FlyOver: February 2007 Archives

A literature teacher of mine preached that the word tragedy should be used sparingly in journalism when referring to the death of an individual. His premise was that death is natural and crime is sordid.

Yet, there are times when it is difficult to use anything but the word "tragic" to refer to a death. It has been the only word on my tongue this morning as I talk with people about the death--and apparent homicide--of Robert Busby, a man known as the honorary mayor of Lansing's Old Town.

Robert is truly one of those unsung heroes. He's someone who has done more for visual art, music, poetry, and theater in Lansing than any other single individual. Back when Old Town was "north Lansing", he had a vision for the neighborhood that looked beyond the boarded up buildings and high crime rate. Over the past 20 years, he's labored quietly and untiringly to see that vision come to life.

A successful businessman, Robert opened the Creole Gallery, a place that quickly became the center of exciting things happening in Old Town and in the arts scene in Lansing. Such artists as Wynton Marsalis and Tyree Guyton became regular performers and exhibitors there. In a city that is desperately short on performance spaces, Robert and his partner Meegan Holland opened up the stage and partnered with local theater groups. Icarus Falling has made its home there and Riverwalk Theater performs its black box productions there.

Indeed, Icarus Falling is in the middle of its world premiere run of Fatal Error, a surreal comedy written by two local playwrights. It's not known yet whether they will cancel the rest of their run or move to a different space. Robert's body was found in the basement of the Gallery and the space is still roped off as a crime scene.

Robert's support of the arts went beyond what happened between the walls of his building. He was a friend and supporter of every business that came into Old Town, encouraging them and always being present at whatever event was taking place. His support went beyond Old Town as well, stretching out to support art wherever it could be found in the community. He and Meegan brought together diverse people in the community, hosting receptions after shows and parties that fostered dialog between busy people. He was a patron of BoarsHead, a group that is already reeling from the loss of grant money and the death of another individual donor that sparked a change in schedule and the layoff of three staff members this past weekend.

Robert Busby will be greatly missed. He's left behind a gaping hole that will take many people to step forward and fill so that his dreams for a thriving, cultural community does not die with him.

February 28, 2007 10:17 AM |

There are so many ways to create art and artists are constantly exploring in every medium.

Two Lansing, Michigan playwrights are premiering a show this evening that grew out of an e-mail conversation. They began riffing on the banalities of overheard office conversation and from there, a play grew. What it has to do with tormented hamsters remains to be seen. When asked what he'd like the audience to leave with, Playwright and Icarus Falling Artistic Director Jeff Croff responded with, "I would like them to leave with less money ... er, actually, I'd prefer they leave with the need to talk about the show with friends over coffee. I'd like them to leave with a bit of exhaustion and wonder. I'd like them to leave that poor little hamster alone."

On another related note, the interview for this story ended up being a lot of fun. Since the play had its genesis in e-mail, we decided to do the interview as a three-way chat between myself and the two playwrights. It was a medium we were all comfortable with and it fostered a great deal of banter and perhaps more spontaneity than we might have had in a more traditional format. As a journalist, it also helped to have all their responses typed and saved and be able to concentrate during the interview on asking questions and talking with both people.

February 23, 2007 10:42 AM |

Jeff Daniels creates another gem

Long a favorite in Michigan for creating The Purple Rose theater in Chelsea and for his perennial sell-out play Escanaba in da Moonlight, Jeff Daniels has garnered yet more laurels for his dramatic abilities.

The American Theatre Critics' Association has named Daniels' "Guest Artist" as one of six finalists in their annual new plays competition.

Jeff Daniels is someone who is passionate about his belief that theater exists outside of the major cultural centers. When writing about why he left New York to open a theater in a small town in the Midwest, he says:

Years later, after moving back home to Michigan, I bought an old bus garage in the small town of Chelsea with the dream of creating a Midwestern answer to Circle Rep. I wanted a professional theatre company, featuring Midwestern actors, directors, designers and playwrights, situated in the middle of America, producing plays about the middle of America. People, of course, thought I was an idiot. From the local critics who wanted the latest shows from New York starring my "movie star friends" to the townspeople who thought Art was someone who lived out by the highway, no one could understand what I was trying to do. It made no sense. Except to all those local actors, directors, designers, and especially playwrights, who call the Midwest their home.

In case you haven't noticed, the New American Play can't get a cup of coffee in New York. It seems to me that if the American Theatre is to remain vital it must produce American plays, and it can only do that by supporting, nurturing, and developing American playwrights. Period. Just like Circle Rep did.

That's what we do here at The Purple Rose and we love it.

(Thanks to Roger LeLievre,

Dance Troupe celebrates 16 years

Dance Kaleidescope Choreographer and Artistic Director David Hochoy trained in New York, but has found a home in Indianapolis. The modern dance troupe is one he says reflects the community as well as his artistic aesthete.

This summer marks their last season with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and they're now looking to expand in their home town.

(Thanks to Whitney Smith, Indy Star)

Martinis and Mozart

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra stretches its creative muscles from its music to its outreach program. They're bringing people in to experience symphony through such programs as a happy hour concert with free drinks and appetizers, a peek behind the curtain, a side-by-side mentoring program for youth, and radio broadcasts.

(Thanks to Whitney Smith, Indy Star)

Country-bluegrass-mandolin artist ready to experiment

He's been performing for 40 years, but tonight's show marks only the second time Marty Stuart has gone solo. He'll be taking the stage in Davenport, Iowa at the River Music Experience. His own band, the Fabulous Superlatives, will have a night off while Stuart explores his music before an audience.

"I'm just at a place in my life where I need to get out and do four or five shows on my own, to just see what's going on in my mind. I've been so busy, so productive for the past few years, I just have to see for myself what's going on up there."

(Thanks to David Burke, Quad-City Times)

Veteran turns to playwrighting to understand Abu Ghraib

Iowa-native Joshua Casteel experienced a crisis of faith while serving as an interrogator at the Abu Ghraib prison. A jihadist prisoner challenged him that he wasn't following the precepts of his own Christian faith. Casteel listened.

He left the military and wrote "Returns," a play exploring the difficulty a soldier has in returning to civilian life. It's an autobiographical play that asks questions about faith and military service. Casteel, now an advocate for peace, has performed scenes from his play for such people as Czech President Vaclav Havel, British playwright Harold Pinter and actor Jeremy Irons.

The play received a full run in Iowa this past weekend.

(Thanks to Michael Morain, Des Moines Register)Â

International Jazz Festival touches down in Moscow, Idaho

Jazz has never been a corporate property, but has always belonged to the grass-roots musicians. So it should raise no eyebrows that the Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival is running in Idaho this week. It features four days of performances, workshops, lectures and competitions.

(Thanks to Dana Oland, The Idaho Statesman)

February 21, 2007 11:03 AM |

Reading an Ann Arbor newspaper review of the University of Michigan's "She Stoops to Conquer" production reinforced how very different theater is in every single performance.

Jenn McKee saw this production on its opening night. I saw it on its closing night. By the end of the single weekend run, there were no actors struggling with speaking through their fake teeth and the prosthetics contributed to the overall humor of the piece.

It was also refreshing to see a show that completely eschews the naturalistic acting style. John Neville-Andrews directed his actors to fully indulge in the asides and to declaim to the audience. The actors moved in a purposely stilted fashion, striking poses in a manner that celebrated theater as it was written in the 1700s. It plays oddly to modern eyes accustomed to a theater indelibly stamped with Ibsen, Miller, and Stanislavsky, but in so doing, it remains remarkably true to the work's time and place.


February 21, 2007 10:21 AM |

The most common reaction I got to that phrase was, "What's a newspaper march?"

It's a reaction I could relate to--I certainly hadn't heard of one before, and I was a member of a marching band for three years. What I discovered was a pretty fascinating piece of cultural history. The most famous march of the genre was the one written by John Phillip Sousa for the Washington Post in 1889. Since then, composers have created more than 300 marches named after and dedicated to newspapers in towns across the country.

The Advocate Brass Band has researched some of the history of newspaper marches, digging into the Library of Congress to find scores. They've put together several CDs of them that they offer for sale.

What I find most fascinating about this piece of cultural history is the intensely local nature of the composition. It's music written for a particular place and for a particular organization. It's music that has meaning for a group of people because it is about their hometown, about the newspaper that comes to their doorstep every morning.

While most of these were written in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they've continued to be produced throughout the years. The newspaper I write for commissioned composer John Moss to write one for its 150th anniversary. It premiered at Michigan State University which was also celebrating its 150th anniversary. You can read what I wrote about the Lansing Concert Band's recent performance of it here. The Lansing Concet Band's director talked about how important it was for that march to become a part of their repertoire. Aside from it being a great concert march, it was something that uniquely belonged to their city.

For me, it was yet another confirmation that art, good art, happens everywhere. Site-specific art doesn't have to belong only to the metropolitan areas. It can belong wherever people create.

February 20, 2007 4:58 PM |
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