Saturday, March 23, 2013

Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra violist a bit on the aggressive side

story and photo by janet i. martineau

As instrumentalists go, the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra’s principal violist is, well, aggressive by nature.

“I started off exclusively as a violinist,” says Susan F. Schreiber, “and it wasn’t until I was  19 and working on my bachelor’s degree at Michigan State University that I turned to the viola -- when my teacher there pointed out that I have a heavy style of playing and large hands for a small woman.

“It was evident in the bow arm, the way I brought it down. The stroke I have is more aggressive than what violinists normally have. Nobody had pointed that out to me before.”

Susan Schreiber and her viola
So that observant professor found a viola for her to borrow, gave her some books “and I was a natural physically and as a player with the viola. The strings are thicker so you can play it more aggressively and they don’t break.”

Schreiber says she finished her bachelor’s in violin performance, but her master’s degree from Arizona State is in viola performance. “I still play, and teach, both, but probably only play violin about 20 percent of the time.”

She has now, over the years, noticed that children seem to naturally pick an instrument that feels right to them when they are allowed to choose. “My son made buzzing noises with his lips as a toddler, and when he saw a French horn that was it for him.”

What happened in her case, she says, is that her concert pianist mother chose the violin for her. “I was 7 and my parents we having a party for a visiting orchestra and I was brought in to say hello.

“Several of them asked, ‘What does she play?’ So right after that my mother chose the violin for me because she had always wanted to play violin.”

A native of Concord., Mass.,  Schreiber now lives in Ann Arbor. She has played viola with the Saginaw Orchestra for seven years, and is in her fifth year as the principal. And she also is principal second violin with the Adrian Symphony. 

“I freelance with many different groups in Michigan and Ohio, including the Toledo and Flint Symphonies.  And I am the violist for the Beaumont String Quartet and play with the River Raisin Ragtime Revue.”

“Saginaw is the furthest I have to drive. I used to go all over the place, until I became a parent. That is  the life of a freelance player -- we call ourselves the freeway philharmonic. But even as careful as I am in performance commitments, I am still this month missing one of my son’s high school band concerts. He is 16.”

Also on her resume is a six-year stint in Germany, playing principal second violin with the Goettinger Symphonie Orchester. She had gone to Austria as a summertime faculty member at the American Institute of Musical Studies “and I was an adventurer back then so I stayed. I loved living and working in Europe.”

What changed that was she came home to visit her parents in Ann Arbor and while there “I met my husband to be. He is a chief strategist for Oakland County.”

Another funny story about twists in life. When she was growing up, her father was an engineering professor at the University of Michigan and she had applied to the university’s school of music “until I realized I would be seeing my father’s office window every day. I just didn’t want that; I wanted to get away.”

So off she went to MSU and that instrument-changing professor.

Dad adjusted fine to her being at the other school and mom  to the change in instruments. They even bought her current viola for her, made in 1965 by German master Werner Voight.

“It was the last instrument he made and it is unusual in that it is a quarter of an inch shorter but a third of an inch wider, especially at the bottom, than most violas. That small difference makes it resonate more and produce a very unique sound. But it is also hard to find a case.’

Schreiber teaches viola and violin privately, one-on-one; in her home and also at the Chelsea  Center for the Arts. “My students seem to always come to a conclusion on which instrument to play. I am surprised that that I did not see it about myself when I was younger.”

When not musically engaged, she says she is a avid reader of history books and articles. “I would be an historian if I wasn’t in music. I love to delve into the past. And I love to hike and travel.”

Schreiber says of all the orchestras she has played, Saginaw ranks among the top.

“It’s the personalties and the way we work together. There is a sense of community, a sense of ensemble that not all groups have. It is very tangible. We pull together and want to rise to the occasion, to give our absolute best selves to the performance.

“And the community really supports us. There is great food at the rehearsals. We feel very special and cared for.”

She is greatly anticipating the March 23 SBSO performance and the Mahler Fourth on its roster.

“That is my favorite piece. It touches something in my heart with its rare beauty. The last movement is such sweetness; happiness and peace.

“And the viola part is just great -- a lot of meat to chew on.”

Monday, March 18, 2013

Saginaw actress makes her opera "debut" -- in Scotland

story and photo by janet i. martineau

Stasi Schaeffer
Theatergoers to whom the name Stasi Schaeffer is familiar    remember her days as an actress and director with such groups as Pit and Balcony Community Theater, 303 Collective, CAGE, Bay City Players and Midland Center for the Arts.

Well, late last year she  made her operatic debut.

In Verdi’s “La Traviata.”

With the Scottish Opera.

“Thankfully it was not a singing role,” Schaeffer assured with that familiar laugh of hers.

Schaeffer, who also was the manager of the Temple Theatre from 2003-2007, left Saginaw in 2007 to explore acting and directing possibilities in New York City.

“And when I was there, I saw an advertisement for getting a master’s degree in classical and contemporary text for directors at the Royal Conservatory of Scotland.”

It is ranked as one of the world’s top drama schools, she says, offered a fast-track one-year to getting that degree and off she went when she was accepted.

“And I’ve been there -- in Glasgow -- ever since; now as a freelance director in theater and opera.”

Enter the Scottish Opera and “La Traviata.”

The company, says Schaeffer, is celebrating its 50th anniversary in the 2012-2013 season by touring the opera to 50 venues throughout Scotland.

“I was the rehearsal assistant director, and on the road I am the tour director -- watching the performances, taking notes, dealing with different leads, always dealing with a different stage for each performance-- we have three configurations we use.”

There are only eight cast members and a small chamber orchestra, but a full set and costumes, she says. “It’s a beautiful product, set in the late 1950s and sung in English.

“The set and costumes go in a semi-truck and the cast and crew in a luxurious touring bus. We’ve played high schools, community halls, movie theaters; some really small towns; the outer islands.”

And since most of those locations are within an eight-hour drive from Glasgow (population 598,000), if a singer gets sick there is time for a replacement to get to the venue.

Except for that one time there was no time, she says, when a  non-singer got sick and she took the stage.

She has, she says been surprised “at how many hidden opera fans there are out there. They are always asking when we are coming back.”

The Scottish Opera, she says, tours its productions regularly to its largest cities. Before “Traviata” she worked on “Opera Highlights” and “Tosca.” “La Traviata” ends its 50-show run this coming weekend.

Not to worry for Stasi on what she will do next. She’s also tuned in to an unusual Glasgow venue titled A Play, A Pie and A Pint.

“They are located in a bar (the Oran Mor)  that was a church, and downstairs is a club space that does all new plays commissioned by them. They have done 300 plays in seven years -- each one running 45-50 minutes during the lunch hour. Up to four actors in each one.”

The name of the 150-seat place indicates what patrons get for their money. 

Each play is rehearsed for two weeks and performed for one.

“It’s amazing. They’re all professionals (meaning there is a paycheck) and they get plays from established playwrights as well as new one.”

She has assistant directed one and directed two and found, she says, she loves working hand in hand with a playwright in crafting a premiere of a new work.

While working on her masters, she spent a month at the famed Globe Theater in London,  was the assistant director of a “Richard III” that went to Germany, and worked on a new play (titled “God of SoHo”) that was performed in Scotland and England.

Yes, she says, it is cold and dreary and rains a lot in Scotland “but the people are fun-loving and good natured.” What she likes about Glasgow, she says, is the openness of the theater community.

“There are lots of opportunities to talk with other directors because they are inclusive, accepting. You would not get that in New York City or London,

In her mid-Michigan years, Schaeffer acted in 25-30 plays and directed 10. She graduated from Arthur Hill High School/Saginaw Arts & Science Academy.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Pit & Balcony's "Miss Firecracker" lights up the stage

From left, Stephanie Mattos,  Mandee Wunderle,  Erich Williiams,  Lisa Bader and Spencer Wunderle

review and photos by janet i. martineau

Goodness, what a motley crew of characters playwright Beth Henley concocted for her southern gothic play “The Miss Firecracker Contest.”

A beauty queen wannabe with a checkered past and her former boyfriend who is dying of a dozen ailments ...a former beauty queen with a drinking problem and who has left her family and her brother who is stark raving mad and supposedly can wiggle his ears...a seamstress given to inspecting everything  with a magnifying glass and who wears black high-top tennis shoes...and a beauty pageant minion who is just plain cuckoo and hung up on the former beauty queen.

But, then, Henley also crafted the Pulitzer-winning ”Crimes of the Heart,” about three southern sisters with major issues.

Fortunately the Pit and Balcony Community Theater production of “Firecracker”, which opened Friday night,  has cast it well. All five characters carry these oddballs strongly  while at the same time making us love them and understand their plight.

They are so human -- feuding and fussing and fighting among themselves, since three of the five are related, but let a stranger threaten any one of them and they lock into a unified force.

And might we say’s about time on who directed this show. An actor’s actor who has played many a oddball role herself.

Ann Russell-Lutenske makes her P&B play directing debut here after acting in too many of its plays to count over a huge swath of time, as well as a little professional work as well early on in her life.

It is a solid directing debut. Not just in the strong acting ensemble she keeps on task but in the richly detailed set (designed by Saginawian Chris Largent, in his final year of college at Emerson in Boston) and the fun costuming.

If there is a complaint, it is that at times Henley’s script drags and that, here and there, some of the cast members need to enunciate their words more clearly rather than mumble or rush them. But those are minor moments.

What is interesting is that Lisa Bader, who plays the former beauty queen, hasn’t done a show in 10 years and that Tabitha Wright, the beauty pageant minion, is 30 years old and making her acting debut -- and they are two of the strongest actors in this play.

Bader in particular nails her former beauty queen, still so in love with herself if not her life. Every movement, every inflection in her words are right on and she tends to steal more than a few scenes.

Wright has a very small role, and is one of the actora who needs to work on diction, but her body English is pure goofy.

Mandee Wunderle plays the title role, the beauty pageant wannabe who has dyed her hair red for the talent part of the contest she hopes she will be accepted into.

Wunderle is a heart-breaker. You can just so totally feel her character’s insecurity and deep need to win this title -- while at the same time having to deal with  all the crap she has to put up with at the expense of the characters surrounding her.

This play, written in 1979, remains relevant today, maybe even more so than when it was written, in light of all the reality shows on television today populated by desperate people very much like her.

We won’t divulge what does happen, since that is part of the show. But Wunderle stays with her to the end and delivers one of the most heart-warming characters in the world of plays.

Stephanie Mattos plays the seamstress with a wonderful sense of quirky. Spencer Wunderle is the mad ear-wiggler and plays him in a way that creates unease in viewers since we never know when he is going to erupt and he is kinda scary when he does. And Erich Williams as the ailing ex (name is Mac southern) sounds like he is going to die right in front of us despite his steely manner.

Interesting show that evokes both humor and pathos in equal doses.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

2013-2014 Horizons Town Talk lineup features Joan Collins, Candy Crowley

by Janet I. Martineau

A soap opera siren with a British accent  and a CNN political correspondent  born in Kalamazoo are on the 2013-2014 Horizons Town Talk season at the Horizons Conference Center.

Joan Collins, of “Dynasty” fame, and Candy Cowley, host of “State of the Union” Sundays on CNN  and only the second  woman to serve as a moderator of a presidental debate, are on a bill of five speakers. 

Others will talk about Michigan’s “Christmas Tree Ship,” the history and mystery of wine, and finding humor (clean humor) in life.

The lineup is as follows:
Joan Collins
--  Monday, Oct 14, “A Day With Joan Collins.”
Collins is a Golden Globe winner and Emmy nominee and has appeared in more than 60 feature films and dozens of television series -- including  the role of the back-biting Alexis Carrington on the 1980s prime time  soap opera “Dynasty.”

Her career began at age 13, on a London stage, and she continues  live theater work  today at age 79.

The Brit’s 17 novels, memoirs and health/beauty books have sold more than 50 million copies worldwide and have been translated into 30 languages. 

And she is a regular diarist for The Spectator and a contributor to The Daily Mail, The Telegraph, The Times and Harper's Bazaar.

Collins also is involved with humanitarian work through the National Center for Learning Disabilities and The Shooting Star Children’s Hospice.

Rochelle Pennington
-- Tuesday, Nov. 12, “The Christmas Tree Ship” with author/newspaper columnist  Rochelle Pennington.
Pennington has penned 10 books, four of them dealing with Christmas. “The Christmas Tree Ship” tells the true story of one of the most well-known shipwrecks of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan's Christmas Tree Ship. It delivered holiday evergreens to the citizens of Chicago each Christmas season before it was caught in the "Great Storm of 1912" and subsequently sank fully loaded with trees. 

The captain died but his wife along with their three daughters carried on for more than 20 years afterward in honor of “Captain Santa.”  The sunken ship is still loaded with its cargo today and is a popular Great Lakes dive site. 

The story has inspired paintings, poems, six different songs, television programs, a musical performed all over the country titled “The Christmas Schooner” (Bay City Players has performed it), and a “new” Christmas Tree Ship sailed by the Great Lakes Coast Guard each holiday season as a living memorial.

Pennington's research was used to create a television program on The Weather Channel's “Storm Stories.” It airs nationally each December (since 2004) and the e author is interviewed repeatedly during the documentary.

Pennington lives in Wisconsin, and in her free time enjoys spending weekends at the family’s 100-year-old cottage in the Porcupine Mountains ofMichigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Eliott Engel
-- Tuesday, March 4, 2014, “The History and Mystery of Wine” with Dr. Elliot Engel.
Engel is a frequent Horizons Town Talk guest. He comes from a college literature teaching background -- his entertaining skills at it morphing into 10 books, countless CDs and DVDs, and speaking engagements which entertain while informing. 

His CDs and DVDs  cover the lives  of Shakespeare,  Oscar Wilde, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, Queen Victoria, Frank Lloyd Weight,  Edgar Allan Poe and many other literary and historic  figures.

Candy Crowley

-- Tuesday, April 1, 2014, “What Else?...Politics” with Crowley.
The Kalamazoo native is CNN’s chief political correspondent and has covered elections and political news, and the people involved in them,  for more than two decades. She moderated an Obama/Romney debate last August.

Before being hired by CNN in 1987, Crowley worked for a Washington, D.C. radio station, as the White House correspondent for The Associated Press and in NBC’s Washington bureau.

Crowley has won numerous journalism awards.

-- Tuesday, June 3, 2014, “Finding the Funny In...” with Jan McInnis.
Born in Washington D.C., McInnis was in charge of the “Joke of the Day” for her junior high school lunch table.  Now she has spent the past 17 years as a professional speaker, comedian and comedy writer.
Jan McInnis
McInnis has delivered  humor keynotes to thousands of organizations, from the Federal Reserve Banks to the Mayo Clinic. And she has sold comedy material to “The Tonight Show,” radio stations, greeting cards, syndicated cartoon strips, websites and  CEOs,
The Horizons Town Talk programs begin at 11:30am at Horizons, 6200 State St. in Saginaw Township, and are followed by a buffet lunch. Season tickets are $135 and on sale to renewing members until Monday, June 3. After that remaining reserved seating will go on sale to new subscribers.

For more information, call 799-4122.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Horizons Town Talk mentalist boggles the minds of reporter, audience

review and photos by janet i. martineau

Richard Osterlind  and a spoon he has twisted
“Fascinating”..... as one pointy-eared television/movie character is fond of saying.

His “Star Trek” crew character  being of a skeptical and science-driven mind.

Likewise my close encounter with Richard Osterlind, a mentalist/magician/hypnotist who was the speaker at a recent Horizons Town Talk offering at the Horizons Conference Center in Saginaw Township.

Told him straight up, in an interview before his presentation, I did not buy into this mind reading stuff...and besides, doesn’t the television series “The Mentalist” trash the whole idea with the title character of that show just being gifted in knowing how to read and/or trick people very, very well.

Osterlind was polite and patient.

“Yes, the show implies everything he does is based on reading body language,” he said. “But mine is based on ESP (extra sensory perception). I pick up people’s thoughts.

“I use abilities we all have. I have just refined them. And everyone has it (ESP) to some degree. They just don’t use it.”

He was also apparently reading that I was thinking “ya, right buddy” and asked me to pick a number between 1 and 100, took a piece of paper, wrote on it and folded it. Then he asked what I was thinking and I said 56. He held up the paper and on it was written “you are thinking 56.”

Some hairs stood up on my neck...then I though in that moment I said the number I had looked away a second before he held up his paper. Just enough time to quickly write what I had just said?

Told him so.

He sighed...and asked me to think of the first name of a close friend. I told him I was going to watch him like a hawk, maybe not even blink my eyes, during the process. And I did.

Out of his mouth next. “You are thinking of two people.” OMG, I was. “Concentrate on just one.” I did. And then  he wrote on a piece of paper, “Susan.”

Not Sue -- she hates that.


The hairs were really standing up on my neck now....and then he bent and twisted a spoon as I watched.

This was a mere warmup to the Horizons Town Talk show before 1,000 or so people -- during which he fiddled with playing cards and time, bent some more spoons, and picked up random thoughts among the audience members. None of us had met him before.

Ostetlind looking more relaxed
There were some telling comments. “I create my stunts when I am on the road,” he told his audience. His bio program referred to skills in magic and in creating inventions which are now a part of the arsenal of mentalists everywhere . Both imply fakery.

But he also pointed out in Saginaw  he uses no assistants roaming in the audience with microphones, to pick up on what people are saying and then relaying them back to him in some way. No mirrors --- besides 56 and Susan were not reflecting anywhere; they were only inside my mind.

With the 1,000 in the Horizons Town Talk  audience he had them write special  dates, places they had been, family members or pet names on a piece of paper, and then place them in an envelope on each table. “Mix up the categories you write down.”

He did not collect the envelopes or even go near them.

“Feb. 7, 1969 ...” he said and a hand went up. OK, lucky guess. But then he proceeded to tell the person her husband’s first name and the first names of her daughter and son.

Over and over he did this with other members of the audience, with 100 percent accuracy on names, hometown, pets. “You have these messages in your head and I pick up thoughts like a radio picks up signals.”

In the interview the 64-year-old said he has been doing this professionally for nearly 40 years -- starting for just fun when he was a child growing up in P.T. Barnum’s home town of Bridgeport, Conn.

“My dad used to take me to the (Barnum and Bailey) circus. I loved the side shows. The fortune tellers, the magicians. I was interested in the mystery of it.”

He took a deck of cards early on, he claimed,  asked some  childhood friends to pull some out, and then told them what they were holding. His parents wanted to know where he had learned that card “trick.” What trick, he asked. He just knew what they were holding, And a career began.

Now he performs worldwide, for major corporate meetings and town halls. Before Gerald and Betty Ford, where he told the president the name of a childhood dog he had 60 years ago. Before 600 Chinese in Beijing. On Fox and Friends in the U.S. and on  “Good Morning Helsinki.”

He is, however, banned in casinos if he he recognized.  But he did “drive a car blindfolded in Japan” since he could “see” where he was going.

“You know there is no more wonder and mystery in the world today,” he said in talking to me. “When I was a kid I could imagine there were some places in Africa where dinosaurs still existed. Now kids can Google it and see there are no dinosaurs in Africa.”

But apparently there are mind readers in America? Google Osterlind and it is impressive. He ranks among the best. But the articles about him and his ilk are always kind of cloudy on the uses of magic vs. real ESP.

I started doubting again.

Then I thought of the two times in my life when I woke up in the dead of night, got up and stood next to the phone in the kitchen because I knew it was doing to ring with bad news, and both times it did. Within a minute or less.

Both callers remarked  that it sounded like I was wide awake when they called.

“I use abilities we all have,” Osterlind had said. “I have just refined them. And everyone has it (ESP) to some degree. They just don’t use it.”

So is he the mystery in our world ....or its magic...or maybe a little bit of both?

Friday, March 1, 2013

"The 39 Steps" at Bay City Players filled with sight gags and spies

review and photos by janet i. martineau

Imagine a 1935 Alfred Hitchcock spy movie taken from a 1915  novel and  married to a 2005-penned Monty Python style  script and you have Patrick Barlow’s “The 39 Steps,” playing this weekend and next at the Bay City Players.

From left, Trevor Keyes, Kurt Miller, Nathan Cholger
And yes, the play directed by Leeds Bird is as crazy a caper as that sounds -- so many bits of business amid the mystery that it boggles the mind.

Also it is superbly directed and superbly acted by a cast of four with  seven Zanies backing them up -- and three members of that cast plays, oh, maybe 20-25 characters. Cops, spies, train conductors, newspaper sellers, a memory performer, a sheriff, hotel owners, aged politicians, a murder victim, a farm couple.

With varying Scot, British and German accents to boot (and some needing translation, which also is provided)

Farcical comedy is playing well this winter in mid-Michigan. Pit and Balcony Community Theatre in Saginaw had us laughing with “God of Carnage” and Saginaw Valley State University with “Moon Over Buffalo.” And now this delicious treat.

The plot concerns an unmarried Canadian man visiting England and attending a show at the famed Palladium. Quicker than quick he gets blamed for a murder following a shooting there, and the madness to track down the real killer while keeping ahead of the police ensues.

Bird has directed with a minimal set. Yet involved are cars, planes and trains, and escapes through windows, with the actors involved in not only dialogue but hilarious mime and/or movement connected to carrying them off. 
Two Zanies and a window escape

We do not want to spoil too much of that fun, but the airplane scene and one of the  window escape scenes left us in stitches. And if you know your Hitchcock films, they were even funnier.

Nathan Cholger plays the Canadian, Caitlin Berry three women he runs across, and Kurt Miller and Trevor Keyes everyone else. All are superb actors with a wonderful physicality, expressions, timing and line delivery. Truly, there are times we forget there are only four of them and think other actors have  joined them on stage.

Miller in particular is captivating -- in one place alternating two characters by just spinning around. He also has the most fun with the varying accents. But even straight man Cholger gets an outstanding sight gag early on when the murder victim has fallen across his lap in a chair with arms and he can’t lift her off so he .....well, never mind.

Earlier we mentioned the cast included seven Zanies backing up the cast. This was Bird’s addition to the show, and a brilliant one. Dressed in black, they are to explain it. Well, they are costume changers who usually do their work backstage but in this show do it in view of the audience, a herd of bleating sheep, the holders of the windows involved, the set piece changers. With body English of their own.

We can’t imagine this show without them and their ever presence, especially when it comes to the costume changes -- in particular when  Miller does that busy interchange of two characters with Keyes also engaged at that point.

Another Zany moment or two involves the use of a fog machine....with a Zany delivering the fog literally into the faces of the actors. Thought I would die laughing.

Other bits of fun business include one the actors doing battle with the sound man, and troubles getting a set piece  on in time for the lines. There are, in this play, many places where is the sound person has to be spot on -- and always is.

Great costumes also in this 1935-set play.

Like we said earlier, what a delicious treat -- for movie fans, Python fans and theater farce fans. The only problem is, methinks, there is so much to take in we are sure we missed things.