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Theater Mu announces 2021-22 season; Chalkfest at Arbor Lakes

ALSO: Detroit Jazz Festival goes virtual; Tom Jones: “Strong Unrelenting Spirits” opening reception at Bockley Gallery; and more.

A scene from “Peerless,” Theater Mu’s final mainstage production pre-COVID.
A scene from “Peerless,” Theater Mu’s final mainstage production pre-COVID.
Photo by Rich Ryan

Approaching its 30th birthday, Theater Mu has announced a 2021-22 season called “Seeing Ourselves.” It’s half virtual, half in person, with the in-person part not set to begin until mid-February 2022.

The second-largest Asian American theater company in the nation, Theater Mu was one of 10 Minnesota organizations named Regional Cultural Treasures in May. Each was awarded an unrestricted grant of at least a half-million dollars, funded by the Ford, McKnight, Bush and Jerome foundations.

Lily Tung Crystal had a challenging first year as Mu’s new artistic director. In fall 2019, she stepped into an organization still shaken by the dismissal of previous AD Randy Reyes. Spring 2020 brought COVID and the murder of George Floyd.

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Tung Crystal moved Mu into virtual programming, hosting a series of “Mu-tini Hours” with guests including George Takei, Lea Salonga and David Henry Hwang, presenting its first TwentyPho Hour Playfest in September and the one-woman performance “China Doll” in October. Tung Crystal directed Susan Soon He Stanton’s engaging play “Today Is My Birthday” in February as a series of live broadcast performances. May brought a virtual New Eyes Festival, titled “Un(Scene),” whose plays were responses to the rise of anti-Asian violence.

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In 2021-22, along with presenting virtual and mainstage productions, Mu will celebrate and honor the life of New York City photographer Corky Lee, who documented the lives and struggles of Asian Americans. Lee died in January from COVID.

Here’s what we know:

Oct. 1-Nov. 3: “You Shall Hear Me: Stories From Beyond.” A four-episode audio series with themes of righteous anger and retribution. The series was created by Mu veteran Eric Sharp, who explained, “The feelings of frustration, sadness, and outrage I’ve felt since March of 2020 have at times bordered on the supernatural. What better way to channel these emotions than by creating and sharing thrilling stories about characters whose lives transcend the mortal realm?” Written by Sharp, Katie Hae Leo, Isabella Dawis and Bao Phi, directed by Tung Crystal, Eric Sharp and Rich Remedios, produced in collaboration with Theater 45°.

Nov. 19-20: Second Annual TwentyPho Hour PlayFest. Thirty Asian American theater artists – playwrights, directors and actors from all across the country – will have one day to write, rehearse and perform six new 10-minute plays made for the virtual stage.

Feb. 18-March 6, 2022: “Man of God.” Mu’s first in-person mainstage production since February 2020 (that was “Peerless” at the Gremlin, starring the formidable Dawis sisters) will be Anna Ouyang Moench’s play about members of a Korean Christian girls’ youth group who discover that their pastor has hidden a camera in their hotel bathroom. Katie Bradley will direct the tale of communal rage, disillusionment and revenge fantasies that unspools in real time at the Mixed Blood.

Spring 2022: New Eyes Festival. This year’s version of Mu’s longest-running tradition will include stage readings of plays by longtime Mu playwright, Katie Ka Vang, and Mu’s Mellon Foundation Playwright-in-Residence, Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay.

June 11-July 31, 2022: “Cambodian Rock Band.” Canceled by COVID in 2020, this co-production with the Jungle of Lauren Yee’s play-with-music will take place on the Jungle’s stage, directed by Tung Crystal. A Khmer Rouge survivor returns to Cambodia for the first time in 30 years as his daughter prepares to prosecute an infamous war criminal, and both must face the music of the past.

Season subscriptions and some single tickets are on sale now, with more to follow. Tickets are pay-as-you-are.

American Composers Forum, Cedar announce awards for music makers

The American Composers Forum has named the winners of this year’s ACF | create Awards (formerly JFund) and Minnesota Music Create Awards (MMCA, formerly MECA), both funded by the Jerome Foundation.

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ACF | create supports the creation, presentation, and life of new works, including the recent PaviElle French/SPCO collaboration. The awards are open to residents of Minnesota and the five boroughs of New York City. Of the five 2021 winners, one is from Minnesota. Renée Copeland is a self-taught multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and composer, a member of the performance duo Hiponymous and founding member of BRKFST Dance Company. Her $11,000 award includes $8,000 toward the commission and $3,000 for production and promotion support for a new work of music.

The four winners of the $3,000 Minnesota Music Creator Awards are bassist and composer Liz Draper; choral conductor and music educator Suzy Johnson; composer, performer and curator Ryann Daisy Swimmer; and queer Hmong-American artist, songwriter and sound engineer Kevin Phoojywg Xiong, aka Your Friend, Kevin on YouTube.

Draper recently became the new bassist for Alan Sparhawk’s band Low. She made her debut at a surprise gig at Icehouse earlier this week. Johnson founded the children’s choir program RAACHE Choirs, which grew to four choirs, and Resounding Voices in Rochester, a chorus for people with memory impairment or dementia and their support partners. Swimmer focuses on the in-between, the blurred lines and the insignificant; a recent project conceptualizes the possibilities of music without human limitations. Xiong works on music and comedy with his group HAIB.

The Cedar announced the winners of its latest Cedar Commissions, a program for emerging Minnesota-based composers and musicians funded by a grant from the Jerome Foundation. Each will receive $4,000 plus $500 performance costs to compose at least 30 minutes of a new musical work that will debut at the Cedar in February 2022.

Due to COVID restrictions, the 2021 performances were prerecorded and streamed; you can still watch them on YouTube.

The 2021-22 commission artists are Alicia Thao, Carlisle Evans Peck, Katherine Parent, Maddie Thies, Nyttu Chongo and Vie Boheme.

Singer-songwriter Thao’s set will include traditional Hmong folk song, Hmong soft rock from the ’80s, Hmong country folk and modern genres. Peck, whose lineage reaches back to bards of the Welsh countryside, will weave new mythologies from intricate song stories as their family’s first (known) Queer Bard. Parent will present an eco-horror electronic folk show of eerie vocals, looped harmonies, and live collaboration with hip-hop beatboxer See More Perspective.

Vie Boheme
Photo by Drew Bryant
Vie Boheme
Queer Twin Cities bassist Thies spent years in Seoul, South Korea, and will add global perspective to queer concepts. Born and raised in Maputo, Mozambique, Nyttu Chongo will feature the inanga, xitende and kora, all iconic and disappearing African string instruments. Multimodal performance artist Vie Boheme will deliver an electro soul/funk/house collection of songs, a pulse with energy between legato spaces that allow for breath and her unique performance signatures.

Past Cedar Commissions artists include Dessa, Aby Wolf, Maria Isa, deVon Russell Gray and Adam Levy.

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The picks

V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.

The Manhattan Transfer with Take Six
Courtesy of the artists
The Manhattan Transfer with Take Six
V Today (Friday, Sept. 3) through Monday (Sept. 6): Detroit Jazz Festival. Facing a constellation of COVID-era challenges, including being unable to require proof of vaccination or recent negative test result, the Detroit Jazz Festival, which draws many thousands of people, announced on Aug. 17 that it would go virtual. Not great for them, but fantastic for the rest of us. This free festival always has a stellar lineup. To drop just a few names from this year: Dee Dee Bridgewater (artist-in-residence), young phenom Matthew Whitaker, Herbie Hancock, Kenny Barron, Kurt Elling, Sean Jones, Anat Cohen, Gregory Porter, the Manhattan Transfer with Take Six, Monty Alexander. Download the schedule and plan to spend some time in front of the Detroit Jazz Festival’s Facebook Live, YouTube, Detroit Jazz Fest LIVE! app and/or

L Tonight (Friday, Sept. 3), 6-8 p.m., Bockley Gallery: Tom Jones: “Strong Unrelenting Spirits” opening reception. Tom Jones (Ho-Chunk) is a professor of photography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His works are in the National Museum of the American Indian Art and other collections. “Strong Unrelenting Spirits” is a continuing series of portraits rooted in his Native identity that incorporate beadwork into the photographs. Masks are required at tonight’s reception. The exhibition continues through Oct. 16.

V and L Saturday through Monday, Sept. 4-6: Chalkfest at Arbor Lakes. Artists from around the world will converge on downtown Maple Grove to draw with chalk on Main Street. Described as “one of the largest street art festivals in the Midwest,” featuring food, entertainment and family fun, this is a good excuse to be outdoors on Labor Day weekend. Artists will chalk on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Main Street will stay closed on Labor Day for viewing the art. Between Elm Creek Boulevard and Arbor Lakes Parkway. Free. FMI.