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Art & Soul: Performance Arts - Local Theater Returning To In-Person Performances As Pandemic Wanes

Encore Theatre
The Encore Theatre

This week, "Art and Soul" is about the local performance arts scene. Lisa Barry talks with a local freelance journalist who specializes in art and culture, Jenn McKee.

Jenn details upcoming, in-person theatre performances planned for the coming months after being mostly online during the pandemic.


  • Credit Purple Rose Theatre / Facebook
    'Under Ceege' poster
    Purple Rose Theatre - world premiere of “Under Ceege” by Jeffry Chastang - JAN. 20-MARCH 12 - directed by Lynch Travis. Set in Inkster, tells the story of an aging woman and her 49 year old son, who are facing the possibility of being forced to leave the housing project where they’ve lived for years.


  • Encore - “A Thousand Faces” - spring of 2022?? - Story of silent film star Lon Chaney. Encore will be presenting shows in their new space in Dexter, which they’ve focused on renovating during the pandemic - NEW HOME.



  • Penny Seats Theatre- “Ripper” by Jacob Marx Rice - October 14-30 at Stone Chalet. Set in 1888 London - a female reporter comes face-to-face with Jack the Ripper, and a cat-and-mouse game ensues.


  • Credit Ann Arbor Civic Theatre / Facebook
    'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time' poster
    Ann Arbor Civic Theatre - “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” January 13-16. Christopher, fifteen years old, stands beside Mrs Shears’ dead dog. It has been speared with a garden fork, it is seven minutes after midnight and Christopher is under suspicion. He records each fact in the book he is writing to solve the mystery of who murdered Wellington. He has an extraordinary brain. He is exceptional at maths, while everyday life presents some barriers. He has never ventured alone beyond the end of his road, he detests being touched and he distrusts strangers. When he falls under suspicion for killing his neighbour’s dog, it takes him on a journey that upturns his world.


Paul Keller's House Calls program is back at KCH on Sunday night, this time live and in-person in The Lot Lounge!

Credit Kerrytown Concert House / kerrytownconcerthouse.com
Paul Keller House Calls performance

Paul brings with him legendary Detroit musical couple Ursula Walker and Buddy Budson, who have a storied career on the Detroit music scene. With a combined performing career of 130 years, the couple were the Legacy Artists at the 2020 Detroit Jazz Festival. Ursula was a star performer on early Detroit TV, radio, commercials, and USO shows. She is a veteran of the Detroit jazz club, concert hall, and festival scene. Buddy toured the world with the likes of Buddy Rich, Earl Klugh, and the Four Tops. Together they have teamed up for nearly 50 years as two of the most familiar figures in the Detroit jazz community. Besides standards and jazz repertoire, they often perform original lyrics to well-known jazz instrumentals.

Rounding out this legendary group of Detroit-based guests is percussionist extraordinaire, David Taylor.

*The Lot Lounge is an outdoor venue in our back parking lot. Seating will begin 30 minutes prior to the performance start time. A cash beer and wine bar will be available for those 21+.


Lisa Barry: You're listening to Eighty Nine One WEMU, and this is Art and Soul. This is Lisa Barry. This week, Art and Soul is about the performance arts, which is slowly coming back to life after over a year in a pandemic. So, to find out exactly what is coming up, we're joined by a local freelance journalist who specializes in art and culture. And you've heard her before here on Art and Soul. Welcome back, Jenn McKee. So good to talk to you.

Credit Myra Klarman
Jenn McKee

Jenn McKee: Hi. It's great to talk to you, too.

Lisa Barry: You've been busy putting together information about upcoming theater performances. So where do you want to begin?

Jenn McKee: Well, one of the biggest pieces of news in that realm is Dexter's Encore Theater. They've just moved into a new space--a bigger space--and, during the pandemic, kind of focused all their efforts there since they couldn't actually be putting on shows while going through that process, which, in some ways, allowed them to kind of, you know, narrow their attention to that project, which is a pretty big one. But, I think they're really excited about having an upcoming season and inviting people into this new space to see shows.

Lisa Barry: And when will we be able to go there and see them?

Jenn McKee: You know, they have not released a date officially as of yet. And I think they have a season announcement coming up. I did get a little bit of a sneak preview of what they're going to be offering this year. I'm really excited about what they'll be putting on. I will mention one thing that is really exciting to me. One thing that seems to be in the offing is a show called A Thousand Faces, which is focused on the story of Lon Chaney, who was a silent film star. And it, oftentimes, gives deaf actors and actresses an opportunity to perform within the realm of that show. So, I'm really excited about that. And that's probably in the spring that I imagine they'll be presenting that.

Lisa Barry: And that's Encore Theater in Dexter?

Jenn McKee: Mm-hm.

Lisa Barry: What else is coming up?

Jenn McKee: Well, Theater Nova is has just recently released a lineup for the whole season--indoor season. They're actually requiring people who are coming to shows there at the yellow barn to be vaccinated or, if they're not vaccinated, to wear a mask. So, those are kind of things that they've set in place in order to make the actors and the audience kind of feel safe about going back in person. The first show in their season, actually, coming up September 17th, is called The Lifespan of a Fact by Jeremy Kareken and David Murrell. And, honestly, of the season lineup, there's a few things that I'm really interested in, but this is one that I'm particularly drawn to just because probably the story is about an intern at a high profile magazine who fact checks a famous writer's essay, and things get complicated from there, which to me, of course, sounds like, "Ooh, I want to see that."

Lisa Barry: Kind of like your life right now.

Jenn McKee: Yes. And also because it's coming up soon, --it's September 17th,--you know, it may well be the first chance that I get to sit in the theater and really see a show in person again. So, I just feel like when the lights go down, I'll just be quietly sobbing. And I think I've missed it so much.

Lisa Barry: Yes, yes. So that's why we are grateful that you're sharing this information about what we have to look forward to. And Penny Seats Theater is working on something?

Jenn McKee: They are. And the Penny Seats kind of began as a theater company that did a lot of outdoor theater. And, in fact, their first show that they've got lined up, Summer of Love, is an outdoor presentation. But one that I'm really excited about that they've announced is called A Ripper by Jacob Marx Rice. And that will be in October, October 14th through the 30th at Stone Chalet, which is kind of an unconventional theater space in the area. But that wasn't, you know, it wasn't built for necessarily presenting theater productions, but that they have adopted that as their home. And, in some ways, like, it's a really great space, especially for a creepy Halloween time of the year kind of show like this about a reporter who kind of investigates Jack the Ripper and comes face to face with this killer. And this gets involved in this kind of cat and mouse game. So, that just kind of sounds like a perfect for the season fun thing to look forward to.

Lisa Barry: And that will be at Stone Chalet. That's a theater venue. Where is that?

Jenn McKee: Like I said, it was kind of a, I believe, it was an inn in Ann Arbor. And, but these kind of are using this space within that inn to present shows. Now, Penny Seats, like I said, has adapted it for the last year or two as one of the places that they've presented some of their shows.

Lisa Barry: We're looking ahead to in-person performances, talking to Jenn McKee here on Art and Soul. And the Ann Arbor Civic Theater has something coming up. But it won't be for a while, right?

Jenn McKee: No. Yeah, that's in January, January 13th through 16th. I highlighted this just because it's such an interesting, unique play. It's called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. And it was a best selling book by Mark Haddon many years ago. But so it's about a young man who feels, it's never said explicitly, but it seems like he's on the spectrum. He may have Asperger's. He's kind of a math savant. But there is a dog that kind of is seems to have been violently killed. And so, it's this young man trying to kind of piece together without having kind of the tools of reading people very well or kind of having issues with other people as in terms of trying to solve this riddle for himself. And so, it's kind of a coming-of-age story that's just really kind of just a remarkable play. So, I just think it's a neat opportunity for people to check that out.

Lisa Barry: And the always popular Purple Rose Theater in Chelsea. They have something coming up in person?

Jenn McKee: Yes. They just announced--they haven't released the season--, but they have announced that they're planning to present a world premiere, which is kind of their calling card. That's what they do is present kind of the first time performance of new plays. And this one is called Under Ceege by Jeffrey Chastang. It'll be directed by Lynch Travis, and that will open on January 20th. They haven't given a lot of details about whether, you know, they're requiring vaccination or whether it'll be half-capacity. They haven't really announced that yet. But again, because it's January, I think they're kind of waiting to see what the environment looks like at that point.

Lisa Barry: So we do have in-person performances to look forward to, but we're going to it sounds like we're going to gradually ease our way into that. [00:06:49][6.7]

Jenn McKee: Yes. Yeah, I think that theaters have been careful, but they're all so excited to get back to it. And I know people who love to see theater are just as excited to get back to it as well.

Lisa Barry: I want to get in one plug, because there is a music performance coming up this Sunday. Paul Keller, WEMU favorite, will be doing house calls at the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor. And on Sunday, July 25th, it'll be Paul and the legendary Detroit musical couple, vocalist Ursula Walker and pianist Buddy Budson, and also what they're calling percussionist extraordinaire David Taylor. And that is this Sunday at the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor, July 25th at seven thirty. I know that's music, and I know Jenn has been gracious enough to talk to us about upcoming theater, and I just wanted to get that plug in. But, again, what's the very first thing we can go see in person?

Jenn McKee: It might be the Theater Nova show, actually. The Lifespan of a Fact on September 17th. That's the earliest one that I've seen yet that's on offer. So, certainly, you know, watch listings and keep your ear to the ground to hear more. But, as of right now, that looks like the first kind of possible sitting in a theater and having the lights go down moments.

Lisa Barry: And, Jenn we've appreciated seeing your writing here and there during the pandemic. Hour magazine coming up. We'll be looking for your byline in your work in there as well. And thank you again so much for talking to us here on 89-1 WEMU as part of Art and Soul.

Jenn McKee: Thank you. 


**Special thanks to Paul Keller for providing the Art & Soul theme music.**

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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