2B - Thursday, September 16, 2010
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.can
Judging A Book By Its Cover
Why even read a single page
when the cover tells the whole story?
/ t Y.,.
There was a time when Sufjan Ste-
vens had alot of potential, but now it
kind of seems like he's been around
too long without doing much of sub-
stance. In that sense, new single
"Too Much" is the epitome of Sufjan.
The track starts out promising,
with little bursts of tuneless glitch
only gradually gaining a beat. And
it stays interesting for awhile, as Suf
proves that he can use electronica
to do what he does best - namely,
whine aboutvaguely intelligible, usu-
ally personal fuck-ups in an about-to-
cry voice, but still somehow capture
listeners with precious multi-part
accompaniments and a clear ear for
melody. Clearly the guy has oodles of
talent in any medium.
But, just like Sufjan's "50 States"
fizzler, the concept dies out quickly
- about four minutes in, when lis-
teners will doubtless realize they've
just spent half the song keyed into the
same tired chorus, "There's too much
riding on that," sung over the same
patterns of computer rambling.
Yes, it does eventually build up into
a celebration of screechy and fluttery
noises coming together in harmony.
And yeah, it's pretty cool how Ste-
vens's clever woodwind glissandos
and string ostinatos and trumpet
scale patterns blend into something
that's anything but classical in that
But is that worth the track's six
(going on seven) long minutes, or is
the whole thing about as self-centered
as deciding to bestow a personalized
albumupon every state in the Union?
President Barack Obama is busy being the
leader of the free world while being a dad and
husband, but he can still find time to pen a chil-
dren's book. President Obama will make his
kid-lit debut on Nov. 16 with the sure-to-be-
bestseller "of Thee I Sing."
The book is dedicated to his daughters and
details their journeys and crazy hijinks. Sasha
and Malia Obama jump at the chance to take
Bo for a walk, but really they'll do anything to
avoid eating their green eggs and ham. While
out walking, they hop aboard the Polar Express
and travel into the land of the Wild Things (an
allegory for the White House perhaps?) armed
with a purple crayon and their big red dog,
Other Bo at their side. After learning lessons
about love and the importance of family and
running through the alphabet a few times, the
COURTESY OF ALFRED A. KNOPF
Obama girls return home with Bo and Other Bo
leading the way.
While Obama's use of synecdoche, verisimil-
itude and malapropisms are to be applauded for
successfully illuminating the inner conflicts of
childhood, his attempt at metonymy and fore-
shadowing were catastrophic at best. It was
painstakingly clear what was to happen when
Sasha gave the mouse a cookie, and worse, it
veered the narrative off course as said mouse
proceeded to ask for a glass of milk.
In short, "Of Thee I Sing" will gain success
as a novelty with readers clamoring to devour
the musings of the man who brought you health
care. However, it is unlikely Obama will be
placing a Pulitzer next to his Nobel prize - but
with Obama, who really knows?
"I'm on cloud nine. Can't you tell?"
The latter, definitely. If "Too
Much" is any indication for The Age
ofAdz - slated for release Oct. 12 -
then it's not exactly a leap forward
for Sufjan. Instead, it's like sidestep-
ping the impossible project he offi-
cially gave up on last November and
not proposing anything in exchange.
Sufjan is obviously a stellar musician,
but he seems to be too wrapped up in
From Page 1B
small black-box theater. He then
asked friend, playwright and
fellow Albion graduate Jason
Sebacher to join him in his adven-
Sebacher, 24, who was working
in Chicago as a high school Eng-
lish teacher, heartily agreed, and
Medelis cast six people ranging in
age from 18 to 22 to play the teen-
age characters. It quickly became
apparent that they would be much
more than actors.
Medelis asked the cast to
answer what he pinpointed as "the
question" of the play: "When was
the momentcwhen you realized that
you were no longer a child?"
The cast members, who now
form the New Ensemble, journaled
together in workshops multiple
times a month for six months to
answer that question and many
other prompts. They wrote up to
15 pages each per workshop, and
Medelis sent the entries to Sebacher
to construct scenes with.
"We shared the most personal
details," said Austin Michael Tracy,
21, a Theater Arts and Arts Man-
agement student at Eastern Michi-
gan University who wrote 28 pages
(front and back) during the journal-
ing process. "Like, everyone in the
cast knows my entire sex life."
Medelis knew he wanted to use
the material in creating the final
product, but the process was uncer-
tain in the beginning.
"(Medelis's) idea was you'd take
the life and words and talents and
true stories of the cast and integrate
them with the stories of the char-
acters - somehow," Sebacher said.
"That he left up to me."
Sebacher, who is now playwright-
in-residence for TNTP, wrote
scenes and sent them to the cast and
Medelis for feedback. Both the cast
and Sebacher wrote plenty of useful
material that didn't make it into the
final product, but about two-thirds
of the script was the cast's own
"If one actor had been different,
the whole play would have been
totally different because we would
have had a different story," Medelis
said. "The play literally cannot exist
without an ensemble of people cre-
ating it; they are not replaceable
It came as a surprise to the cast
that so much of the script came from
"All of the sudden we started get-
ting little chunks of scenes, and we
were like, 'That's my writing, that's
my story.' We just started playing
our lives," Tracy said.
Tracy added that no one acted his
or her own story. Rather, the actors
played each other.
"I never once said a line that was
my own," Tracy said. "But I can say
that at one point or another in the
play, everyone in the cast said a line
that was my own."
Meanwhile, every cast member
began totake on other roles beyond
writing and acting.
Kruzel composed an entirely
original score. Matt Anderson, now
the group's managing director, cho-
reographed dance elements. Ben
Stange, a 2010 graduate of the Uni-
versity's School of Music, Theatre
& Dance, designed costumes. And
Jungquist became the company
Although Medelis didn't cast
the show intending to capture such
diverse talent, he wasn'tjust looking
for polished actors, either.
"When I cast a show, I look at
who you are as a human being and
as an artist, not necessarily if you're
a really good actor," Medelis said.
"But I found that when you are so
connected with the play, your act-
ing steps up hundreds of notches
because you care so much about it."
The rest of the New Ensemble
"We got so much creative input,
and that was what was so inspiring
and what made me really grow as an
actor," Kruzel said.
After Sebacher created the final
storyboard and script, the group had
three-and-a-half weeks to rehearse,
meeting every day for six hours. The
cast members adored the outcome,
perhaps even more because they
put so much oftheir time, talent and
personal stories into the play.
"I was able to really put my all
into it, because this is me, it's my
words," Tracy said. "We all put 150
The New Theater Ensemble works their personal stories into their performances.
percent into it and were able to cre-
ate something new and beautiful."
"The Spring Awakening Proj-
ect" was originally only slated to
show at the Performance Network
for four days in June, so Medelis
decided to start his own theater to
continue the show for another three
weeks in a small performance space
in the local Pot & Box flower shop.
The soon-to-be New Ensemble was
surprised but thrilled to extend the
"It was like, 'Wait, of course we
have to continue with this thing
- this is amazing, and we're put-
ting so much time and energy in,'"
There was some worry over
whether the New Ensemble would
go over well with the local audience,
especially because the Ann Arbor
area only has a handful of theaters
and thus fewer opportunities for
"There was a lot of hoopla about
whether or not we could be taken
seriously," Jungquist said. "So
we felt a lot of pressure initially
to make the show really good to
kind of build a reputation for our-
Enthusiastic responses to "The
Spring Awakening Project"
eased any qualms about TNTP.
"People saw that we are not
just some group of kids who are
getting together to put on some
half-ass mediocre production,"
Tracy explained. "A lot of people
left, not to honk my own horn,
but they left saying ,that it was
the first piece of legitimate the-
ater they had seen in a long time."
News of the show spread by
Facebook and word of mouth,
and audiences grew larger each
week. By the show's last weekend
in the beginning of August, TNTP
had such a demand that it had to
add another performance - which
also sold out.
The popularity of "The Spring
Awakening Project" bodes well
for TNTP, but the art of theater
has always been an experiment for
Medelis and the New Ensemble.
"If it fails, that's something
that's perfectly acceptable,"
Medelis said. "And if it's my life's
work and becomes this big thing,
that's also perfectly acceptable.
"We're all young. We're trying
a lot of things and taking a lot of
risks that I hope are meaningful
and people care about. But ulti-
mately the idea is to create art in
It's that spirit of risk-taking that
the New Ensemble and its champi-
ons believe has made and will con-
tinue to make TNTP important.
The process of collaborative play-
writing developed during "The
Spring Awakening Project" was
the group's first original creation.
"No one has experienced this
(method) before, to my knowl-
edge, and we've checked," said
Sebacher, who recently started the
M.F.A. program in Theater Arts
at Carnegie Mellon. "It is unprec-
edented and a wholly novel way to
Sebacher explained that improv
and adaptations are both popular,
but TNTP's process takes a differ-
"The actual process of getting to
know people, playing games with
them, journaling with them, inter-
viewing them, taking their stories
and talents and actual words and
mixing them up with a canonical
text has not been done before," he
Theater expert Davi Napoleon,
who graduated from the Univer-
sity and has a M.A. in drama and a
Ph.D. in performance studies from
NYU, followed and documented
the production process for "The
Spring Awakening Project" for
her blog on thefastertimes.com.
She also recognized the process as
"They're adventurous, they're
committed to what they're
doing, they're excited about what
they're doing and they're taking a
chance," Napoleon said in a phone
Some work encourages actors to
think about how they personally
relate to the script, she explained,
and the 1975 Broadway musical "A
Chorus Line" features individual
stories based on the lives of the
actors. But those don't start with
a classic text and are not orga-
nized around a unified story. "The
Spring Awakening Project" was
new, and thus inherently risky.
"It's different than taking
Shakespeare and knowing that
you've got something solid," Napo-
leon said. "But when you risk that
kind of failure, you can also really
make a contribution to the future
Although Napoleon said it's
much too early to say what TNTP
will add to the future of theater,
she likes where the group is head-
"Clearly they're taking the kind
of risks that make it possible to
make a contribution," Napoleon
said. "That's the only way that the-
ater can progress from what it has
been to what it will be."
Medelis plans to continue to
run the theater collaboratively.
The company's meetings to plan
and market shows are open to the
whole New Ensemble, and every-
one in the group is encouraged to
contribute ideas. In the future,
Medelis hopes to have the New
Ensemble pick the season's shows
and theme collaboratively.
"The theater is really inherently
hierarchical, and it really kind
of pisses me off," Medelis said,
referencing his time as a theater
apprentice. "I don't find it interest-
ing to walk all over people."
A younger theater movement
The members of the New
Ensemble believe that their exper-
imental perspective on theater is
drawn in part from their age.
"We're all so willing to change
the way that theater is normally
viewed, creating new things that
we've never seen before because
we're all trying to find our own
voices," Stange said. "TNTP pro-
vides this outlet to get our ideas
heard rather than being thrown
into an established theater com-
pany where things happen from
the top down."
TNTP's youthful energy seems
contagious for Ann Arbor's
young people. The theater has
had an unusually young audience
so far, Medelis said.
For "The Spring Awakening
Project" in particular, far more
student tickets were sold than
"It's really important to me
to do relevant, good work that's
important to young people," he
said. "The (Performance) Networl*
is really struggling right now to
get anyone under the age of 60
through the door, and that's just
"But 'Spring Awakening' was
very much made for young people,
about young people."
"We were just short of mak-
ing a goddamn checklist about
why young people don't go to the
theater," Sebacher said. He and
Medelis instead brainstormed ele-
ments of theater that would bring
Some of the cast, many of whom
have extensive experience in com-
munity and college theater, were
surprised by the large audiences
"The Spring Awakening Project'*
"Really, this whole thing
stemmed out of a bunch of kids
wanting to do something differ-
ent, and it's kind of amazing how
much it's grown," Stange said.
But Sebacher sees the poten
tial for even more growth in Ann
Arbor, adding that TNTP wants to
convert new theatergoers.
"You've got all of these young
people, and it's kind of a cool,
hip town," Sebacher said of Ann
Arbor. "The goal is to get a name
and have people follow you like
you're a rock band."
The New Ensemble agrees that
TNTP is well on its way to becom-
ing part of the Ann Arbor theater
scene - and creating a new young
audience for the stage.
TNTP has a season of provoca-
tive and experimental plays and
staged readings themed around
"identity" planned through sum-
mer 2011, including an original by
Sebacher next summer. The nex4
major six-month "Project" is "The
Everyman Project" scheduled for
It will be an experiment, this
time directed by New Ensemble
member and MT&D graduate Ben
Stange and written by Franc4
Vitella, to see whether the collab-
orative writing process developed
under "The Spring Awakening
Project" can work again with a dif-
ferent outmoded play and a slightly
different cast. The New Ensemble
is working with "Everyman," an
anonymous 15th century morality
play about a dying man who has
to decide what virtue to take with
him in the afterlife so that he can
get into heaven.
Five of the six New Ensemble
members from "The Spring Awak-
ening Project" will join "The Every-
man Project," and a few more will
be added. They have yet to decide
"the question" to begin journaling
"It really worked for 'Spring*
Awakening,' and I think it can real-
ly work for lots of things," Medelis
saidof the process. "But we'll find
Experimental though it may be,
TNTP doubtless has an audience
intrigued by its first production.
"Mother Courage in Concert" will
launch a tempting first season.
No doubt, its fans certainly hope
the New Ensemble isn't the latest
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