U-M’s Winter Theater Series Is Tackling Today’s Major Social Issues

The three-week festival runs January 17 through February 3

By definition, the term “safety net,” is something that provides security against misfortune or difficulty. No Safety Net, the title of the University Musical Society of the University of Michigan’s latest theater festival, in itself is a disclaimer of sorts. No Safety Net cautions viewers of the thought-provoking — often controversial — subjects that ensue.

Four works by artists who specialize in provocative subject matters will explore race, terrorism, radical healing, and transgender identity in the three-week festival. Complete with a series of workshops, lectures, and panels facilitated by cultural and social justice leaders, No Safety Net is intended to push the audience beyond its comfort zone, expanding on topics long deemed taboo.

Us/Them centers on two children held hostage during the 2004 Beslan school siege, a terrorist attack on 1,200 students and their parents, which resulted in over 300 fatalities. The production by Belgian theater company Bronks interprets the fascinating way that children process trauma. As a precursor to the performance, on Jan. 23, the U-M Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies will present “Russia’s Complex Relationship with the North Caucus: Past and Present.”

In They, Themself and Schmerm, transgender performer and writer Becca Blackwell — who prefers to be referred to as “they” — reenacts their upbringing in a religious, Midwestern household and the looming question about gender that shaped their sense of identity. In partnership with My Voice, a panel of gender-nonconforming
individuals will offer their perspective on the use of gender neutral pronouns.

Ars Nova Theater’s Underground Railroad Game chronicles two teachers (also later revealed to be lovers), played by Jennifer Kidwell and Scott Sheppard, who take an unconventional interactive approach to their lesson plan for a fifth-grade history class on the Underground Railroad. Though much of the work takes place in a middle school setting, Underground Railroad Game is a snarky, R-rated comedy that symbolically maps out the similarities between the past and present when it comes to race, sex, and societal divides. In addition to the performance, Kalamazoo-based organization Eliminating Racism and Creating/Celebrating Equality (ERACCE) will host “Introduction to Systemic Racism.” The Jan. 20 workshop will offer lessons on how to participate in constructive conversations about race and racism.

As a performer recovering from drug addiction, FK Alexander sees her form of durational art as a vessel for healing. In (I Could Go On Singing) Over the Rainbow, she invites audience members to take her hand as she sings along with a recording of Judy Garland’s last rendition of “Over the Rainbow” before her death. The recording is played behind the Okishima Island Tourist Association noise band, and the experience is intended to create a therapeutic and, well, safe space.

“No Safety Net” will run from Jan. 17 to Feb. 3. For more information on each show or to purchase tickets, visit ums.org/nosafetynet.