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UMS Artists in “Residence”: Spring 2015 Update!

In fall 2014, UMS launched a new Artist in “Residence” program. Five local artists were chosen to take “residence” at our performances. It’s been a pleasure getting to know this cohort throughout the year and exciting to see how UMS performances have helped inspire new works!

Curious what they’ve been up to? Check out the AiR update below, and come chat with the artists in residence in person at our 2015-2016 Season Launch Party on Friday, April 24, 2015 from 5-7:30 pm in Ann Arbor’s Rackham Graduate Building.

Our Artists in Residence have been busy. Have you heard the news?!

Emilio RodriguezEmilio Rodriguez

Playwright, actor, director, and teaching artist Emilio Rodriguez is co-producing the Metro Detroit Fringe Festival in late June. His play “Swimming While Drowning” will have a reading at the Activate Midwest festival at Western Michigan University in June and also by the Latino/a Theatre Commons in Chicago in July.



Robert James RussellRobert James Russell

Writer Robert James Russell just released his chapbook of short stories Don’t Ask Me to Spell It Out. His next book, a Western called Mesilla —is due out this fall.

Additionally, Russell will be joining the New Harmony Writers Workshop as a Fellow this June at the University of Southern Indiana. He is also honored to be leading two writing workshops in May and June at the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters (GLCL) in Grand Rapids.


Nick GableNicholas Gable

Pianist Nicholas Gable is thrilled to announce a tentative chamber music performance list: (dates TBA)

César Franck’s Violin Sonata in A Major
Sergei Rachmaninoff’s G Minor Trio (Elégiaque)

Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata in G Minor



Carolyn BarrettCarolyn Reed Barritt

Painter, drawer, and sculpturist Carolyn Reed Barritt’s artwork was chosen to be reproduced on vinyl and installed on a traffic box downtown Ann Arbor as part of Ann Arbor’s Power Art! public art exhibition. Additionally, three paintings from her Lost Empire series were purchased by Ruth’s Chris Steak House for display in their new Ann Arbor restaurant. Barritt is currently working on a new series of sculptures which she’s very excited about.



Many thanks to our Artists for a wonderful inaugural AiR program. Catch them at the UMS 2015-2016 Season Launch party on Friday, April 24th!

Resident Update: Writer Robert James Russell

Writer Robert James Russell is a UMS Artist in Residence this season. We’ve asked five artists from across disciplines to take “residence” at our performances and to share the work these performances inspire. Robert shares his experiences on dance, music, and his new novel below:

“When I applied for the UMS Artists-in-Residency program, my goal was to see performances and use that inspiration to craft a new novel. I’m beyond thrilled at the chance to experience wonderful performances and explore the role of music and dance in my work—both of which have always been crucial to my mental health, and to my ability to immerse myself in a project.

So far, I’ve seen the following UMS performances, all radically different from one another—and each has inspired me in vastly different ways:

  • Ryoji Ikeda (superposition)
  • Mariinsky Orchestra
  • Compagnie Marie Chouinard
  • eighth blackbird

See, this isn’t just writing a novel, coming up with a story and characters, but in this instance I am creating an entirely new place: a fictional island in Lake Superior, documenting the entire history of the island, of the people that lived (and, in the present of my novel, still live) there. Typically when I write I find some style of music that works for that story and I listen to the same record(s) over and over as I write, never growing tire of the repetition. In this instance, though, since it’s not just story, but history…and this immersion in different types of performances has been utterly liberating:

Writer Robert James Russell at work on his new novel.
Writer Robert James Russell at work on his new novel.
  • superposition taught me, even through the wondrous noise, about the use of silence in my work.
  • The Mariinsky Orchestra inspired me to embrace more bombastic/dramatic sections of the story.
  • Watching the Compagnie Marie Chouinard showed me how to re-think interactions of characters, how they meet in the story, but also how these characters interact with the island itself.
  • eighth blackbird encouraged me to embrace the unexpected—to travel different routes in the storytelling, in the creation of the island’s history, of its inhabitants, and to avoid the predictable…to really dig deep and do something unique.

Robert James RussellEach of these performances has taught me re-think what I know about art and inspiration, and they are with me every day when I write. In addition to a seemingly never-ending list of books I flip through daily—various back-issues of National Geographic featuring articles about Isle Royale (used as inspiration); a 1937 manual called Wolf and Coyote Trapping; the unbelievably inspiring/gorgeous Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky; others—I am constantly harkening back to each performance, remembering them, and making sure that they are not forgotten. And I am reminded with every word I put down how astonishing and remarkable the performing arts are…how important they are to the production of any art.”


Robert James Russell is the author of two upcoming books: the collection Don’t Ask Me to Spell It Out (WhiskeyPaper Press, 2015) and the novel Mesilla (Dock Street Press, 2015). His first novel, Sea of Trees, was published in 2012. He is the founding editor of the literary journals Midwestern Gothic and CHEAP POP. You can find him online at and @robhollywood.”

Interested in learning more? Read our interview with Robert.

Update: UMS Artists in Residence

This winter, we’ve asked five area artists from across disciplines to take “residence” at our performances and to share the work these performances inspire as part of our new UMS Artists in Residence program.

Occasionally, we’ll share news from the artists here on UMS Lobby.

Painter Carolyn Reed Barritt’s work has been accepted into the Inter/National exhibition at the Box Heart Gallery in Pittsburgh.

Writer Robert James Russell’s new collection of short stories Don’t Ask Me to Spell It Out will be published by WhiskeyPaper Press in 2015, and his novel Mesilla will also be published in 2015 by Dock Street Press.

Theater maker Emilio Rodriguez is in INVASION! through December 20 at Planet Ant Theater in Hamtramck, MI. He also leads the Detroit Dicusses Ferguson forum at Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit on December 17.

Are you interested in learning more? Get to know the residents through our entrance interviews.

UMS Artists in “Residence”: Meet Robert James Russell

UMS launched a new Artists in “Residence” program during the 2014-2015 season. Five residents from across disciplines will take residence at our performances throughout our season. We’ll profile each resident here on UMS Lobby.

Gabrielle Carels (UMS): Tell us a little about yourself and your background in the Arts.

Robert James RussellRobert James Russell: I was born and raised in Michigan (Grand Rapids), moved all over the place for a while (Los Angeles; California; Incheon, South Korea; Oxford, England), and settled in Ann Arbor nearly five years ago. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was younger—although, back then, it was writing for National Geographic—and I’ve spent the majority of my life traveling and reading and writing, trying to hone my voice. I’ve been publishing my work steadily for about five years or so, and my first novel, Sea of Trees, was released in 2012. I also co-founded and run the literary journal and small press Midwestern Gothic. Our aim is to showcase Midwestern writers and poets and highlight the unique stories that come from this place and that are often overlooked.

GC: Can you tell us a little about your creative process? Where can we find you working on your art?

RJR: I do my best work in public, actually: coffee shops, UMMA, the library…I like to be around people. Since my writing often deals with the intersection of people and places, I find being around people, immersed in them, their interactions, incredibly inspiring. My creative process is pretty simple: When I have an idea for a story, short or long, I can’t stop thinking about it and have to get it out. I’m also all for immersive inspiration…so if I’m writing about the woods, I’ll take trips to the woods, go hiking, take photos, and really get the sense of it. I’m currently working on a novel set on an island in Lake Superior, and went camping this summer on South Manitou Island, completely cut off from the world for a few days, in order to take it all in. It was fantastic.

GC: What inspires your art? Can you tell us about something you came across lately that we should check out too?

RJR: I’m reading John McPhee’s The Control of Nature (for the first time) and find it absolutely fascinating, the idea of man versus nature. The new novel I’m working on is very much a man versus nature type of situation, so reading about real-life incidents of nature reclaiming what was once its own, and how we humans try to control and prevent it, is breathtakingly inspiring.

GC: Are you engaged with the local arts community? Tell us about groups or events that we should know about.

RJR: I am—my journal, Midwestern Gothic, is based in Ann Arbor. We publish writers and poets from all over the Midwest, but we are lucky to also get to know many fantastic local ones, too. I actively put on readings throughout Ann Arbor (typically we have those at Literati Bookstore), as a way for people to meet our contributors and to get to experience Midwest literature and poetry first-hand. It is so important to me to embrace the local art scene, and, fortunately, Ann Arbor’s is fantastic. Similarly, my mission in life is to help showcase the immense talents of Midwestern artists, and to give them vehicles to showcase their work (whether that be live readings, having their pieces published, etc.).

GC: Which performances are you most excited about this season and why?

RJR: eighth blackbird: I’m a fan of organized chaos, and this group seems to thrive on that—playing music from memory, genre-bending performances. For me, seeing all the pieces come together as whole, to see the big picture painted one stroke at a time, is wonderfully invigorating, and it directly relates to the new novel I’m working on—I can’t wait to be inspired by it.

Yuja Wang, piano and Leonidas Kavakos, violin: I’ve always found great beauty in the violin and piano played together, side by side, and I have heard amazing things about these two.

Compagnie Marie Chouinard: Much of my writing is fixated with the idea of space—how we interact within a given space and how spaces interact with us—and dance, people interacting with one another, is a great way for me to explore this idea. Plus, I’ve heard that this company is explosively creative and wonderful.

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis: I’ve often felt that my writing style is influenced by Jazz structure—the improvisation, the fluidity and the conversational-linguistic feel—so I can’t wait to see this master musician at work.

GC: Anything else you’d like to say?

RJR: I am beyond thrilled and honored to be a resident in the first year of the UMS program. The arts are so important to me, and it’s incredible that I’ll be able to help spread the word and to show the community how UMS is affecting my life and my writing—all while supporting the local arts scene.

Interested in more? Watch for more artist profiles on UMS Lobby throughout this week.