It Was a BIG Weekend.

March 30, 2009 | 826 Blog Post

It’s really saying something when you have the kind of weekend that 826michigan did, and you still have a high enough energy/excitement level to write what I am anticipating to be quite a lengthy blog about it Monday afternoon.

Let’s start with our second-annual 24-Hour Theater, shall we? Friday night, 826michigan bubbled with excitement and nerves as thirty or so writers, directors, and actors met (in many cases for the first time), split into groups, and learned the “ground rules” for the event. Co-organizer and HuRAI (Huron River Arts Initiative) founder Onna Solomon and I started the night by throwing the writers a few curve-balls to ensure that their plays were not written ahead of time.

For starters, every play had to incorporate 826michigan intern-for-life (we hope) Jared Hawkley as Walter Witherspoon, a waiter with a speech impediment who loved giving and receiving “helicopter rides” (although we gave no indication of what those actually were), and lived alone. The writers then had to choose three of the four following curve-balls: include the words “robot,” “propellor,” and “banana;” feature a love scene OR a fight scene (or both!); have a play within a play; and/or involve audience participation.

And we were off! The writers went home to write their plays, and were instructed to email them to me by 8:30 Saturday morning. (And, indeed, one play was “delivered” to my inbox at 8:24am.) At 8:30, plays were run off and photocopied. Everyone convened at the Yellow Barn at nine. And thus began our crazy and exciting day of rehearsing, designing, costuming, and basically creating three short plays.

The cast of The 99th Annual Jingle Showcase, including Jared Hawkley,
Bethany Rickwald, Jesse Mileo, Bill Winters, and director Steve Engel
take advantage of the lovely spring weather on the Yellow Barn’s front porch.

Okay, so here’s what happened: I met Onna at 826 at 8:30, and then I blinked, and then it was seven o’clock at night and we were in the midst of dress rehearsals. Or at least that’s the easiest way to describe what happened.

826michigan volunteers Jim Heintz, Chris Hiltz, and Mary Liu run
through the play Tinned Bananas during dress rehearsal.

At eight, just in time for the performance, I turned around and the Yellow Barn was pretty well packed. Ten minutes later, the show started. To say that I was awed and amazed would be understating it. The plays were hilarious, and the actors turned it up, all the way.

Becca Fried and 826michigan tutor Kevin Winder have
a snap-off in the final scene of Walter and Mom.

Of course, you can’t pull off something like this without having a large list of people to thank. I’ll organize it by play: Thanks to the cast and crew of Tinned Bananas, written by Brian Short, directed by Anne Heintz, and starring Jim Heintz, Chris Hiltz, and Mary Liu! Yershy! Thanks to the cast and crew of The 99th Annual Jingle Showcase, written by Alana DiRiggi, Holly Mae Haddock, and Burke Hilsebeck, directed by Steve Engel, and starring 826michigan-board-member-of-the-year (She acts! She sings!) Angela Kujava, Jesse Mileo, Bethany Rickwald, and Bill Winters. I’m talking robots, helicopter rides, the whole nine yards! Thanks to the cast and crew of Walter and Mom, written by Meg Cummins, directed by Stella Gorlin, and starring Becca Fried, Stella Gorlin, and Kevin Winder. It BURNS! Special thanks go to the man-who-stole-all-the-shows, Jared Hawkley, aka Walter Witherspoon, who delivered an intentionally bad monologue from Toy Story that I am still chucking about. (“You glow. In the dark, you talk. There’s a snake in my boot.”) Many many thanks, as ever, to the talented genius (is that redundant?) of C. Jason DePasquale who did an incredible job on all the sets, including stealing all the blinds and sheets from my apartment to create mood lighting for a classic noir. Thanks also to Rachel Lieberman, who is always helpful, Dana and Dawn, the one-and-only Onna Solomon, and the folks at the Yellow Barn. Can’t wait until next year!

You might think that was our BIG weekend, and if that’s the case, you’re wrong. Sunday afternoon, the many fine poets who have been participating in our Ekphrastic is Fantastic workshop for the last month or so celebrated the grand opening of the brand-new University of Michigan Museum of Art and the release of their chapbook, Ekphrastic is Fantastic, with a reading at the museum.

The readers wait patiently in the museum’s lovely new auditorium.
And yes, that is, as you might expect, Preston Horvath giving a thumbs-up.

The reading was truly beautiful. The museum projected images of the artwork it was based on behind the young poets as they read. Sheera Talpaz, one of the workshop’s teachers, introduced the students, who read alone and in small groups. My personal favorite was Madeleine Bradford, whom we have been fortunate to watch actually blossom as a poet over the last several years. The chapbook is available at the Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair for anyone who wants to read the amazing poetry within!

Andie Veach reads her poem about Mount Hood from the Dalles.

Many thanks, as ever, to Pam Reister, one of our very favorite community partners, at UMMA. Congrats on the new museum; it really is breathtaking! Thanks also to Sheera Talpaz and Rachel Feder, who continue to teach some of our best workshops. And thanks-times-one-million to the talented young poets who shared their work with us. You guys CONTINUE to blow us away!

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