Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Ushering in a New Environment

By Katie Hammond

Shakespeare in the Arb (SITA) has produced shows for 16 years now. Some volunteers have been with the show for 10. And why wouldn’t they? For those with a love of theater or of natural spaces, the show provides a fantastic intersection of the two. These attractions, combined with two straightforward but key volunteer tasks, add up to the perfect opportunity to do a little work with a lot to show for it.

Matthaei-Nichols' student interns and volunteers have the opportunity to work as ushers and in the box office. In exchange for our time, we have the opportunity to see the entire play. Due to the nature of the work, we're often treated to a sneak peak behind the scenes. And we get t-shirts with SITA’s famous catchphrase “Groundsitters in front, chairsitters in back!”

A Shakespeare in the Arb volunteer with the classic SITA t-shirt, and Director Kate Mendeloff (right, sitting) enjoy the show with members of the audience.
The job can sometimes be stressful. Most ushers help the crowd move from scene to scene. At each scene they ensure that everyone can both see and hear the show. While the actors are excellent at projecting, it can still be a challenge for even the loudest Princess of France to reach the back row. With some crowds numbering over 200, this can be a logistical challenge. Ushers are also responsible for “bouncing” arboretum visitors who have not bought tickets. For bouncers, a Shakespeare performance can be a delicate balance between firmly directing the crowd and not ruining the experience for any particular patron.

But soon the crowd settles, becomes engaged in the play, begins to understand the mechanics of the moving scenes. The cast interacts with the audience flawlessly. They seem a part of the spaces surrounding them. It is easy to see why so many volunteers return year after year.
Intern Sarah Gizzi (right, in Shakespeare t-shirt) usher-wrangling at the first scene. Usher-wranglers drive golf carts, ensuring that the show is accessible to everyone, including those with mobility constraints.

Katie Hammond

Katie Hammond, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, recently finished the first year in the social work program. Her concentration is social policy and evaluation. At Matthaei-Nichols this summer, Katie works in volunteer services.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

On the Other Side of the Table: A Shakespeare in the Arboretum Box Office Experience

By Madison Montambault

Shakespeare in the Arb is a win-win all around. It builds a bridge between the academic side of the university and public outreach. The student cast and crew get to plan and perform in theatrical productions that provide fulfilling experiences for them and for community members. The performances themselves demonstrate the important role that nature can play in art. And it introduces the Arb to people in ways they may never have imagined. But Shakespeare in the Arb has its backstage world, too. Some of its unsung heroes are the student interns and workers who help support the production and performances in their roles as ushers and in the box office. In this post, student worker and future opera star Madison Montambault reveals what it’s like to work the ticket line, and how grace under pressure comes in handy on all sorts of stages.
When I first heard I’d be helping out with the box office for the annual Shakespeare in the Arb as a part of my summer work at Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, I heaved a sigh of relief. Helping out with the box office meant I’d have the opportunity to work in an environment that felt like home.

As someone who has grown up performing onstage since the age of three, I have a versatile background in the performing arts ranging from dance to musical theatre. Today, I’m pursuing a Bachelor’s of Music in voice performance at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance with a goal of being a professional opera singer. So I couldn’t wait to get started on this part of my work here. That said, while I began my job this summer with a limited knowledge of plants and botany, I have learned a lot of cool things about plants so far!
A Shakespeare in the Arb ticket.
(Photo: Madison Montambault)
As we finished our last weekend of performances, I thought I’d write about my experience working behind the scenes rather than onstage where I usually am. First, it’s been a really great experience in many ways. I have met so many unique and interesting people while helping out with Shakespeare in the Arb and working for Matthaei-Nichols. That has been wonderfully refreshing with everything going on in the world today. It’s a nice reminder that there is still a lot of love and energy in the world. Great people do exist!
I’ve also learned a lot about myself. If you are good at multitasking and keeping calm in a semi-stressful situation while working with hundreds of people and tickets (and I didn’t realize I had these skills…) this is definitely the ideal job for you! Graceful multitasking is something I can apply to my life as a musician since there are so many components to think about all at once.  I didn’t know how patient and energetic I could be until I started working at the Shakespeare in the Arb box office. How our team interacts with each customer makes a world of difference in the audience experience. I think that’s one reason we’ve had such an overall positive Shakespeare season from the box office perspective: people love kind people, and love great theater, so they keep coming back and help us sell out of tickets.
A scene from the 2016 Shakespeare in the Arb.
(Photo: Madison Montambault)

And it wasn’t just Shakespeare tickets on the menu. We also generated a lot of new memberships. One of my favorite things about box-office nights was talking about memberships with people in line to buy tickets. All told, 20 people signed up for new memberships at Matthaei-Nichols. With discounts on Shakespeare in the Arb one of the many member benefits at Matthaei-Nichols, it’s clear that people are excited about supporting the organization and this great event while receiving a break on tickets.

People could purchase some nice "Shakespeare-abilia," like
this Shakespeare bobble-head, Shakespeare insult bandages,
and Shakespeare in the Arb t-shirts.
(Photo: Madison Montambault)

What I’ve learned the most from this experience is that it’s all about how you treat others, no matter how stressed out or preoccupied you may be with everything you have to do. Being kind is not difficult and it makes the process much more enjoyable for everyone. Thanks for the great life lesson and the many new friendships Shakespeare in the Arb! It’s been wonderful.

Madison Montambault is currently working on a Bachelor’s of Music in voice performance at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance. Her goal is to be a professional opera singer.

Monday, June 27, 2016

A Growing Appreciation

by Meredith Burke

Summer 2016 intern Meredith Burke is creating Matthaei-Nichols' programming for the upcoming University of Michigan Bicentennial celebration (January - December 2017). In this post, Meredith gives a preview of some of her work on the bicentennial project and what she's learned about trees.

Prior to this internship, you could say that my knowledge of trees was at a sprouting level. I could name a few trees, yes, but I really didn’t know what I was talking about. The only trees I could name and identify confidently were some maples and a couple of different kinds of pines (thanks to Canada and annual family trips to tree farms).
Towering eastern white pines in
the Arb. The esatern white pine
is one of the Grandmother Trees
(Photo: Meredith Burke).
Now, about two months into my summer experience at Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum (MBGNA), I can happily identify twelve trees, tell you about their quirks and facts, and explain how they are rooted in U-M’s 200-year history.
As an intern, I am working with the communications and marketing team on MBGNA’s contribution to U-M’s bicentennial celebration. The project features twelve “Grandmother Trees” in the Arboretum and highlights events happening on campus around the time the respective trees were planted.

A sample of a sign to accompany the sassafras, one of the Grandmother Trees in the Matthaei-Nichols bicentennial project.
Each tree will be paired with an informational sign. The outdoor “Grandmother Tree” exhibit will be in Arb from April-December 2017.
The three distinct shapes of the sassafras leaf. (Photo courtesy
One of my personal favorites of the “Grandmother Trees” is sassafras. I love its name, and the three distinct shapes of its leaves just fascinate me! As a Michigan native, I particularly enjoy the mitten-shaped sassafras leaf. Through research, I learned that the oil of sassafras has been used to flavor candy, medicine, tobacco, and most notably, root beer! Unfortunately but fortunately, in 1960 the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) banned sassafras oil as a food and flavoring additive because it was found to be a carcinogen and also contained safrole, which can damage the liver.
I also learned that the year the featured “Grandmother” sassafras tree was planted (1872) was the same year a U-M alum founded “Arbor Day,” which has now become a global annual observance. This U-M alum, Julius Sterling Morton, went on to serve as President Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of Agriculture (1893-97).  

The Grandmother tulip tree in Nichols Arboretum
(Liriodendron tulipifera). This tree started life around 1850,
making it an estimated 167 years old. (Photo: Meredith Burke.)
I have thoroughly enjoyed deepening my appreciation for trees, learning about interesting events in the University’s history, and venturing through the Arb this summer. I hope you will be able to do the same with the “Grandmother Trees” next year!

Meredith Burke, from Dexter, Michigan, is a recent graduate in environmental studies at
Meredith Burke poses with a
mitten-shaped sassafras leaf.
the University of Michigan. In August, Meredith will head to Baltimore for a year of service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Some of her interests include adventures, homegrown strawberries, and puns.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Daily Diversity! Week 6

Here are the species for this week!

Canada Anemone
Scientific name: Anemone canadensis
Anishinabemowin name:  Wabesgung

This herbaceous, perennial native (also known as “crowfoot” due to its apparent resemblance to the bird’s distinct foot shape) can be found in moist meadows, thickets, streambanks, and lakeshores in North America.
Fun fact: People indigenous to North America once used this plant as an astringent and as antiseptic for wounds, sores, and nosebleeds.
For more information, check out this website!

Black cherry

Scientific name: Prunus serotina
Anishinabemowin name: Sawemin

Black cherry, not to be confused with chokecherry (the leaves of which are smaller and less glossy, chokecherry itself alternatively classified as a shrub), is a woody plant and a pioneer species!
Fun fact: This plant was introduced into Western and Central Europe as an ornamental tree in the mid-1900s, where it is now classified as invasive.
For more information, check out this website!

White Baneberry / Doll’s eye
Scientific name: Actaea pachypoda
Anishinabemowin name:  Waabokaadaak

This herbaceous perennial produces a tiny white berry with a black dot in the middle which appearance gives it the name “doll’s eye”.
Fun fact: Both the berries and entire plant are extremely toxic to humans! The berries, the most poisonous part of the plant, contain cardiogenic toxins which can lead to cardiac arrest and death. You have been warned!
For more information, check out this website!

Wild sarsaparilla
Scientific name: Aralia nudicaulis
Anishinabemowin name: Kada kuns

This plant, known by many other names (false sarsaparilla, shot bush, small spikenard, wild liquorice, and rabbit root), is sometimes confused with poison ivy, as it sometimes grows with groups of three leaflets.
Fun fact: This particular plant has been used to induce sweat, cleanse the blood, and invigorate. The roots would be brought on long expeditions for indigenous groups to chew on for energy.
For more information, check out this website!

Juneberry, or Serviceberry

Scientific name: Amelanchier arborea
Anishinabemowin name: goziwaakominagaawanzh

This tree is native to eastern North America and usually grows 16-40 feet tall.
Fun Fact: The berries of this plant are edible and can be made into pies (the objectively best dessert one can make).
For more information, check out this website!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Daily Diversity! Week 5

Here are the species for this week!


Scientific name: Jeffersonia diphylla

Anishinabemowin name: unknown

What a rarity! This perennial plant grows in deciduous forests with limestone soil, making it so rare that it has been listed as threatened or endangered in 5 states.
Fun Fact: The name “diphylla”  comes from the fact that the plant has two leaves. In Greek, “di” means “two” and “phyll” means “leaf”!
For more information, check out this website!


Scientific name:  Impatiens capensis

Anishinabemowin name: ozaawashkojiibik

This annual plant gets its name from the way the flowers can be yellow or orange with red dots, giving it the look of a jeweled pendant or “necklace of the woods.”
Fun Fact: Jewelweed is known for its skin-healing properties. It is especially effective against a poisonous plant that grows with it in the woods. Check back here tomorrow to what that plant is!
For more information, check out this website!

Poison Ivy

Scientific name: Toxicodendron radicans

Anishinabemowin name: nimkikibug

Keep your eyes peeled for this rash-inducing plant. Growing as vines or shrubs, poison ivy is common across North America. If you do come into contact with it, the Jewelweed from yesterday can help heal your skin!
Fun Fact: Although this plant is poisonous to most humans, white-tailed deer actually love to eat it!
For more information, check out this website!

White Oak

Scientific name: Quercus alba

Anishinabemowin name: wiishkobi-mitigomizh

This eastern deciduous hardwood can be found as far north as Ontario and as far south as Florida. It can sometimes even grow over 100 feet tall!
Fun Fact: Some white oaks have been found to be over 450 years old! What a wise tree!
For more information, check out this website!

Northern Red Oak

Scientific name: Quercus rubra

Anishinabemowin name: wiisagi-mitigomizh

The northern red oak (not to be confused with the southern or Spanish red oak) is native to the eastern US and southern Canada, and it provides an important source of lumber!
Fun Fact: Although we often hear about foreign plants invading North America, the red oak is an example of a North American plant that has actually become invasive in Asia.
For more information, check out this website!