When the breezy, stress-free days of summer roll around, droves of students will be leaving their beloved school-year hometown to pursue exotic opportunities in far-off places. For students who plan to fill their four-month break with internships, volunteering, studying abroad or working at their dream job, Ann Arbor seems to close her tired eyes in their absence, lay down her winter-beaten body and slip into a peaceful hibernation until the student population returns.
But however tempting it may be to subscribe to this vision of the University’s surrounding town, the perception is flawed — Ann Arbor is alert and wide awake throughout the summer, bursting to life with technicolor opportunities in which students can immerse themselves. Students who spend their much-needed hiatus in Ann Arbor have the exclusive opportunity to create, experience and participate in a variety of artistic pursuits.
For students interested in letting their inner thespian loose, Shakespeare in the Arb provides a nontraditional way to stretch out their drama muscles. Now in its 11th year, the program presents Shakespeare’s classics on the informal stage of Nichols Arboretum’s landscape. Past productions have used the space to full advantage, incorporating dramatic elements — like a shipwreck in the Huron River for “The Tempest” — to, as director and Residential College lecturer Kate Mendeloff said, “make Shakespeare come alive.”
Mendeloff added: “The way we perform Shakespeare is in a very accessible manner because you’re right there with the actors, and you’re right there in the action.”
This year’s production will be “The Winter’s Tale” — one of Shakespeare’s later works that switches from tragedy to comedy halfway through the play. Mendeloff, who jumpstarted Shakespeare in the Arb 11 years ago, intends to continue her tradition of using the setting of the arboretum by incorporating a flock of sheep and, ideally, a bear into the show.
“Shakespeare could go over to the bear-baiting place, which was right next to the Globe Theatre, and borrow the bear for 15 minutes,” Mendeloff said. “But it’ll be a little harder for us.”
In addition to attending this year’s show, students can apply to be ushers (and get to see the show for free) or audition to be involved in performance or production. Selected students have the opportunity to earn credit for participating. The Residential College offers a corresponding four-credit, upper-level humanities course — “Environmental Theater Production Workshop in the Arboretum” — which focuses on reading the play, interpreting it and rehearsing.
“(Students) ought to really consider getting involved as actors, designers, musicians,” Mendeloff said. “It’s an opportunity for students to explore great works of theater as part of their academic experience and also as part of their viewing experience.
“It’s just a great opportunity to celebrate the Arb and celebrate Shakespeare,” she added.
Cool jams for hot summer days
Robb Woulfe, director for the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, says the annual music and arts festival has something for everyone.
The Ann Arbor Summer Festival includes many events at a variety of locations on Central Campus, including free outdoor film screenings, DJs spinning late into the night and Rock the Mall, a teen band competition to be launched this summer. However, Woulfe believes the festival is best known for its free outdoor and ticketed indoor concert series: Top of the Park and Mainstage, respectively.
This year’s Mainstage lineup includes comedian Steve Martin on banjo with The Steep Canyon Rangers, indie sensation and notorious whistler Andrew Bird and jazzy local group The Macpodz. Mainstage performances will also feature a host of blues, folk and rock bands, in addition to daredevil acrobats from Australia. Top of the Park’s lineup of free shows will be announced May 2.
Also new this year will be a 10,000-foot inflatable walk-in installation exhibited on Palmer Field. Known as “Amococo,” the giant illuminated collection of cushy tunnels, domes and columns hails from an English company, Architects of Air, which designs and constructs luminaria for display. Students will have the opportunity to wander through the multicolor tubes and cavernous spaces and explore the circus tent-like structure.
Whatever students discover at Summer Festival, Woulfe stressed that the public — including students — chose a significant portion of the events through surveys like Pick-a-Flick, that listed possible film screenings, and Lineup Wish List, that listed potential bands for Mainstage and Top of the Park performances.
“The community was really active in putting the season together,” Woulfe said. “Some people were really out there campaigning for movies and artists they wanted to see. It’s really great to see the community choosing who they’re going to see on stage.”
Art on display
Perhaps Ann Arbor will exhibit the most flurry of activity when the city plays host to the nationally known, award-winning, behemoth, sprawling production that brings about $78 million into the community annually: the four Ann Arbor art fairs.
Taking over the downtown area, the Ann Arbor art fairs feature famous and local artisans selling wares, more than 500,000 attendees appreciating the variety of artwork displayed and impromptu entertainment and music performances.
The Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, The Original was established in 1960 and has since expanded into three other fairs — the State Street Area Art Fair, the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair and Ann Arbor’s South University Art Fair — which will dominate the city for a few days in late July.
According to Mo Riley, executive director of the Street Art Fair, students will be able to see art produced by their peers through the fair’s New Art, New Artist program. The program will feature eight to 10 University students selected to participate in the fair at no cost.
“You can see the work of your peers and support new artists in the process,” Riley said. “There’s art available in every price range. We hope you can find something to buy on a limited budget, and even if you’re on a limited budget that does not allow you to purchase, you can still look around and develop ideas about what you like.”
She added: “The art fair is certainly about more than shopping. It’s about experiencing art.”
Whether students are looking to stimulate their theatrical, auditory or tactile artistic senses, Ann Arbor offers opportunities throughout the summer for the creation, participation in and experience of art — no plane ticket necessary.