EncoreMichigan.com Review

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HAMTRAMCK, Mich. – The inadvertent family—unrelated people who choose to be with each other, often at a bar—has long been a go-to situation for theater and TV; think “The Iceman Cometh” or “Cheers.” Margaret Edwartowski’s play Hamtown Races at Hamtramck’s Planet Ant Theatre is such a tale of family-where-you-find-it and the results are more than satisfying.
One reason is the play’s specificity. Even without its title, the play’s setting is unmistakably Hamtramck, that funky, gritty and diverse little city surrounded by Detroit. In the neighborhood diner where all the onstage action takes place you’ll find proprietor Noor, an immigrant from Lebanon; her thoroughly Americanized college student daughter, Lolia; diner fixtures and bickering buddies Jimmy, who is African American, and Dobry, who is Polish; and finally Matt, young proprietor of the nearby T-shirt shop that caters to the town’s influx of millennials.
These are people who probably wouldn’t have voted for the current president-elect, but that’s not an issue here. Hamtown Races was first performed in 2012 and is back, more or less by popular demand, in a new production.
There is one other character, a late arrival; we’ll get to him…later.
Edwartowski provides several storylines but characters are the engine that drives her play, none more forcefully than the quarrelsome, inseparable duo of Jimmy (Falah Cannon) and Dobry (Stephen Craig Blackwell). Their dialogue is snappy, funny and very informative about Hamtramck and its ethnic divisions. Jimmy relates to profanity as if it’s a component of the air he breathes: oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, the n-word and the mother-word. He uses “dumbass” as a term of endearment.
Cannon musters all of Jimmy’s bluster in the cause of a man with a grudge against the word, railing against the system (he’s fighting to receive disability) and the “A-rabs” and other denizens of Hamtramck (including African Americans).
Blackwell, with a pitch-perfect accent, is Jimmy’s good-natured foil, adversary and occasional co-conspirator. He supposedly works in his brother’s unspecified business, and Jimmy doesn’t work at all, but neither man really has a life outside the café.
Noor (Maya Gangadharan) and daughter Lolia (Shelby Marie Schroeder) persuasively convey the conflict typical of a protective old-country mother and more modern offspring. One source of conflict: the mutual attraction between Lolia and Matt, the T-shirt guy (Andy Alan Reid).
The one subject they skirt is the absence of the husband and father who has stayed behind in Lebanon all these 11 years, but that subject becomes unavoidable when the man (Samer Ajluni) arrives without prior notice, suitcase in hand.
I could give away the plot (I won’t) and it wouldn’t diminish anyone’s enjoyment of Hamtown Races. Persuasively acted, and emphatically directed by Amanda Grace Ewing, it’s a play of flavors, pungent as the varied cuisines of Hamtown itself.

A note from the director

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars. – Kahlil Gibran

In many ways, Noor, the strong Arab woman at the center of this story, reminds me of my Sito (Arabic for grandmother), who passed away in August of this year – a week after I signed on to direct Hamtown Races. I think of Noor as a lighthouse – providing guidance, safety, and strength for everyone who encounters her. My Sito was the same way. She was at every concert, performance, holiday, and school ceremony my siblings, cousins, and I ever had. She cheered us on and, as an aspiring singer in her youth, always encouraged me to follow my heart toward the theatre. After Sito’s death, meeting Noor was a gift. This show gave me an opportunity to do something productive with my grief. Hamtown Races became a way to channel my family and my experiences as an Arab-American, a way to honor my grandmother and her legacy. At the heart of this play is a family fighting to stay together, a family fighting to mend their scars, a family fighting for survival. This show came at a perfect time for me.

Before we opened, a woman I looked up to all my life was defeated by racism, hate, frustration, and fear. In the days following the election, Hamtown Races once again provided an outlet for my pain and grief. Theatre-maker Augusto Boal called the theatre a rehearsal for revolution. Each day at rehearsal I felt that I was making a productive piece of the resistance. Inside Margaret’s gorgeous and hilarious words, the cast and I were able to do something hopeful with our anxiety, exasperation, and heartache. We took this examination of Hamtramck, the world in two square miles, and rehearsed mending our wounds, gathering our families, rebelling against the systems of oppression that compel us to criticize each other. This show came at the perfect time for us.

It is my hope that this show might help form a community of theatre-makers and theatergoers who can come together as the ‘massive characters’ needed to begin to effect the positive change needed in our larger story.

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Hamtown Races Show Dates: 
November 23, 25, 26, 29, 30 | December 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17 | 8pm
Sunday December 4 at 2pm & Sunday December 11 at 6pm
Tickets – $20.00*
*Price includes a $1 per ticket online processing fee. Tickets are non-refundable.
Planet Ant Theatre  |  2357 Caniff Ave., Hamtramck, MI 48212  |  313-365-4948

Hamtown Races

hamtown

It’s that time! Posters are out, the facebook event is created, it’s happening! In this post-election environment, it has been feeling so productive to come to rehearsals and create a show about race and culture that is inclusive, representative, and seriously funny. I think a lot of people are needing a good laugh right now.

Come out and see the show!

Show Dates: 
November 23, 25, 26, 29, 30 | December 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17 | 8pm
Sunday December 4 at 2pm & Sunday December 11 at 6pm
Tickets – $20.00*
*Price includes a $1 per ticket online processing fee. Tickets are non-refundable.
Planet Ant Theatre  |  2357 Caniff Ave., Hamtramck, MI 48212  |  313-365-4948

Hamtown Races

I am excited to announce that I am directing “Hamtown Races” at Planet Ant Theatre this season. The show runs from November 23rd – December 27th.

From the Planet Ant website, “Planet Ant brings back an encore presentation of Margaret Edwartowski’s Wilde Award-winning play, Hamtown Races. Originally staged in Fall 2012, the play is set inside the Al Ameer Cafe, a family business belonging to Lebanese immigrants, which hosts a colorful and diverse collection of characters, each representative of the varied and shifting cultures in Hamtramck.”

As an Arab-American, whose great-grandparents immigrated from Lebanon, I am thrilled to be directing this show! I’m excited to explore this part of my family history and identity through this show – and further, I’m excited to explore race in Metro Detroit, and the history and changing culture of Hamtramck.

More to come!

BoxFest Detroit, 2016

As a producer of BoxFest Detroit, I am happy to announce that the festival is returning again this year! Now the longest running theatre festival in the Detroit area, BoxFest is an annual theatre festival that showcases and creates opportunities for women directors. This year the festival runs Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons and evenings, August 19 – 27, at Planet Ant Theatre.

Planet Ant Theatre is located at 2357 Caniff, Hamtramck, MI, 48212. Admission is payable by cash only at the door with day passes for $10.

BoxFest Detroit produces festivals that allow women directors the opportunities to direct original shows of their choice and win awards to help further their careers in directing. Proceeds from each festival are given to one or more directors as a scholarship to help further her career. The winning director of the audience vote competition is given the opportunity to direct a show with Planet Ant Theatre’s Late Night Series.

Over the two weekends long festival, BoxFest Detroit 2016 presents the work of 13 local women theatre artists. Directors reshaping the box this year are Mycah Leigh Artis, Dyan Bailey, Yolanda Fleischer, Emily Harpe, Wendy Katz Hiller, Shannon Hurst, RoNeesha Jackson, Michelle Resnick, Frannie Shepherd-Bates, Andaiye Spencer, Terie Spencer, Jennifer Ward, and Megan Wright. The producing team for BoxFest Detroit 2016 includes Molly McMahon, Kelly Rossi, and Amanda Grace Ewing.

“Once again, the BoxFest Detroit festival will feature exciting new work directed by a few of Michigan’s hardest-working and dynamic theatre artists,” said Molly McMahon, Artistic Director. While some women are new to directing or are just beginning professional careers, others are established artists with decades of experience. “Whether she is directing for the first time or whether she is a seasoned professional, each of our directors bring to their work the creative spark and vision necessary for success,” continued McMahon.

“We cannot wait to see the plays that were selected brought to life this year by our talented directors and actors,” said Kelly Rossi, Executive Director. “With over 500 play submissions, the selection process was tougher than ever before, and we look forward to audiences enjoying new plays by playwrights from across the U.S. and Canada.”

BoxFest Detroit, the only theatre festival of its kind in the U.S., is an annual theatre festival that showcases the work of and provides opportunities for women directors. BoxFest Detroit has served and continues to function as a springboard for many women and their directing careers. Directors who have participated in past festivals have gone on to pursue graduate studies at highly competitive universities, become directors at professional theatres, and form their own successful theatre and production companies. For more information, visit www.boxfestdetroit.com. BoxFest Detroit 2016 is sponsored by Planet Ant Theatre.

BoxFest Detroit, 2016

It’s that time of year – BoxFest 2106 has been announced! I’m thrilled to be one of the producers of the festival again this year. Check out our information and think about getting involved! BFD16.png

BoxFest Detroit, 2015

Press Release:

That’s right, folks! We’re back and BoxFest Detroit 2015 is happening! We’re really excited to be hosted by Planet Ant Theatre, Fridays and Saturdays, August 21 – 29. This is Molly McMahon, Artistic Director, excitedly typing away the good news.

Last year we regrouped and with more resources, we’re looking forward to our 2015 festival. We’ve gotten financial support from some generous people including Jerry Belanger and Park Bar Detroit, and Kennikki Jones-Jones and Edmund Alyn Jones and their company, Dramatically Richer Productions. We are so grateful for their support and want to shout our thanks from the rooftops. If you see these folks around town, give them a hug, a high five, or just say “You’re awesome!” to them. They really deserve it.

But wait, there’s more! We’re also adding a new face to the producing team! Amanda Ewing, a fantastic director in the Detroit area and past BFD director, has joined us as a producer this year. She will be a great asset to the festival and a great resource for newer directors looking for guidance.

We’re really looking forward to returning to Planet Ant Theatre where our 2005 – 2007 festivals were held. They have always been one of our biggest supporters and allies and we are overjoyed that they are hosting us at their space in the lovely City of Hamtramck.

Right now, we’re accepting submissions from directors, playwrights, and actors. Would you like to submit for this year’s festival? Just click on the Participate tab above for more information! We’d love to have you join us this year!

BoxFest Detroit, 2014

Sixteen Jackies by Emma Miller
Directed By: Amanda Grace Ewing
Jackie: Vanessa Sawson
BoxFest 2014

Showtimes
Saturday, September 20th @ 7:00PM

BoxFest Detroit is an annual theatre festival that showcases and creates opportunities for women directors.  Though the main focus of the event is the directors, BoxFest Detroit creates a festive energy by including special opening and closing night events and by using the lobby to create an art gallery for female inspired art.  Proceeds from the event are normally given to two directors as a scholarship to help further her career and the winner of the audience vote competition is given the opportunity to direct a show with Planet Ant Theatre’s Late Night Series. This season because of financial difficulties the workshop scaled back to staged readings.

About the changes on BoxFest 2014 from EncoreMichigan.com.

“Sixteen Jackies”  is a one woman, one act, play chronicling the experiences of former first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy. RUMPUSROOM has plans to mount a full production of “Sixteen Jackies” this autumn.

Sixteen Jackies

BoxFest Detroit, 2013

Peaches by Kelly Rossi
Directed by Amanda Ewing
BoxFest 2013

Show times
Saturday, August 3, 2013 at 3:00 pm
Thursday, August 8, 2013 at 7:00 pm
Friday, August 9, 2013 at 7:00 pm
Saturday, August 10, 2013 at 3:00 pm

BoxFest Detroit is an annual theatre festival that showcases and creates opportunities for women directors.  Though the main focus of the event is the directors, BoxFest Detroit creates a festive energy by including special opening and closing night events and by using the lobby to create an art gallery for female inspired art.  Proceeds from the event are given to two directors as a scholarship to help further her career and the winner of the audience vote competition is given the opportunity to direct a show with Planet Ant Theatre’s Late Night Series.

“Peaches” is a twenty-minute one-act centered around familial tensions. Written by BoxFest Detroit’s Executive Director, Kelly Rossi, this show highlights how the smallest misunderstandings can cause the biggest upsets. Starring Elizabeth Jaffe as an amateur writer, and Kez Settle as her motherly cousin, the two women attempt to make amends after a fight about peaches.

EncoreMichigan.com Review
“Amanda Ewing kept a firm hand on the tiller, and the visuals are compelling. It’s a play with a moral: Communication is the key to conciliation, no matter what strange form that communication takes.”

New Position

I’m excited to announce that I have joined the Office of New Student Programs at the University of Michigan as the Educational Theatre Production (UMetc) Assistant/Program Coordinator.

The position assists with the direction and coordination of the UMetc, which utilizes a company of undergraduate actor/peer educators and performs thought the year including undergraduate orientation programs. This position assists with the script development and editing; administration of the audition process; schedule and attend all performances; manage prop preparation and set-up; oversee sound and lighting; represent the company in administrative activities; coordinate personnel functions including processing of payroll; prepare monthly and annual reports of program activities; and evaluate  performances. In the absence of the Director, this position would also run rehearsals or direct performances.

I’m really excited about this position as the convergence of my academic, teaching, administrative, theatre production, and theatre for social change interests in one full time position.