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Dispatch from Fringe

Oh goodness me!  I’m back in Edinburgh!  During the Fringe!  The largest arts festival in the world!  It’s been 9 years exactly since my last (and first) visit, when I came as part of the American High School Theatre Festival.  A recent high school graduate at the time, I was tasked with running the light board for a musical version of the Ugly Duckling called Honk! Yikes!  (This is reminding me that my 10 year high school reunion is nigh.  Double yikes!!)

I arrived only yesterday, but I feel like I’ve been here for ages.   That’s what happens when something literally takes over a city.  If you’ve never been, the Fringe is to Edinburgh as a football game at the Big House is to Ann Arbor.  But sustained for a month!  The energy is at an all-time high from morning ‘til, well, it never stops!

I’ve seen exactly 8 shows as of now, 11:37pm local time, Monday, August the 22nd.  6 of them today.  Yes.  6.  And some of them more “experience” than “show.”  Here’s a little taste.

The first show I saw was the National Theatre of Scotland’s The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart at the Ghillie Dhu, a local pub.  Written by playwright David Grieg, the story follows an uptight academic named Prudencia as she travels out of town for a conference, and learns to loosen up along the way.  How this happens is the crux of the action, the fun, and the heartache, some of which can be seen in this youtube video.  The National Theatre of Scotland has had some hits on their hands as of late—most recently in the U.S. with their production of Black Watch. If the buzz surrounding this one at the Fringe is any indication, you just might see this one at a pub near you.  I sure hope so.

Today’s marathon of shows included the premiere of a work in progress called A Reply to Kathy Acker: Minsk 2011 by incendiary political theater-makers, Belarus Free Theatre.  BFT was founded in 2005 by a husband and wife team in response to the pressure and censorship of Europe’s last surviving dictatorship.  Under constant threat of persecution, the group’s rehearsals and performances are often held in secret , and have at times been broken up by police.  In their short history, members of the company have faced harassment, beatings, and even arrest.  In this piece, the audience was given a glimpse into Minsk today from the artists’ perspective.  And it was, in a word, brutal.  They’re a brave group.  And their acting is likewise brave.  It’ll be interesting to see how the work develops.

Later in the evening, I was able to catch David Leddy’s newest work called The Untitled Love Story. Some of you may remember David’s Susurrus made an appearance in Ann Arbor this past year out at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.  Though this piece was housed in a more traditional theatrical setting, the hallmarks of David’s style of writing rang loud and clear.  His knack for weaving seemingly disparate storylines into one cohesive production is astounding and the story all the more powerful because of it.  And, as with Susurrus, the use of music is crucial—and used to great effect.   Here are the basics:  the setting is Venice.  The characters are known only as the Collector, the Historian, the Priest, and the Writer—two men and two women who have all suffered/will come to suffer great loss.  It’s not all sad though!  I promise!

The night ended with a short 15 minute “live video” experience for one called And the Birds Fell From the Sky by Brighton-based Il Pixel Rosso.  In a nutshell, I joined a group of nomadic criminal clowns (collectively known as the Faruk) for a car ride.  Crimes were committed.  Birds fell from the sky.  I was supremely freaked out.  And I totally loved it.  Logistically, it involved an impressive pair of video goggles synced up with an in-ear audio track.  An actor unseen to the audience member provided the other tactile sensations—smells, touch, movement .  All in all, a deep and bizarre Fringe experience.  The best kind.

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Have you been to the Fringe? Are you at the Fringe now? Share your experiences below.

Part 2: Delinquent Dispatch from Fringe

Video & Podcast: David Leddy, creator of Susurrus

We were totally honored to have David Leddy, the creator of Susurrus, here on our home turf in Ann Arbor for a few days in September.   You might recall he did a little blogging while he was here.

If you’ve seen Susurrus, and you’re still thinking, “but what does it all mean?’  You’re in luck.  While David was here, we captured a Q & A session with him in the Matthaei Botanical Gardens (he was interviewed by UMS Director of Programming Michael Kondziolka).  The interview is in 4 parts on YouTube (I’m embedding the first two parts here).  It’s a fantastic interview, but unfortunately the audio gets a little sketchy in places (so bear with us if you can — this is the first time we’ve done something like this on the UMS Lobby!).

As an added bonus, our friends at EncoreMichigan had the chance to interview David for their podcast, and you can listen to that here

If haven’t had the chance yet to experience Susurrus, it runs through Sunday, October 3, at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

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

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.