REVIEW- Insurrection: Holding History

Reading the synopsis of this play online had done little to prepare me and my friend for the powerful, and emotional journey into the US’s dark history of slavery that awaited us in the intimate space of the Arthur Miller theater. This interpretation of Robert O’Hara’s 1995 play was brilliantly adapted by the Department of Theater and Drama into a nearly three-hour long production filled with twists and turns.  O’Hara’s play is a time-traveling look into Nat Turner’s 1831 slave insurrection, from the point of view of Ron, a modern-day college student completing his thesis on slavery, and his 189 year-old grandfather, T.J., who was a part of the rebellion himself.

Before the play even began, I noted how intimate the Arthur Miller theater was, and that proved to only add to the emotional impact of the play itself.  The set was minimal and yet entirely sufficient to capture the feeling and multiple locations of the play.

One of my major takeaways was that every single actor had their intensity dialed up to the very top for the majority of the play’s runtime.  There were moments that left me breathless, as the actors went through emotions of extreme fear, anger, sadness in quick succession.  In the second act this was particularly noticeable, as the few moments that were quieter in nature were even more impactful, soft whispers standing in drastic contrast with the high energy shouts and cries of other scenes. Most of the actors also played multiple characters, and I was shocked at how easily they seemed to switch from one to the other.

Additionally, the actors were clearly working hard physically, with a large portion of the play being heavily choreographed or strenuous to do. I noticed that many of the actors would be sweating by the end of a short monologue, which only added to the emotional intensity.  While I know little about stage direction, it was an extremely lively play with never a dull moment, as the actors tripped, danced, and ran around not only the stage, but the entire theater.
I wasn’t expecting there to be the amount or level of comedy in this play as there ended up being.  Almost every other minute the actors sent the audience into a load roar of laughter.  Considering the dark themes of the play, the comedy felt uncomfortable at times, but I assume that was part of the point.  

I highly recommend attending future shows put on by the Department of Theater and Drama.  I couldn’t have imagined a more entertaining or engaging weekend.

Review – True Blue: A Tribute to Michigan!

If you have ever felt the pride of being a Michigan Wolverine, being at this event magnified that feeling by 100%.  True Blue!  A Tribute to Michigan brought together those who share the love and passion of two colors: maize and blue.  Some of the biggest celebrities were on the stage of Hill Auditorium, telling their stories of their time at the University of Michigan, and everything that they have accomplished after graduating with a U of M diploma.

Tribute to Ann Arbor squirrels (Photo Credit: Matt Weigand)

There were so many amazing performances that I will do an overview.  Many videos were played throughout the night including ones of the history of U of M, the Diag, the Ann Arbor squirrels (my personal favorite), U of M couples, Bo Schembechler’s “The Team” speech, U of M professors, and the alumni.

“The Victors” performed by the Department of Musical Theatre Majors (Photo Credit: Scott C. Soderberg)

The Jazz Ensemble played a nice medley of “Michigan Through the Ages”.  The Department of Musical Theatre Majors did a stunning rendition of “The Victors” that definitely made me tear up a little as I felt the pride of being a Michigan wolverine.  The Department of Theatre & Drama Acting Majors performed multiple pieces such as “Catholepistemiad Rap” about the history of U of M, “Clarence Darrow and the Ossian Sweet Trial” alongside Emeritus Professor of Voice George Shirley, and “Tribute to Activism”.  The Michigan Men’s Glee Club sang a chilling “Glory” from the movie Selma and “I Remember, My Michigan”.  The Contemporary Directions Ensemble played multiple pieces such as “The Little Victors”, “Concerto for Two Violins”, “Back to Michigan”, and the cellists played a “Tribute to Raoul Wallenberg”.

The Friars and Theatre & Drama Acting Majors in the tribute to the Engineering Arch (Photo Credit: Matt Weigand)

The Friars made an appearance to sing “In the Still of the Night” as a hilarious tribute to the Engineering Arch, in which Theatre & Drama Acting majors acted out couples walking through the “arch”.  The Department of Dance Troupe performed “The Little Victors”.  The RFD Boys, alumni of U of M, played a “Michigan Medley”.  Multiple professors spoke such as Ralph Williams, Kathleen Sienko, and also the chair of the Department of Neurosurgery Dr. Karin Muraszko.  “The University” was sung by the University Chamber Choir.  Shortly after, the Michigan Marching Band flooded the stage performing all of the classics: “Victors Valiant”, “The Yellow and Blue”, and “Michigan Fanfare and The Victors”.

Emcee Darren Criss (Photo Credit: Robert Buechler)

The emcees included actors Darren Criss and Jacqueline Tobini, neurosurgeon and medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and NBC sportscaster Andrea Joyce, all of which are U of M alumni.  Other famous alumni speakers included: Civil Rights activist Cecilia Munoz, mayor of Ann Arbor Christopher Taylor, sports legends Desmond Howard and Jim Harbaugh, Broadway producer

Alumni and football legend Desmond Howard with other U-M sports legends onstage (Photo Credit: Scott C. Soderberg)

Jeffrey Seller, space explorers Afred Worder, Kiko Dontchev, Steve Walton, Mike Hess, and Hashmita Koka, Zingerman’s co-founder Ari Weinzweig, co-founder of Americans Committed to World Responsibility Judy Guskin, and of course U of M’s President Dr. Mark Schlissel.

This event was absolutely extraordinary and I couldn’t be more proud to be a wolverine!  Go Blue!!!

Football coach and alumni Jim Harbaugh (Photo Credit: Matt Weigand)

Upcoming Bicentennial events include:

June 26 & October 26: President’s Bicentennial Colloquia

June 26-27: UMich200 Summer Festival

August 26: U-M’s 200th Birthday

September 15: Detroit Festival

October 26-28: UMich200 Fall Festival

For more information: bicentennial.umich.edu

PREVIEW: Insurrection: Holding History

 This weekend join the Department of Theater & Drama for a poignant production of the award winning Insurrection: Holding History.  The play dives into a time-traveling exploration of black history as a young grad student who shares a mental bond with his 189-year old grandfather travel through eras of US history, gaining new perspective in each one..

The show will be running from April 6th to the 9th in the Arthur Miller Theater on North Campus.  You can purchase tickets for all the upcoming show times online here.  General admission is $28 with  students only paying $12 with their M-card.  As a warning the play contains very mature films, so think carefully about who you bring.

REVIEW: Almost, Maine

Almost, Maine

For two weekends running, the Department of Theater and Drama presented the romantic dramadie ‘Almost, Maine.’ Set in rural northern Maine, the play consisted of nine vignettes, each taking place somewhere in unorganized territory at 9 pm on the same cold, Friday night. The stories told of couples who lost their romance for one another and rekindled it (or not), or of long lost loves reuniting to find each other different (or the same), or of friends becoming lovers or strangers becoming friends: a hiker camping in a lonely man’s yard; a woman running into her ex-boyfriend at the bar on the night before her wedding; two male friends reconciling their heterosexual affection for each other; a woman who left town after high school and returned to find her sweetheart engaged; a pair of strangers who meet in a laundromat and discover what it feels like to love each other through pain. Each story line is independent of each other, but eventually they all intertwine and create the dynamic story of a rural town community.

It was last Thursday night and I had just arrived at home after my last class before fall break. I was exhausted and ready to watch some Netflix in bed when my housemate spontaneously invited me to join her as an audience member. I knew nothing about the play, just that the script was written by John Cariani of ‘Law and Order’ (so it must be interesting) and apparently it is the most frequently performed high school production in America. Oh, and of course, our good friend Maddie Sharton was performing in it. I always love supporting friends who are active in the arts and I haven’t seen many student theater pieces at U of M, so I decided to go on whim.

I am so glad I did! I was incredibly impressed by the skill of the actors and the professional quality of the entire production. The set design was very minimal. Each vignette featured maybe a simple bench and a lamp, or a pile of snow, or an open doorway, but it was always evident where the story was placing its audience. The lights were etherial and fantastic, very reminiscent of the Northern Lights, which played a key feature in several of the scenes. The language of the script was evident in its symbolism and word play but also very accessible and easy to follow. There was even a sense of magical realism in the playful, imaginary romantic coincidences. I liked how, because the story was built on sub plots, there was no main star. Every character played an equally important role in creating the heart warming tale. After seeing this one performance, I feel sure I will see several of these faces on the professional stage in a matter of years.

The cast was comprised of all BFA in Performing Arts students. It was produced and directed by faculty in the department. Click here for more about ‘Almost, Maine’ and check out the School of Music, Theater, and Dance Facebook page for more on upcoming events.