Monday, December 31, 2012

Saginaw-set "American Poet" novel among 20 Michigan Notable Books

Vande Zande reading from his novel at the Roethke House

story and photos by Janet I. Martineau

A Midland author and the Saginaw-based Friends of Theodore Roethke received a late -- but wonderfully notable -- Christmas present over the weekend.

“American Poet -- A Novel “ penned by Jeff Vande Zande, a professor of English at Delta College, was announced Sunday as one of the 20 Michigan Notable Books 2013 chosen by the Library of Michigan -- out of 200 nominees.

Its fictional storyline revolves around a young poet’s effort to save Pulitzer-winning poet Roethke’s real-life boyhood home at 1805 Gratiot, which is owned and operated by the Friends group.

“This is great news for Jeff and for the Roethke House,” says Annie Ransford, the president of the Friends of Roethke board. “His novel helps save the house in fiction and now in reality too.

“I think we are most fortunate to have such a fine writer represent Saginaw's writing house. I enjoy the mix of prose and poetry Vande Zande's writing showcases, and that his first-class novel honors a first class poet.”

Vande Zande concurs, and says he will use this honor to “talk about the Roethke house. Not only does it play a role in this fictional novel but it has implications on the real world too.

“I wrote it with the goal of bringing attention to the house, and now that attention will.increase.”

With a chuckle he recalls driving past the house a number of times and getting an odd mental image of a kid up on its roof with a bullhorn in his hands and wondering why that kid was up there.

“Now I realize the kid was trying to save the house” ... and that eventually flowed into Vande Zande’s  155-page novel, published in February by Bottom Dog Press. He even wrote some of it at the house during an overnight stay.

Cover of the novel
And since its release “party” in March -- at the Roehke House -- Vande Zande has donated $3 of its $18 price to the Friends group during several of its events. That sum he says, stands at $500 so far.

As for the Michigan Notable Books organization, at the end of each year it releases its list of 20 notable books published in that year; books that spotlight stories from the Great Lakes State or which were written by Michigan-connected authors. A committee of librarians, reviewers, booksellers and authors select the books. 

Then in the following year (which is why Zande Vande is on the list of 2013 winners) the authors collectively visit 50 libraries around the state to talk about their books and careers.

Other winners in the 2013 list include include pitcher Jim Abbott's biography and a biography about the state’s first governor, a study of the Kirtland’s Warbler bird,  short stories set in Northern Michigan, poetry about the nuances of daily relationships, the wild “Summer of ’68,” an illustrated volume on amphibians and reptiles, and photo books featuring Detroit's historic places of worship and Michigan's historic railroad stations.

In its release, the Notable Books committee said of Vande Zande’s “American Poet”: Saginaw is the setting for this short novel, a coming-of-age story of a young poet returning home after graduating from college. Vande Zande's story circles from documenting the survival of a failed relationship, finding beauty and value in a broken city, locating common ground with an aging father and orchestrating a plan to save the Theodore Roethke House.

A quote on the back cover of the book, by Gina Myers, says in part: “Vande Zande has written a love poem for the city of Saginaw, and, by extension, a love poem for Flint, Gary, Cleveland, or any forgotten city in the Rust Belt.”

Vande Zande, a native of Marquette who has taught creative writing and screenplay writing at Delta since 1999, has published three novels, two collections of short stories and one book of poetry so far.

“All of my novels are set in Michigan. It is the landscape I am most familiar with, and I want to reflect landscape in what I write. Michigan surely is a rich place for writers -- the bridge, wilderness, Upper Peninsula, cities, cars.

“I am really excited by this honor, humbled and blown away by it.”

He and the Friends group have known the book was in contention for the notable list since September -- when a member of the selection panel came to the Roethke house during a premiere showing of a film short taken from a chapter in the book, which Vande Zande and fellow Delta professor wrote and filmed.

“I have held my breath since and tried not to think about it.”

Earlier “American Poet” won Saginaw Valley State University's  Stuart and Vernice Gross Award given to authors.

As for Roethke, he was born in Saginaw in 1908 and died of a heart attack, at  age 55, in 1963. He is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Saginaw Township.

He wrote nine books of poetry and received the Pulitizer in 1953, for “The Waking.” The son of a greenhouse owner, many of his poems reflect the natural world. And since the home was occupied by his sister all of her life, many of his poems were written in 1905 Gratiot during his visits there.

Today Roethke’s works appear in nearly all of the world’s textbooks and anthologies.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saginaw Choral Society concert soothed the pain of audience members

review and photoby Janet I. Martineau

It was inevitable, could even feel the tension...

....Mentioning the Connecticut school massacre at the Saginaw Choral Society’s “A World of Carols 2” concert Saturday afternoon at the Temple Theatre.

And it so it was artistic director/conductor Glen Thomas Rideout almost immediately offered a few soft spoken, halting, comforting words that addressed not only Connecticut but also the deaths of young people closer to home; the complexities of our world today. They were not overt; rather somewhat veiled. But there was no doubt.

He would revisit the issue again when, after the performance of “We are....(One),” he asked for 28 seconds of silence -- one for each of the victims, as well as the killer in what was a gutsy but healing move.

And then, toward the end of the program, came the performance of an arrangement juxtaposing the 1600s hymn “Lo, How a Rose,” sung softly primarily by the women of the choir, with the 1979 pop tune “The Rose” sung solo by soprano Hayley Honsinger.

It was, of course, programmed and rehearsed long before the events of Dec. 14. But if ever a composition was more sorely needed on this day.....its words, its symbolism, its exquisite presentation, its brilliance of linking the two pieces.

At its conclusion the audience erupted in cheers and more than a few noses were heard blowing.

And at the end of the evening, Rideout again alluded to the painful place this nation finds itself in and spoke again in calming, halting words.

Talk about rising to the occasion, this young conductor, and starting the healing process, though music, on the huge holes in our hearts.

The evening was filled with musical magic -- Rideout’s powerful baritone involved in several of the works, his arrangement of “The Little Drummer Boy” giving pianist Carl Angelo some jazzy riffs as the accompanist, harpist Deborah Gabrion playing both softly and with intensity as one of but four instrumental accompanists used sparingly, and the trio of Cindy Humphreys, Betty Mayer and Mike Weiss (in particular Humphreys) soaring above the choir on “Ave Maria” by Franz Biebl.

Shakespeare was there -- providing the words for John Rutter’s “Blow, blow thou winter wind.” And performing Rachmaninoff’s “Bogoroditse Devo” and  two selections from Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols” nearly nonstop created an intriguing  seamless flow of two very different works.

Humor played a role as well. The male vocal sextet Ah Tempo! quickly dispatched all  those “Twelve Days of Christmas” gifts in “The Twelve Days After Christmas,” in “Ding-a Ding-a Ding” the choir made like tricky bells accompanied by mugging from Rideout, and the whole placed moved and grooved with the South African folk song “Babethandaza.”

“Twelve Days After,” by the way, was performed right after the tear-inspiring “Rose” piece in a deliberate yanking of emotional chains!

The second half found Rideout also sporting red pants, which fit right in with the color scheme of the stage setting.

Beautiful and uplifting concert on one of the nation’s most painful days.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra's Christmas concert takes some fun chances

review by janet i. martrineau

A Gregorian chant ...Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” ....Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever”....

What, you might ask, do they have to do with Christmas.

Well, nothing...but everything.

Back in 1990, American composer Craig Courtney put a new spin on that tired old “Twelve Days of Christmas” with a ditty called “A Musicological Journey Through Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Words are the same, but the music is from 12 different eras, settings. composers; from the 6th Century to the 19th. Ballet. Opera. A march and a madrigal. Viennese waltz. And played to perfection Tuesday night during the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra’s “A Classical Christmas Returns” concert at the Temple Theater.

A wild piece to conduct and play, methinks, given its 12 musical styles in 11 minutes. Me also thinks the SBSO has performed this before under a different conductor. But no never mind. It is a pure delight.

In the fact entire sold-out concert conducted by Brett Mitchell was pure delight -- and mostly from the lesser heard fare on the program.’

Pieces  like Frederick Delius’ “Sleigh Ride,” the poetic and soothing “This Christmastide” by Donald Fraser,” “The Snowman Overture” written by movie composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold when he was only 11, and even in its own way the strange strings-only “December” by Michael Torke, seeking to capture a Midwestern storm of rain turned to snow.

Bravo maestro Mitchell for finding new musical presents to play in Saginaw....and the gutsy stretching of the boundaries with Bizet’s rousing “L’Ariesienne Suite No. 2: Farandole.” Fantastically played, and linked to the fact the suite opens with a theme based on the Christmas carol “March of the Kings.”

The vocal power of the evening came from The Center Stage Chorale and Bella Voce Singers from the Midland Center for the Arts as well as bass-baritone Eric Hoy Tucker from Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. The choral groups were involved in the entire second half of the program and did not wear out their welcome. Tucker’s rich voice joined them and the orchestra in “Fantasia on Christmas Carols” by Ralph Vaughan Williams, a piece celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. (Outstanding opening cello work by Sabrina Lackey on “Fantasia,” by the way.)

Bravo also to whomever stepped outside the box on the stage decorations. No fewer than three people stopped by me at intermission to complain about it, grinches they be. I found it refreshing and innovative.

Five deciduous trees, from little to large, on loan from Kluck’s, bereft of their leaves. No lights strung upon them, no colorful balls, no garland. Just five bare trees --- but with just their limb shapes to gaze upon, a delight to see how different kinds of trees have different shapes. The longer I gazed upon them -- and their casting shadows from the colorful projections on the stage backdrop -- the more relaxed and at peace I became, enhanced also by the music.

Added to that, the conductor’s stand was lined with six faux candle containers, adding to the simplicity of the setting.....and maybe, just maybe, making a comment that may have been what the baby Jesus saw but that we have lost sight of.

OK, getting too sentimental here.

Bottom line, it was a delightful concert.

Ah Tempo! singers, Saginaw Elite Big Band perform to benefit The Food Pantry

story and photoby janet i. martineau

A vocal sextet and a 13-piece big band are joining forces to help stock a church’s food pantry.

Ah Tempo! and the Saginaw Elite Big Band celebrate the Christmas season in a 7:30pm “Holiday Magic” concert Friday (Dec. 7) at First Presbyterian Church, 121 S. Harrison.
The members of Ah Tempo1

All those attending are  asked to bring canned goods for The Food Pantry at First Presbyterian Church. 

Admission for adults is $10, a portion of which will go to The Food Pantry. Students are admitted free with a canned good.

The Food Pantry at First Presbyterian Church is stocked by several area churches.  Community members who demonstrate a need may receive seven days of groceries through it.

Ah Tempo! will sing  "Silent Night," "Mary, Did You Know?" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"  and a humorous "The Twelve Days After Christmas."

Saginaw Elite Big Band will play "Christmas Time is Here," "Feliz Navidad," "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and a beautiful rendition of "O Holy Night."

The two groups will also join together for "Frosty the Snowman," "Let it Snow" and "Sleigh Ride." And Charlie Rood of WSGW will serve as the master of ceremonies.

Ah Tempo! has been performing together since 2009.  All six are members of the Saginaw Choral Society with their daytime occupations including a fastener salesman, psychology consultant, realtor, insurance litigator and photo processing machine repairman.

Saginaw Elite Big Band has been playing together for about one year, but its professional musicians are veterans of local concert,theater, variety and swing/ballroom dance bands that have performed around the Great Lakes Bay region for 25 years or more. Some members also have national credits, performing with touring Broadway shows and performing with the likes of the Drifters, Coasters, Mavellettes, Supremes, Marcels, Platters and Otis Williams' Temptations. 

Among their daytime jobs are school band directors and teachers, information technology, fireman and  church organist/pianist.

This is the first time these two groups have performed together.  

“Like so many Ah Tempo! ideas, this was collaborative,” says Betty Mayer, the director and accompanist for the group. “The guys were discussing programming a Christmas concert and tying it into a community service for the Saginaw community. 

“Since Ah Tempo! often practices at First Presbyterian it made sense to do something to help there. And the wife of Ah Tempo tenor Dave Stine is a very active volunteer with The Food Pantry and she said they would be grateful for any assistance available, so the link was made.”

As for the big band's participation, Mayer teaches at White Pine Middle School with Matt Wicke, one of the organizers of Saginaw Elite Big Band.  

“When we were both performing at Saginaw on Stage this past spring, we took time to listen to each other," says Mayer, and from that Ah Tempo! issued the invite to participate in "Holiday Magic."

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Reindeer Man bringing new brood to his 20th year as a Hollyday Fair vendor

David J. Miller and some of his reindeer 

story and photos

 by janet i. martineau

For 19 years now, herds of leftover reindeer have literally flown out the door during the annual Hollyday Fair at the Andersen Enrichment Center.

Most likely the critters will do so again at the 20th event, running 10am to 4pm Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 120 Ezra Rust in Saginaw. They tend to attract buyers who purchase them in groups of three to five in varying sizes.

“I estimate I have created almost 10,000 reindeer since I started making them in 1984, at first just for family and neighbors,” says artist/woodworker David J. Miller of Thomas Township. 

He  calls them “leftover” reindeer because Andersen’s Hollyday Fair is  the last stop of what was once a large circuit he and wife Linda made to Yuletide bazaars around the state.

His reindeer stand from 5 inches tall to 5 feet, and just about every height in between; are as light as a feather to a beefy 75 pounds; cost from $3 to $75 (and discounted at  Andersen).

Their bodies come from cottonwood and ash trees Miller harvests with a chain saw during September, in a woodsy/swampy 60-acre track whose owner grants him permission to “hunt”  there. 

And in his work shop he spends October and into November cutting the collected wood to size and shape with band and table saws as well as other tools like a drill press or a drill for structure support and holes for the antler pieces.

“I am to the point I can almost make them in my sleep. Frankly it takes longer to collect the wood than to make them. I can make 10 of the 12-inch  ones or one of the big ones in 90 minutes. 

“Another stickler is the antlers. It can take me two to three days to get the antlers together on each reindeer; finding two pieces that are similar looking for the two sides of the head.”

Adds wife Linda, “He talks to them when he is working on them.”

Miller, a retired art teacher in the Swan Valley school system, says he used to  make 500 to 600 reindeer during the high point of their bazaar travels -- 10-12 of them in Fenton, Detroit, Mount Peasant, Saline, Chesaning, Bay City. Last year he produced just 200 -- sold just in Fenton and at Andersen. 

Why the decrease in productivity? The 63-year-old cites customer saturation, the arrival of grandchildren competing for his time and, frankly, a concern that the  wooded lot where he gets his material is running out of fodder. “Two shows are enough after all these years.”

Two of the critters in his front yard
Miller began his reindeer career when wife Linda saw some at a bazaar and asked him create a version for their house. And from that it just grew and grew.

Why, he is asked, are they so popular. “I think because they are very rustic, organic, made entirely of wood. That all ages seem to like them. And the fact you can put them inside or outside. 

"We put a Christmas bow on them, but people could change the bows to fit the season so they become deer rather than reindeer.”

Wife Linda has another theory. She thinks it is the way he crafts their heads and tails and other features, noting that since 1984 they have seen few attempted copycats. 

“His features on them are unique,” she says. “And not as easy to do as people might think.”

Over the years customers have sent pictures of his reindeer in their new homes. “We have pictures of kids on them; cats sleeping on them,” he says.
Close-up of the tail detail

Miller also has made furniture, a fireplace and a wine cabinet for their home; a manger scene for someone else. 

This time of year, a couple of his reindeer are climbing up a ladder to the roof of their home while another two are in a clump of ornamental grasses on the front lawn. 

“The neighbors sometimes pick on them,” says Linda with a roll of her eyes.

Hollyday Fair features an art fair of vendors selling sculpted snow people, recycled and upgraded plates and dishes, fiber art, socks and mittens, knitted sweaters and scarves, handmade soaps, purses, paintings and decorative pillows as well as  a baked goods sale, fresh holly, a silent auction and a luncheon served from 11am to 1:30pm. 

Admission is free. The cost of the lunch (soup, sandwich, cookie) is $6.

 Proceeds support the activities of the Saginaw Arts and Enrichment Commission -- student art exhibitions, youth theatre workshops, Art @ the Andersen exhibitions, All Area Arts Awards, ARTifacts newsletter and artist residences.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

SVSU's "Christmas by the Fireside" radio show really charmed

A scene from "Christmas by the Fireside"

review by Janet I. Martineau

A sound effects man bleating like a lamb. A thin Santa Claus dressed in a snazzy black suit and with jet black hair. An angel with the devil in her body English.

Gosh these old-time radio shows presented by the Saginaw Valley State University Theater Department are such great fun -- and this year’s installment in the series was the funnest. Sadly it opened last night and ends tonight.

The first two were old warhorses -- “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” as adapted and co-directed by SVSU professors Richard  B. Roberts and David Rzeszutek. This one, titled “Christmas by the Fireside: A 1940’s Radio Show,” was all theirs -- set in Christmas Eve 1943, the combing of four short stories, snippets of probably a dozen Christmas carols, commercials paying tribute to Saginaw’s Potter Street Station, Savoy Grill, Morley’s Department store, Heavenrich’s, Provenzano’s....and.....

...And... the recorded voice of President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself delivering a wartime fireside chat that still speaks to today's America.

Oh, and there was that hilarious ad (more like an ode) for Spam and its many uses.

What was not to love about a trip down memory lane like that, and to hear stories read to us just like when we were kids.

The stories? One I have never heard about the wandering lamb who kept newborn Jesus warm on the night he was born (and which brought tears to this animal lover). “The Toymaker and the Elf.” The true story about the Christmas night in 1914 Belgium when the German troops and the Brits declared a truce, sang “Silent Night” in German and English, and even exchanged gifts (that one also hit home since my dad fought in World War I and often told the story although he was not there). And how ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” came to be written by an overworked father (appealing to the poetry fan in me).

As usual with these productions, the cast members play roles within roles -- their off-microphone radio show actors milling about the stage before the show begins and then as the characters they play in the four stories being told. Great fun to watch, and to see four theater department “adults” acting alongside their 20 students in this one.

The costumes were also a trip down 1943’s memory lane and made for a colorful montage. And those sound effects people are always a hoot to watch. If there is a complaint, it is that the sound was a little too hot on the ears with the spoken words.

All of which adds up to the realization these old-time radio shows -- in a world when other than the studio audiences the rest of the nation only heard and never saw -- lead to Technicolor creations often more vibrant than the the more traditional live theater productions. More vibrant and almost too much to take in when it comes to the many layers of  action.

At the end “announcers” Roberts and Rzeszutek told their radio audience that next year’s old-time radio show will be “Miracle on 34th Street.” It will indeed take a miracle to top this year’s “Fireside Chat.”

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Six homes spiffing up for Saginaw Bay Symphony Holiday Housewalk

Saginaw Township home with salt water fish/coral tank

story and photos by Janet I. Martineau

A Bay City home with Prohibition era secrets. A mother and daughter living next to each other in Freeland, their homes dramatically different colorwise,  inside and out. And a Saginaw Township home with a salt water tank containing 25 kinds of coral and 10 fish varieties.

They are among the six private homes showcased on Thursday, Dec. 6, during the annual Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra Holiday Housewalk -- a major fundraiser for orchestra operations.

“And this year, our patrons won’t have to be driving as much as some years to see all the houses on the tour,” says Patricia Shaheen, the housewalk chair. “The two in Freeland are indeed side by side. The two in Bay City within a mile of each other on Center Ave and a side street. And the two in Saginaw Township are just off both sides of Gratiot near the Saginaw Country Club.”

As is traditional with the holiday housewalk, says Shaheen, each home will shine with Christmas decorations, and each will feature live music performances much if not all of the day -- running 10:30am to 8pm. Volunteers will give the low down on each of the homes as visitors walk through.

Bay City home with Prohibition secret
The ages of the homes vary -- from being built in 1869, with 19 rooms and eight fireplaces, to brand new in  2011 but filled with antique furniture and collectibles. 

And that Prohibition era one, built in 1923 by a wealthy scrap metal businessman, has a hidden party room and bar in the basement as well as an elegant Italian-made dining room chandelier and leaded glass in all the cabinetry.

For those who prefer to leave the driving to someone else for the day, a bus ride to all the homes, as well as a stop for lunch at either the Bay City Country Club or the Saginaw Country Club, is available for $20. Space is limited. Call the orchestra office at 755-6471 to reserve a seat.

And all patrons can present their ticket booklets that day for a buffet lunch at the Bay City Country Club, 7255 S. Three Mile Road, as well as buffet lunch or dinner at the Saginaw Country Club, 4465 Gratiot. Lunch hour at both sites is 11:30am to 2:30pm at a cost of $15. Dinner at the Saginaw site is from 5-9pm off the menu, and reservations are advised.

One of the Freeland homes also will serve as the spot for the Rudolph’s Raffle part of the event, with raffle tickets $1 each or six for $5 for the chance to win prizes donated by more than 30 area stores, restaurants and spas.

Home tour guidelines include: no picture taking, no children under 10, and the wearing of provided booties at each stop.

Advance housewalk ticket booklets are $17, and rise to $20 at the homes the day of the event.

Advance sales are at all Wildfire Credit Union branches as well as more than 20 other outlets, including Satow Drugs in Frankenmuth; Riverside Family Restaurant in Freeland; Smith’s Flowers and Gifts in Midland; Begick’s, My Secret Garden and Sweet Boutique in Bay City, and Crumbs, Horizons, The Loft/Antique Warehouse, West Side Decorating and McDonald’s Nursery in Saginaw.

Holiday Housewalk 2012 is sponsored by Meijer.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

SVSU's "Buried Child" an edgy piece with an outstanding performance

Isaac Wood as Dodge in "Buried Child"

review by Janet I. Martineau

Macabre, the definition of: “gruesome, ghastly, grim; suggesting the horror of death and decay.”

Yep, that sums up Sam Shepard’s play “Buried Child,” playing through Sunday at Saginaw Valley State University in its year of presenting classics that are, well, chilling views of dysfunctional American families.

To talk much about its storyline is not a good idea since all is revealed slowly. Suffice it to say it takes place on an Illinois farm, 1977, with a cast of characters that includes a dying and depressed dad, a chattering mom who one quickly wishes would SHUT UP, and two adult sons with issues.

Something horrible happened several years ago that has rendered this family totally dysfunctional -- a couple of things actually -- and we will spend two fascinating and intriguing hours learning what. And there actually some laughs along the way too.

‘Nuf said -- other than to further say Shepard’s subtext is a look at the decay/death of the American dream (things were grim economically in the 1970s and societal norms also were in transition). Or more precisely, it challenges the American myth about family perhaps,

“Buried Child” will not be everyone’s cup of tea, despite the act it won a Pulitzer Prize. But how lucky we are to live in a area where edgy theater is an option.

And what it serves up is a dynamic performance by Isaac Wood as Dodge -- the family patriarch who is couch-bound most of the play,  drinking booze from a bottle hiden under the cushions and hacking with a death-rattle cough. Old codger Dodge is at once charming and loathsome.

Dodge is around 70; in horrible health. Wood is a college freshman and presumably healthy. Director David Rzeszutek has chosen to minimally age Wood with makeup. Instead, every fiber of his being is an old man in decay -- yet, with a voice that projects and enunciates the clearest of the cast.  He is so feeble we expect him to die any minute. It is an astounding performance.

Dakotah Myers is a son-come-home, around age 40. Myers’ performance as Tilden also is stellar -- a zombie-like man-child who walks haltingly, speaks in sentences containing only three or four words, given to hauling in corn and carrots he says he harvested in a garden that does not exist. What the heck happened to him, since there are references he was not always this way.

Mykaela Hopps is the family matriarch Halie, around age 60. She yells most of her lines from upstairs, barely seen; leaves early in the first act and then does not return until right at the end. Good thing. She is a first class bully/bitch -- and Hopps plays her very very well. Too well. I could feel my blood pressure rising,

And by play’s end, our opinion of all three will shift!

Jordan Stafford is cast as Tilden’s son Vince, Lexee Longwell as Vince’s girlfriend Shelly, Keith Schnabel as the couple second weirdo son, and Blake Mazur in a tiny tiny role as a soiled man of the cloth.

They are incidental characters really. Stafford at dress rehearsal was not yet settled into his role. Schnabel needs to work on his enunciation (he was better in the second act). And Longwell, the only sane person in the storyline, needs to stretch just a bit more in her reactions. Mazuer’s role is but a flash.

The Jerry Dennis set is jarring -- the edge of the walls jagged and looking like they have been burned, with visible (and symbolic; lots of symbolism in thos show) rain falling the entire first act (along with thunder via the sound crew). The interior of the home has definitely seen better days, along with the ill-garbed family.

And the intermission music is just plain creepy.

Director Rzeszutek, his crew and most of the cast create an atmosphere that chills the bones like that rain. Shepard’s story slowly evolves -- and sadly, by today’s world, is not all that horrific given recent headline. But at the end we realize how a chain of events from within and outside of a family can turn the American dream into a nightmare.

Loved the open-ended ending too. Can put our own spin on is real or surreal, real or symbolic, and if real what happens next.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Saginaw's own origami artist featured during Riverside Saginaw Film Festival

story and photos by janet i. martineau

For nearly half a century now, Saginaw native Mark DeWolf-Ott has excelled at folding paper.

Big deal, you say...we ALL fold paper.
Mark DeWolf-Ott and the 1,000 Cranes origami piece

Well, not like DeWolf-Ott. 

He is, he says, at the complex level in the world of origami -- the Japanese art of paper folding which avoids the use of tape. scissors and staples in the creation of 3-D geometric designs, animal figures and flowers; some small enough to hold in the palm of a hand and others large enough to trick people into thinking an origami T-rex skeleton is real.

“And origami is still evolving, getting more and more complex,” says DeWolf-Ott, 55. “It goes from simple, to intermediate, to complex, and I can do some of the complex ones at this point because  I began doing origami when I was 11 or 12.

“It’s just that I don’t do the complex ones a lot because they take too much time! I can make a moose with antlers, but it takes four hours and I don’t want to do that.”

As a part of the Riverside Saginaw Film Festival, running Nov. 8-11 at five venues, the award-winning documentary “Between the Folds” is playing -- at 6pm Thursday, Nov. 8, and Friday, Nov. 9, at First Congregational Church, 403 S. Jefferson Ave.

Running 58 minutes, “Beyond the Folds” has played 45 film festivals around the world and won a Peabody Award as its shows how origami is practiced not only by artists but also scientists. And, with the advent of computer design software, how it has gotten more and more complex.

Following both showings, DeWolf-Ott will assist those attending in making two simple pieces to take home, will make more complicated ones as they watch, and will bring along a collection for viewing.

The showing of “Between the Folds” is sponsored by Glastender Inc. of Saginaw, and the company also is paying for the origami paper in the take-home project.

 A collection of DeWolf-Ott creations
DeWolf-Ott, the director of Saginaw’s Japanese Cultural Center and Tea House, says he was introduced to origami when a childhood neighbor, whose husband worked for Dow Chemical, showed him an origami book Japanese visitors to Dow had given them.

“The couple didn’t really want it so they gave it to me. I think I was intrigued because I have always loved math, and geometric design, and those skills are used in origami.”

Whatever the case, he was hooked -- although he took a brief hiatus in high school “when the kids made fun of me.”

Now he attends origami conventions and meetings around the nation, and says he has met all of the people who are interviewed in “Between the Folds.” 

“When I started it was hard to learn just through books, especially when they were written in Japanese. I had to go over to the tea house and have people help me with the translations.

“Now with the Internet, and (You Tube) videos, I can interact with origami people all over  the world -- from Japan to Argentina.”

Origami purists, he says, would contend a “true” piece of origami is folded from one piece of paper. But, he continues, modules  of 30, 60 or 90 units can now be folded and then assembled into one linked piece.

What he will showcase at the film showings is an assemblage called 1,000 Cranes -- a gift from Saginaw’s sister city of Tokushima. It features 10 strands  with 100 cranes on each strand, and is about 36 inches long. “It is symbolic that its owner will have a long life with many wishes granted.”

Close-up of a DeWolf-Ott geometric piece
As for the use of origami in the world of science ... its concept was used in the creation of stents in the heart that are inserted and then blown up to enlarge, DeWolf-Ott says,  and in the invention of a telescope that was stored in a small tube in the spacecraft taking it into space where it, too, was enlarged once up there and launched.

Nearly 30 independent and foreign films, documentaries, and short subject films will play during the Riverside Saginaw Film Festival. Passes are $40 and single admissions $6. For more information and a schedule:

 Passes are on sale by calling (989) 776-9425 and on the web site through Paypal.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Saginaw Choral Society's "Shades of Blue" a red hot night

The Saginaw Choral Society "Shades of Blue" concert

review and photos by Janet I. Martineau

Who knew blue could shine so bright.

It sure did so on Saturday night at the Temple Theatre when the Saginaw Choral Society kicked off its 2012-2013 season with a concert titled “Shades of Blue.”

All but two of its 16 selections dealt in some manner with blue -- from Claude Debussy’s submerged-in-water Brittany castle in “La cathedrale engloutie” to Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning,” from Aaron Copland’s “At the River” to Irving Berlin’s  classic “Blue Skies.”

Enjoying a blue martini
We’ve said it before and will probably say it until we are blue in face -- director/conductor Glen Thomas Rideout, in his second season now, sure knows how to program with class, creativity and, well, color. In two hours he and his singers served up Cuban folk music, American pop, jazz, blues, bluegrass, classical, spiritual and British poetry set to music.

Woven into  the piece  “Breaths,” the singers and audience joined forces to create the sounds of a gentle rain turned to thunderstorm, after the maestro  himself started it off with some wordless sound impressions. And the song itself, the rhythmic  music by composer  Ysaye M. Barwell of Sweet Honey in the Rock blended with a nature/ancestors poem that is poignant, was flawlessly sung by the chorale.

Saginaw composer/pianist Mike Brush premiered a new piece titled “Blue,” with bass David Brown languidly easing through its lyrics with Brush at the keyboard. 

Soprano Cindy Humphrey’s voice rose above the rest of the singers and then just hung there magically in the opening piece, “Charles Villiers Stanford’s “The Blue Bird.”

The entire choral society made like an orchestra in the vocalization of Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk.”

Soprano Shannon Morse evoked goosebumps with her strong and crystal clear delivery on the Parton piece.

Moses Hogan’s “Wade in the Water” featured two altos and two sopranos sharing its lyrics with the rest of the singers as a backdrop.

And pianist  Carl Angelo delighted in the long center section solo in the Debussy work, with the singers joining in at both ends.
A concert patron with a flare

Delightfully,  the entire firsr half of the program was performed non-stop -- meaning no applause interruption between songs. Talk about building a mood.

The two non-blue pieces?

One was by Brush -- a new piece titled “U,” which features 50 words with the letter u in them, sung exquisitely, as usual, by Julie Mulady. It may just be Brush’s best song ever in terms of lyrics. Poetic, sentimental, thoughful.

And the evening closer was the raucous “Bile Them Cabbage Down” -- about as far from a Debussy as one can get, but a piece one which we suspect Copland might have liked.

The stage setting was bathed in blue. Pre-concert festivities featured Blue Moon beer, blue martinis, blue corn chips and 14 blue-hued piece of art by nine artists.

Yep, this evening left us anything but blue.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

6th Riverside Saginaw Film Festival shows fare from Iran to own back yard

by Janet I. Martineau

“Stars” in two of the movies playing the 6th Riverside Saginaw Film Festival in November are making headlines this fall, and the subject of a third is the fodder of a national debate over the future of local radio stations.

Detroit musician Sixto Rodriguez
“We have 26 movies and documentaries on the schedule this year,” says Susan Scott, on the festival’s board. “As usual for us, they range all over globe -- visiting an Iranian family dealing with Alzheimer’s; a Woody Allen tribute to Rome; an Algerian immigrant teaching in a Montreal grade school; France’s doomed Marie Antoinette, and the legacy of Jamaican musician Bob Marley.

“And our short film contest has entries from Greece, Israel and Canada as well as throughout the U.S.

“But what we are the most excited about are a pair of documentaries -- ‘Searching for Sugar Man,’ its subject Detroit musician Sixto Rodriguez who was profiled recently  on ’60 Minutes,’ and ‘Ai Weiwei-Never Sorry,’ about a Chinese artist at odds with his nation’s government. The Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. just opened an exhibition featuring an entire floor of his work.”

The festival runs Thursday, Nov, 8, through Sunday, Nov. 11.  The films are playing on six screens at five venues: Court Theater, 1216 Court; Pit and Balcony Community Theatre, 805 N. Hamilton; First Congregational Church, 403 S. Jefferson Ave.; two screens at The Saginaw Club, 219 N. Washington, and Hoyt Library, 505 Janes, all in the city of Saginaw.

Each of the movies plays twice throughout the four-day festival.

As has been tradition with the festival, each year brings in a special guest or two or hosts a special event connected with a film.

Filmmaker Jennifer C. Douglas
This year  Saginaw native Jennifer C. Douglas, a 1982 graduate of what is now Heritage High School in Saginaw Township, will show and discuss the documentary she wrote, co-produced and filmed.

Titled “Save KLSD,” and about a radio station San Diego where she now lives, its subject is one of national concern -- the increasing lack of local and diverse radio in America with the rise of media consolidation. Among the people interviewed are Phil Donahue, Rachel Maddow, the Dixie Chicks and Bill Moyers. 

“Between the Folds,” a documentary about the passion of artists and scientists in making increasingly complicated pieces of origami art (Japanese folded paper), will  find representatives from the Saginaw Japanese Cultural Center and Tea House assisting filmgoers in making two pieces to take home as well as demonstrating the craft.

And “Honor Flight Michigan, the Legacy Documentary,” the story of airplane flights taking Word War II veterans to see the new memorial in Washington, D.C., will feature the son of the Honor Flight Project taking about its success during one of its two showings. World War II veterans are admitted free to both showings.

Among the other films playing feature a sequel of sorts to “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” a retired cat burglar returning to his “career” with the help of a humanoid robot, a dark comedy about a small town mortician (Jack Black) and a wealthy widow (Shirley MacLaine), and young ballet dancers preparing for a competition.

Festival passes are $40 and single admission to the films $6. For more information and a schedule: Passes are on sale by calling 989-776-9425 and using a credit card. Passes and single tickets also are on sale on the festival web site through the Paypal system.

Among the sponsors of the Riverside Saginaw Film Festival are: Citizens Bank Wealth Management, the Saginaw Arts and Enrichment Commission, Hemlock Semiconductor, Public Libraries of Saginaw, Delta Broadcasting, Morley Foundation, and Harvey Randall Wickes Foundation.