Introducing Ypsi’s newest theater company… the Neighborhood Theatre Group

It was just recently brought to my attention that we’ve now got a new theater company in town. They’re called the Neighborhood Theatre Group, and they’ve got a free show coming up June 5, on North Washigton Street, in this building that will eventually house Ypsi’s coworking facility, The Back Office Studio. So, if you’re out and about for First Fridays, be sure to check out their performance of their original porduction Beaver’s Long Strange Trip. And, here, in the meantime, is an interview with Neighborhood Theatre Group founder Kristin Anne Danko.

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MARK: OK, here’s the story behind the Neighborhood Theatre Group as I understand it… You were involved in theater in Chicago, and you moved to Michigan with the intention of starting a company in Detroit, but, somehow, along the way, you stopped in Ypsilanti and decided to try it here instead… Is that pretty much the gist of it?

KRISTIN: Kind of. My partner, Aaron Dean, and I were in the experimental storefront theatre scene in Chicago for almost eight years. We left with the intention of starting a theatre somewhere, and moved to Ypsilanti so that I could pursue my Master’s in Arts Administration at Eastern Michigan University. Detroit made a lot of sense, we love all the wonderful things happening in the city, but after our first year here, Ypsilanti started making more sense.

MARK: What can you tell us about the storefront theatre scene in Chicago?

KRISTIN: It’s really rigorous, but worth every minute of exhaustion. There are so many small storefront theatres all experimenting with the art form.There’s an outlet for artists to plug into at every turn whether it’s in new works, Shakespeare, musicals, devised pieces, improv, sketch, drag camp. It’s there. [below right: Danko flyering in Ypsilanti]

dankoypsi2MARK: And what, specifically, was your experience in that scene? What kind of work were you doing?

KRISTIN: I experimented with all of it. I’m kind of a theatre junkie. When I first moved there, I began training in improv at iO Chicago and the Annoyance. I did Barprov (improv at bars) with an independent team, I was an ensemble member with pH Comedy Theatre for a while, and did lots of late night shows. I was also in the last cast of the Annoyance’s flagship show, and Chicago’s longest running musical, Coed Prison Sluts. Then, around 2009, I left the comedy/improv scene and started doing shows with lots of different storefront theatres and companies. I met Aaron while working on a devised musical (a process where the cast develops the script throughout the rehearsal process). I did a lot of new works, I did Shakespeare and larger scale musicals, I even did a drag camp musical that satirized the Chicago theatre scene, called Storefront Theatre Musical, with one of my favorite storefront theatres, Cornservatory. My acting resume is all over the place. [below right: Danko in Storefront Theatre Musical]

storefrontmusicalMARK: What was it about Ypsilanti that made you think that this might be a good home for the theater company you were hoping to start?

KRISTIN: Most importantly, we feel at home here. Also, the sense of community and pride in local businesses and artists. The amount of support we’ve gotten already is so positive. And there are so many talented people here… over half the cast of our first show have ties to Ypsi.

MARK: But do you think that you can cultivate a large enough audience here to support a company?

KRISTIN: I do. If theatre’s accessible, people will come. And, if it’s good, they’ll stay. There are several great theatres and venues in Ypsi already: Dreamland, Mix Studio Theatre, Riverside. Let’s grow a theatre community here, and that includes the audience. Integrate it into the culture, go to Taco Tuesday’s at Maiz, see a show, then hit up happy hour at Red Rock.

MARK: I know very little about the local theater scene in Southeast Michigan, but I assume that groups try to differentiate themselves in different ways, through the material they perform, how they’re organized, how they stage productions, how they source their material, etc. Assuming that’s the case, how would someone know that they’re at a production of the Neighborhood Theatre Group? How, in other word, will your productions be distinctive?

KRISTIN: Theatre is all about the experience. Unfortunately there’s a perception that theatre is boring, pretentious, and beholden to a code of etiquette. This isn’t the case for us. Theatre is, and should be, for everyone. There is an exchange between the audience and the actors… they give to us, and we give to them. Think punk rock theatre.

MARK: Can you give us an example of something that we might experience at a Neighborhood Theatre Group production that would illustrate this punk rock aesthetic? You wouldn’t, for instance, be encouraging members of the audience to spit on you, right?

KRISTIN: Ha! No… although I can’t make any promises – I’m quite fond of the spit take. But, I’m referring more to our attitude and approach to theatre. We’re casual, informal, and really want people to feel free to be themselves, and I think that translates through our work. It’s a pretty raw experience for everyone involved.

MARK: So, there’s no fourth wall at Neighborhood Theatre Group?

KRISTIN: Sure, there’s a fourth wall in the sense that the audience is looking at another reality, but the audience is, and always will be, an active participant in theatre. If they’re not comfortable, we’re not comfortable. It’s a give and give.

MARK: Do I understand correctly that your first production will be coming up on June 5th, as part of First Fridays?

KRISTIN: Yes! We are so excited to be a part of First Fridays Ypsilanti. And we are in a new venue, the Back Office Studio (formerly Pub 13) at 13 North Washington. We’re thrilled to use their space as they go through their renovations.

MARK: And what’s the first production?

KRISTIN: We’re doing a staged reading of our first original musical called Beaver’s Long Strange Trip. [below: Rehearsal for Beaver’s Long Strange Trip]

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MARK: And what can you tell us about Beaver’s Long Strange Trip?

KRISTIN: It’s the first draft of what will eventually be a full production. It’s about the 1960’s and about today. We’re exploring the roots of the current culture wars in this show through a musical parody of the quintessential American family, The Cleaver’s. Also, it starts at 7:30, doors open at 7, and it’s free!

MARK: How’d you find your cast for this production?

KRISTIN: Most are EMU students or alumnae. Others are actors I met through Shakespeare in Detroit when I did A Midsummer Night’s Dream with them last summer. It’s such a good group and they’re doing really great work. There’s so much talent around here, it’s very inspiring.

MARK: Do I also understand that you’re organized outside of the Actor’s Equity system?

KRISTIN: Yes. Actor’s Equity is the actor’s union. There are a surprising number of equity houses in Ann Arbor and Southeast Michigan. While equity houses have a lot of great things going for them, they are also extremely exclusive. For one thing, ticket prices are really high. And theatre, I believe, should not just be for those who can afford it… We were blown away by how expensive theatre is around here. Also, it’s difficult for actors, designers, and directors to “get in” with equity houses. We want to help liberate theatre from this exclusivity. With so much creative energy in the area, we need more creative spaces and outlets for exploration. It’s important that these artists stay, so we have to give them what they need. I’ve been seeing a lot of non-equity companies popping up around Detroit and Southeast Michigan, plus all the ones already in Ypsi. I feel a new theatre movement simmering.

MARK: And what’s next for you after this? Are you looking for a more permanent home than the Back Office Studio?

KRISTIN: Yes! I have always wanted my own space, but we are going to be mobile for our first season as we build our company and grow our audience. I couldn’t ask for a better space for our first show, though. It’s really been great working with them. We’re looking at doing more shows there. The team at the Back Office Studio are such wonderful people and so supportive. I’m so glad they’re in Ypsi!

Posted in Art and Culture, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Horror, girl gangs, mopeds and radio drama …on this week’s edition of The Saturday Six Pack

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Interestingly, the staff designer at AM 1700, had the idea for me to pose with Charlton Heston on a scooter without knowing that, on this Saturday’s episode, I’d be talking with Autumn Rae, a founding member of the Femme Pedals, an all girl moped gang representing southeast Michigan. My plan was to talk with Autumn about the upcoming I Built It Myself moped rally, but, now, judging from the mail I’ve been receiving since the poster went public along with news that we’d be discussing mopeds on the show, I suspect we’ll be spending most of our time talking about the differences between mopeds and scooters. It would appear, you see, that we’ve unintentionally broken some kind of unwritten law of the Ypsilanti NoNos (No shit taken, No fucks given) by promoting a show in which mopeds will be discussed with a photo of a scooter. [The NoNos are an Ypsilanti-based group of vintage moped enthusiasts.] If this had happened a few weeks ago, I might have just laughed it off, but, given the violence we saw erupt recently in the parking lot of a Jo-Ann Fabrics between rival biker gangs over a perceived slight, I’m not willing to take any chances… Hence the following formal statement drafted by the attorneys of AM 1700.

“We know the difference between mopeds and scooters. Mopeds are for for the strong. Scooters are for the weak. We know that. And we meant no offense to the NoNos, who we both respect and fear greatly. The poster in question, we can assure you, was designed well before a decision was made to book Ms. Rae as a guest, and the intern who designed it has not only been let go, but told never again to step foot in Ypsilanti. If your code of ethics demands that you attack someone for the slight, though, we can tell you where she’s hiding. The important thing, as always, is that you not come after station management, or smash our windows, which would be expensive to replace.”

And we won’t just be talking about mopeds on this episode… We’ll also be joined by Josh Malerman, the author of the horror novel Bird Box, and member of the band The High Strung… the only group to my knowledge to have played Guantanamo Bay. Josh will be reading from Bird Box, along with his partner Allison Laakko, both of whom, I’m told, will be dressed as clowns for some reason.

And, as is often the case, we’ll be joined by our friend Jim Cherewick, who will be leading the Saturday Six Pack Orchestra, and local historian Matt Siegfried, who will be telling us about about Ypsilanti in 1840.

If you’d like to tell your friends and neighbors about the program, feel free to share the Facebook event listing. Or, better yet, print out a few copies of the inflammatory poster above, and nail them to the front doors of all the houses on your block.

AND, HERE, FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE NEVER TUNED IN TO THE SIX PACK BEFORE, ARE THE DETAILS ON HOW TO LISTEN:

Unless you live really close by, I’d recommend streaming the show online, which you can do either on the AM1700 website or by way of TuneIn.com.

And for those of you who aren’t yet familiar with the show, and need to get caught up, you can listen to the entire archive on iTunes.

One last thing. We love phone calls. So please scratch this number into the cinder block wall of the recreation room of whichever facility you’re doing time in… 734.217.8624… and call us between 6:00 and 8:00 this Saturday evening.

Posted in Art and Culture, The Saturday Six Pack, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Armed bikers to descend on Arizona mosque, draw offensive cartoons of Mohammed

Those of you weren’t alive in the ’80s probably won’t get the reference, but there was a commercial that used to play all of he time on television for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in which a man, strutting down the street, eating a chocolate bar, turns a corner and runs right into a young woman who happens to be eating generic butter peanut from an enormous tub. The man’s chocolate, as I’m sure some of you will remember, dramatically breaks off in the woman’s peanut butter, and things get really tense for a second or two. But, then, instead of fighting, the man and the woman decide to taste what they’d created. And, guess what? They LOVED IT! The two great tastes, they discovered, actually tasted even better together.

And that’s the first thing that came to mind when I saw this article today in Foreign Policy about the armed bikers who will be drawing cartoons of Mohammed outside an Arizona mosque tomorrow.

While we’ve had great stories these past few weeks about the right wing provocation of radical Muslims in America and the spread of violent biker gangs throughout the southwest, it never would have crossed my mind to put the two together. But yet that’s what’s happening… And you can bet the results are going to be delicious.

Here’s a clip from Foreign Policy.

An armed biker gang. Cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. A mosque in Arizona. What could possibly go wrong?

We’ll find out Friday, when two organizers — Jon Ritzheimer and Flash Nelson — host what’s being billed as a peaceful demonstration outside the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix. It’s the former site of worship for Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, who were killed after opening fire outside a May 3 contest featuring cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in suburban Dallas. Simpson had no direct link to the Islamic State but was sympathetic to its cause. Many Muslims consider depictions of Mohammed blasphemous.

Just like the cartoon contest outside Dallas, this event, scheduled for 6:15 p.m. Friday, appears to welcome controversy. In a Facebook invite, the planners urge attendees to take full advantage of their Second Amendment right to carry weapons. So far, 163 people have RSVP’d…

And here’s a clip from the Facebook post.

ROUND 2!!!!!!! This will be a PEACEFUL protest in front of the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix AZ. This is in response to the recent attack in Texas where 2 armed terrorist, with ties to ISIS, attempted Jihad. Everyone is encouraged to bring American Flags and any message that you would like to send to the known acquaintances of the 2 gunmen. This Islamic Community Center is a known place that the 2 terrorist frequented. People are also encouraged to utilize there [sic] second amendment right at this event just incase [sic] our first amendment comes under the much anticipated attack.

Since the article in Foreign Policy was posted, another 300 people have RSVP’d to attend the event, which is scheduled to begin at 6:15 PM tomorrow, Friday, May 29. According to the original post, there was going to be an after-party at a local bar. I see, however, that’s now been removed. So, if you were just going for the drink specials, and not the carrying of guns in public and the yelling of racial epithets, you might want to reconsider.

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Posted in Civil Liberties, Other, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Building bridges between the people of Ypsilanti and the police, vomiting cheese sticks, southern transplants, the music of Modern Lady Fitness and Blake Elliott, and ‘Two Gays and a Jew’ …on episode 17 of The Saturday Six Pack

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There was a lot to like about this last episode of the Saturday Six Pack, which began with an original composition by Modern Lady Fitness that included more obscure, inside references than Glass Onion. [They not only sang about Brigid’s fancy lady parts, which, for some reason, are often a topic of conversation on the show, but they name-checked our favorite call-in troll, The Who Guy.] It was really a lovely way to start the show.

This, by the way, was the second week in a row where our musical guest went to the effort to write a song especially for the show, and I’ve really been touched by the effort. It’s one thing to have people come in and visit, but it’s exponentially better when they make an effort to actively participate by creating something for the show. [If you’d like to hear the opening Saturday Six Pack theme written and performed by Fangs and Twang, click here.]

Our first guest was Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department Director of Community Engagement Derrick Jackson. We opened a few bottles of Controversi-ALE from Shorts Brewing, which, we’d learn from a guest later in the show, had first been brought to market under the name Hangin’ Frank. [The folks at the brewery apparently caved to pressure when customers complained that they’d rather not drink beer with a victim of suicide on the label.] Jackson and I talked about everything from the difficulty of gaining the community’s trust in the wake of recent events like those involving Eric Garner in New York and Walter L. Scott in South Carolina, to the recent backlash he encountered when he advocated for leniency in the case of a young man being prosecuted for attempted murder. I could go on, but you should really just listen. It was a fascinating conversation about the intersection of social work and law enforcement. [Jackson is a Social Work grad who worked for Ozone House before joining the Sheriff’s Department and going through the Police Academy, and his career has been about exploring the intersection of those two worlds.] Here’s Jackson talking about building trust within the community, and working with fellow officers to better understand the communities they’re serving.

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[If you missed the live broadcast, you can now hear the episode in its entirety on both iTunes and Soundcloud. Or, if you want, you can just scroll down to end of this post, where you’ll find it embedded.]

Then, at the 42-minute mark, we introduced musician Blake Elliott, who was in town from Traverse City with her band The Robinson Affair for a show at Bona Sera. [While Elliott set up, we played the most recent musical contribution from our friend in Kenya Dr. Peter Larson, whose song this week, I believe, was about being robbed at gunpoint and encountering lions while jogging.] Between songs, Elliott and I talked about growing up in Ypsi, her past as an employee of several Zingerman’s businesses, and the evolving food and entertainment scene in Traverse City. Here’s Elliott talking about the decision to leave Ypsi for Traverse City.

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Then, at about the 56-minute mark, I welcomed in Mike Nix, the owner of the Ypsi Running Company. My intention had been to ask him about doing business in Ypsi, but, when he opened his mouth to introduce himself, and I heard his southern accent, we ended up going off on a tangent, comparing notes on the years we’d spent in the suburban hellscape that is Marietta, Georgia. I shared my story of meeting a red-faced Newt Gingrich coming out of the woods with a younger blonde woman, and Mike shared his story about the day he, as a 300-pound man, sitting on his couch, deep frying cheese sticks and watching Barbarella, made the decision to get up and start running. Here Nix is telling us about the path that brought him north to Ypsilanti.

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Then, at 1:20, local photographer Chris Stranad came by to discuss our collaborative Six Pack Portrait Project (which was just recently featured on the cover of The Ann magazine), and our plans to show the portraits that have been captured thus far during the Ypsi First Friday event on June 5. Here’s Chris explaining how the Six Pack Portrait Project came together, and what you can expect to see at the June 5 opening.

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And, at 1:34, the folks from Modern Lady Fitness came back into the studio to take calls, share their memories of the influential San Diego band Daltrey’s Fringe, and make musical magic. Here we are discussing Three’s Company cast changes between songs.

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The highlight of the show for me happened after the six pack was gone, and we’d moved on to the reserves. We got a phone call from a group of people listening in New York who introduced themselves as “two gays and a jew.” They were interesting people to talk to, but what I think I liked best about their call was the fact that they had absolutely no tie whatsoever to either me or Ypsilanti. We’ve had calls from big cities around the country before, and from other countries, but, in all of those instances, I think there’s always been a connection of some kind. In this instance, though, it was just a group of three people who, while making dinner with one another in New York, had apparently stumbled across the broadcast online. And I think that’s pretty beautiful. [I’d like to have a regular “Two Gays and a Jew” feature. I hope they call back.]

I could go on, but you should just listen for yourself. It really was a good, solid show.

Thanks, as always, to AM 1700 for hosting the show, Brian Robb for running the board and keeping the bills paid, and Kate de Fuccio for documenting everything that happens. [All the photos above come courtesy of Kate.]

If you like this episode, check out our archive of past shows at iTunes. And do please leave a review if you have the time, OK? It’s nice to know that people are listening, and, unless you call in, that’s pretty much the only way we know.

Posted in Art and Culture, The Saturday Six Pack, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Devil went down to Georgia… ALEC caught on tape wining and dining state legislators on behalf of corporate lobbyists in Savannah

Have you ever wondered how legislation gets written and passed into law at the state level? Did you think, as I once did, that ideas for new laws percolate up from local constituents who contact their elected representatives with legitimate concerns that need to be addressed for the good of society? Well, thanks to a determined television news crew in Georgia, we now know definitively that’s not the case… A good percentage of state legislation these days is written by corporate lobbyists and sponsored by state legislators who have been wined, dined, and paid-off by an organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

If all television stations in the United States took their responsibility to serve the public interest as seriously as this station in Georgia, we might not have corporate front groups like ALEC actively subverting democracy by essentially paying our elected officials to sponsor and pass legislation written by industry lobbyists to eradicate environmental protections, roll back worker rights, eliminate taxes on the wealthy and make it more difficult for people to seek legal recourse against corporations.

[For information on how ALEC has worked to pass to legislation in Michigan written by corporate lobbyists, check this outand this.]

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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