REVIEW: For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow’s Enuf

Basement Arts presents their first show of the season: For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Suicide / When The Rainbow’s Enuf  by Ntozake Shange. The 1976 piece is presented as a choreopoem, a unique collection of spoken poems that intertwines staging and fluid movement. Director Sarah Oguntomilade works alongside choreographer Gilayah McIntosh to navigate Ntozake’s lyrical prose to create a piece illuminating the complexities of Black womanhood, friendship, and identity with unwavering grace and power.

In the show, each character is depicted as a color of the rainbow with the addition of brown. They perform some poems alone, but in other moments come together to deliver a unified story, creating a mural of emotions. Characters were acutely aware of one another, offering solidarity when some were delivering heavy-hearted monologues and experiencing saturated joy together for others. The performers breathe life into the individuality of their roles, showcasing a kaleidoscope of personalities that are both vivid and distinct, yet reminiscent of Ntozake’s personal experiences and emotions. Oguntomilade clearly holds a deep understanding of theater and poetry, as her direction was fluid and honest, capturing the essence of each moment poetically and dramatically. Accompanied by McIntosh’s seamlessly exciting choreography, the piece was aesthetically magnificent.

The authenticity of the choreopoem form shines through Ntozake’s meticulously crafted words, breathing life into the performance while speaking radiant visions of her experiences to the audience. The ensemble expertly navigated exhilarating highs and heartbreaking lows with unwavering conviction, leaving the audience both beaming with love and holding back a rush of tears. The poems fearlessly take on topics such as abuse, sex, and emotional trauma—it is a show to be emotionally prepared for while inviting audiences to confront the complexities of the African-American experience with unflinching honesty and empathy. The show humbly forms a mosaic of poetic brilliance that lingers long after exiting the theater.

For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Suicide / When The Rainbow’s Enuf  is a deeply touching piece about the resilience, bravery, friendship, strength, and beauty of African-American women, and went out last week with roaring success. Basement Arts will perform two more shows during the Winter season: Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties directed by Brynn Aaronson and Falsettos directed by Naomi Parr. Auditions and performance dates are posted on @basement_arts on Instagram. 

 

More about Ntozake Shange and her legacy here.

Feb 2, 11pm. Image thanks to Basement Arts. Performed in the Newman Studio on North Campus. 

REVIEW: BFA Design and Production Portfolios

The Duderstadt Center presents a gallery showcasing the talent of select BFA Design and Production students. Within this immersive exhibition, visitors encounter an array of displays from students from many disciplines in the D&P major. This multifaceted degree program includes stage management, lighting design, set design, prop masters, and costume design, and while many specialize, some students take on multiple facets of theater production.

There are many essential assets to creating theater beyond actors and directors. The D&P students take on an immeasurable amount of creative liberty and manual labor work for theatrical productions and oftentimes will go unnoticed.

Each student brings their own flare to the gallery, creating individualized and quite elaborate portfolio presentations. They feature work from all sorts of productions around campus, including directing student’s senior thesis, University Productions, and work from student theater organizations. If you tend to frequent SMTD performances much of their work has been featured here in real life.

To the left, we have Esther Hwang‘s meticulously curated stage management portfolio. The collection is complete with binders of her stage management work (schedules, daily calls, cues.. and more!) her resume, business cards, and performance photos, all beautifully organized for your viewing convenience. It is clear Hwang’s attention to detail is extraordinary—the exhibit is brilliantly organized and thoughtful while revealing many aspects of stage management I was unaware of!

 

To the right are Ethan Hoffman’s lighting portfolio and Kayti Sanchez’s costume design and construction portfolios. Hoffman presents a comprehensive variety of the many positions he has held at Michigan. In addition to lighting design, he has experience in associate producing and electrician positions. His portfolio presents a keen eye for captivating lighting schemes. With a blend of precision and creativity, Sanchez shares her costuming work along with set designs and a thematic object presentation. Her portfolio was a testament to her original artistic vision and professionalism.

It was inspiring to see the innovative artistry and dedication of those ‘behind the stage’. Each portfolio is truly unique—you must see them for yourself! The gallery will be available to view until February 10th in the Duderstadt Center. More information here.

 

Image thanks to Univeristy of Michigan SMTD.

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: Extemporaneous: Solo Piano Explorations

Kerrytown Concert House recently hosted the magnificently versatile composer and pianist, Alyssa Smith. She is a recent graduate from the University of Michigan’s School of Music, obtaining her Masters of Jazz and Improvisational Studies last spring. She often frequented the Blue Llama Jazz Club in Ann Arbor with the Alyssa Smith Trio. Additionally, she held a flourishing piano studio for many students in the Ann Arbor community. Now based in New York City, Smith continues to enchant audiences with her sensitive and thoughtful playing. She is now working at the Brooklyn Music School while upholding her private studio, and performing in New York City with the Alyssa Smith Quintet.

The solo concert was entitled “Extemporaneous: Solo Piano Explorations”, featuring a culmination of Smith’s own improvisational compositions. She played a selection of six pieces, each with a different style and character. As a classically trained pianist, Smith delicately interweaves Romantic and Impressionist styles into her playing, along with inspiration from jazz greats like Bill Evans and Chick Corea. It is evident that she has transcended the realms expected of a concert pianist or a purveyor of jazz standards; rather, she has masterfully assimilated her profound understanding of these disciplines, fashioning them into her unique musical expression.

Smith introduced each tune with a personal statement or anecdote. Her remarkable capacity to intricately intertwine the humility and splendor inherent in the human experience was both impressive and deliberate. The themes of her pieces ranged from animals she admires to embracing change and even included a botched endeavor with fixing a broken medicine cabinet. When you think of these things, not often does virtuosic piano playing come to mind, but Smith finds a way to bring out humor and vitality in the ordinary. 

Alyssa Smith will be back at Kerrytown Concert House in the spring with a new set featuring her playfully virtuosic pianism. Keep an eye out at https://kerrytownconcerthouse.com for her next performance—or if you are ever in New York City!

REVIEW: Carmen: The Met Live in HD

The Metropolitan Opera hosts viewings of select operas in movie theaters across the country, under their series “Met Live in HD”. These performances on screen are marketed at an affordable price, to increase accessibility efforts in opera. The 2024 year premieres with Bizet’s Carmen, an iconic staple of Opera literature. 

Young Russian Soprano, Aigul Akhmetshina, takes the stage as the youngest ‘Carmen’ to perform at The Met. Her demanding presence is alluring, along with her spunk and sense of unpredictability. She was a force to watch on stage, equally expressive and keen to the role. She sings alongside Met Opera greats: Piotr Beczała, Angel Blue, and Kyle Ketelsen. This quartet was truly remarkable, each buzzing with personality and vocal virtuosity. Akhmetshina is contracted to sing ‘Carmen’ at opera houses and festivals around the globe until at least August 2024.

The story of Carmen’s success is quite a tragic one for the composer, Georges Bizet. Bizet struggled to get his work on stage, though a fresh winner of the Prix de Rome. 1875 Paris was not fond of his depictions of proletarian life, lawlessness, and a tragic ending with an aggressive on-stage death. However, the historically controversial themes have been embraced by modern viewers and the score has trickled into aspects of pop culture, making songs like “Habanera” one of the most well-known arias to date.

The Met revels in creating the most aesthetically unique productions of Carmen year after year. Director Carrie Cracknell makes her Met debut taking a stab at a modern adaptation of ‘Carmen’s’ adventures and escapades. This production is set in the 21st Century, with references to gun violence, systemic labor abuse, and female empowerment. Her directing choices were clear and concise, revitalizing a story seeping with stereotypes and sexism. 

I would recommend seeing a Met HD Opera in theaters. It is an intimate way to experience some of the most distinguished operas in the United States. 

 

 

235 minutes. Not Rated. Includes gendered violence, cigarettes, and sexual themes. Sung in French with English subtitles.

Synopsis and more on Carmen HERE.

Met Live in HD showings HERE.

 

Image thanks to New York Theater Guide.

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