Review: The Grown-Ups

At the end of your time at SMTD many seniors choose to show off their skills and talents in a senior thesis. This weekend I had the chance to see such a performance. The Grown-Ups written by Skylar Fox and Simon Henriques is the directorial senior thesis of SMTD student Leah Block. It’s a two act play that follows five camp counselors as they navigate their friendships with each other, their collective and individual pasts, and their role as counselors. The play is a comedy, and while it does cover more serious topics in act two, it generally keeps that tone throughout.

One of the first things I noticed about the performance was how the space was arranged. The audience surrounded the stage, which consisted of a small circle of lawn chairs on a blanket. Everyone in the audience was seated in a chair on the floor too, and it made the space feel like being at camp. I could totally imagine being in the woods and watching this while sitting on some kind of makeshift chair (maybe something like a tree stump).

The plot mainly centers around Cassie’s experience as a new counselor at the camp. Mostly consisting of her struggles to fit in and gain acceptance from the other counselors, many of whom have been coming to camp since they were children themselves. The use of props and costumes is another thing that I really enjoyed about the play, and Cassie’s gradual acceptance could be tracked through her accumulation of stickers, camp paraphernalia, and camp specific acronyms.

Another aspect of the plot relies on the counselors abilities to shield the campers from a heated debate online, which made me think about how weird and strangely isolating summer camp is in general. Who thought it was a good idea to entrust a large group of kids to a small group of people barely not kids themselves? The play touched on this concept many times, and it was made all the more entertaining by the increasing severity of the conflict in the outside world.

Overall I really enjoyed the chance to see The Grown-Ups. I always really enjoy the opportunity to see productions by other SMTD students, but I found this one particularly funny, and a uniquely versatile setting and concept.

Picture from The School of Music, Theatre & Dance events website.

 

REVIEW: Concert Black

On Saturday I had the chance to go see a live reading of the first act of Concert Black, a musical written by SMTD student Mattie Levy. It was held at the Newman Studio on north campus. The musical itself represented the lives of three music school students, an oboe player (Played by Levy herself), a violinist, and an opera singer. The play was split three ways between them, so the audience had the chance to see the differences and similarities between each characters life and experience in music school.

The musical talked about a lot of different things including the everyday stress of being a college student, the added stress of being in music school, and the discrimination faced by many African American music students. It was also told in short pieces rather than one continuous storyline, which really gave the audience a full glimpse into the life of each character. I really admire her ability to showcase each perspective, while also telling a continuous narrative.

As someone in music school myself, I really enjoyed and appreciated the chance to see Concert Black. Some of the experiences the characters talked about were ones that I could also relate to. Especially one scene where the character who plays violin is stuck in the practice room, debating whether or not to go out with friends instead, and the inevitable feeling of guilt sets in. It’s something I’ve done so many times but never seen represented before. It’s also just a very weird and isolating feeling that not many people understand. There were so many moments like this in Concert Black, things about being in music school that tend to go unacknowledged, and it was very satisfying to see it described like that on stage.

The scene changes, crew, and instrumentalists were also a part of the show. Members of the crew and orchestra wore white, rather than black, which made everyone stand out against the backdrop. I thought this was so cool, and like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It made me think about how everyone in a production like this is equally apart of it, not just the people on stage.

Overall I really enjoyed Concert Black and I can’t wait to see act two!

 

REVIEW: All of Us Strangers

On Wednesday I had the chance to see All of Us Strangers at the State Theater. The movie runs 1 hour 45 minutes and is set in present day London, where Adam (Andrew Scott) and Harry (Paul Mescal) are the only two tenants in a high rise apartment. Right away you can feel how isolated each character is from the outside world. After the fire alarm is pulled, Harry and Adam are introduced to each other and strike up a friendship which quickly turns romantic. All while this is happening, Adam intermittently takes trips to his childhood home where he convenes with his his parents who both passed away in a car accident 20 years earlier.

While I thought the movie was initially a little slow to start, once it picked up I was totally enthralled in the intensity of the story. I found myself appreciating the movies pared down opening more and more as the story went on, because it established the intense loneliness that each character experiences. The mystery of how Adam is able to communicate with his parents is left open ended, but it’s also something I didn’t have any trouble believing. The open-endedness gives the visits the feeling they could be taken away at any moment, and for that reason it makes them all the more precious. A lot of the movie focuses on Adam’s relationship with his parents, and the situation is set up in a way that allows him to ask his parents the questions that have been haunting him since their death. I thought this was really interesting, especially because he’s older now than his parents were when they died. Even as an adult, his character wants the chance to go back and revisit things he experienced in childhood. It made me think about how the things that happen to you as a kid stay with you, and even after moving on from the death of his parents as best he could, apart of him is stuck wondering what that time with them would have been like. I also thought it was an interesting way of describing loss. Adam never had any big outburst, and generally is pretty subdued, but instead used the visits with his parents as an opportunity to do the things with them that he misses the most.

Overall I thought the movie was very thoughtful and unique, and approached loss in a way I haven’t really seen before. It’s definitely stuck with me over the past week, and I keep catching myself thinking about it since I saw it a couple days ago.

The run time 1 hr 45 mins

Rated R

Picture from michigantheater.org

REVIEW: Pivot

 

 

On Thursday I had the chance to go see Pivot for free at the Duderstadt Center Gallery (which is located in the connecting hallway between Pierpont commons and Duderstadt library). The exhibit is the senior thesis of Rileigh Goldsmith, a dance student at SMTD. The exhibit combined dance with virtual reality, and it was unlike any dance performance I had ever seen before. The gallery itself was fairly closed off, and Goldsmith arranged the space in a way where curtains blocked off the performance space. It was almost laid out like a maze on the inside, which made the overall experience more private and gave the exhibit the feeling of going on a journey.

The exhibit featured the use of virtual reality, which Goldsmith took special care to fully explain at the start of the performance. She included a video on how to use all of the equipment, which made it all the more welcoming to someone like me who’s never used anything like that before. The performance itself was thoughtful, beautiful, and used dance in a completely novel way. Some major themes of the performance were transformation, reflection, and seeing things in a new way. Despite the fact that the performance was viewed through virtual reality, she also paid a lot of attention to the physical space itself, which was decorated in a simple but elegant way. Using virtual reality she was able to transport her audience to completely new places with each act. Including one act where she was even able to give the audience the feeling of being a part of the performance.

I saw the exhibit after going to class, it was open from 12-6, and I was able to see it before going home for the day. The performance only lasts for about 20 minutes, and because of it’s location, it’s easy to drop in and enjoy the exhibit during the work day. I was a little nervous going in, because it’s so unlike anything I’ve ever done before, but upon arriving I felt welcomed and everything was made accessible. Seeing the exhibit ended up being the highlight of my day, and I found myself thinking about it on my way home and the days since. It was a nice break from what I had going on, and a chance to reflect and enjoy the talent and hard work of everyone involved.

The exhibit is still happening, and stops running on January 21st.

 

Photo from the School of Music, Theater and Dance website.

REVIEW: Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

On Sunday Afternoon, I went to the matinee showing of Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. The show was produced by In The Round, an inclusive student theater group on campus. It was in the Arthur Miller Theater, a relatively small venue, but the closeness of the space made all the wonderful performances of the night feel much more personal. Seats were right up against the stage, with some audience members sitting on the edge of the stage itself. Most of the big performances of the night happened in the middle of the room, including the opening number which involved every member of the cast singing and dancing in unison. The actors would sometimes sing directly out into the audience, which made it all the more captivating and engaging. I’ve never seen theater so up close!

The show itself is a self described long and complicated Russian novel, with a laundry list of characters. In The Round provided virtual programs, including a chart (with pictures) of every character in the show and how they’re related. Natasha and Pierre are the two main characters of the play. Natasha is young, in love, and devoted to her fiancé. Pierre, on the other hand, has resigned himself to devoting his life to his studies. A main theme of the play is love, and making the right choices when you’re in the thick of it. Even though the play is based on War and Peace, which was written almost 150 years ago, the things the characters struggle with are similar to a lot of the things young people struggle with today. Falling in love and preserving it, knowing when someone loves you in earnest, and reconciling with people you’ve wronged are all things universal to the human experience, but I found myself relating to the characters way more than I thought I would. Great Comet does a wonderful job of describing these feelings in a way that feels new.

Overall, I’m so glad I went to see Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. The performances of the cast is what stands out to me as one of the most compelling aspects of the show. But the performance by the pit orchestra, the songs sung by the actors, and the inclusion of electronic music in the score, made Great Comet a fun and worthwhile watch, and a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

 

Picture from Michigan Union Ticket Office website 

REVIEW: Stop Making Sense

Stop Making Sense is essentially a Talking Heads concert in movie form. Originally released in 1984, the movie was re-released and remastered in September of 2023. The movie starts with David Byrne playing “Psycho Killer”, arguably the band’s most famous song, on acoustic guitar with a boombox in the background. The second song in the lineup features Tina Weymouth (the band’s bassist), and gradually more and more members join alongside them. As the band plays, members of the crew assemble the set in real time. The band has multiple outfit changes but only wears neutral colors, allowing the focus to be almost entirely on the music and choreography.

What surprised me the most about the movie was how physical the performance was. Once each member of the band started playing they did not stop continuously moving one way or another. David Byrne even started running laps around the stage at an early point in the movie. The dancing that accompanied each song was very deliberate, and sometimes required every member of the band to move in unison. There was a particular emphasis on mirroring each other’s dance moves, making everything feel put together and sharp.

Light was another important aspect of the performance. The band at one point altered the lighting so they could disappear in and out of the darkness behind them. Byrne even dances with a lamp at one point, which is in direct contrast to the industrial lighting available to them on stage.  The performance also has a brief intermission by the band Tom Tom Club which was formed by Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, the band’s bassist and drummer. 

Going in as a casual listener of the band, I was a little hesitant to go see the movie for myself. All of my reservations were completely thrown out of the window as soon as the first song started. It was definitely a worthwhile, and incredibly unique experience. Stop Making Sense  is perfect for the big screen, and seeing it reignited my love for the Talking Heads music.       

 

Photo from Fandango.com