Drama is back at the University of Michigan.
No, I'm not talking about any political, criminal, or social issues.
The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance (UMSMTD) announced 10 performances and one studio production as part of its 2021-22 production season, which runs from September 30 to April 17.
“Our goal this year is to return to creating the same high-quality productions you’ve come to know and love while providing more flexibility to better accommodate our audiences’ health and safety needs,” said Jeffrey Kuras, executive director of the school’s University Productions, in a press release.
Some of the other annual performances—Grand Night for Singing, Halloween Concert, Band-O-Rama, and Collage Concert—will be announced at a later date. Tickets for all the events will eventually be available at tickets.smtd.umich.edu.
"The SMTD Flex Series will allow audiences to select the four shows they would like to attend at a discounted price," according to the UMSMTD press release. "The Flex Series joins the existing Power Series, which allows audiences to purchase all four shows at the Power Center for the Performing Arts for a discounted price." (The Power Center turns 50 this year.)
Here's a rundown of UMSMTD's 2020-2021 season events:
By sheer coincidence, I experienced the Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s theatrical presentation of A Thousand Ways (Part One): A Phone Call at a time when I’d also revisited Mandy Len Catron’s viral essay, “To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This,” which references 36 questions purported to accelerate intimacy between two strangers.
What’s the connection, you ask?
A Thousand Ways (created by Brooklyn-based troupe 600 Highwaymen) is a phone conversation between you and a stranger, moderated by a pre-recorded, Siri-like voice that poses questions, offers pieces of an imagined narrative, and issues orders. By the end of the hour-long call—filled with seemingly innocuous queries that nonetheless revealed a great deal about ourselves—I felt strangely connected to, and emotionally invested in, the other participant.
To the point that I felt a little heartbroken when I realized that neither of us had enough information to find each other later in real life.
And I felt this sadness despite the fact that we never exchanged names or laid eyes on each other (the latter was part of psychologist Arthur Aron’s experiment, which gave rise to the infamous 36 questions).
The impact struck me as especially curious in this moment, when we’re all slowly emerging from our respective pandemic hidey-holes. We’ve been able to talk by phone with each other this whole time; it was, indeed, one of the safest means of socializing. So why did a pre-recorded moderator make it a far more meaningful, memorable phone conversation than most I had with friends and family during quarantine?
I've lived in Ann Arbor for nearly five years and I'm still discovering student groups at the University of Michigan who are producing original music, art exhibitions, videos, films, literature, photography, magazines, and theater. Campus talent runs DEEP.
Today's discovery is the Not Even Really Drama Students (NERDS), which creates original musical dramas. I assume that normally they would stage the productions somewhere, but over the past year, these students created a series of original audio and video musical dramas that they've uploaded to YouTube and Spotify.
The 10 audio dramas currently on Spotify will eventually be uploaded to YouTube as well, but for now, the video service is the place where you can see NERDS' variety shows and full-length audio-video musicals such as The Seven Deadly Sins.
Get a behind-the-scenes tour of Temping, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival's ongoing, immersive, one-person theater experience. AADL interviews designer Asa Wember and director Michel Rau, giving viewers a glimpse into this wildly imaginative experience.
"Temping" is written by Michael Yates Crowley, designed by Asa Wember and Sara C. Walsh, and directed by Michael Rau. It is hosted by the Ann Arbor Summer Festival from June 15th through July 3rd in partnership with the Ann Arbor District Library. You can register for your session here.
➥ "Face to Interface: A2SF's Temping is an uncanny, moving performance for one" [Pulp, June 16, 2021]
I double-checked that I was at the correct address, but the unmarked doors to the office building were locked.
After I tried the handles one more time to see if there was something I had missed, an extremely polite office worker let me in and gave me a welcome packet and some paperwork to sign.
At my appointed time, I was ushered into an isolated cubicle with the usual setup—computer, printer, shredder—but also, family pictures, sticky notes, and office cartoons.
However, I was not here to work but to watch a performance. Or was I the performer?
Much like an actual temp job, the show plunks you down into an already-established office eco-system and gives you little training or context for the tasks you are asked to complete. As you receive voicemails, printouts, and emails, you begin to understand your new job: filling in as an actuary for the firm Harold, Adams, McNutt, & Joy. While Sarah Jane Tully is on vacation, it is now your job to mark her clients’ employees deceased or estimate their life expectancy.
Ann Arbor Summer Festival (A2SF) has a full slate planned for its 38th season:
The Ann Arbor Summer Festival (A2SF) announces a mix of new, in-person, and digital events that kick off on June 11. A2SF’s season anchor this year is a pop-up concert series Live Here Now presented by Toyota and will take place in public parks and spaces throughout Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. A2SF is engaging a diverse group of community partners throughout the two cities and presenting many in partnership with the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) this summer.
In-person events include Live Here Now pop-up neighborhood concerts, RSVP-based concerts and movies at Fuller Park in Ann Arbor, a downtown Ann Arbor theater installation for one audience member at a time titled Temping, a community-based Indian dance event Garba360, and Sidewalk Chalk Day featuring local favorite David Zinn.
Digital events include the premiere of an A2SF new commission by New York-based Theater in Quarantine, an interactive performance by Brooklyn-based 600 Highwaymen titled A Thousand Ways (Part One): A Phone Call co-presented with University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA), and the second season of the A2SF podcast: Stories from the Top.
A2SF is working closely with local officials on event safety protocol for all limited capacity, in-person events. All in-person events will follow current safety guidelines from the State of Michigan, Washtenaw County, the City of Ann Arbor, and other local municipalities as well as national best-practice.
Reservations and tickets to most programs will become available at a2sf.org.
Last October, The Brass Tacks Ensemble Theater released Our Regularly Scheduled Program, a unique take on quarantine theater, created by Isaac Ellis and James Ingagiola. The 10-part original YouTube series features short performances that touch on comedy and drama, featuring people who must show off their talents to the public, which demands entertainment 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Should these people refuse to perform? The consequences are dire.
The Brass Tacks have just announced that the second season of Our Regularly Scheduled Program will debut on June 3:
Pulp received some sad news from Ann Arbor's long-running Wild Swan Theater:
Curtain Call for Wild Swan Theater
It is time to bring down the curtain on Wild Swan Theater. After more than four decades of joyful, exuberant, sometimes zany, sometimes poignant, always heartfelt theater making, it is time to say our goodbyes.
Post-modern takes on Shakespeare and especially his Romeo and Juliet feel as common as classic versions. But accompanying the techno music and blue jeans in the University of Michigan's Department of Theatre and Drama's post-modern version are pandemic masks.
Directed by Shakespeare in Detroit's Sam White, this edition of Romeo and Juliet also reflects our current era by playing up the extreme divisiveness between the two main clans, but a pandemic also informed the play when it was written around 1594.
A plague hit London in 1593 and more than 10,000 city residents died. Shakespeare's play features a scene where Friar John tries to tell Romeo about Juliet's faked death, but because the monk was suspected to be from a place infected by the plague, he's forced to quarantine and is unable to deliver his message.
You know what happens next.
The U-M Department of Theatre and Drama put the whole performance on YouTube for free, which you can see below as well as find out about four more free online shows in the school's spring schedule:
IS/LAND's "Lost Constellation (Pt. 1 + II)" explores individuality and interconnectivity through movement, sound, words, and video
IS/LAND is a Southeast Michigan collective of Asian Pacific Islander American and Asian artists, and the group's "In Isolation Pt. 1 - SYNODIC" was a welcome respite of verdant color and light during January's gray darkness. Filmed and soundtracked by Chien-An Yuan, the video features dancer J Amber Kao moving and gesturing within a tightly prescribed area of Ann Arbor's Saginaw Forest, exploring change in a year where everything in the world was transformed and yet some days it felt like time stood still. (Read the review here.)
Kao and Yuan are back with fellow IS/LAND's members ciale and writer Frances Kai-Hwa Wang for two more performance pieces as part of the Detroit Institute of Art's celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Filmed at the DIA's Detroit Film Theatre, the two works in Lost Constellation explore individuality and interconnectivity: