Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Making Magic in the Arb with Shakespeare

Ten years after staging its first performance, Director Kate Mendeloff Reimagines The Tempest in Nichols Arboretum.

By Kate Mendeloff

Editor's note: Shakespeare in the Arb has been a June tradition for more than 16 years. The play is directed by Kate Mendeloff, a faculty member in the University of Michigan Residential College. Kate wrote about the summer 2017 play, The Tempest, which she presented in 2007. 

In re-staging Shakespeare's final play, "The Tempest", I had some major challenges from the outset. Ten years ago, I staged the play in Dow Prairie, and even incorporated the Huron River in my design. Because the play begins with an actual shipwreck in process, and such a thing is not possible to stage outside, I had my designers create a wrecked ship on the opposite bank of the river. This was a powerful opening image for the audience who were walking to the starting point of the action.

Because of repair work this spring on the road along the Huron River and in the prairie itself, I had to use a different venue this year. I chose the East Valley, and decided to use the Heathdale glen for the audience entrance, and to people the woods with the characters who were thrown upon Prospero's island by the shipwreck. This serves a similar purpose, and introduces the audience to the action of the play from the very beginning of their experience in the Arb.

Also, the East Valley has a new feature this year, which is serendipitous for the production, a huge tree has split in half and fallen right in the middle of the area. In the play, Prospero had released his servant Ariel from imprisonment in a tree, so that this symbol of repression and freedom is front and center in the audience's minds. We use the tree for some significant staging moments during the action.

Ariel (Justin Kim). Photo by Emilie Heimbold.

"The Tempest " is a wonderful play that incorporates magical elements and non-human characters. Prospero, the banished Duke of Milan, is also a magician, and he has been himself shipwrecked on this island, twelve years before, and now lives there with his daughter Miranda, and their servants, the earthly Caliban, half-man, half-creature, and the air-spirit Ariel. In this season’s production Ariel is played by seven actors at once and is everywhere on the island doing Prospero's bidding and so must be embodied by many performers.

Miranda and Ferdinand (Sarah Prendergast and Nick Megahan).
Photo by Emilie Heimbold.

The plot of the play concerns Prospero's revenge on his evil brother and the King of Naples, who engineered his overthrow. Prospero creates a storm that brings them to his island and oversees their punishment, but stops short of cruelty because of Ariel's compassion and also by the burgeoning relationship between the King of Naples’ son and his daughter. The king also chastises two comic characters who side with Caliban to threaten his authority and his life.

Redemption is the theme of the play, although much of the action is about conspiracy and revenge. Prospero, like his creator Shakespeare, decides to give up his magic and retire to a quiet life, but not before he writes some of his most beautiful poetry and creates some of his most intriguing characters.

Prospero and Miranda ( Rob Sulewski and
Marilyn Schotland). Photo by Emilie Heimbold.

I am aided in the magic of the rehearsal process by collaborators Graham Atkin and Emma McGlashen; Martin Walsh, my colleague in the Residential College; and Jordan Khalaf, who has taken the Elizabethan melodies and adapted them for our production. The play runs Thursday-Sunday evenings June 8- June 25 weekends. Information about tickets, parking, directions, and more is found on the Matthaei-Nichols Shakespeare in the Arb web page.

Kate Mendeloff, right, addresses the crowd at a performance
April 2017 of The Seagull. Kate is on the faculty at the U-M
Residential College. She makes creative use of the spaces
at Matthaei-Nichols, including the conservatory and the Arb.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Arboretum Tour Deepens Intern’s Connection to Nature

By Yoav Jacob

Student intern Yoav Jacob brought a love of nature and an appreciation of its many benefits to his internship at Matthaei-Nichols. When he took a tour of the Arb with Director Bob Grese and other interns this May, he came away with a deeper understanding of the forces that have shaped the area.

On a tour of Nichols Arboretum with the summer 2017 interns,
Director Bob Grese (second from left) discusses the original donation
of land from a local homestead that lead to the establishment of the Arb.
It’s exciting to see the Arboretum waking from the long winter, the empty landscape once again turning green. With my internship in full swing, this summer is gearing up to be one full of an amazing blend of new friends, learning, and of course—fun! Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum staff were offered a tour of the Arb by Director Bob Grese on May 16 (see photo). As we walked through the various areas of the Arb, Bob explained how the land had been preserved and used by the Ann Arbor community in the last hundred years and what’s been speculated about Native American influence in the region. When we stopped briefly near the prairie in the Arb's Alex Dow Field I was taken aback to learn that several years ago a fallen tree had exposed an approximately 3,000-year-old Native American stone plow. It's thought that nomadic Native Americans purposely buried the plow to hide it and other tools between seasons. (The stone plow is now in the collection of the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology.) The tour deepened my appreciation for this natural landscape found within urbanized Ann Arbor, reinforcing my longstanding connection to nature. 

Backpacking, hiking, and caring deeply about the environment being three of my most prevalent pastimes, I think I can classify myself as “outdoorsy.” I’ve spent several afternoons throughout the past year exploring the Arboretum, learning its various paths and trying to internalize the landscape. Whether visitors are running through, taking their dog(s) for a walk, or simply there to listen to the river’s song, it’s clear the Ann Arbor community appreciates the Arb as a quiet escape from the bustle of Ann Arbor life. For me, Nichols Arboretum is a lot more.

I grew up taking nature walks with my parents and grandparents in local parks and through a small local arboretum. Family vacations often gravitated around national parks and trips to scenic areas in Israel. I’ve concluded that time with nature is a key component to the maintenance of my positivity and energy. Strolls through the Arb help me process what’s going on in my life and they help slow my ever-racing schedule down to the point where I can confidently tackle the challenges that often appear. Having access to places like the Arboretum is key to my success, and I’m excited to continue developing a relationship with the area in the coming weeks, months, and years.

Yoav Jacob, from Setauket, New York, is a rising sophomore in the honors program at the University of Michigan. He is currently undeclared, but interested in chemistry, biology, and sustainability. He is a horticulture intern this summer and looks forward to learning more about greenhouse work and Arboretum maintenance. His hobbies include running (especially in the Arb), cooking, and looking for dogs to pet around campus. Yoav's internship is supported by the Norman Memorial Fund created by Steve and Ann Norman for the care and maintenance of the outdoor plant collections at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Matthaei-Nichols Director of Development Gayle Steiner's Retirement Party

Staff, donors, members, volunteers, and friends gathered April 28, 2017 to honor and celebrate Gayle Steiner. Gayle's farewell speech was so good we decided to publish it in full here.

Thank you for coming here today, as I retire from one of the best positions at the University of Michigan, as you can see.

Gayle prepares to enjoy a special cake prepared for her as she
leaves Matthaei-Nichols.
What you can't see is how this ties in to my childhood. When I was little, television shows included the Lone Ranger and Gunsmoke and Rawhide. One of my favorite things was galloping around in my cowgirl outfit. Well...in my first year at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, on my birthday, in March, the gate to the Display Gardens was accidentally left open, and a herd of hungry deer came in for a feast. You can't have deer eating your collections, so the staff-- including me -- went outside to find the deer and herd them out. My childhood fantasy -- head 'em up and move 'em out -- fulfilled!

One more pivotal memory comes from the first plant sale that I attended.  For those of you who don't know about those extravaganzas, think of a gigantic three-ring circus -- for plants.  Bob Grese was introducing me around, and I met Tom Gaffield, as in the Gaffield Children's Garden. Tom said something that has always stayed with me. He said, "When I'm working in my garden, nothing worries me, nothing bothers me."  I came to realize that it's no coincidence that in the English language, when we're describing people who are pretty together, we say: they're grounded, they're down to earth. And those are the people -- you -- that I've been lucky enough to work with.

Gayle Steiner, center, visits with party-goers last April.

Matthaei-Nichols Director Bob Grese, left, and Associate Director
Karen Sikkenga sing Gayle's praises at the retirement party April 28.
We've been partners in a creation story: creation of the Great Lakes Gardens, creation of the bonsai garden, and now, creation-in-progress of the hiking-biking trail running from here two miles south to Geddes Road and and to other trails that connect us, at last, to central campus and beyond...The peony garden in Nichols Arboretum-- the peonies are so voluptuous they're almost embarrassing.  But it's not just that--they open a window into the culture of the early to mid 1900s, and now they're even the focus of international genetic research, which is fitting, given that the man who gave us 280 varieties of peonies was W.E. Upjohn, who earned a medical degree from U of M, founded the Upjohn Pharmaceutical Company, and was a founder of the American Peony Society. He said, "Of the human joys, the joy of beauty is the one most universally demanded and gives the most universal satisfaction."

You always hear, "It's the people that I'll miss, it's the people that make this place so special." 

Yes. Of course it's the people. But it's also the peonies and the native orchids and the tadpoles and even the massasauga rattlesnakes. When the red-wing blackbirds come back each spring, when those luscious peonies and the bonsai azaleas bloom, when the gingko suddenly drops its leaves all in one day each fall, know that I loved it all, and all of you.

Thank you.

Free Parking on National Public Gardens Day - May 12!

Parking will be free to all visitors of Matthaei Botanical Gardens on Friday, May 12 in celebration of National Public Gardens Day! A complimentary one-day code will be available at the parking machines to receive free parking. Free parking is being provided by Domino's.

Stop by on Friday, May 12 to kick-off an exciting Mother's Day weekend by taking a walk on our trails or through the display gardens and stop by the Garden Store to pick up a special gift for mom! Then come back on Saturday for the artisan market and two-day plant sale. 

National Public Gardens Day is a day of celebration to raise awareness of America's public gardens and their important role in promoting environmental stewardship and awareness, plant and water conservation, and education in communities nationwide. This day of celebration is presented by the non-profit American Public Garden's Association, an organization which serves public gardens and advances them as leaders, advocates, and innovators. The Association's vision is to create a world where public gardens are indispensable.

A big thank you to Domino's for providing free parking on National Public Gardens Day!