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March 18, 2010 - Image 13

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Thursday, March 18, 2010 - 3B

Corralling creativity
will oniy stigmatize

A festival of student plays

There are a lot of delicious foods
out there in the world, and
myself enjoy a tasty treat every
once in a while. Sometimes, I'll even com-
bine two of these deli-
cious items together
to make an even more
delicious entity. But
even someone with as
little cooking experi-
ence as I have knows
that you can't just
throw a bunch of ran- JAME
dom-yet-tasty ingre- BLOCK
dients into a pot and
expect a good result.
I fear that in creating the new living-
learning community Living Arts on
North Campus, the University and the
Arts on Earth Program have made this
same oulinary error. All the individual
parts are worthwhile, but the idea as a
whole might not be constructive.
Inspired by a University class on the
creative process and slated to initiate
next fall, the goal behind the com-
munity is to encourage the sharing of
creative ideas across disciplines and to
get students more involved in the arts
on campus. Beyond that, not much has
been specifically laid out. The plan is to
let much of the programming arise natu-
rally from the students' creativity.
On a checklist, this seems like an awe-
some new option. Being in a think tank
with my fellow creative minds? Seems
awesome. Getting inside access with
performers and lecturers who come from
across the nation and the world? Seems
yet more awesome. Living next to people
with whom I may actually have some-
thing in common? Seems awesome for
me, but maybe not so awesome overall.
In essence, Living Arts is a Residential
College on North Campus, and it's likely
to develop a similar reputation. Now, I'm
a member of the RC, I love the RC and
I would recommend the RC to anyone.
But there's one problem with the RC that
I'm afraid will rear its ugly head again in
Living Arts. If we put all the people with
pink mohawks, a bajillion piercings and
off-the-wall artistic projects in one place,
there will be some level of alienation.
I'm certainly not blind to the stigma
that all RC students are crazy progres-
sive liberals with weird hair and hobbies.
Many of us here in the RC make the same
comments, but in a more loving tone. I
worry, though, that Living Arts will be a
second beacon of alienation. It is a place
that the artistically reluctant could see
as a corral, keeping those weirdos con-
tained in a single area, a safe distance
from the rest of the students.
When a certain group of people is
deemed the "artistic group," outsiders
are even less likely to get involved. It's
like when the girl you had a crush on in

middle school would dance in a circle
with her friends. You're far less likely to
talk to her if you have to break into an
established group. Trust me, I was a shy
little kid. It's intimidating.
Instead of implementing the Living
Arts plan into a specific community,
why not just have similar programs that
are universally available? If we want a
creative think tank, we don't need to
take the "tank" part literally by making
everyone live together. The nobler effort
would be to create some special program
or campus group that made a conscious
effort to recruit artistic thinkers not only
across the disciplines, but also across
campus. Not only does this provide a
more diverse perspective, but it allows
the students to share the ideas they learn
from other program members with the
people around them. In Living Arts, you
wouldn't be able to share these ideas
with your community because your ideas
came from within that community.
Take the Living out
of Living Arts.
And there's really nothing Living
Arts wants to do that can't be done on
this broader scale. If the people behind
the program think there ought to be a
chance to have some casual conversation
time with the speakers and performers
the 'U' brings in, they should certainly
arrange this. But why not make it avail-
able to everyone? To be honest, there
aren't enough people who would have
the interest and free time to attend every
event, so overcrowding should hardly
be a worry. Besides, nobody reads flyers
or campus-wide event e-mails, so most
people won't even know the opportunity
exists. This way it's still a self-selecting
program, but without the corral.
Basically, Living Arts is taking the
wrong approach to the right ideas. Per-
haps the culinary comparison could use
some revision. If I want to make a deli-
cious smoothie (and why wouldn't I?) I
will get some delicious fruits and throw
them in the blender. Living Arts aims to
make itself a smoothie too (I mean, who
doesn't love smoothies?). But while all its
fruits are ripe and tasty looking, they're
gettingthrown into a wok instead of the
ultimate blender that is our campus. And
if Living Arts were a bit further reach-
ing, maybe someone involved could have
stopped me before I used this artistically
appalling metaphor.
Block is making you a metaphorical
smoothie. To metaphorically get it,
e-mail him at jamblock@umich.edu.

Student playwrights'
work performed in its
rawest form.
Daily TV/New Media Editor
This weekend, Ann Arbor has an oppor-
tunity to see theater in its rawest, purest
form. Playfest, a fes-
tival that features Playfest
staged theatrical
readings of student- Thursday through
written plays, offers Saturday at 7 p.m.
a new twist on the Studio One
traditional produc- Free
tions put on at Studio
One. With no sets or costumes, and actors
with scripts in hand, audiences can get an
inside lookat student playwrights as their
work is presented in public for the very
first time.
The process behind this year's Play-
fest started last fall with the course The-
atre 327: Intermediate Playwriting, when
Department of Theatre & Drama Prof.
OyamO selected six student playwrights
whose work seemed ready to be pushed
a little further. Consequently, these writ-
ers enrolled in Theatre 429: Playwriting
Towards Production, a course designed
to help them understand their work as an
object to be produced, culminating in pro-
ductions during the week-long Playfest.
"In a sense, (the course) is kind of like
a whisper of a professional developmental
situation," OyamO said. "The object is to
have (students) develop the play as far as
they can."
"The thing isn't to make people write
in a particular, rigid form," OyamO
explained. "This is art, there is no such
thing as (a right way) in my opinion. But
the idea is to somehow or another get them
to recognize what they are doing and why
they are doing it. And to remind them to
write from their heart and intuition as
opposed to some particular notion of how
a play is supposed to be.
"I mean, Edward Albee does not write
like Shakespeare," he added.
After students enrolled in the course
discussed their work in class, each play
was assigned a student director to draw
up theoretical scenic designs and, of
course, cast the plays. In Theatre 429 stu-
dents with all different areas of theatri-
cal expertise are given the opportunity to
work together on something original and
virtually independent from the authority
of a professor.
"Playfest is representing the collabora-
tion process," said Emilie Samuelson, a
School of Music, Theatre & Dance junior
and one of the Playfest writers. "And that's
what theater is about - collaboration. To
take what we've learned and to try it out on
our own, to apply it to something, is really
Audiences attending Playfest will have

Playfest gives student playwrights the opportunity to get peer feedback on their work.

a chance to participate in the collaboration
process too. The director of each play will
lead a talk-back session with the audience,
during which audience members can ask
the playwright questions or offer general
comments. The playwright will then ask
the audience questions, aiming to gain
feedback on the production and gauge the
overall response.
"It's hard to imagine how something
is going to be received," Samuelson said.
"You can justify it in your head all you
want, but whether or not the audience is
going to get it, you never know."
OyamO believes the talk-back session
with the audience is crucial to the profes-
sional developmental aspect of Playfest.
"When we get that audience feedback,
it becomes a very educational situation
where you are learning by doing," he said.
"Some kids get very excited and some may
be a little scared, but you have to get over
"There is no such thing as failure if you
learned something," he added.
Playfest gives students who may not
necessarily be writing concentrators a
one-of-a-kind opportunity to have their
voices heard and to participate in keeping
the contemporary theater fresh..
"Going out into the real world, the
chance of getting a staged reading for an
inexperienced playwright is slim to none,"
Samuelson said.
"With the way the theater is right now,
it seems like there are so many revivals,"
said Matt Bouse, School of Music, Theatre
& Dance junior and Playfest writer. "So
it encourages students to write and then
rewrite. New work is cool and important,
and it helps to keep the theater alive. And
(Playfest) is good for us as playwrights, to
give us some encouragement and ... to see
what people appreciate about (our plays)."
Student-driven productions at the Uni-
versity in the past, including those at Play-
fest, have reached past the scope of the 'U'
and opened a lot of doors for the students
In 2008, former School of Music, The-
atre & Dance student Seth Moore's "Jone-

sin' was first heard at Playfest. It caught
the attention of Malcolm Tulip, clinical
assistantprofessor ofctheatre & drama who
produced the show as a mainstage Uni-
versity production in winter 2009. This
summer, Moore will be at the O'Neill's
National Playwrights Conference with
"The Man with America Skin," a piece that
premiered in 2009 at Playfest. "A Very Pot-
ter Musical," a completely student-driven
'production with Basement Arts that pre-
miered last winter, has a fan following all
over the country and has become a You-
Tube phenomenon.
"You may be looking at some talent
that's going to be up on a board some-
day, and you can say you saw them first,"
OyamO said.
The ideas students are exploring in
their work featured in this year's Playfest
rest on all sides of the spectrum - ranging
from an absurdist black comedy that starts
with the unexpected arrival of a pizza man
and ends with mayhem and murder, to an
abstract, poetic and idealistic piece about
failing to escape from a destructive life
"I can never be certain what these kids
are going to write," OyamO said. "A lot of
the time people say 'Write whatyou know,'
but it's all experimental, so you can pretty
much go wherever you want - there are no
restrictions. Except porn, none of that; I'd
say try cable for that."
Although the opportunity has passed
to see "Living Dead" by Bouse (Monday),
"Pictures of You" by Samuelson (Tuesday)
and "The Tyler Family Portrait" by School
of Music, Theatre & Dance freshman Alli-
son Brown (Wednesday), there are still
three more plays. "Boundary Trauma" by
School of Music, Theatre & Dance junior
Allison Stock premieres tonight, "Caged"
by LSA junior Alison Rieth premieres
Friday, and "Elbow Room" by School of
Music, Theatre & Dance senior Tedra Mil-
lan will close Playfest on Saturday.
"It's interesting to see what young
people are writing," OyamO said. "What
do they think about the world and what's
happening? To me, that's worth seeing."

'No notation necessary for the
daring Creative Arts Orchestra

DailyArts Writer
Not many musical directors would con-
fess, with an impish grin, that their perfor-
mances are just as likely to
"crash and burn" as they rea'e
are to be "completely thrill- A
ing and awe-inspiring."
Meet University lecturer OChestra
Mark Kirschenmann: jazz
trumpeter, solo electronic Tonight at
musician and director of the 8 p.m.
Creative Arts Orchestra, the Rackham
University's fully improvi- Auditorium
sational, genre-shredding
music ensemble.
"There's kind of a stigma sometimes that the
composer hands down this tablet that's etched,
and here it is," Kirschenmann said. "And you
are the player, therefore you will play it exact-
ly the way I've written it for you. So you are,
therefore, then the re-creator."
One of CAD's missions is to shatter this ste-
reotype of musical composition - especially in
the realm of classical music - as a fixed, air-
tight entity. In fact, CAO scarcely even looks at
musical notation at all.
"For the most part, we just set up and play.
We'll just set up in a circle, all 15 of us, and
we'll just start from nothing," Kirschenmann
said. "We won't be reading any music, we
won't be taking any cues. I'm not going to be
up there conducting. I'll be sitting, playing in
the ensemble. And it will just be continuously
Given CAO's unadulteratedly off-the-cuff
nature, it makes sense that its free-the-music
agenda is just as much a recipe for disaster as it
is for experimental genius. But this is precisely
what makes CAO so precious.
The concept of a fully improvisational
orchestra comes packaged with such a hefty
risk quotient that, according to Kirschen-
mann, "There are almost - in the university
system of the world - no ensembles like this."
When 'U' professor and accomplished jazz

musician Edward Sarath founded CAO 20
years ago, the vast majority of those in the
School of Music - students and professors
alike - thought that the idea was, quite simply,
a bit bananas.
According to Kirschenmann, who jumped
on board CAO in 2002, the fledgling ensemble
was met with "real skepticism and, in fact,
opposition." Even jazz musicians, the quintes-
sential proprietors of the improvisation game,
found the whole escapade to be a tad batty.
But, thankfully, CAO has weathered the
storm of practicality and will be unleashing its
renegade brand of music-making at Rackham
Auditorium tonight at 8 p.m. This brings up a
question: Exactly what should one be expect-
ing from this show?
Will Marriott, a tenor saxophonist in CAO
and sophomore in the School of Music, The-
atre & Dance, put itbluntly: "Don't expect any-
thing. Nothing canbe expected. Just go (to the
show) with an open mind and open ears and
experience music."
Taking an improv-
based approach to
classical music.
And, as frustratingly abstract as his dis-
claimer is, Marriott is right on the money.
More than anything else, CAO is out to shatter
boundaries and confound expectations. As far
as any sort of setlist, Kirschenmann asserted:
"We won't decide, probably, until two minutes
before we walk out."
An integral part of this anything-goes men-
tality is CAO's insistence on uniting musi-
cians with incredibly diverse backgrounds and
tastes - the ensemble isn't even restricted to
students in the School of Music.
"Students tend to get categorized and strati-
fied by their majors. We want to dissolve all

that," Kirschenmann said. "Why can'tclassical
players, jazz players, composers (and) music
tech people all get together and make music?
And improvise. And share their common expe-
riences, put them all into this bigpool and let it
brew and simmer.
If anything can be expected, it's a lack of
stuffiness. CAO's performances are a far cry
from any sort of classical jazz standard. The
ensemble often incorporates electronic ele-
ments, unafraid to warp traditional tones with
laptops and effects pedals.
And Gabriel Saltman, a baritone saxophon-
ist in CAO and sophomore in the School of
Music, Theatre & Dance, commented that the
jamboree isn't even limited to musical instru-
ments, stating that it's fair game "to yell, or
speak words."
Saltman actually composed a piece for CAO,
titled "Faces," which will likely debut tonight,
despite the ensemble's aversion to written
music. The catch? The piece contains absolute-
ly zero standard musical notation.
On paper, "Faces" is an expressionistic
accumulation of various shapes and colors,
from which musicians are expected to extract
emotion from and, in turn, convert into sound.
Thus, while the piece is indeed written, its
abstract nature guarantees that it sounds
drastically different each time it's played - an
aspect accentuated by the fact that Saltman
will be conducting the piece in real time, mix-
ing and matching sets of musicians on the spot.
Marriott also composed an unorthodox
piece likely to debut tonight, a kind of musical
equivalent to a "Choose Your Own Adventure"
book. The piece consists of divergent pathways
gradually layering on top of each other as the
musicians spontaneously riff on the central
melody and choose from a variety of open-
ended "routes."
Clearly, tonight's performance is going to be
an unpredictable one. And whether it's a tri-
umph or a "crash-and-burn," it certainly won't
be bland. So leave your expectations at the
door and brace yourself for something truly

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