Thursday, 22 May 2014 11:08

Sizzling Summer Arts

Written by  Allison Parker
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Dream It, Build It at the Grand Rapids Public Museum Dream It, Build It at the Grand Rapids Public Museum COURTESY PHOTO

Though traditional art seasons are wrapping up, the blazing heat has failed to dry up all opportunities for West Michigan artsy-fartsy fun. Summer theatres are drawing back their curtains, while year-round venues are lining up a diverse array of events and exhibitions sure to offer visitors more than just air conditioning.

One of West Michigan’s most noteworthy summer theaters, Mason Street Warehouse, allows actors of various experience levels to collaborate together on original productions and older theatre gems.

“I wanted to bring really high quality professional theatre to the lakeshore, and I wanted to combine local artists with professionals from New York and Chicago and LA to have them come and experience what it’s like to work with people who actually do this for a living,” said Mason Street Warehouse Artistic Director Kurt Stamm. “Our seasons are relatively short, but they’re also relatively unique.”

This season, Mason Street’s line-up includes the Bob Fosse inspired musical revue Steam Heat (June 27-July 13), the comedic-thriller Death Trap (July 25-Aug. 10) and the '60s extravaganza Beehive (Aug. 15-31).

Offering a similar mixture of light-hearted hilarity and spine-chilling suspense, Circle Theatre is an additional noteworthy summer theatre hot spot. The season includes the ridiculous farce Don’t Dress for Dinner (June 25-21), the gangster comedy One Man, Two Guvnors (July 10-26) and the smash hit Monty Python’s Spamalot (Aug. 7-23).

For a more family friendly Circle Theatre experience, round up your kiddies and head off see to A Sleeping Beauty Somewhere in Time (June 5-29). The timeless fairytale is part of Circle Theatre’s Magic Circle tradition, an effort to involve youngsters in community theatre.

Other children’s theatre offerings this summer include Disney’s Camp Rock the Musical (July 25- Aug. 3) and The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe (July 25-Aug. 3) at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre. No, the excuse about missing the show because you’re in Narnia won’t work here.

If evil snow queens aren’t your thing (don’t listen, Elsa), Hope Summer Repertory Theatre offers additional promising family options like The Sound of Music (June 13-Aug. 7), Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (TBA) and The Doll People (TBA).

“We’re pretty excited about everything we’re doing over the summer,” said Company Manager Reagan Chesnut. “Hope Summer Repertory has been around for 43 years, and it’s a tradition in Holland. It’s something that people look forward to when their kids are home from school. We have children’s plays that go on during the day, which are very, very popular.”

More adult-geared performances at HSRT this season include A Raisin in the Sun (June 18-July 1), Hot Mikado (July 11-Aug. 9) and The Matchmaker (July 18-Aug. 8). This diverse lineup is bolstered by an impressive company of more than 100 professionals and newcomers taking up summer residence in Holland.

Although not offering any plays this summer, Calvin College still leaves its mark on the theatre scene by continuing its River City Improv shows (June 21, July 19, Aug. 16). Audience interaction, split decisions and a selection of planned songs and skits provide fast-paced, witty entertainment for sluggish summer months.

Theatre is also on hiatus Grand Rapids Community College, but that won’t stop the affiliated Actors’ Theatre from bringing to life the musical Grey Gardens (June 5-14). The show explores the complex relationship between Jacqueline Kennedy’s aunt and cousin as they fall from the status of elite aristocrats to crazy cat ladies.

Meanwhile, Farmers Alley Theatre celebrates both the traditional and experimental theatre scenes with the Broadway classic, Cabaret (June 6-29) and the more recent play [title of show] (July 18-Aug. 3). Quirky and offbeat, the latter is a musical about writing a musical about writing a musical. Heads up, all you meta-lovers and profound, artsy peeps.

Lovers of the highbrow may also enjoy two plays from one of the most famous and respected playwrights of all time, William Shakespeare. Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company, Michigan’s only year-round touring theatre troupe devoted to the Bard, will perform Coriolanus (June-July) and Two Gentlemen of Verona (August-September). The latter will be PCSC’s first workshop production and will provide an opportunity for theatre newcomers to gain training in Shakespearian text, voice and movement.

A further treat for the intellectuals in our midst is C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce (June 19-22) at Master Arts Theatre. An epic journey from hell to heaven, the play is laced with both quick humor and provocative insight.

In addition to theatre, visual gallery art is also flourishing this summer.

Grand Rapids Art Museum tips its hat to Michigan’s contributions to design with Michigan Modern: Design That Shaped America. Running from now until Aug. 24, the exhibit pays special tribute to the ways in which Michigan automobile and furniture manufactures changed the look of the American garage and home.

Also from now until Aug. 17, the GRAM also features Tim Powers: Below the Surface as part of its Michigan Artist Series. The exhibit consists of a giant installation that showcases more than 400 pillow forms, as well as other experimental sculptures.

Over at Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, a special Louis Comfort Tiffany attraction is generating buzz through three linked exhibits (now through Aug. 24). Tiffany Jewels displays exotic, Middle-Eastern infused jewelry, while Tiffany Glass: Painting with Color and Light showcases three glass windows, 16 lamps and 75 pieces of flat glass. The final exhibit, Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Quest of Beauty, is a collection of various Tiffany art forms that show off the scope and versatility of Tiffany’s artistic talent.

The KIA will also hold its annual West Michigan Area Show (now through Aug. 16) featuring more than 500 works in all media from local artists.

Meanwhile, at Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, Con Artist Crew Present: COMMIX (June 6-Aug. 17) will plunge visitors into two floors of immersive street art. Vibrant colors and funky nature motifs celebrate and explore themes of collaboration, entrepreneurship and regional identity.

At Muskegon Museum of Art, Interference Pool: Annica Cuppetelli and Cristobal Mendoza (now through Aug. 3) integrates digital images, light, shape and visitor interaction. Islands of stretched fiber will run the length of the gallery, while overhead lights and projections will create pools and shapes. As viewers walk though the exhibition, computers capture their movement so that their motion will create new patterns and shadows.

Summer at Muskegon Museum of Art also means the arrival of the museum’s juried 86th Regional Exhibition (now through Aug. 20), one of the first regional art shows in Michigan. Hundreds of art pieces from both professionals and amateurs will vie for purchase awards and cash prizes.

On a more sobering note, Holland Museum’s Art and Propaganda in Nazi-Occupied Holland (now through Oct. 4) provides a grim look at Hollanders’ history. Images of Nazi propaganda, concentration camp horror and wartime devastation will remind visitors of our dark past.

For a more cheerful exhibit, children and man-children alike can check out Grand Rapids Public Museum’s Dream It, Build It (now through Aug. 31). Burj Khalifa, the Gateway Arch, the Empire State Building and the Van Andel Museum Center itself are just a few of the gigantic Lego models in this brick lovers’ paradise. Don’t worry about keeping your hands off, kiddos and AFOLs! There are designated areas throughout the exhibit for visitors to build their own masterpieces.

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