Detroit Performs


Seeking Truth

In this episode of Detroit Performs: A University of Michigan-premiered play explores the water crisis in Flint; The poetry of Langston Hughes meets the music of UofM professor Erik Santos in “The Seer”; Photographer Karpov creates sincere, vivid and powerful images; and caricature artist John Kascht. Plus, host DJ Oliver checks out 333 Midland.

Episode 911

AIRED: October 29, 2019 | 0:25:50

- [DJ] In this episode of "Detroit Performs,"

a play explores the water crisis in Flint.

Bringing poetry and music together.

A photographer documents the rescue of refugees.

And, a caricature artist.

It's all ahead on this edition of "Detroit Performs."

(light music)

- [Female Announcer] Funding for "Detroit Performs"

is provided by the

Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation

The Kresge Foundation,

The A. Paul and Carol C. Schaap Foundation,

The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs,

The National Endowment for the Arts,

and by contributions to your PBS station

from viewers like you.

Thank you.

(upbeat music)

- Hello and welcome to "Detroit Performs."

I am your host, DJ Oliver,

and today, I am at 333 Midland in Highland Park.

In what was once the Lewis Stamping Plant,

now offers space to artists

that produce large scale works.

So you can just imagine how much creativity

is emerging from this building.

Our opening segments are courtesy of

the University of Michigan's

School of Music, Theater & Dance.

First up, the University premieres a play

about the Flint water crisis.

Then the poetry of Langston Hughes

meets the music of U of M professor Eric Santos

in "The Seer."

Take a look.

(somber music)

- The play "Flint" is an ethnographic

documentary style play that explores

not only the water crisis,

but other issues that are directly and indirectly

associated with what happened,

issues that the community of Flint has struggled with.

Like racism, social inequity, violence,

and so I wanted to capture the story

through the narratives of people living in Flint.

And I didn't want to do a timeline play

about what happened, what happened, what happened.

We all know what happened.

I wanted to dig deeper.

I interviewed over 100 people by myself.

Most of the monologues in this play

are the interviews that I did.

Whereas a couple other monologues

are composites that of different interviews

built into one character.

But in this play 100% of the dialogue

comes from people in Flint.

It's a good challenge for these students,

because they're being asked to first of all,

portray real people,

but also multiple characters,

and characters that can be as young as 18

and as old as 80.

And one thing I will not allow them,

and even though they've asked,

if they could see a video or the audio

of the people I interviewed,

and I say, "No."

"I want you to create this fictional character

"that's based on them, get into those shoes

"and really do that work.

"Get to understand not only their monologues,

"but the situations that they live in currently."

- Knowing that we're performing for

these people that we're portraying

and that this is an ongoing crisis,

it really has just heightened the stakes

of the work that we're doing.

It's allowed us to understand

that we have a lot of responsibility as performers

to share really important stories.

- Once you're able to take their story

and put it on your vessel,

and be able to try to get a understanding,

the research and empathy,

and not sympathy and pity,

it changes the whole paradigm of how

we think about our situations

and realizing that there are bigger things happening

in this country,

and things that we need to be attentive to

as a people.

- I felt an obligation to do the play in Flint.

I felt strongly that we needed to do a show

about this community, in that community.

We couldn't have done this play

without having done that,

and it's also I think good for our students

to be in those situations where

they see that theater can be used

as a tool for social justice.

I felt it was not only important to do

the community performance in Flint,

but to create a whole array

of community engaged activities.

For example, we do have a symposium

with different perspectives towards the water crisis.

We are doing an art exhibit,

and most of the artists are from Flint.

You know, it's seeing their perception

of what the water crisis is.

We are doing a video livestream version

at our Duderstadt,

and in particular for the people

who can't see it in Flint.

It's their stories and they should

be witness to it.

The ultimate goal for me is twofold.

One is to inform people that it's not over.

It's about educating people,

not only on Flint, but the fact

that there are so many Flints out there right now

that we don't even know of.

The common denominators are class,

and this idea of bodies of color being disposable.

The second thing is for people to kind of just

think about change, and what that means to them.

Sometimes I think we worry too much about,

"Let's change the world!"

No, don't think of it in that big of a context,

What can you do?

What little things can you do?

And if we add all that up,

that's where we change the world,

so I don't wanna ask people to move the world,

just maybe move their neighborhood just a little bit more.

(hopeful music)

- Wake up!

(dramatic music)

- There are lots of strands that came into

this piece's completion.

I had originally written a piece called "Dreamer,"

which were seven pieces written by Langston Hughes.

And that was for voice and harp and piano.

(energetic music)

♪ Go down the road Lord, ♪

♪ Goin' down the road ♪

- Michael Haithcock had heard this piece

and also Scott Piper, and they liked it very much

and they wanted me to orchestrate this for band.

I had this other piece brewing,

which was another Langston cycle.

I said, "Let me work on the new piece for you instead."

And that's how this piece eventually

started piling in.

But it was probably a good three years

before it's come to this point.

♪ Before it's petals fall ♪ (piano plays)

- So I sing opera pretty much full time.

But I don't often get to sing

a big, thick blues.

♪ Fire! ♪ (piano plays)

♪ Fire, Lord ♪

♪ Fire gonna burn my soul ♪

And so in this particular work,

one of the things I get to do is play with colors

of my voice that I don't normally get to play with.

I get to use some growl and things,

get to drop the voice really low,

and get a little more visceral with the sound

in a way that is one of the reasons

I fell in love with music.

- I wanted to allow that voice to be heard.

And Langston Hughes' poetry being so musical on its own

encouraged me to that.

♪ Moan, moan ♪

♪ Nobody cares just why ♪

♪ Oh Lord, moan ♪

It's really hard to encapsulate the many layers

which Langston Hughes' poetry can strike a person.

And as a person who has often been an "other"

in this wider world,

it really is remarkable to see someone grappling with that

otherness in a very poetic and yet raw way.

♪ Too many years ♪

♪ Beatin' down the door ♪

- In this particular piece, what I love is

the flexibility of the musicians,

what Professor Haithcock is doing

with the symphony band,

the way they listen, the way they respond,

the way they seem to be inspired by this work,

I find thrilling.

- Hearing each step of the process open up the way it has

with the ensembles and Scott the singer,

and the pianist who has a terribly virtuosic part,

is just so exciting.

It's always difficult for the composer because

I'll be standing there in front of the band

and they'll run through it

and then Michael Haithcock will turn to me,

and look at me like, "Do you have anything to say?"

and I'll just be speechless. (laughs)

There's no words in my mouth.

(symphony playing)

It's been like that every step of the way.

Every rehearsal is a new thing.

It started to become exciting.

(symphony music)

♪ Nothing's the same ♪

- [Michael] Okay, good. So what's gonna happen,

at the downbeat...

- You can learn more about

U of M's School of Music Theater & Dance

as well as all the artists that we feature


Next up, Detroit native Kenny Karpov

moved to New York City at the age of 17,

and became a photojournalist

for the New York Times and BBC.

His storytelling abilities drew the attention

of the international help organizations.

Now, he's published a book reflecting on his

four year experiences documenting the rescue

of Libyan and Syrian refugees

in small boats in the Mediterranean Sea.

(dramatic music)

- Originally from Detroit.

I went to high school at Don Darryl High School

in Royal Oak.

My parents moved my brother and I out to the suburbs

when I turned five.

I was offered a job to work for the BBC News

in Washington, D.C.

So I moved out the D.C. and during that period

working for them, I started volunteering

with a bunch of Syrian nonprofits,

which took me to Jordan and Lebanon

to photograph in the camps there,

and that also took me to photograph

the devastation that was going on in Syria.

And when I came back, I ended up getting a job offer

from the New York Times,

and they said, "You have to move to New York for the job,"

and so my contract was just about ending with BBC News

and I relocated back to New York City

and started working for the New York Times,

and during this period,

again I would go back and forth to D.C.

And volunteer for a bunch of Syrian organizations

and the lady who hired me to go to Syria,

they didn't have any other work coming up

in the foreseeable future

'cause of budget constraints.

And she mentioned there was this new crisis

happening in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea

between Libya and Italy.

(electronic music)

The book is called "Despite It All We Never Learn."

It's a culmination of four and a half years

of testimonials, and a couple essays that I wrote

about my time in the Mediterranean rescuing refugees.

And essentially, every person that I spoke to

they talk about why they fled their homeland,

to their onward journey through the Sahara,

and this sort of limbo that is Libya.

That has become the main gateway for migrants and

refugees to try and get to Europe.

So it's been a five and a half year route

the Mediterranean has, and there's been over

15,000 people that have died.

So this book is a homage to the people

who didn't make it,

but also to the people that trusted me with their words.

I think that when people read that,

and putting it into the right hands,

that will definitely change people's perceptions

of refugees completely.

And the crisis as well.

And I think it's gonna draw a lot more light to it,

and hopefully people have a different idea

on why people are fleeing their homeland,

their onward journeys, what's that like for them,

and then obviously their future.

'Cause I think we have a skewed idea

of what an asylum seeker is,

what a refugee is,

what a migrant is.

I feel like a lot of, especially Americans,

they lump it all into one.

So I took over 170 firsthand accounts from them.

And a lot of this details their home life,

where they grew up in Africa,

where they grew up in the Middle East,

why they fled from these areas

and their onward journey from Nigeria to to Niger

to Mali to Algeria, and then to the gateway

that is Libya, to Europe.

And they would detail every little thing about

a tinted-out BMW pulling up to them

and the driver coming out with a gun and putting it

to someone's head and telling them to "Get into the car,

"we're gonna take you to Libya.

"There's no job, by the way.

"We're just gonna sell you."

And so hearing that, I was like,

"I gotta do something with these stories."

'Cause like I mentioned previously,

a lot of the outlets didn't care for those stories.

They just wanted those graphic photographs.

And for me those stories is what's

gonna change the landscape,

and I think what people really need to hear.

- [British Male] What's the bearing to the next target?

- [Voice Over Radio] Nico, apparently

the sponson the boat Lamar is with

is in bad condition.

- We were doing a rescue and there were maybe 30 or 40

people that fell into the water because

the tube on the raft collapsed.

(refugees yelling)

- [British Male] Okay life jackets,

cut this now!

Cut this now!

Toss me life jackets!

(refugees yelling)

Get me to those guys, I'm gonna chuck them life jackets!

- [Second Male] A second line! Cut the line, let's go!

- [Voice Over Radio] People in the water,

this is a critical--

(refugees yelling)

- [British Male] Patrice we need the line with the--

- [Second Male] Hold on!

- Obviously, nonprofit would want photographs

that show that desperation, but we're a team of four,

and there's 40-odd people in the water

that are screaming because they can't swim for one,

it's dark out, some of 'em have life jackets

so I would just sling the camera and

I would go to any part of our little RHIB

and try and help bring people out of the water.

Into our ship.

That to me just was like first nature to me.

I didn't think of taking the photographs

just because you know, this's a human being.

Why would I want someone to take a picture of me

if I was screaming or drowning in this vast sea.

So I slung the camera and we immediately to into action,

help these people, and you know,

a lot of times they would ask me if I got photographs

like that, and I'd be like,

"No I didn't get anything like that."

It's completely dark out there,

I don't have a flash on my camera,

and I just didn't feel it was the time to

take something like that.

I heard people screaming.

That's not why I'm over here is to

document people dying.

I'm here to rescue them.

I want them to make it to Europe,

I want every single one of them to get to Europe.

I want them to be safe.

(upbeat music)

- Here at 333 Midland is the Annex Gallery,

which is an artist-run showcase of the

Detroit and Highland Park community.

The gallery features both emerging and established artists.

Now let's check out some upcoming events

happening in, and around, the D.

(upbeat music)

John Katscht is a renowned caricature artist.

Up next, he shares how caricature

is a specialized form of portraiture,

which amplifies one's characteristics

to find the true essence of a person.

(upbeat music)

- There's a conception, and it's a misconception,

that caricature is about distortion.

What makes people think of distortion

is that it's very exaggerated,

it's very amplified but there's a big difference there.

I'm amplifying in the direction

of what makes that person unique.

My name is John Kascht and I'm a caricaturist.

Caricature is not cartooning,

it's not illustration, it's not a comic strip.

Caricature is a very specialized form of portraiture.

Like all portraitists, caricaturists

are interested in nailing the likeness.

What it is is an investigation into exactly

what makes a person unique.

You find the things that make you

different from everybody else,

and then those things get amplified.

And the more of the nuances that

make that person unique that I can observe

and get into a drawing, the more complete

the likeness is and the greater the recognition

on the part of the person looking at it

and they say, "Yes, I recognize that person".

I was very much that kid

in the back of class drawing the teachers.

And the thing about me is that I never stopped.

I'm still kind of drawing the teachers

or the authority figures anyway

but now it's politicians,

it's performers, that kind of thing.

I've drawn primarily celebrities or notable public figures.

So when I'm drawing an idea that I have,

I usually do very quick thumbnail sketches

just to kind of start mapping out

the way the piece could look.

I draw on vellum, transparent vellum,

so that if I have something in a sketch that I like,

I'll slide it under a fresh sheet, draw over the top of it

and keep the parts I like, don't keep the parts I don't like

until eventually I've got the

fully realized sketch that I wanna paint from.

I use watercolor and paint in light layers of glaze.

Ideally if I have 16 hours to 20 hours on something,

you know, obviously each piece has its own requirements,

but 16 to 20 hours is a great amount of time

for me for an average piece in my style.

- The Waukesha County Historic Society and Museum

was founded in 1914,

so we've got more than 100 years behind us

of celebrating what this region,

what Waukesha County has to offer

in the world and what impacts we've made in the world.

"Making Faces" is our feature exhibition.

The artist John Kascht is originally from Waukesha,

city of Waukesha,

graduate of Catholic Memorial High School

just a mile and a quarter down the road from here.

And so a really lovely way to celebrate someone

from this part of the world and to really take

and appreciate his accomplishments.

The wonderful nature of the work that John does

is that he as the artist gets to retain very often

the original that he makes.

And so he's been kind of sitting on

this incredible back catalog, 30 years worth of work.

- The exhibition here is a collection of about

100-ish pieces that are my favorites.

- Bill Murray is one of the large-format prints

and we put him kind of front and center

right inside the gallery space as you walk in.

We really start with just in general

what goes into his caricature and portraiture work,

things like body language and also what

the process is to get to a finished product.

And really take people on that journey

from appreciating what this art form can be

when it's done to the expert level

that John's able to achieve

on through its multiple iterations and kind of uses.

My favorite piece is the first piece of work he ever sold.

It's a political cartoon

that he sold to the Waukesha Freeman.

- One day I just went down to the Waukesha Freeman offices

with a bunch of drawings of the teachers, of family members.

And I just went in and asked to see the editor,

'cause I had in my mind that I wanted

to do political cartoons

because that's where I was seeing caricature work.

Jim Huston is his name,

he was the editor of the Freeman at the time.

I think because he was puzzled he agreed to meet with me,

I was 14, and amazingly he said

I could submit cartoons to them.

And in retrospect, I realize he did me a great favor,

a great service there professionally.

He took me seriously at that age.

And I started identifying myself as a professional.

- And to start with that piece

and see everything that's come after that

is just this incredible story

of what a lifetime of work can do.

- My favorite things in the exhibition actually

are the sketches because to me

that's where the creativity really is.

The likeness is happening or it's not, and when it's not,

boy, it can be tough.

But then, when I finally capture it,

it really still to me feels like a miracle

when that person is looking back at me from the paper.

With caricature you think of, you know,

big nose, big chin, big ears,

that stuff's all part of it,

but so are nuances like a person's particular skin tone,

do they slouch or do they sit up straight,

do they use their hands a lot,

are they more contained and don't reveal much.

All of those nuances convey ultimately

who we are on the inside.

I'm still amazed that how we hold ourselves outwardly

says so much and says so accurately

who we are on the inside.

I feel in some ways I'm trying to learn about myself

one person at a time.

- And that wraps it up for this edition

of "Detroit Performs."

As always, for more arts and culture

head to,

where you'll find featured videos, blogs,

and information on upcoming arts events.

Also check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

I'd like to thank 333 Midland

for having us out here today.

Until next Tuesday, get out there and show the world

how Detroit performs y'all!

I'm DJ Oliver.

Thanks for watching, guys.

- [Announcer] Funding for "Detroit Performs"

is provided by

the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation,

The Kresge Foundation,

The A. Paul and Carol C. Schaap Foundation,

The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs,

The National Endowment for the Arts,

and by contributions to your PBS station

from viewers like you.

Thank you.

(upbeat music)


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