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February 18, 2010 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 2010-02-18

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4B - Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Keeping Ann Arbor
artists close to home

From Page 1B
tive," Kuppers said about her and Mar-
cus's intimate book of poems.
"Many people speak to us abouthow
empowering ic was to them. to see some-
one speak about love and sexuality in the
context of disability, and from a position
of being involved in it, rather than analyz-
The book's title verges on taboo. "Crip-
ple" holds negative connotations; it's a
harsh word to the ears of many disabled
"We've had a few people that respond
very negatively to the title 'Cripple Poet-
ics'because of the word'cripple'in it. (But)
we use the term because of its poetic rich-
ness; there's so much more heft, so much
more richness," Kuppers said. "There's so
much more weight, so much more meta-
phorical density in the word 'cripple' than
there is in 'disability.'
"We are very interested in the mean-
ings of the word, how it sounds in the ear,
how it ripples off my tongue," she added.
"I think disability culture depends on
opening itself up to all connotations of
Disability Culture
"I am disabled, living with pain and
fatigue, and I've been a dancer my whole
life, too," Kuppers said.
With an optimistic attitude, Kup-
pers often sought out the positive side of
potentially negative situations. She men-
tioned how she prefers to "always focus
on the more productive aspects."
Because she is able to "see and track its
progress," she said, "(the disability move-
ment) is a very exciting cultural move-
ment to be part of: it changes the world we
live in, and we can experience this diver-
sification, this new richness."
However, disability culture is more
than the rectification of discrimination.
While the Americans with Disabilities
Act of 1990 affords similar protections
as those in the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
"there (are) still plenty of places out there
in the. world that I can't really access,"
Kuppers said.
"Internationally, many dance depart-
ments and theater departments are still
inaccessible to wheelchair users - I still
can't get into the spaces. So I could not do
what I'm doing (elsewhere in the world),
and I am very glad to be living in the U.S."
In keeping with her positive person-
ality, she acknowledged that while "dis-
crimination and lack of access have been
intimate features of my life, at the same
time they've been the machines that
always pushed me to create my art and
shape a creative politics," she said.
Disability culture is about accepting
and transforming the challenges that
come with living in a discriminatory
world and celebrating the richness of
human responses to hardship.
Kuppers received a Ph.D at an arts col-
lege in the United Kingdom, a profession-
ally challenging yet liberating experience
"as a theorist, writer and performance
artist in an arts-focused environment."
As an undergraduate performance
studies major, Kuppers explained, "I was
able to take classes, but they usually had
to be moved to other, more accessible
buildings, and that was very awkward
because it was always focused on me."
Kuppers is disabled, moving about with
her powerchair, but her calm demeanor
doesn't evoke sympathy. Instead, just
watching one of her performances, talk-
ing with her about life or being in one of
her classes challenges students to cele-
brate their bodies and their places within
the community.
Through the University

In "English 346: Embodiment/Envi-
ronment," a performance studies class
also taught by Kuppers, LSA junior Adam
Gorring wrote in an e-mail interview
that aside from its "New Traditions"
fulfillment, the fact that yoga mats were
required for an English class definitely
stood out.
"I was so intrigued Ihad to sign up," he
"I like my students to be present to
themselves," Kuppers explained, stress-
ing the beauty within one's body in the
present moment, disregarding limita-
Kuppers hopes her students will "learn
something that will be of use to them for a
really long time."
In describing English 346, Kuppers
said the class uses "experiential anatomy
exercises, relaxation exercises and cre-

Ann Arbor is an artistic city. This is some-
thing I have believed since I got here way
back in 2007, and Ihave been unwavering
in that view. But in a poll on AnnArbor.com,
58 percent of voters feel
differently, saying that a
lack of a viable inexpen-
sive performance space
is driving away the city's
artists. When I first saw
these results, I thought'
they were ridiculous.
Ann Arbor's art scene is -
undeniably rich, right? JAMIE
We find evidence of this BLOCK
on posting boards, in our
inboxes and from strang-
ers passing out flyers on the Diag. But then
I realized how narrow my focus has been.
While the University still serves as a beacon
for artistic excellence, the rest of the city isn't
always so lucky.
According to an AnnArbor.com report,
City Council has passed a resolution encour-
aging an "innovative process of community
collaboration" for finding a viable arts space
(City officials, artists share concerns that
Ann Arbor may be losing its cultural vitality,
2/2/10). Arts Alliance, a local arts advocacy
group, has its sights set on 415 W. Washing-
ton, an out-of-use garage, as a potential loca-
tion for a community arts center. While this
would undoubtedly be a boon to the city's
art scene, there are some other performance
spaces the city could tap into in the mean-
while: the University's spaces.
The University campus includes quite
a few performance spaces, none of which
are in use each and every night. Sure,
it's not ideal to hold performances on
arbitrary weekdays, which may be all the
'U' performances schedule would allow,
but there is still an opportunity for Ann
Arbor's professional artists to perform in
the University's spaces.
Now, this isn't aone way street. It would
require collaboration from both sides of the
University's borders. Ann Arbor organiza-
tions ought to start communicating with the
arts organizations on campus responsible
for booking these stages. The University
Musical Society and the School of Music,
Theatre & Dance are always bringing in
great performers from all corners of the
country and the world. But in the inter-
est of keeping Ann Arbor a viable arts city
for all the artists the University spits out
into it, the 'U' ought to offer the city some
artistic sanctuary. And for visual artists, the
University could set aside a spot in the now-
expansive University of Michigan Museum
of Art for local exhibitions.
Some University students and faculty
may present a valid objection to this idea:
There are only so many artists the school
can bring in each year, so shouldn't the 'U'
try to bring in the best instead of the clos-
est? But there's enough to gain to make up

for the fact that the Ann Arbor artists may
not always be the best artists (though they
often could be). This collaboration wouldn't
just give local artists an opportunity to
find some exposure in the general sense, it
would also show the students just what the
city has to offer.
There are several arts organizations that
students simply don't know about because
the organizations' headquarters lie far
beyond the traditional student hangouts.
For instance, who knew there was an Ann
Arbor Comic Opera company? I sure didn't,
but that's exactlythe kind of thing I would
make the time to go see. Now it would be
much more difficult, though, because lack of
viable space sent them to Canton. Bringing
performances to the University will show the
studentbody what entertainment lies over
yonder. Once there is a better community
space for these artists, they will find not only
a new building, but a new student fanbase
following them there.
'U' space should be
more available to
local artists.
And that's the other consolation for those
who feel this is a poor use of space: It wouldn't
be forever. According to the AnnArbor.com
report, the City Council is asking for recom-
mendations regarding arts spaces in February
of next year. And hopefully the powers that be
will come together so that, once recommenda-
tions are made regarding415W. Washington
or another similar space, the new arts space
can be up and running as soon as possible.
Tamara Real, the president of Arts Alli-
ance, said in the AnnArbor.com report that
in a 2008 artists census, there were over
1,000 responders from Ann Arbor. We have
reached a point at which the Blind Pig, the
Ark and the Performance Network just aren't
enough. We need to provide an affordable
performance space for these artists, or else
they willbe forced to leave. I don't want stu-
dents who come here several years from now
to see an artless Ann Arbor.
Obviously, programming for the rest of
this year in University performance spaces
has already been decided. But next year
really isn't so far away. As the University's
arts administrators schedule performances
and exhibits for nextyear, I beseech them to
look local. I still believe that Ann Arbor is an
artistic city, but I acknowledge now that this
isn't a given. Let's do whatever possible at the.
'U' to help our city keep its culture.
Block has nowhere to perform his
comic opera. To let him use your dorm,
e-mail him at jamblock@umich.edu.

Kuppers hopes to teach her students how the differences among us are revealed in performance.

ative movement exercises as a way of vali-
dating our bodies as source of knowledge,
validating who we are as producers."
But where's the English part in all of
"Students are asked to make connec-
tions between the experiences they'd
had in the classroom and their analysis of
poetry and prose passages," Kuppers said.
She said by doing this, she reveals to
her students that there are, in fact, other
ways to delve into literature.
"Instead of analyzing a text from exist-
ing interpretations, I'm trying to get stu-
dents to understand that there's another
way to develop a critical understanding,
and that is by really listening to your own
physical, emotional, intellectual respons-
es, and using those as the center from
which to approach the outside world,"
she- said. "What does it feel like to give
space to a poem in your own body, in your
mouth, with your breath?"
"New Traditions" may seem like a
foggy title to students outside and even
inside the English major, but that may be
the best thing about it. Kuppers described
her Disability Culture class as if reading
from the syllabus - there's no fluff.
According to her, it's a class "in which
we talk about this emerging cultural
form, the disability culture movement.
We look at a wide range of causes and look
at the responses that they have created,
given the kind of world we live in. And we
look at how the world has changed, the
discrimination that people, have faced,
and the creative outpouring that -is hap-
Outside of the Classroom
Kuppers is the author of a number of
books that bridge the gap between bod-
ies, performance and disability, but she
doesn't tend to toot her own horn.
"There's something strange about put-
ting your own work in the classroom," she
While all of her work is very personal
and a narrative of her life as a witness-
ing critic, her most intimate book is
undoubtedly "Cripple Poetics," a book not
assigned in her classroom.
"It's the poems (Marcus and I) were
writing to each other as we were getting
to know one another," she said, "(But) at
the same time, it also is a meditation on
embodiment and disability ... A lot of this
book is not really about a conventional,
highly private, heteronormative love-
relationship. This is a book of connections
between many different people, a more
expansive love."
On top of her books, she has also helped
produce several short films. The artis-
tic film "water burns sun," starring both
Kuppers and Marcus, won first prize in
both the international Disability Film
Festival and the U.S.-based Focus Film
Festival in 2009. "The Anarcha Project:

Sims and the Medical Plantation" touch-
es on discrimination from two angles as
it tells the heartbreaking story of three
African-American slave women and the
ruthless crimes against them during
"gynecological experiments."
It's in projects like these that Kuppers's
intentions for cultural development are
reflected. She is not bound by the limits
of discrimination within disability; she
merely uses that as a jumping-off point.
"My work is about the depth of (our)
culture," she said, "a wider and deeper
experience that's not just about celebra-
tion and pride, but celebration and pride
with an acknowledgement of pain."
When reflecting on her experiences,
both academic and artistic, it's clear both
are exposed in the written word as well as
in her performances. Kuppers's and Mar-
cus's work reflects a lifestyle that's "depen-
dent on interdependence ... (they) are not
two people alone (but) are constantly in
connection with others," Kuppers said.
Aside from personal work, Kuppers is
also involved with research. "I've learned
to balance between the two," she said,
regarding juggling traveling and teaching.
"Next fall semester, I've received a fellow-
ship atnthe Australian National University
in Canberra, where I'm going to investi-
gate international disability culture in a
post-colonial context."
How We Live Our Lives
Talking with Kuppers is almost over-
whelming. It doesn't just spark a need for
change or involvement within disability
culture, it pushes, pulls and creates a des-
perate need for an awakening of a person-
al experience, in connection with others'
personal experiences.
"The focus of the class is to teach the
students the differences in people and
how those differences are revealed in
community performances," Gorring
wrote, appreciative of Kuppers's class
atmosphere. "So whether people are dif-
ferent physically in one way or another,
the idea is to respect both the people and
what they are presenting."
Understanding discrimination in all its
facets is an important part of a liberal arts
education. As students, we're often taught
the important dates, the big movements,
the strides in society. We learn to sympa-
thize and empathize. But with educators
like Petra Kuppers, that's just not enough.
Disability culture is this strong wom-
an's tool for learning and teaching others
about self and about community.
"Disability culture, in a sense, stems
from a need to overcome obstacles and
find community," she said. "That's really
quite how we all live our lives, right?"
And when learningto overcome obsta-
cles means understanding ourselves as
individuals in a collective environment,
perhaps we, too, can embody the spirit
and quiet force of Petra Kuppers.


From Page 3B
just sort of magically brings you in without
starting with a lie."
Because of the lack of visual elements,
heavy focus was placed on the script and
acting choices during the rehearsal process.
Students working on the production agree
that this approach has been a one-of-a-kind
educational opportunity, and they feel that
it has both enhanced their personal experi-
ences and the show as a whole.
"I get to see a different perspective on
directing," said Roman Micevic, School of
Music, Theatre & Dancesophomore and assis-
tant director of "Our Town." "(Schwiebert)
has a very interesting approach, where he
focuses in on the text, and then through the
text and working with the actors, he develops
the characters and the action thatgoes on the
The director chose to stress certain inter-
pretations of the play's thematic elements to
inspire choices for the production to create
an overall arc of meaning for the audience.
"I think the line that is probably the most
important in the show is: 'Choose the least
important day of your life, it will be impor-
tant enough,' " Schwiebert said. "That's real-
ly the idea."
Carrie Fisk, a School of Music, Theater
& Dance freshman who plays Emily Webb,
explained that watching clips of various ver-
sions of "Our Town" showed that poignant
moments of the show are often focused on
seriousness and negativity - something this

production steers away from.
"Just as with life, if we weigh too much on
the negative, we lose track of the positive,"
Fisk said. "So it's been really fun to (work on
a production) where we are exploring the
positivity in it and the fun in it, and just the
silliness of everyday life."
"When we're showing the regular life
of these characters in the first two acts,
we're not commenting on the seriousness,"
Schwiebert elaborated. "In fact, we've upped
the tempo, making it go by quicker, at a nor-
mal family pace."
Fisk explained that "Our Town" is very
pertinent to college students despite its clas-
sic status and age. The play deals with the
complicated nature of human connections,
relationships and what it means when people
are too worried about the details instead of
"We get too overwhelmed," Fisk said. "It
starts in the end of high school, but it gets
really intense (in college). There is so much
going on with homework to do, people to see
and relationships to build and you just get so
caught up in everything.
"I think it's nice to see (in 'Our Town') how
before any of the overhead of the digital age,
these things did still happen," she said. "We
did still have human things to deal with, and
we still have to take the time as ahuman being
to stop and enjoy what we have instead of
worrying about the time we don't have."
It's this ultimately optimistic message,
communicated through a simple, bottom-up
production approach, that the Department
of Theatre & Drama's production of "Our
Town" will bring to a playtraditionally noted
for its heavy subject matter.


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