day.”

Out of context this excerpt might seem to cast the speaker in an uncharitable light -- an appearance that is ameliorated by having come to know the narrator as a genuine and warm person over the course of the previous 15 essays -- but it’s worth mentioning because it speaks to the heart of one of the challenges inherent in the genre Bernstein-Machlay has thrown herself into with this book. When taking oneself as a subject, how can you ever be sure that the truth is what you think it is? How can you weed out the false from the real in the stories we tell about ourselves, reinforced through repeated use?

“I had to be as honest with myself as I possibly could,” Bernstein-Machlay said in an interview. “And that meant moving past the lies I was so easily telling the world. So much that I was telling them to myself. And they weren’t big lies, they were just the stories about yourself that get you through the day.”

The 2018 Ann Arbor Blues Festival is now 3 days -- just like the first one in 1969

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Ann Arbor Blues Festival 2018 logo and banner

There ain’t nothin' like the blues.

Perhaps that is why in 1969, a group of University of Michigan students created a gathering in an open field on the banks of the Huron River to listen to some blues from the likes of Otis Rush, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Mama Thornton, T-Bone Walker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, B.B. King, and Muddy Waters.

They created not only the first blues festival in Michigan but the first electric blues festival ever.

The Last Gasp of Summer: Michigan mystery authors offer three beach reads at Nicola’s

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Books by Pamela Gossiaux, Darci Hannah, and Greg Jolley

Is it almost over? It’s almost over.

But you still have time to enjoy some good summer books.

Still searching for the perfect beach read? Look no further than Michigan mystery writers Darci Hannah (Cherry Pies & Deadly Lies), Pamela Gossiaux (Trusting the Cat Burglar), Greg Jolley (Malice in a Very Small Town) who are appearing at Nicola’s Books on August 16 at 7 pm for "a late-summer mystery event, filled with great beach reads for your last summer gasp." 

Hannah began her writing career with historical fiction, penning 2010’s The Exile of Sara Stevenson. But when her agent recommended writing in another genre, Hannah started Cherry Pies & Deadly Lies and knew just where she’d start.

Singing and dancing through Ann Arbor the Morris way

MUSIC THEATER & DANCE INTERVIEW

Morris dancers in Ann Arbor

On May Day 2012 the Ann Arbor Morris dancers performed at The Diag at the University of Michigan. Photo courtesy Ann Arbor Morris Facebook page.

While the exact origins of Morris dancing are not clear, historians do know that people have been participating in this lively step dance for centuries. Shakespeare mentioned it in his plays. Peasants enjoyed it along with their summertime ales in the 1600s. The first known written reference dates to 1448 when Goldsmiths’ Company in London paid seven shillings to Morris dancers for a performance.

And in the Ann Arbor area, dancers have gathered since 1976 to engage in this energetic form of folk dancing. Ann Arbor Morris dancer Carol Mohr enjoyed international folk dancing and fell in love with Morris in the late 1970s.

Ypsilanti hip-hop producer DaG is cutting his own path in The 734

MUSIC INTERVIEW

DaG

DaG calls himself The 734 Savior. That’s a bold claim, right? Well, the man born Dion Glenn just might have the skills necessary to back the title up. 

The producer has worked with a who’s who of artists in the Midwest including Slum Village, Supakaine, Nolan the Ninja, A-Minus, and BJ the Chicago Kid. As a producer, DaG balances the hard task of preserving old school sounds with modern swag in a way that sounds relevant to today.

The Ann Arbor-raised, Ypsi-based DaG is also a DJ, spinning at events in Washtenaw County and traveling around the country. One of his most recent and notable gigs was opening for hip-hop legend KRS One at the Blind Pig this spring.

Between spinning at concerts and producing hits for other artists, DaG is also an emcee in his own right, further proving that he is a multitalented artist. From his earliest project dionLoveSwing to his most recent work, Village Tales 3, he shows his versatility in style from funk and soul to hip-hop and jazz.

With new music due this fall, DaG is ready once again to show his listeners why he is a musical force in the 734 area code. I sat down with him to discuss his vintage sound, his take on Michigan hip-hop, what he’d be doing if he weren’t a musician, and more.  

Swing Time: "Paul Keller Presents" showcases Michigan jazz at Kerrytown Concert House

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Paul Keller and John Proulx

Paul Keller (left) kicks off his artist-showcase series at Kerrytown Concert House with pianist John Proulx.

Starting August 10, Kerrytown Concert House will be host to the first in a continuing series of concerts hosted by longtime Ann Arbor resident and jazz bassist Paul Keller. This inaugural installation of “Paul Keller Presents” will feature the talents of singer and pianist John Proulx, a Grand Rapids-raised musician whose career has taken him from coast to coast before leading him back home to pursue a Master’s degree from Western Michigan University.

“He has a grasp of jazz language that I like to hear,” Paul Keller said of Proulx. “He has a grasp of the way that I like to present jazz. I’m proud to be on the stage with him because of those things.”

Performing as a trio, Keller and Proulx will be joined onstage by drummer Pete Siers, who is also an Ann Arbor resident. Siers, who will also be playing on the “Paul Keller Presents” concert of September 28, is a musical collaborator of Keller’s and performs in the Paul Keller Orchestra, a nearly 30-year-old big band that performs every Monday at the Zal Gaz Grotto in west Ann Arbor.

An Annotated Guide to Fred Thomas' "Good Times Are Gone Again" Video

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Screen grab of Fred Thomas from his video Good Times Are Gone Again

Pretty in Pink: Fred Thomas in a clip from his music video  "Good Times Are Gone Again."

In Pitchfork's review of Fred Thomas' new song and video, "Good Times Are Gone Again," Contributing Editor Jayson Greene notes the tune is "a little less agonizingly specific than Thomas’ usual fare."

That's true of the song's lyrics, but if you know Ann Arbor, the music video is filled with scenes that are very specific.

The promo clip is for Thomas' new album, Aftering, which comes out September 14 on Polyvinyl Records. The video features Thomas interacting with friends and strangers -- who immediately fall ill as if he passed on an instant plague, echoing the song's lyrics: "Bad things are happening now / Sharp days are wrapping around us."

It's the song of the bummer summer.

Ann Arbor is featured throughout the video: Thomas spends time walking alone through Buhr Park and strumming his guitar behind the long-running punk joint Far House; and he spreads his illness at Encore Records, The Hosting art space, Lab Cafe, a recording studio in Ellsworth Commerce Park, his bandmate Chuck Sipperley's home, and his own apartment where his wife, spoken-word artist Emily Roll, starts foaming toothpaste at the mouth.

Callie Feyen's "The Teacher Diaries: Romeo and Juliet" encourages kids to read in the internet age

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Callie Feyen's The Teacher Diaries

Callie Feyen's new book begins with a kiss. But the writing of said book began with an essay -- one she wasn’t particularly keen to write.

“My editor at [T.S. Poetry Press] asked me if I wanted to write about teaching Romeo and Juliet to eighth graders. But at the time I thought it would be too painful.”

The longtime middle school teacher felt that way after she found herself at a school where lesson plans were scripted and tightly monitored; teachers received reprimands for going “off script.” After years of creative lessons plans and multisensory activities, Feyen was frustrated by being locked down in a specific teaching style and writing the essay would make her "remember how I used to be able to teach.” 

Feyen’s editor then suggested starting with an essay about the classroom experience; that essay ended up becoming the first chapter in The Teacher Diaries: Romeo and Juliet. The book details Feyen’s many years of teaching the Shakespeare classic to middle school students. 

Expressionist Expressions: Brass Tacks Ensemble revives Eugene O’Neill’s "The Hairy Ape"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Brass Tacks' The Hairy Ape

The cast of The Hairy Ape includes Alison Alkire (left), Angela Dill (right), Cydney Marie, Maegan Murphy, and Jennifer Oprisiu. Photo courtesy Brass Tacks Ensemble.

When someone “gets down to brass tacks,” they’re focusing on the essentials -- and this is precisely what an Ann Arbor-based theater troupe, The Brass Tacks Ensemble, aims to do.

The company’s sets, props, and costumes are usually spare and simple in hopes of putting the spotlight on a play’s story and inviting audience members to fill in blanks with their imagination.

BTE’s latest offering, Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape (playing August 2-4 at Kerrytown Concert House), will be in keeping with the company’s vision.