My CultureSource story about the Ann Arbor Potters Guild

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Artwork by current AAPG members Sherry Hall, Brigitte Lang, Shirley Knudsvig and Autumn Aslakson.

Given that the Ann Arbor Potters Guild will be celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2019, and is believed to be one of the oldest surviving cooperative workshops in the country, you might say that AAPG is composed of anything but “the common clay.”

Founded by nine local potters in the summer of 1949, AAPG rented a small, awkwardly laid out studio in an alley off William and Maynard Streets, near the University of Michigan campus. Within a year, they incorporated as a nonprofit. These artists sought to establish a place not only to practice their craft, but to learn from teachers as well. Two of the founding members built a kiln, and the first pottery wheels were constructed from material culled from a local junkyard. From these humble beginnings is an organization that currently boasts around 40 members, and is looking to connect with the next generation of artists.

In a video interview about the Guild’s history, a young artist from the Guild’s early years, Eppie Potts, recalled what working as a female artist in the 1950s was like: “When I started, it wasn’t possible (for women) to buy pants. You could buy riding jodhpurs, but women didn’t wear pants, and we needed pants for doing physical work. We had to go down to the farm store in downtown. You could get bib overalls. That was about it for clothing.” READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW (Pulp): A2iC’s ‘Spring Awakening’

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A2iC “Spring Awakening” rehearsal photos by John McCarthy

For a few moments during Ann Arbor in Concert’s production of Spring Awakening on Saturday night at the Power Center, all the heightened hormonal chaos, longing, joy, freedom, and frustration of adolescence was on resplendent display.

The number, which I’ll politely refer to “Totally F-ed,” arrives late in the Tony-winning stage musical, and in the words of Rohit Gopal (who played Moritz) during the talkback, “It’s a banger.” The entire cast embodies revolt through song, and at one point Christopher Campbell’s deft choreography clearly dictates that each performer “rock out on your own as the spirit moves you.”

And boy, does the overall effect work.

Which is good, because although A2iC’s Spring Awakening didn’t hold back at all in some ways — the graphic adolescent sex scene between intellectually sophisticated, handsome Melchior (Ben Walker) and curious, stifled Wendla (Natalie Duncan) that ends the first act and opens the second included partial nudity, just as the original Broadway production did — it generally felt a bit muted, emotionally and vocally, throughout the evening. READ THE REST HERE

My Detroit Free Press story about Ann Arbor in Concert’s ‘Spring Awakening’

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The cast of A2iC’s production of “Spring Awakening.” (Photo by Myra Klarman)

“Art saves lives” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, but lately, because of controversial shows like Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why,” people have begun wondering about art’s potential for harm. In May, a 23-year-old Peruvian man killed himself, leaving behind a series of tapes for the people in his life, just as the central character in “13 Reasons” did.

So when Ann Arbor in Concert — a town-and-gown theatrical company that presents one staged concert of a musical each year — chose “Spring Awakening” as its selection for 2017, it didn’t make the decision lightly.

The  Tony-winning 2006 musical is about teens in 19th-Century Germany who are confronted by the suicide of a peer, among other intense coming-of-age issues. The production team  realized that it might prove unsettling in Washtenaw County, which had 12 suicides last year  by people  15-24 (compared with two in 2015). In addition, there have been two teen suicides in recent months. Still, A2iC decided that moving forward with “Spring Awakening” could lead to a broader conversation about the issues the show explores. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp preview of Michigan Shakespeare Festival’s 2017 season

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 1.21.50 PM.pngThe Michigan Shakespeare Festival’s board votes on the plays for a specific season — pitched by MSF’s Producing Artistic Director Janice L. Blixt — 18 months in advance of the curtain being raised.

So in early 2016, when MSF’s board voted to approve Taming of the ShrewJulius Caesar, and Chekhov’s The Seagullfor 2017 (the season kicks off in Jackson on July 6), the company had no idea that it would be staging Caesar shortly after New York Public Theater’s production of the play (which depicted Caesar as Donald Trump) made national headlines and drew protestors.

“I expected Shrew to be the controversial show, where I’d be fielding questions like, ‘How are you dealing with the misogyny?’” said Blixt.

Not so much. Although Blixt, who is directing Caesar, had her own vision for the play — a take that bears no resemblance to the Public’s political lightning rod production — MSF has received phone calls, emails, and Facebook comments from across the country recently.

“We’re getting it from both sides,” said Blixt. “Some people are angry that we’re doing the show at all. Others are angry that we’re not giving it a more political bent. Both of our venues (in Jackson and Canton) have gotten a lot of calls about it. Enough so that I finally had to issue a statement.” READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW (Pulp): Ira Glass’ ‘7 Things I’ve Learned’ show at A2SF

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Ira Glass, who addressed a sold-out crowd at the Power Center on Saturday, July 1, presented by the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. (Photo by Jesse Michener)

A sold out crowd flocked to see National Public Radio star Ira Glass, host of This American Life, at the Power Center Saturday night, where he presented a show titled 7 Things I’ve Learned as part of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s main stage series.

Using film and audio clips, and armed with nothing more than a tablet, Glass — wearing a tailored silver suit with a white shirt — shared what turned out to be 10 things he’s learned since getting involved with public radio at age 19, and launching TAL in Chicago in 1995.

“But they’re not the only seven things I’ve learned,” Glass emphasized during his intro, saying the lessons he’d be focusing on weren’t even the seven most important things he’s learned. (He’d tried, as an exercise, to determine those, too, but he quickly realized that that’s “the most stoner question ever. Like, chewing and swallowing, maybe?”)

Instead, the highlighted “things” were various bits of knowledge related to Glass’ work, and a quietly moving personal epiphany involving musicals. Here’s a taste of what he shared. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp preview of Brad Sherwood and Colin Mochrie’s Scared Scriptless Tour show at A2SF

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 6.24.23 PM.pngWhose Line is It Anyway? stars Brad Sherwood and Colin Mochrie — appearing Saturday night at the Power Center as part of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival — have been doing improv comedy together since they met in the early ’90s, so they have a long-established, familiar rapport with each other.

“There’s almost a sibling rivalry that happens backstage and on stage, and that becomes part of the show, watching us try to outdo each other,” said Mochrie.

Sherwood, meanwhile, confessed that he’s always looking for the chance to make his improv partner laugh on-stage. “It’s hard, because (Mochrie’s) the most stoic of all of us,” said Sherwood. “He’s granite. … If I actually say something that makes him laugh, I’ll hear, under his breath, an involuntary spasm for half a second. But that’s about it.” READ THE REST HERE

My Art & Soul performing arts segment with Lisa Barry on WEMU-89.1 FM (for July)

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 6.38.08 PM.pngCheck out my latest WEMU 89.1 Art & Soul segment with the lovely Lisa Barry! This time, we spoke with Eric Lofstrom, music director of Ann Arbor in Concert’s upcoming town-and-gown staged concert production of “Spring Awakening.” We also talk about Ira Glass’ A2SF main stage show, the Squirrel Nut Zippers playing the Ark, Penny Seats Theatre’s production of “Peter and the Starcatcher” in West Park, and Billy Bragg coming to town to talk about his new book, “Roots, Radicals, and Rockers.” Listen to the 8 minute segment here!

REVIEW (Pulp): World premiere of Joseph Zettelmaier’s ‘Renaissance Man’

Screen Shot 2017-06-19 at 11.14.36 AM.pngThe resistance wears elf ears.

At least, it does in Joseph Zettelmaier’s Renaissance Man, now having its world premiere via Penny Seats Theatre.

A riff on Macbeth and staged outdoors — at West Park, in front of the band shell — Renaissance tells the story of behind-the-scenes unrest at a fictional Renaissance festival called Gloriana. Longtime knight Martin Mackabee (Patrick Loos) and art school dropout/face painter Emma Murtz (Kelly Rose Voigt) connect partly through their shared frustration that the fair is not more historically accurate, and bristle against the inclusion of anachronisms like drench-a-wench, elves, leather corset vendors, gypsy fortunetellers, and turkey legs. Gloriana’s benevolent, permissive “king,” Chuck Duncan (Robert Schorr), earns the pair’s scorn, and Emma takes action, entrapping Chuck so that he must resign from Gloriana.

But if you remember your Macbeth — or even if you don’t — you can probably guess that Martin finds that, to quote yet another Shakespearean king, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.” When Martin and Emma transform the face painting tent into a plague tent, and turkey legs are replaced by boiled herring and turnips, and charming minstrel Eli Duffy (David Galido) is recast as a consumptive beggar, the fair’s business dries up, and Martin and Emma have to reflect on their actions, motives, and ambitions. READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW (Pulp): Rhiannon Giddens at the Power Center

Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 10.14.17 PM.pngArtists have a long history of transforming pain (communal or personal) into something beautiful — and right now, no one does that better than celebrated roots musician Rhiannon Giddens, who played an Ann Arbor Summer Festivalmain stage show at the Power Center on Wednesday night.

Giddens, who first drew mainstream attention as a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and now appears on the TV drama Nashville, opened Wednesday’s two-hour set with her haunting take on Bob Dylan’s “Spanish Mary,” during which Giddens’ gorgeous vocal storytelling countered the song’s heavy, thumping drumbeat; and “The Love We Almost Had,” a jaunty chronicle of longing and regret that Giddens concluded with some grade-A scatting.

Dressed in a navy blue corset top and bolero jacket (like the one she wears on the cover of her latest album, Freedom Highway) and a dark, floral print skirt with an asymmetrical hem, Giddens — barefoot, and with hair streaked bright red — was accompanied by four male musicians on stage. Plus, Giddens’ sister, Lalenja Harrington, appeared occasionally to provide additional vocals for songs, including the siblings’ spare, piercing gospel duet “One More Day.” (The Giddens Sisters featured the song on their 2013 album, I Know I’ve Been Changed.) READ THE REST HERE