My VisitAnnArbor.org local events highlights list for August

Screen Shot 2017-08-10 at 7.45.17 AM.pngAugust is a gloriously beautiful time of year in the Ann Arbor area. With lots of sunshine and blossoming gardens, Tree Town is alive with color during the summer months. It’s fitting that there are tons of events to take advantage of, as well. Indoor and out, art and culture, music and theatre, food and drink – we have it all. Start planning your events schedule, and be sure to post your photos and videos on social media and hashtag #VisitAnnArbor! READ THE LIST HERE

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 Ann Arbor Observer story on Thankful Townie (July issue)

“Thank you for making Ann Arbor a better place to live! Please enjoy some coffee!”

So read the letters local community leaders, politicians, small business owners, and nonprofit directors have been receiving anonymously for more than two years now. While locals often express gratitude for living in Ann Arbor, this one puts her money–or, more accurately, coffee-shop gift cards–where her mouth is.

The letters from the “Thankful Townie” come with $5-$10 worth of gift cards from RoosRoast or Sweetwaters. Past recipients include Groundcover News, the Ann Arbor Film Festival, the Aut Bar, the DDA, Kickshaw Theatre, the Delonis Center, Ann Arbor Summer Festival, 826michigan, Theatre Nova, and the Observer; politicians Chip Smith, Jeff Irwin, Sabra Briere, and Yousef Rabhi; AADL deputy directory Eli Neiburger; and county “knowledge master” Andy Brush. Recipients are invited to nominate other locals for recognition.

“There are so many amazing people doing amazing things in this town, but most of the attention always goes to a small handful of people,” Thankful Townie says in an (anonymous) interview. “I felt like more people needed to be recognized, especially those working as executive directors of organizations and small business owners, as a way of encouraging them and thanking them for working so hard and going out of their way every day to keep things going.” READ THE REST HERE