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September 13, 2010

David Leddy on botanical gardens, grenade sieges and the girl from Ipanema

By David Leddy

I used to think that Ann Arbor was a person. I first came across her in the form of Ann Arbor publishing house when I was a student. I thought she must be the founder like André Deutsch or somesuch. But nay nay, dear reader. So here I am, all these years later, sitting in the sun on State Street outside Espresso Royale. I’m somewhat fascinated by the shop down the street called ‘All About Blue’. Where I come from if a shop had that name then the clothing it sold would almost certainly be transparent and/or crotchless. Speaking of home, I’m reading online about a grenade siege (yes, really) a couple of minutes walk from my house in Glasgow, Scotland. What’s happening to the world? Not only has Ann abandoned me in her human form, I may not have a home to go back to!

I’m here in Ann Arbor to present my show Susurrus in the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. It’s a piece where the audience wear headphones and listen to the play on an MP3 player as they follow a map which directs them to stop at eight different stations around the gardens. They listen to a series of auditory snippets, like a radio tuning in and out of wavelengths, which eventually coalesce into a narrative about the disintegrating family of an opera singer who performed in the original production of Benjamin Britten’s opera of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The piece is always presented outside in a botanical garden and has been shown all around the world. Each time we present somewhere new I spend a day in the garden carefully plotting a special route for the audience to follow. The gardens at the Matthaei are particularly special and I’m thrilled with how the piece works there. This is the perfect time of year too. UMS has done such a great job in presenting the piece very carefully and making sure that audiences get a great experience. We’ve had a lot of fun over the last couple of days tramping around the garden, hammering stakes into the ground for the wayfinding signage. They are a great team.

When I arrived in town late in the afternoon on Labor Day, I was blinded by all the yellow and blue clothing. I’d never seen so many Greek letters on t-shirts outside of Athens. With so many scantily-clad students wandering the streets looking tall and tan and young and lovely I felt like I’d accidentally wandered onto the set of a slasher movie. I even overheard classic slasher movie dialogue. In the street a girl said ‘Simon’s hot’ to which her friend replied ‘he’s not hot, he’s like hot!’

I’ve been having a great time trying out all the Ann Arbor restaurants and getting recommendations for the best local coffee. I travel a lot (a LOT) for my work and I always find the best locally roasted coffee and take some home as a gift for my partner. The trendy kids sent me to Comet and to Lab, but I feel that these shops are all mouth and no trousers, as they say. For me Espresso Royale’s actual coffee was better even though the place is a bit of a sub-Starbucks dump.

There. I have made my pronouncement. The trash-heap has spoken! Now I shall leave and be on my way to the next in my long-line of international coffee emporia. Tomorrow I move on to Sao Paulo, then to Brasilia, Santiago and Rio de Janeiro where I will be staying in the Hotel Ipanema Plaza. I’ll keep an eye out for said girl from Ipanema. I’m told she’s tall and tan and young and lovely. I’ll be sure to give her Ann’s best regards.

To read more from David Leddy about his time in Ann Arbor, and see pictures from his trip visit his blog.


David Leddy is a playwright and director based in Glasgow. He has been described as 'the rising star of Scottish Theatre' by The Observer, a ‘theatrical maverick’ by the Financial Times and 'one of the most exciting and energetic artists working in British theatre today' by Total Theatre magazine. Outside Scotland, his work has been shown in London, Amsterdam, Milan, Boston, Buenos Aires, and Delhi. He is also on the council of the Scottish Society of Playwrights and a specialist advisor for the Scottish Arts Council. He was the first person in Scotland to complete a practice-based PhD in theatre.