My CultureSource story about the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum’s ‘Wonder of Learning’ exhibit

Screen Shot 2017-08-10 at 7.50.02 AM.pngThe Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum (AAHOM) currently has an exhibit that you might initially walk past without realizing it.

Why? Because the AAHOM atelier designed in conjunction with the exhibit The Wonder of Learning: The Hundred Languages of Children—now on display at U-M’s Duderstadt Center and Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design through August 26th—has dim lighting in order to accommodate activities involving shadow play and flashlights.

“The idea of the atelier is to have a kind of art studio,” said Lorrie Beaumont, AAHOM’s Director of Education. “ … Shifting Forms is the name of ours.”

Indeed, light, color, shadow and movement are all points of exploration in the semi-dark room. Visitors can make their own shadow puppets, or play with more intricate puppets available on-site; they can shine a flashlight through small shapes of colored plastic, and rotate them in space to see how this affects the shadows they cast; and they can turn a large mobile in front of a flashlight, to see how movement alters its shadow-image on the wall. No two visits to the exhibit will be alike, encouraging repeat visits for parents and children looking for summertime activities. The exhibit is on view through Labor Day weekend. READ THE REST HERE

REVIEW: Michigan Shakespeare Festival’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ feels light on its feet

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Janice L Blixt, Robert Kauzlaric, and Alan Ball in Michigan Shakespeare Festival’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”

When a comic Shakespeare production includes a tip of the Elizabethan muffin hat to the Three Stooges (playful poking and slapfighting), Monty Python (an underling standing in for a horse, complete with clicking coconut halves), and Marx Brothers-style vaudeville (sight gags like a bucket being kicked when death is mentioned, and a huge stack of books being rendered light by the removal of the smallest volume), you know the director’s main goal is to turn up the laughs.

Such is the case with John Neville-Andrews’ Michigan Shakespeare Theatre production of “The Taming of the Shrew,” now playing at Canton’s Village Theater. The choice may well be strategic, since the bard’s classic war between the sexes often gives modern audiences – particularly those of the feminist persuasion – a panoply of reasons to cringe. Continue reading

My 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


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


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