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Hand to God: Another fantastical Michigan debut

Opening Thursday, Feb. 16, 8 p.m. (through Feb. 25)
It is hard to imagine that the pipeline from Broadway flows so easily to West Michigan, but if you have been following this trend then it is not hard to see why “Hand to God” is having its Michigan debut at Actors’ Theatre.

Just a year ago, one of Broadway’s most shocking successes drew its final curtain, and almost as swiftly our local Actors’ Theatre bid for the rights to stage this play. 

Unlike most dramatic productions, this play defies all expectations with its edgy, laugh-out-loud humor mixed with poignancy. As a result of this winning combination, this little play that could ended up with four impressive Tony Award nominations, including the competitive Best Play category.

The story revolves around Jason, a student from a Christian Puppet Ministry who has found the best path to a saintly life is to adhere to the teachings of the Bible. 

But the play suddenly careens on another path when his foul-mouthed puppet named Tyrone begins to hand out eyebrow-raising advice on how to satisfy urges and deal with desires. This sets in motion a story where Jason must not just confront Tyrone’s words but will go on to question everything he knows. 

The New York Times reviewer writes, “You can enjoy ‘Hand to God’ merely as a festival of filthy hilarity, like ‘The Book of Mormon.’ But as I watched the play this year, for the third time, I found myself peering more closely into its psychological depth, and finding in it a weird mirror of our unsettling times…Maybe if more of the world’s troubled youth discharged their demons with the help of sock puppets, things might not look so grim.”

“Hand to God” is part of Actors’ Theatre impressive 36th season and represents (yet again) why it is one of the most exciting theatrical outlets in our city. 

Tickets: $28-Adults, $22-Student/Seniors, $10-Student Rush (available one hour prior to each performance) Tickets can be purchased at www.atgr.org or by calling the box office at 616-234-3946.

Retro D'Luxe: Get into the groove at this 80s prom

Prom is a big deal, and on Saturday night at The Pyramid Scheme Retro D’Luxe is looking to trip a few of your switches as they return to the popular downtown entertainment venue with a special installment of their popular nostalgia-driven dance party. 

For starters, the night’s theme is all 80s music prom. That means you can not only get your groove on with some of the most blindly ambitious and adventurous music ever created, but you will get to experience it like many of us did at our proms: in some of the most outlandish of fashions from the era.

Prom season is an economic boom for the city, as high schoolers typically prepare to get dressed up for the dance. One retailer reported that most teens will spend an average of $150 on a dress. Once you add upgrades, like alterations or a handmade, custom dress, then the price easily rises to upwards of $500. For the boys to rent a tuxedo will set a guy back $80. 

But you don’t have to spend that much, as we have plenty of second hand stores or vintage shops, like Flashback on Leonard, to help you get into that perfect 80s gown or retro-tux with a t-shirt.

The best part is that, unlike your high school prom, you are encouraged to drink in the open and not hide it as you might have done then.

For faster and guaranteed entry at this prom, be sure to purchase your $5 ticket in advance or be left crying in the hallway on this fun-filled night.

Taste of Soul Sunday: Celebrate Black History in an evolving city

There are plenty of ways to celebrate Black History Month in our region, but the one event that is a thrill to attend for so many reasons is downtown Grand Rapids Public Library’s Taste of Soul Sunday

At this annual event, you will have a chance to participate in hands-on activities and watch live performances related to Grand Rapids’ African American heritage and culture.  Also, as the name implies. there will be plenty of good eats from local restaurants (Daddy Pete's BBQ, Big Ed's BBQ, Gursha Ethiopian Restaurant, Malamiah Juice Bar) to sample at this day-long activity. 

Musical performances will include Glenda Williams, Sound Proof, Kathy Lamar, and Young Men 4 Christ. 

There are a series of lectures, too, ranging from Dr. Benjamin Wilson on the lives of “ordinary Black Folks” who lived in West Michigan between 1919 and1950 to David L. Head’s story of Granville T. Woods, the first African American mechanical and electrical engineer. 

In addition to activities for kids, like how to make an African tribal mask, there will be an educational workshop on how to create those elegant head wraps led by Master Wrapper Zarinah El-Amin Maeen.

Taste of Soul Sunday is free to the public and sponsored by the Grand Rapids Public Library Foundation, with additional support from Downtown Grand Rapids Incorporated and Meijer.

For more information, call 616-988-5400 or visit the library's website for the entire schedule. 

Los Tucanes de Tijuana: Narco culture’s musical ambassadors

Los Tucanes de Tijuana (LTdT), one of Mexico’s most successful musical acts, will be in Grand Rapids on Saturday night, and judging by their long legacy in the industry, this is going to be a thrilling concert for a host of reasons.

First, LTdT has created one of the most amazing discographies of any Mexican musical act, with a prolific knack of creating compelling and timely compositions that reflect the times.

What started in 1987 at a pub at Bar Razza's Club in Tijuana on the Baja California, their sound has evolved to a commentary on current events.

Secondly, they are part of a genre of Latin American music that leans on the traditions of the Norteña music (similar to the polka or corridor music), but also the emerging genre of  Narcocorrido, which is famously known in Mexico as drug-praising ballads examining the realities of Mexico’s contemporary culture. 

Sure, it is controversial material to base a ballad or dance song on, but isn’t most art created to reflect the realities of any culture? 

LTdT has a solid world following, as they are one of the biggest Latino acts to come out of Mexico, with more than 32 gold records, 30 platinum records, 66 Billboard Magazine hits, and 12 Grammy nominations. The group landed a Latin Grammy Award for Best Norteño Album (2012) for their release “365 Dias.” 

Pre-sale tickets are just $35, with a special children’s admission of $20. Want to wait until Saturday night to purchase a ticket, then expect to pay $50 day of show. 

Jammies: Live local music love festival turns 18!

Folks are always asking what is the best bet for those seeking to connect more to our local arts scene and honestly, one of the best answers is still “by attending listener supported radio WYCE 88.5 FM’s Jammies.”

This annual award show is really a right of passage for musicians who have not just labored to create a new release but have often played out in a variety of venues from brew pubs to patio bars to even house parties and basement shows. 

And for $5 (suggested cash donation) you will gain access to a thrilling night of music as 25 acts perform across two massive stages at The Intersection. 

In between the performances nearly a dozen awards will be given out over the course of the night’s entertainment. 

Another perk of the evening of back-to-back performances is that 16 of the 25 music acts have never performed at the Jammies before!

The Jammies is also a chance for the Greater Grand Rapids live music-loving audience to contribute to meeting the needs of its charity partner this year: Feeding America West Michigan.

The Jammies encourages folks to donate non-perishable food items (or cash) to the Feeding America table. (Just a side bar on food donations: No one is looking for old, outdated cans of creamed herring or that lonesome jar of capers. Be mindful that food drives are not a chance for you to clean out your kitchen cabinet of things you don’t want or don’t know what to do with. It is why I keep that “gifted” can of spotted dick on the shelf at home.) 

The Jammies’ schedule is online and is an all ages show until 11p.m.

Creating a city of inclusion: Modern immigration, local impact

The headlines these past few weeks have been devoted to a host of topics but none has generated more energy than those that are addressing the latest battle over the plight of the immigrant in America.

In advance of their latest musical production of “Ragtime,” Civic Theatre is offering a week out of its February 24 opening a special panel discussion event looking at what makes a city inclusive.

Created in partnership with Grand Rapids Public Library, Creating a City of Inclusion: Modern Immigration, Local Impact welcomes panelists from organizations working within immigrant & refugee services of our region. 

Panelists include:
  • Pastor Ricardo Tavarez from the En Vivo Church
  • Executive Director Susan Kragt of the Refugee Education Center
  • Program Manager Kristine Van Noord at Bethany Christian Services’ Refugee Adult & Family Programs
  • Kelsey Herbert from the Office of Social Justice at Christian Reformed Church of North America
  • Grand Rapids Public Library’s Irina Nadeau
The panel will delve into the history of the immigrant path within the Greater Grand Rapids area and share insights on how and why our region needs to continue our tradition of welcoming and supporting these members of our society. 

As an added bonus, those attending the event will be eligible to receive a discount code to be applied towards a ticket to Grand Rapids Civic Theatre’s Ragtime.

This popular musical arrives back on stage at a time when the topics covered in this epic, historical show illustrates some of the very same struggles that we as a nation still continue to understand.

 Ragtime is told through the eyes of three main groups - an African American Harlem musician, a white upper class suburbanite, and an Eastern European family of immigrants - and is set during the early 20th Century.  

The panel event takes place at the Grand Rapids Public Library and is free. More information on this panel event and Ragtime can be found at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre's website.

Snow Days: Praying for the white, fluffy stuff

It seems with every year as we add more outdoor winter activities in the city, the battle to plan such an event devoted to snow on a  day when we can expect to have snow becomes problematic for event producers.

So you can imagine the amount of prayers for snow coming from downtown merchants and restaurants who are eagerly awaiting 2017’s Snow Days. 

This year Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) and their partners are creating something new with Snow Days -- an outdoor festival where truly there is something for everyone over the course of this five-day event that runs February 10 - 14.

Snow Days is more than just a one stop event as it encompasses three distinct activities that range from free- to the low-cost events geared towards adults as well as families. 

First up is the creatively executed Valent-ICE outdoor ice sculpture event devoted to the theme of Valentine's Day.  All over downtown 50+ ice sculptures will turn the city into a giant, albeit a temporary one, gallery of outdoor art. 

Popular items this year include a life-sized Muhammad Ali, NASA’s space shuttle, and a whopping 5,000 pound sculpture! There is even a special pop-up ice bar at the Downtown Market.

For the exact placement of entries that will be on display during the festival, be sure to grab a copy of DGRI’s handy Snow Days folding map available at downtown merchants, eateries, and DGRI’s office.

Also appearing downtown on (POSTPONED*) is a Rail Jam competition for ski and snowboard competitive racers held along the banks of the Grand River at Ah-Nab-Awen Park. In addition to the Rail Jam, this Snow Days location will feature free sledding and open riding for skiers and snowboarders. See their Facebook page for the schedule of Rail Jam events.

But the event that not only has attracted the most buzz is Sunday's return to downtown of the Human Hungry Hungry Hippos tournament. This based on the popular tabletop game and instead of tiny plastic hippos, this new version uses real people munching marbles on the ice at Rosa Parks Circle. The registration for this event has already passed and is sold out but do show up to laugh a lot as you watch the battle. 

This event is brought to Grand Rapids by DGRI and involves dozens of community partners, local businesses, and sponsors, including Ice Brigade, AGA Nation, AHC+ Hospitality, Craig's Cruisers, the Grand Rapids Public Museum, WOOD TV 8 and the City of Grand Rapids.

If you attend be sure to use the #SnowDaysGR so others can track your favorite activities or entries in the ice sculpture competition.

*The Rail Jam is postponed until later this month due to lack of snow. 

Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School: SuperDebut of SuperDre

Finally a Black History Month event devoted to the power of music and art with a healthy dose of laughter. 

Ok, that might be a bit of a stretch considering this special event is Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School Grand Rapids. And you could say it was just another installment of everyone’s favorite no-credit, non-degree art class until you see who is this month’s special live guest model, former Grand Rapidian SuperDre.

The fun is at the Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill this month and will give those seeking a creative outlet a chance to hang with other artists of all skill levels as they go through this fast-paced and often very funny program.

Dr. Sketchy’s is an internationally organized art event with roots in Brooklyn with our local official chapter being hosted by Sarah Jean Anderson and head mistress Vivacious Miss Audacious. 

And if you feel intimidated, don’t be because Dr. Sketchy’s welcomes everyone regardless of skill level. All they ask is that you bring your preferred drawing material as well as a pad of paper for your creations. 

Sponsored by Native Instruments, SuperDre is known to locals for her distinct brand of music and has shared the stage with acts like DJ Irene, Filastine, Bassnectar, John Acquaviva, Ana Sia, Punisher, Terrence Parker, and so many more. 

In 2015, Spin Magazine named her as one of the  “Ten Detroit Techno Up-and-Coming Producers to Watch.” 

Admission is a mere $10 and is open to artists and artists at heart that are 21 or older.  

Finders Keepers: The art of the collection is unearthed at GRAM

History is full of examples of folks who like to keep things in an orderly fashion as they acquire objects. Whether it be art, shoes, or even those garish state spoons your grandma loved to display in her kitchen as proof that she once got around, collecting is, for better or worse, a part of our culture.

Before the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) welcomes the public on Sunday, Feb. 5 to view their latest show, “Finders Keepers: West Michigan Collects,” members will have an opportunity to attend a special opening preview party for this exclusive and original exhibition. (GRAM also celebrates the opening for “Black Waves: the Tattoo Art of Leo Zulueta.”)

Questions like, “what drives the universal human impulse to collect objects” and “what are some of the hidden treasures of our region” will be addressed in this hyper-local exhibition.

The collection will include everything from fine art to Victorian jewelry to antique rifles to sneakers and so much more as “Finders Keepers” seeks to probe the depths of what causes one to collect.

Unlike most art exhibitions where a crew of seasoned curators scour collections to create an organized display, “Finders Keepers” enlisted the assistance of the GRAM curatorial team along with community scouts to produce a very public view of an often private activity.

Often being the key word, because we all remember that one aunt who thought she would secure that lake house via her Beanie Baby collection. View responsibly and make sure you don’t use this occasion as an excuse that your hoarding activities are on deck for a show next. Some things like this are best kept under lock and key (and stacked floor to ceiling) at home.

Members can RSVP for the event here.

The Vagina Monologues: More than vulva spoken here

In 1996, Eve Ensler unleashed on an off-Broadway audience an episodic play, “The Vagina Monologues.” And ever since that time we have witnessed numerous new re-stagings of this now classic, feminist-focused theatrical work.

The Vagina Monologues is an Obie Award-winning theatrical tour de force showcasing a divergent cast of guest female voices who share tales based on the vagina.  

The production covers a lot of ground as these thoughtful stories, including a six-year-old girl, a septuagenarian New Yorker, a vagina workshop participant, a woman who witnesses the birth of her granddaughter, a Bosnian survivor of rape, and a feminist happy to have found a man who “liked to look at it,” all tackle an equally diverse setting for each monologue. 

Debuting this year at The Fuse Box under the direction of  “The Vagina Monologues” veterans’ Taylor Abbie and Gabrielle Diandra, this production is a benefit for our local Women’s Resource Center and also supports the international V-Day Foundation.

If you would like to attend, it is advised to arrive ahead of the curtain because the pre-sale is sold out, meaning seating is going to be tight for these shows. Never give up hope on getting in as cancellations can occur, enabling a seat to open up. Otherwise, there is a chance to score on the night of the show one of the very few standing room only admissions available. 

To see if any extra pre-sale tickets have been released or network (beg) for seats,  please visit their event page here.

Bob Marley birthday bash: Return to chill

Let’s face it. The last few weeks have been rough for a host of reasons. We all could use some time to just chill.

And no other artist evokes an atmosphere of chill more than reggae’s legendary Bob Marley, whose birthday will be the occasion of a returning annual party happening at Eastown’s Billy’s Lounge.

Attendees will be enthralled as the music of Bob Marley is performed by the Michigan-originated reggae bands Reggaeloution and Zion Lion

And while it is doubtful that the ghost of Marley will appear, it is possible that a true spiritual awakening could occur since this Rastafarian’s music is rumored to chill the most savage of hearts. 

So if you are on the edge and need a break, then celebrating one of the greatest musicians who evoked the need to connect more with our humanity in all that we do could just be what the doctor ordered. 

For more info, please visit their event page.

Etsy and the art of social impact: A startup with heart and a creative knack for doing business

While the world is full of examples of how artists have connected their works from studio to collector, the advent of the internet unleashed on the world a whole new landscape enabling artists to take greater control of their destiny.

When Etsy arrived on the internet, the options for artists and craftsmen to sell their wares were limited and often mismatched (i.e. Ebay).  

But Etsy did a lot more than just present another platform as it continued to evolve itsbrand to reflect a different corporate value structure.

The biggest shift came when Etsy decided to become a Benefit Corporation (or B Corp), upending the once thought to be traditional path of all startups that sought to maximize profit while also enabling a massive rapid growth.

On Monday evening, Local First welcomes artists and the curious to join them at LaFontsee Galleries as they welcome Matt Stinchcomb, co-founder of Etsy and executive director of Good Work Institute.  

Stinchcomb will share his fascinating story of how a post-punk garage band musician went from touring to cofounding Etsy and later to go on to produce a new type of business school unlike any other via the Good Work Institute (formerly known as etsy.org). You will not look at your resume the same way after hearing this special guest speaker at one of Grand Rapids’ oldest galleries. 

In addition to Stinchcomb’s LaFontsee Galleries free lecture, the Esty cofounder will be speaking earlier on this day to The Economic Club of Grand Rapids. For more information, you can go here.

Us is Them: The boldest art act of the year

For years within the many spaces of our city where I serve as a volunteer, I have made a commitment to drive home the message of what we gain when we place those on the stage whose voices are too often denied the spotlight they deserve. The invisibility of such persons on those stages means that those rising up through the ages have no example, much less clue, if they are welcome or not in said institutions. 

Friday, Jan. 27 is not just the opening of another new exhibition, “Us is Them,” but is a chance for a generation of people within our region, who haven’t been represented locally as they should, to step into the center stage spotlight. It is thrilling to see this exhibition arrive here at this point in our city’s history. 

“Us is Them” originated at the Pizzuti Collection in Columbus, Ohio and was organized by Curator Rebecca Ibel before heading to open at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts. It will feature more than 50 works of art by 42 renowned international artists who use their vast array of media to confront societal issues, from politics to religion to racism.

This diverse exhibition is organized and presented during a period in our time where many profound social justice movements are afoot in society. This art exhibition dives head first into these areas with a honest portrayal of our current state of affairs around our planet and delivered via art. 

This exhibition will challenge us as a community to ask where we are in the work and how we can better enable voices, like these on display, to emerge in our city moving forward, whether via the art we create, showcase or discuss. In short, the power of art to challenge our view points is about to be unleashed within our region, producing exciting opportunities for conversations to emerge.

This show chooses to take the high road, not to isolate or alienate, but will ask each of us to consider where we have intersecting points for dialogue to emerge around what unites us, not  divides or breaks down our collective advancement.

“Us is Them” is an exhibition that is sure to stick with you long after the works have been crated and shipped out of town. While they are here, see them often and let the dialogue that it produces hopefully shift the way we look at ourselves and those around us. 

This is the power of “Us is Them.” 

Artists include: Derrick Adams, Nick Cave, Noah Davis, Roberto Diago, Omar Victor Diop, Jonathan Hammer, Zhang Huan, Wang Jin, Hayv Kahraman, Titus Kaphar, Patrick Lee, Simone Leigh, Tianbing Li, Wangechi Mutu, Adi Nes, Aminah Robinson, Yinka Shonibare, Jeff Sonhouse, Mickalene Thomas, Hank Willis Thomas, Diane Wah, Kara Walker, Nari Ward, Carrie Mae Weems, Judi Werthein, and Kehinde Wiley.

Admission: The 5:30 p.m. reception is free to members, the public is admitted after 6 p.m. and entrance costs $5. For more information, you can go here.

Ai Weiwei at Meijer Gardens: Natural State

When I saw my first Ai Weiwei exhibition, I spent so much time with the works that my hours just evaporated, causing me to almost miss my boat off Alcatraz in San Francisco. 

But the truth is that we have never had an artist like Ai in my lifetime who could delve into so many different human rights abuses and still empty a complex set of mediums to convey deeply rooted meanings that could be shared across the world. That was what moved me about  “@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz,” held on the island of Alcatraz.

Ai was born in Beijing and spent his childhood in forced exile before moving to the United States in 1981. Over the next 12 years, he would meet many of the art stars (like Andy Warhol) of this era, many of whom were holdovers from the pop movement who so clearly influenced his early works. He would return to China in 1993 to tend to his ailing father in Beijing.

How Ai differs from most artists is that he is an architect, author and a human rights activist who is not afraid to harness his art to speak truth to power and often against the Chinese government for its dismal record of human rights violations. In 2011, when he was arrested, he posted personal and medical x-rays of his abuse at the hands of his government that led to worldwide official and public protest.

Now, Ai’s powerful work, which includes sculpture, photographs, ceramics, and installations, is coming to Grand Rapids. “Ai Weiwei at Meijer Gardens: Natural State” opens Friday, Jan. 27 and runs through Aug. 20.

“It has been an extraordinary experience to work with Ai Weiwei on this highly unique exhibition, as he has been extremely involved in every level of decision making and detail,” states Joseph Antenucci Becherer, Chief Curator and Vice President of Exhibitions and Collections at Meijer Gardens. “With more than 30 works installed across galleries, conservatories and public spaces, this fascinating and thought-provoking collection of works is quite unlike any exhibition Meijer Gardens has ever mounted.”   

Needless to say, this exhibition is one I have been waiting to arrive in our region for nearly a year and is a reminder of the power of art to transform not only us but also the world we live in today. 

Meijer Gardens in 2015 added Ai’s the Iron Tree, which is a rare work of art and was purchased to commemorate our botanical and sculpture garden’s 20th anniversary.

Do not miss this show by one of the world’s greatest living artist. Ai has an impressive and prolific Instagram and Twitter, where he showcases much of his past year’s work supporting the refugee humanitarian efforts in Greece.

Ai Weiwei is part of a new generation of artists not afraid to lend their voices but also their bodies in advancing the justice so many deserve on this planet.

Admission is free for members or with each paid admission. For more information, please go here.  

The Bootstrap Boys: Neighborhood pub debuts first live show

Sure, a new brewery seems to open every other week in West Michigan, but when one who has committed to creating neighborhood-inspired brews are showcasing their pub as a place for community members to gather around a table and not a TV, well, you take notice of what they are doing. 

Not only is there a real tangible energy here that spills over from the busy street just outside on Plainfield Avenue, but once inside that energy is conveyed via the brightly lit corner south facing floor to ceiling windows. This is the beauty of the Creston Brewery in the heart of the Creston -- the city’s largest neighborhood. 

Kicking off its first concert in the newly-opened space that debuted in August 2015, Creston Brewery welcomes the Bootstrap Boys -- a four-piece band that is sure to help you fight off that Sunday feeling you need to nap. (My friends always say you can sleep when you are dead.) 

Our local ‘Boys will be performing an acoustic country-roots music set with plenty of tight harmonies and a delicious lick of guitars and an eclectic bass. 

And while there are plenty of brewpubs to visit these days, why not stop in here and be a part of history as they kick off this new aspect of a business that is reinventing the neighborhood watering hole with real style. 

The entertainment is free. Creston Brewery offers an amazing array of fresh brews, great eats, and of course, a chance to meet someone at this very friendly spot on the north end of Grand Rapids. For more information, you can go here.
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