Sunday, November 22, 2015

Arts relevant to Detroit

It has been a busy week, especially in the evenings when I tend to do my blog writing. I had the usual rehearsals on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday I was at my usual place at the Ruth Ellis Center. I spent Thursday at my Dad's house (I found his baby book – first tooth, first steps, etc.). Friday I went to see a community theater play that a friend produced (went with the debate partner). On Saturday I attended a Detroit Symphony Orchestra concert. And this afternoon my performance group gave a concert.

Back to that play on Friday. North Rosedale Park is one of the top neighborhoods in Detroit, this one on the west side. Many of the houses are grand place built in the 1920s-30s. It is just east of Brightmoor, one of the worst neighborhoods. A few years ago my friend (not the debate partner) moved into a house in this neighborhood. He got a huge space for a low price, though had to do a lot of renovation.

One of the perks of living in North Rosedale Park is a functioning community center. This building is the focus of what is essentially neighborhood government, an association of owners that provides services the city can't. This civic center hosts a community theater troupe, the Park Players, that has now been going for over 60 years (started during Detroit's heyday). My friend has performed with this troupe a few time (I saw their production of The Addams Family Musical last spring with my friend playing one of the ancestors).

This fall he was asked to be the producer – the guy behind the scenes that expends considerable effort to keep track of details and make it all happen. The show was Twilight Los Angeles, 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith. The show is about the Rodney King beating, the trial of his attackers, the resulting race riots, and the federal trial. The author interviewed various people close to the incidents – King's mother, jury members, police commissioner, Reginald Denny (attacked during the riot), gang members, Korean shop owners (businesses damaged by the riots), a Latino man, various activists, a black US representative, a white Senator, and many others. The author assembled 35 of these verbatim monologues into the play. I heard later she performed all 35 roles herself in a one-woman show.

Most of the time there is one person on stage telling us their story. And they were powerful. For community theater, most of the 30 actors were quite good, a few were exceptional. A member of the original jury (acquittal of all four officers sparked the riots) told of the hate mail and threatening phone calls along with the revulsion on getting a letter from the KKK offering assistance. A Korean man explained he understood racism and slavery because so many Koreans had been enslaved in Japan. Reginald Denny told of the consequences of being attacked – pulled out of his truck and beaten. That was followed by an activist wondering why white man Denny was discussed so much in the news while all the black people beaten and killed were ignored. The best acting of the evening was by the woman playing a juror in the federal trial, the one brought by the Department of Justice for violations to King's civil rights. This actor, in telling her story, also portrayed several other jurors. This jury had to identify and work through its own racism before dealing with the charges at hand.

A very important and well done evening of theater. Alas, many of its themes are still relevant.

On Saturday evening, in spite of a snowstorm, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra performed a new piece Symphony in D by Tod Machover. Though the title refers to the key of the piece (at least I think so) it also refers to the city. I sometimes hear the phrase "in the D" referring something happening in the city.

Machover is a professor at the MIT medial lab. He leads an effort to combine music creation with technology. A few years ago he started a project to create a musical landscape of a city featuring orchestra and recorded sound. Toronto was first and Detroit was the fifth. For this one Machover asked people to record sounds of the city and submit them to his MIT lab. He was surprised at the 15,000 entries, a much higher number than the previous projects. Machover also spent several days each month over the last year meeting people in the city. A few of them were asked to appear to read their poem or tell their story as part of the performance. The orchestra also added an ethnic drummer, a couple guys on electric bass, and a Chaldean choir (there is a large Chaldean community in Detroit).

The piece lasted 30 minutes. Parts of it worked very well, though other parts weren't as successful. Most of the time I couldn't tell if the recorded sounds were being added to the mix. By my ears those sounds weren't added all that often. And the sounds I heard didn't seem to be all that much about Detroit. It would have been really cool to have factory sounds supply the percussion during a section of the piece. I'm not sure whether I didn't hear the factory over the sound of the orchestra or it wasn't included.

Overall I liked it. But if I had written it the result would have been quite different.

A week ago I raved about the opera The Passenger presented by Michigan Opera Theater. I'm not the only one who thought it was excellent. David Kiley of Encore Michigan thinks it may be the finest production the MOT has done in its 40 year history.

No comments:

Post a Comment