UThe Michigan Daily I michigandailycom I Thursday, Octoberl13, 2011
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THE $iC1IIUMION M 5
or nearly a century, the Michigan Union has towered over campus.
Within its ivy-covered walls lies a wealth of history that all too
often goes unnoticed. Take some time to wander among the oak-
paneled rooms with their comfy leather armchairs and stained-
glass windows - it's easy to feel the spirit of the University in such
As you explore, you may stumble upon a small lounge on the first floor.
Adorning the walls of the room is a series of frames displaying photographs,
newspaper clippings and brightly colored posters. At first glance, you may be
shocked to see black-and-white images of rather homely women. But a plaque
near the entrance soon clears things up - these are no women.
From 1908 to 1955, all-male groups of students produced and performed
wildly popular original shows known as the Michigan Union Operas. As part
of a long-standing tradition, men played all of the roles, male and female. But
beyond their entertainment appeal, the operas served a greater purpose: With-
out the participation of hundreds of corsetrwearing cross-dressers, the Michi-
gan Union might never have been built.
The need for a Union -1904-1918
Established in 1904, an organization called the Michigan Union was created
to bring together all male students on campus. The University's tiny popula-
tion of women already had such an organization, which met in the now non-
existent Barbour Gym. In his book "The Michigan Union 1904-2004:100 Years
of Student Life," 1992 Michigan alum Jeff Rowe, who also serves as the Media
and Events Coordinator at the Union, chronicles the history of the men's Union
from this early period.
According to Rowe's book, the Michigan Union had raised enough money by
1907 to purchase a home - in the Union's current spot on State Street - that
would serve as a temporary clubhouse for it. A sizable portion of the funds for
the clubhouse was raisedby a small performing troupe known as the Michigan
Union Minstrel Show, a group that would develop into the Michigan Union
operas a year later when the Union started raising money to build a larger per-
The very first Michigan Opera, "Michigenda," premiered in February 1908
at the Whitney Theater located downtown at the corner of Main St. and Ann
St. The term "opera" is a bit of a misnomer - the show was more akin to comic
operetta with elements of vaudeville and minstrel shows. Earning a profit of
$2,000 for the Union, "Michigenda" was a tremendous hit - The Detroit Jour-
nal wrote that audiences insisted on five encores of the show's finale number
The success of "Michigenda" ensured that the Michigan Union Operas
would be an annual event - and a reliable cash cow for the Union. December
1908 saw the second opera, "Culture," which featured a giant 10-footslide rule
that could answer any question.
A year later in December 1909, "Koanzaland" was produced at the Whitney.
The show centered on Buck and Sliv, "two Michigan rah-rahs" who fly a zeppe-
lin from Ann Arbor to "darkest Africa." The work was racially insensitive, like
many of its time, but it did produce one of the University's most-loved college
songs, "College Days." This bittersweet tune was composedby School of Music
Prof. Earl V. Moore, who would go on to serve as dean of the Music School from
1921 to 1960.
See OPERAS, Page 3B
Oct. 13 tol16
Balkan musician Goran
Bregovic's repertoire is
a pastiche of modern
styles and ethnic tradi-
tion. His blend of old
and new is produced
with the help of his
Wedding and Funeral
Orchestra, a 20-piece
ensemble featuring an
all-male choir and two
Bulgarian female sing-
ers. They're all com-
ing to Hill Auditorium
this Saturday at 8 p.m.
Tickets start at $10.
The Jayhawks draw
inspiration for much
of their work from the
likes of Bob Dylan and
Gram Parsons. You may
know them from their
first hit single, "Wait-
ing for the Sun," but
they've been gigging
since 1985. Since then,
they've released seven
with another, Mocking-
bird Time, on the way.
They'll be performing at
the Michigan Theater
this Saturday at 8 p.m.
Ask any self-respecting
film buff for one of
the worst films of all
time and one of their
responses willibe "The
Room." The campy
2003 cult "classic"
by Tommy Wiseau,
deals haphazardly with
themes of trust and
deception and famous-
ly features spoons and
a single vivid image
of the Golden Gate
Bridge. The State
Theater is hosting $6
tomorrow and Satur-
day. Bring spoons.
can sculptor Mark di
Suvero is known for his
creative dynamic work
with industrial steel
and other salvaged
materials. And now,
15 of his smaller rarely
have been assembled
from a myriad of pri-
vate collections and the
artist's studio. They're
on display at the Uni-
versity of Michigan
Museum of Art for
your viewing pleasure.
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