I felt guilty for stealing away, by myself, for a few hours on Sunday to see U-M’s Department of Theatre and Drama production of Stef Smith’s Nora: A Doll’s House, leaving my kids and spouse to fend for themselves.
Fittingly, this discomfort points to Nora’s raison d’être: no matter how much we want to believe otherwise, a woman’s role in the domestic sphere really hasn’t changed that much over the past century.
Using Henrik Ibsen’s classic 1879 play, A Doll’s House, as a blueprint, Smith retells the story of Nora—who scrambles to keep secret her method of keeping the family afloat during her husband’s past illness—as she would appear in three different time periods: 1918, 1968, and 2018.
Live theater is back and the Encore Musical Theatre Company is celebrating the opening of its 13th season in its spectacular new space in Dexter and in the always rocking Smokey Joe’s Cafe.
Dan Cooney and company couldn’t have picked a better show to reignite live theater after the long pandemic drought than Smokey Joe’s Cafe, a revue tribute to the music of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It’s not the traditional musical that Encore does so well but is instead 90 minutes of pure energy, one great song after another by talented performers who take us back to those early days of rock 'n' roll and rhythm 'n' blues. Leiber and Stoller were there at the creation.
The duo of New York songwriters could and did write hit songs in nearly every genre from folk and country to rhythm and blues to the edges of pop opera. They wrote for such dynamic groups as The Drifters and The Coasters as well as for the distinct voices of the roaring Big Mama Thornton and the early soul sound of Ben E. King to Elvis Presley. And the hits just kept coming as the duo embraced the new music while also giving it their own unique voice.
Smokey Joe's is a roadhouse, the subject of one of Leiber and Stoller’s songs, and an appropriate setting for their take on the ups and downs of life and love. Though there is no storyline, director Dan Cooney’s staging suggests a loose interaction between characters from song to song. A small combo is set up as the cafe’s house band providing a rock-steady beat and great sound.
During a set change in Theatre Nova’s first live, in-person production in front of an audience since March 2020, a stage crew duo flipped and turned an office desk to reveal a fluffy couch.
As this metamorphosis played out on the Yellow Barn’s stage Saturday night, the audience—masked and seated in spread-out chairs—ooooh-ed and gasped in delighted surprise.
I’m clearly not the only one who’s been pining for little hits of theater magic during this pandemic.
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: