Casting Drama: Michael Byers' Empire Podcasting brings an old art form into the present

PULP LIFE INTERVIEW

Michael Byers & Empire Podcasting

From the 1930s and into the 1940s, people tuned their radios to hear the ongoing adventures of The Lone Ranger, The Whistler, and Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy. Radio dramas fell out of fashion with the rise of television in the 1950s, but with the rise of Sirius and podcasting, it only makes sense that some clever person would revive the spirit of radio plays and marry it to today’s technology. Ann Arbor's Empire Podcasting offers the best of the old and the new in its podcast, Mary From Michigan Saves the World, which is the brainchild of Michael Byers.

“I’ve been a huge fan of radio my whole life,” says Byers, who worked on a skit show in college. “I never lost the love for radio, its art form, its history.” Byers teachers creative writing and radio drama and comedy classes at the University of Michigan where his students perform and produce their own skits similar to those heard on Mary. “I’d been thinking about this project for a long time," he says. "I finally jumped in last year” by incorporating Empire Podcasting. 

Tall Tales: Steve Hughes spins surreal stories in "Stiff"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Steve Hughes and his book Stiff

Longtime Hamtramck resident Steve Hughes is a force of nature in his hometown. For over half a decade, Hughes curated the Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts’ Festival where artists opened up the studios in their homes and attendees went on an “art crawl.” Hughes is also a founding member of Public Pool, an art cooperative that formed in 2010 with the goal of creating and supporting a wide range of art experiences. A year later, Hughes then decided that a literary component of the visual arts events was needed and so he created the Good Tyme Writers Buffet.

The literary series began with a dozen authors reading for about 10 minutes; it has since cut the number of readers and added a DJ. Hughes received a grant through the Knight Foundation and shaped the project into what it is today: a space for audiences to enjoy an evening of reading based on a theme. “We get people from the neighborhood, friends of the authors, readers," Hughes says. "A good mix of people who come out on a Saturday to hear the readers, listen to music, eat and drink.”

The readings are connected to the visual arts show in the space. “This month the show is called Bread and Clutter,” Hughes says. “So our six authors will read about food.”

For each event, Hughes writes a short story that connects to the theme. “I give myself an assignment every month,” he says. “And the only constraint is that it has to be read within a 10-15 minute time frame.”

This series and these stories led to the book, Stiff.

"Ocean" View: Jazz bassist Rob Crozier discusses his new album

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Rob Crozier Jazz Ensemble

Bassist Rob Crozier, keyboardist Keaton Royer, percussionist Aron Kaufman, saxophonist  Rafael Statin, and drummer Rob Avsharian explore the natural world through music on the ensemble's new CD.

The Rob Crozier Jazz Ensemble’s new recording, Ocean Blue, explores the theme of nature in general -- and water in particular -- in a variety of settings and styles. The nine original songs benefit from the support of a rock-solid band: primarily bassist Crozier on bass, Rafael Statin on horns, Keaton Royer on keyboards, Rob Avsharian on drums, and Aron Kaufman on percussion.

The follow-up to last year’s Tall Trees, the new album features Crozier’s compositions and the band’s skilled playing, which make for a powerful combination. The slightly mysterious quality of “Autumn Moon” does indeed evoke its namesake and would make a good soundtrack for Halloween. “Ocean Blue” is built around a sweet and somehow sad flute line courtesy of guest artist Kelly McDermott, Crozier’s wife. “Water Snakes” gives Crozier the chance to show his chops on, of all things, a didgeridoo. 

While most of Ocean Blue is instrumental, the opening and closing tracks do feature vocals. On “Water,” Terry Jackson recites a poem that inspired the music. “Into the Gloaming” features a funky beat, atmospheric charming vocals from Emma McDermott, and a compelling bass solo.

On two occasions, the album departs from its nature theme. “Keaton’s Blues” sounds like it belongs in a smoky New York piano bar in the 1940s, highlighted by Royer’s swinging and shuffling piano. Meanwhile, “R Is For Richko,” with its sharp drumming and inventive sax solo, might have fit comfortably in that same bar a couple decades later.

Crozier took the time to answer a few questions about the new album in advance of a show on Friday, Nov. 16, at Kerrytown Concert House.

An excerpt from "Head Over Feet in Love," the first novel by Ann Arbor's Patti F. Smith

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Patti Smith's Head Over Feet

Patti F. Smith is the author of the history books "Images of America: Downtown Ann Arbor," "A People’s History of the People’s Food Co-op," and the forthcoming "Forgotten Ann Arbor" (spring 2019). (She's also a regular contributor to Pulp.) Her debut fiction novel, "Head Over Feet in Love," comes out as an ebook on November 14 and as a print edition in February 2019. Smith gives us some background on the book, followed by an excerpt from the novel.

The first draft featured protagonist Rebecca Slater as a famous author who got six-figure advances, whose book was being made into a movie, who employed several assistants to help her with fan mail. The second draft saw Becca as a famous author who got six-figure advances but no mention of movie deals or assistants. The third draft found Becca as an author with a cult following; she still made a living from it but no more talk of hefty advances or net worth. The fourth draft presented Becca as a teacher who wrote books on the side, making money but not enough to live on.

In the final version, Becca hasn’t even gotten published yet.

Many things changed in the years that I wrote and rewrote Head Over Feet in Love  -- Becca and her friends went from flip phones to smartphones, DSL to wi-fi, having a million dollars in the bank to scraping by as a teacher. But through it all Becca lived with bipolar disorder and anxiety.

Just like me.

U-M’s "Passing Strange" follows a rocking journey of discovery

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Passing Strange

Justin Showell stars as the Narrator in U-M's take on the 2008 Tony Award-winning Passing Strange.

In the late 1970s, a young African-American with musical ambitions left his strict religious home in Los Angeles to set out on a journey to discover who he was, what he believed and where he belonged.

Years later, the rock songwriter and musician known as Stew turned his story of self-discovery into the unusual and critically acclaimed musical Passing Strange. The musical, with book and lyrics by Stew, and music by Stew and a former bandmate, Heidi Rodewald, received seven 2008 Tony Award nominations and Stew won the award for best book. Passing Strange also won the Drama Desk Award for outstanding musical. 

His story resonated with those who lived during those years and it resonates still with young audiences, which makes it a perfect vehicle for young actors. The University of Michigan Department of Musical Theatre will present Passing Strange Nov. 15-18 at the Arthur Miller Theatre.

Black Thought: Ann Arbor hip-hop artist Jamall Bufford addresses life's daily opera on new LP

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jamall Bufford

Jamall Bufford is one of the most influential hip-hop artists from Ann Arbor. He has influenced many MCs in town with his quick wit, lyrical wordplay, and open-minded stances on social issues.

Previously known as Buff1, he rhymed with the hip-hop collective Athletic Mic League and later helped start the performing arts group The Black Opera. For those unfamiliar with this hometown gem, The Black Opera calls itself "rap’s first performing arts group" and the duo dress as different characters each song during their live shows. Bufford is also a solo artist and his latest album, Time In Between Thoughts, continues in pushing past the typical boundaries in usual hip-hop subject matter by exploring themes like colorism and the dangers of social media.

Bufford, who has performed with Eminem and Mos Def, performs at the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown branch on Friday, November 16, at 7 pm along with fellow A2 hip-hop artist DaG. We talked to Bufford about how Ann Arbor has influenced him as an MC, whether he’s an activist, and more.

It’s the words that are scary in Brass Tack’s "Blithe Spirit"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Brass Tacks Ensemble's Blithe Spirit

Ghouls, goblins, zombies, and ghosts.

Ooooh scary

Well, not all ghosts are scary.

Take Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit. The ghost is mischievous but also charming. What is scary is the sarcasm that the characters hurl back and forth at each other. 

Brass Tacks Ensemble will present Coward’s humorous take on all things ghostly Nov. 2-4 and 9-11 under the direction of Aaron C. Wade.

“It’s a haunted tale with a little bit of comedy and it’s that time of the season for a ghost story,” said Wade. “It a fun challenge to do this sort of theater.”

The Danish String Quartet offers a striking scope of expressions amid longtime friendships

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

The Danish String Quartet

Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen (violin), Asbjørn Nørgaard (viola), Frederik Øland (violin), Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin (cello) are the Danish String Quartet. Photo by Caroline Bittencourt

When violinists Frederik Øland, Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, and violist Asbjørn Nørgaard were 11 and 12, they met at a summer music camp, never guessing they would grow up to be part of what The New York Times called “an exceptional quartet.” 

“I grew up nearby, and I just signed up because it was a chance to play in a big symphony orchestra, something that I had never really tried," says Nørgaard, now of the Danish String Quartet, which performs at Rackham Auditorium on November 15. "And then I met Rune and Frederik. Honestly, the friendship was more founded on the soccer field than in rehearsal rooms. The vibe of Danish music summer camps is quite loose, more focusing on the love that an amateur can have for music than working hard to build a career in music. I think this priority of values has always been quite important to us, and we are at times still quite shocked when we encounter the steely ambition that also is a part of the classical music world.” 

96th All Media Exhibition at the Ann Arbor Art Center

VISUAL ART INTERVIEW

Ann Arbor Art Center, Shared Personal Space

Elise Martin, Shared Personal Space (2018)

Sarah Rose Sharp is an accomplished artist in many areas: she writes about art and culture, lectures at a half dozen colleges and universities, shows her own work in places like New York, Seattle, and the Detroit Institute of Arts, and most recently she curated the 96th All Media Exhibition at the Ann Arbor Art Center

“This was an open call, so artists submit their work and my job as the juror is to choose which work gets into the show,” Sharp explains. “We received around 700 submissions, which were then culled down to 45. … A very challenging undertaking!”

The One Pause Poetry Salon creates a "nexus between appreciation and creation"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

One Pause Poetry group shot

When attending the One Pause Poetry Salon, it struck me that its atmosphere is hard to come by. Part discussion, part reading, and part classroom, people attend to experience a community around poetry and to have an outlet in which to read and converse about poetry, a space that motivates and inspires. 

The events, which are weekly from 8-10 pm on Wednesdays through December at Argus Farm Stop on Liberty, start with a free write for 12 minutes because, according to Mike Zhai who runs the Salon, 10 minutes seems too short and 15, too long. While classical music swells and night surrounds the market’s greenhouse, attendees diligently compose lines in their notebooks. A time to read and respond to the results of that writing session follows. Each person has the option to share or not and to chime into the conversation or not. This environment brings low stakes and high returns for people at any point in their journey with poetry. 

“It’s fine for people to come and share their own poems or read their favorite poetry by others or just come and listen,” said Zhai. “It’s pretty informal in that way. I want to create this nexus between appreciation and creation.”