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Threads All Arts Festival


The Singular ‘They:’ Thoughts and Examples on a Surprisingly Obstinate Logomachy.

Karen Toomasian

Presented below is an essay by Threads team member and poet Lang DeLancey. The author would like to stress the point made later in the essay that, regardless of what pedants say, it is most important, and correct, to refer to people how they want to be referred to.

        People seem to get themselves in a certified tizzy about the use of ‘they’ as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun. The argument tends to be some variation on the idea that ‘they’ can never be treated as singular in the English language. This is a matter that I assumed had been handled by the elementary English teachers of the world, but it clearly didn’t stick with some students. Here, I am attempting to fill in the gaps that folks may have forgotten.

        First, it’s only fair that I make my position on the matter absolutely clear. The use of ‘they’ as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun is, and always has been, acceptable in English. I will attempt to give background and historical examples to support this claim. I should mention that I am not a trained grammarian; I am simply a raging pedant. Also, it is worth noting that I will be simplifying the discussion here to talk about ‘they’ being used to denote a singular antecedent. There are many more very interesting and technical layers to this argument that I don’t have the time, training, or wherewithal to dive into here.

        Pronouns are the things we, as English speakers, use to refer to people or things without repeating their names. If we are talking about a male-identifying person, we use ‘he.’ If we are talking about a female-identifying person, we use ‘she.’ If we are talking about a group of people, regardless of gender we use ‘they.’ However, our system has a problem that has sparked many a grammatical argument: the lack of a universally agreed upon gender-neutral, third person singular pronoun. This means that we don’t have a unique way to refer to people that don’t identify with the male-female gender binary, or who don’t identify with any gender. A solution that has been used and discussed recently is using ‘they’ as a singular gender-neutral pronoun.

        The singular ‘they’ has been around since the 14th century (although that was back when English looked like “Eche on in þer craft ys wijs.” And unless you are the nerdiest of nerds you may not even be able to spot the ‘their’ in that sentence from the Wycliffite bible). Here, ‘they’ is being used as a singular pronoun to denote that the gender of the subject of the sentence is unknown or unimportant to the rest of the sentence (see the example: A teacher can make a big difference in the lives of their students). In fact, the singular ‘they’ hung around in English basically unchallenged until the 18th century when certain prescriptive grammarians began to suggest that ‘he’ should be the generic pronoun. Interestingly enough, the first recorded example of this recommendation was by a woman named Ann Fisher in her book A New Grammar.

        Unfortunately, this ‘he’-based view of (hardly) gender-neutral pronouns has persisted, even up to more recent times. In 1979, for example, Strunk and White, in their oft-cited book The Elements of Style, remarked, “He has lost all suggestion of maleness in these circumstances. ... It has no pejorative connotation; it is never incorrect.” It is thankful that this idea that it is “never incorrect” to refer to a person as ‘he’ has quickly fallen out of fashion. However, the (hardly) neutral ‘he’ has been replaced with ‘he or she’ or ‘his or her’ by opponents of the singular ‘they.’ This is undoubtedly better than simply using ‘he,’ but, as astute readers may have already noticed, it fails to take people who don’t identify as ‘he or she’ into account. The singular ‘they’ solves this problem.

        While it is true that the singular ‘they’ has more commonly been used in conversational English than written English, and conversation has been hard to reliably track before the advent of recording, we are presented with a plethora of written examples of the singular ‘they’ from some of English’s heaviest of hitters. I assure you, there are more.

“There’s not a man I meet but doth salute me

As if I were their well-acquainted friend” – William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors (1594).

“Every one must judge according to their own feelings.” – Lord Byron, Werner (1823)

“Had the Doctor been contented to take my dining tables as any body in their senses would have done …” - Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (1814)

“Now leaden slumber with life's strength doth fight;

And every one to rest themselves betake,

Save thieves, and cares, and troubled minds, that wake.” – William Shakespeare, The Rape of Lucrece (1594).

“So likewise shall my heavenly Father doe also unto you, if yee from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” – King James Bible (Matthew 18:35)

        With this sampling of examples of singular ‘they,’ it is worth noting that contemporary discussions surrounding the use of ‘they’ as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun are generally tied to the idea of using ‘they’ to denote people who don’t conform to the gender binary. This is slightly different from some of the above examples where ‘they’ is used (as mentioned earlier) when the gender of the subject is unknown/non-essential to the sentence*. These differences in usage between the modern and the historical examples that I have provided may or may not be important to you, depending on your level of pedantry. Even if you are extremely particular, however, you will accept that the examples and discussion above provide evidence that the use of the singular ‘they’, for whatever purpose, has been established in English for at least several centuries, and that a person that attempts to argue that its use is grammatically incorrect, improper, or without precedence, might do best to consult their own bookshelf.

        For some context, here are some entities/ organizations/ important word people that support the use of the singular, gender-neutral ‘they’:

The Chicago Manual of Style (editions 14-16)


The Associated Press Style Book

The Washington Post Style Guide

And at least several more


*Obviously, people who don’t identify with the gender binary have always existed and they have been referred to in various ways throughout the history of the English language. The modern repurposing of the singular ‘they’ is the most recent, and so far least dehumanizing (see use of ‘it’ in English legal documents from centuries past) way to refer to gender-queer people. Ultimately, it is most important to remember to call people what they want to be called, regardless of what pedants on the internet, or around the dinner table, say.


POST SCRIPT: In answer to your next question, when you use ‘they’ as a singular, gender-neutral subject you should use a plural verb, like ‘are’ instead of ‘is.’ The reasons for this are even more pedantic and finicky than I want to get into here (in an article about pedantic and finicky things). If a person you are talking to takes offence to this on the basis of grammar, gently remind them that ‘you’ used to only be the second-person plural, the singular was ‘thee,’ ‘thou,’ or ‘thy.’ Watch carefully to see if the person arguing against a singular ‘they are’ uses the historically incorrect, but clearly acceptable, ‘you are’ in the singular.






- Fisher, Ann (1750) [1745]. A New Grammar (reprinted in facsimile) (2nd ed.). Newcastle upon Tyne: R.C. Alston (published 1974).

-Strunk, William; White, E.E.B. (1979). The Elements of Style (3rd ed.). Allyn & Bacon. ISBN 978-0-205-19158-1.




- (the citations list at the bottom of this page is also great)


An Interview with the Major II chord!

Karen Toomasian

Before the riveting interview, here are a few Threads 2018 updates: We are excited to be working with Taste the Local Difference to become a Certified Local Food Event. This means that food and drink vendors will source at least 20% of their ingredients from local, Michigan producers. [Food, Beer, Wine and Coffee].

Now what you have all been waiting for: a brief interview with Major II chord.

For the sake of clarity, the transcriber has put the names of chords in Bold.

THREADS: Wow, first of all let me just thank you for sitting down with us. I’m such a huge fan of your work.

II: No worries my cat. Glad to be here.

TH: Is it alright if I call you II [2, too, to]? Or would you prefer a pseudonym?

II: Yea II is cool. I used to play in a backing band and I was called V/V [five of five], but that was in the [18]70’s and I’ve moved on from that rag. V [five] and I are still cool though.

TH: So II, tell me about some of your biggest musical influences.

II: Well like everybody, it all started with I [one], for me. Dude really knew about tone and keeping it real. Nothing fancy, but it was stable, you know. Like I said before, I used to do support work for V. They really showed me how to tell a story, how to create tension, and how to give my stuff shape. I think that I learned my edge from Major III [3]. We were in the military together. Same rank and everything. After we got out we both made our way to early jazz and rag time and I got hip to what III was doing.

TH: That’s excellent. It seems like you’ve also been hopping around genres as well. Can you talk to me a bit about that?

II: Yeah, I’ve always been interested in all kinds of music. I was one of the early adopters of jazz music. I’ve been into rock and roll, rag time, bluegrass, old time, and I even toured with Willie Nelson’s country music. I was there for the bebop scene, but I was kind of lost in the crowd. There were a lot of cats there. I can play anything you please, as long as you give me a spot.

TH: That’s a pretty extensive list. Can you give us a taste of what you have been up to lately?

II: Sure! I mentioned before that I used to work with V a lot (as V/V). That’s sort of been an ongoing thing, although the contribution has been more equal this time. V and I usually roll together. I find we’re better as a duo, and we go best with I that way. I’ve also been trying to spice things up by including my b7 [flat seven]. I find it makes me a bit more dominant. What can I say? I just like to draw attention to myself I guess. I’ve also had the privilege of doing some underground work with major VI and even a secret project with minor iv, but I can’t say anything more about that.

TH: I look forward to hearing it! Again, thank you so much for sitting down and talking with us major II.

II: No worries! Have a good one.

From Us

Karen Toomasian

As the second iteration of Threads All Arts Festival unfolds, we would like to respond to several concerns the team has received due to our decision to host this year’s festival in Ypsilanti instead of Ann Arbor. We’ve been made aware of its potential to propagate gentrification in the area.

First off, our team is working hard to become more informed about the issues that have been brought to light. We are listening, and invite anyone to speak out about their feelings and perspectives regarding our impact on the community. Our highest priority is to execute this festival with humility. Our intent is not to exhibit any single group of people but to bring the creative and diverse community of southeastern Michigan together under one roof.  

Every day we become more aware of the enormous responsibility that is assumed when putting on a public event. We believe that art can be used as a powerful way to address issues such as gentrification and underlying cycles of oppression, both of which are particularly relevant to the Ypsilanti community. Our hope is that by working closely with artists and community members, we can create an environment in which these problems are openly explored. We have so much more to learn and that excites us, but we also understand that it takes time.

We take our responsibility to Ypsilanti businesses and community members seriously. Our goal is to approach each of our local partners with respect and a commitment to develop healthy partnerships based on shared values. We are collaborating with Ypsilanti arts and education organizations to present artist workshops and to build connections between artists and local curators. We are working with our partners to ensure that goods and services provided at the festival will be locally-sourced. And above all else, Threads is incredibly grateful to the Freighthouse for hosting us - without them, we would never be learning any of this.

Our Call for Artists has been reopened to Ypsi-based artists and will remain open until January 21st. We are thankful to the artists that have been willing to give up their spot in order to help us have a lineup that better represents Ypsilanti and the surrounding community.

What can we do in the time that we have pre-festival to better address these issues? And also, what can we do post-festival? We welcome your thoughts about how to improve Threads, how to improve arts engagement with external communities, and how to encourage peer-to-peer support as a whole, for present and future.

Please reach out to us, we’d love to hear from you.

With gratitude,

The Threads Team

New Years and Nitrogen

Karen Toomasian

We at Threads are excited to be with you all in the New Year (also known as the time you will write the date wrong on stuff)! The collective escape from 2017 and the great unknown of 2018 is made all the sweeter by the fact that Threads 2018 is only 9 weeks away! That’s 66 days, or 1584 hours, or 95,040 minutes, or 63,360 cooked bowls of oatmeal, if you get the kind that is called “minute oatmeal” but takes a minute-and-a-half. However you measure it, the festival is soon. In preparation for Threads 2018 we are working are little tookises off to make things happen. We are getting ready to give you all the line up, ticket info, some new merch, and other good stuff. But this is all for later. And now that I’ve told you about the things you can expect, but I can’t tell you anything about the things themselves, we’re going to have to change tacks and talk about nitrogen. Yes. Nitrogen.

Try to peel away all the layers of hatred for high school chemistry and put up with an over excited biologist talking about an element. Nitrogen is super important. Our bodies need it to make DNA, RNA, and, by extension, proteins. Basically, our bodies, and all other living and maybe non-living things, (looking at you viruses) use nitrogen to make this whole “life” thing happen. We need it to grow, move, digest, store genetic material, reproduce, and not die. This is why nitrogen is the most important ingredient in fertilizer.

At this stage you might be saying, “great, nitrogen makes it all happen. SO, if it is this important to life, it must be everywhere.” And you would be right, sort of. You may have heard, at some point, that the air we breathe isn’t just oxygen, in fact most of it is not oxygen. 78% of the earth’s atmosphere is actually nitrogen gas (N2, for all the nerds and :N≡N: for super-nerds). For comparison only 21% of the atmosphere is made up of that sweet, sweet oxygen that everyone is talking so much about.

“Great, nitrogen makes it all happen and the atmosphere is mostly nitrogen so we just breathe in and we’re all good, right?” This, unfortunately, is where things get a little bit tricky. Yes, the air that we breathe is mostly nitrogen gas, but the two nitrogen atoms that make up nitrogen gas are bound so tightly together (see the note for nerds and super-nerds above) that the nitrogen itself is basically unusable. This isn’t a problem for us animals; we just eat plants or other animals that eat plants to get our fix of nitrogen. But this is a huge problem for the plants that we get our nitrogen from. That bond is so tight that there are basically only two things that can break it: actual lightning going through the atmosphere ripping apart molecules, and bacteria. There are bacteria that live in/around the roots of plants and, in exchange for a spot to live and food, invest basically all their energy to break that nitrogen gas up into a form that is usable to their host plants. The host plants are totally willing to give the bacteria some of their food (read: carbon) in return for nitrogen, which the plants use to make everything from leaves to DNA. Sometimes an animal wanders along and eats the plant, getting that that sweet, sweet usable nitrogen in the process.

(As a side note for those who are interested: the nitrogen-fixing bacteria (the ones that make nitrogen gas from the atmosphere into usable nitrogen) are frequently associated with fungi, also on the plant roots. These fungi act as another step in the whole nitrogen-for-food trade-off pathway. Basically, the fungi make it easier for the bacteria to transform nitrogen gas into usable nitrogen, and the bacteria make it easier for the fungi to colonize the plant roots.)

So as a recap: nitrogen is in the air, but not in a way we can use it. Bacteria (or lightening) break it up into a usable form so plants can take it up and use it to photosynthesize and make leaves and other important stuff, like seeds, oats, DNA, and caffeine. Then along comes some animal that eats it. This is how animals get all the nitrogen that we need to make life happen and to make things like DNA, RNA, and art.

In the New Year we are thankful that you all care about Threads, we are excited to experience Threads 2018 with you, and we are indebted to the nitrogen that makes it all happen.




What's Been Going On

Karen Toomasian

Hey everyone!

It’s been awhile since you last heard from us, and a lot has happened. Hopefully this can serve as your quick and easy guide to what happened, why it happened, how it happened, why you haven’t heard from us in a while, and why we are so excited for Threads 2018. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves; we need to start with a look back. Threads, in its earliest form, was born in December 2015, and its simple mission was to showcase local artists. At this time we constructed “local” to mean Ann Arbor artists. All of us on the Threads team had seen people we knew and respected in Ann Arbor play, promote, or put on shows that didn’t get the turn out they deserved. We wanted to bring these folks together to showcase local artistic innovation and talent. But even in these early stages of the festival it became clear this restrictive definition of local was unhelpful. The community of arts in southeast Michigan is connected and sprawling. By the time we were actually putting on the first iteration of Threads, which took place in the spring of 2016 at the Yellow Barn in Ann Arbor, the idea of what is local had changed in our minds. Threads 2016 featured artists from Ann Arbor, most of whom have played, worked, and collaborated in other communities in southeastern Michigan, and many of whom's band members and collaborators were not exclusively Ann Arborites. Moving forward, it proved impossible, or at the very least amoral, to ignore or restrict these artistic crosscurrents. It became clear that some type of organizational change in how we thought about and ran the festival was necessary.

A lot has happened since the first, and to this point, the only real-life occurrence of Threads: we hosted a battle of the bands at the Neutral Zone, we are working on becoming a certified local food event, we fully planned Threads 2017, we then had to postpone Threads 2017, we went into hibernation, we got some new team-members and had to say goodbye to others, we changed how we thought about the festival without really keeping the outside world up to date (sorry about that), we found a wonderful new venue, and most importantly the concept of local, in the context of Threads, changed. The Threads 2017 call for artists was extended towards arts organizations in Detroit, Ypsi, Flint, Ann Arbor, Chelsea, and artists communities all over southeast Michigan. We are very grateful for the diverse set of submissions. As it turned out, our artist pool reflected an organic growth in its second year. From this pool, it was our responsibility to craft a festival based on the submissions we received. When Threads 2017 was postponed, and became Threads 2018, we had the opportunity to seek out a new venue, and, as recently announced, Threads 2018 will be held at the Historic Ypsilanti Freighthouse. This move is in line with Threads being a place for people from all over the arts scene(s) in southeastern Michigan. It is in line with Threads being young and amorphous. It is in line with the fact that of the 184 artist submissions we received from our call for artists, when asked about their connection to southeast Michigan, nearly everyone voiced how they perform and share their work all over the various towns and communities in southeast Michigan.

The change of venue, city, and interpretation of “local” lets us more accurately represent what we perceive to be the artistic reality of southeastern Michigan. It also lets us work with the Ypsilanti Freighthouse on their mission of bringing communities together, and making cool shit happen. We are so excited to host Threads in Ypsi. We are so excited to see folks from all over southeast Michigan boogie down and work together and learn from each other. We are so excited to continue to learn how to run a festival dedicated to showcasing diverse artistic communities. We are so excited to be present to the outside world again, after burrowing down in planning and creating. We love you all so much. We hope you will continue to keep us honest, and have a good time. Seasons change, venues alter, artistic paths reroute, and we want to go along for the entire ride. We are so excited to see you in March.

We, us, you,


How To Tie the Threads knot (and updates)

Karen Toomasian

Today, denizens and Dennis’s of the internet, we’re going to learn how to tie the knot featured on lovely T-shirts, stickers, website banners, and fliers around an Ann Arbor near you. It’s called the “figure-eight knot” (or “figure-of-eight knot” if you get paid by the letter) and it’s used in a myriad of contexts, mostly as a stopper knot. Sailors use it at the ends of lines/ halyards/ sheets and climbers use it at the ends of ropes to make sure if the rope slips it won’t go through the harness or the eyebolt in the ship. It was also used as a primitive form of attachment to email inboxes (this is why it was the Threads logo before we had cyber glue). One can also double this up as a safety check or a way to get a loop end, but that's immoral. As is likely apparent, it can be a really important knot.

1. Get a rope (electrical cords also work)

2. Make a loop with the rope


3. Send the end of the rope around


4. Bring the end up through that loop!


4.5 Leave it loose for about 15 minutes so it can acclimate to the twisting

5. Pull tight

Now you've got yourself the finest website banner you could ever wish for (except we took it first).

Also, you could always just do it the fast way...

Now for those updates I promised before.

Well the submission window has long closed and we have chipped off the cyber-glue got over 170 submissions!!! This is crazy y'all. We are so very grateful to each and every person who dropped us anywhere from one to several lines and kept our email inbox company! Upon writing this we are going through the arduous process of gnawing the list down to 17 hours. And with all the rad submissions this is NO EASY TASK. So we will be working to bring you the line up as soon as possible!

Also, we got a piano. Then y'all painted it. Thanks.

See you from the north!


Revamp, Rethink, Restart The Blog

Karen Toomasian

Hey there internet folks!

It’s been a while since you have seen us here (almost a year in fact), so welcome (back) to the new blog! We have decided to restart our blog and prey that the battery hasn’t died from being left out in the Ann St. yard. Here’s a little bit of what you can expect from us at the Threads All Arts Blog moving forward: updates on how we select acts/curate the festival, sneak peaks of some future Threads art, works from Threads 2016 artists, interviews with past/ future Threads homies, general silliness, secret codes, updates on events we are running or other related homies are running, recaps and feelings about some of these events, how-to’s, Arby’s secret menu items, and tidbits that arise as we (yes, that’s you all as well) attempt, against the odds, to birth Threads 2017!

And now for a brief update on where we are with the things, the many things: We are currently glued to our inbox (this was considerably easier before the internet, when just elmer’s glue worked, not this cyber glue) awaiting your (yes, you again) submissions for Threads 2017!!! We really want to see/hear/read/experience what you all are doing so please, please, please submit and tell your homies to submit as well. In addition to our attempts to physically affix ourselves to Gmail, we are planning some events and ways to pay for the festival, the cyber glue, and the space program (more on this later). Updates to come, we promise.

In terms of personnel (internal homies), spring and summer is a time of intense movement and excitement. Some of our ranks are on tour with the ineffable -pf, some of us are visiting family back home, some of us are camping, some of us continue to live outside of Ann Arbor, some of us are breeding ducks in the Solomon Islands, some of us are teaching, at least one of us is figuring out how to end a list this long, some of us are working on the Threads space program (Threads 2089 will be on Neptune), and some of us are holding down the fort working in Ann Arbor. Wherever we are, and whatever our occupations we will always be working sometimes in person, sometimes remotely (thanks cyber glue) to make Threads the incredible experience we know it  can be.

Genuinely glued to the internet (submit),


happy four-month-a-versary!

Karen Toomasian

today is a big day!!! kinda. we’re celebrating four months post-threads. this seems to be the way we’re measuring our days/weeks/months now--either, how long ago was threads, or how soon will it be.  thankfully…. we can answer BOTH of these questions now.  yes, threads was almost four months ago. so, how soon till the next one? 12 months.  that’s right folks, Fall 2017, threads is coming to you- or rather, we hope that you will come to threads.  
here’s some news:
we’re super stoked to have three additional thread-lings added to our team.  Ayal Subar, super slack liner, singer, sometimes-mumbles, swonderful to have around for many reasons.  Andrea Wilk, all around angel and also amazing at averything.  Julia Knowles, perpetually perfect + provides pastries and mastermind at organizing.

these three were a tremendous help in volunteer, tech and moral support for last years event, so it’s quite an honor to have them on board.  we continue to learn so much about

and here’s some more news:
as we continue to meet with potential donors, sponsors and each other to start making decisions about next years threads, we’d love to keep you updated as well! please join our mailing list (on our home page), find us on facebook, twitter, instagram if you haven’t already.  
the thing is, there’s so much art happening in ann arbor.  twelve months from now, even if we show you 1/100 of what exists here (always) we will be the happiest lil kiddos in the world.  we want to give you a chance to experience the freshness, creativeness, special and amazing art happening right here, right now.  threads is only as diverse as our team and our audience, so holler if you’ve got dreams, ideas or anything else! we’d love to hang with you.

With love,

The Threads Team

------all arts, all homegrown-----

hoping to find out more about the ann arbor art scene? here’s a super sweet blog to help make that happen.      Pulp: Arts Around Ann Arbor

UMS Artist in Residence Ben Willis

Karen Toomasian

Threads: How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen or heard you?

Ben: I’m a bassist. I am primarily and improviser then also a composer, depending on the circumstance. For example, I’m doing a solo set at Threads, and so I have a set of music that I loosely composed for double bass. So I am doing some completely improvised performing as well as drawing from particular ideas or structures that I have planned before hand. Most of what I do is improvising with other people in combined groups. So for a solo performance I like to have, at least, an idea of a structure to work from before hand. Over the last several years I have been doing more and more solo performing. I’m trying to explore the acoustic instrument and the natural sounds of the instrument. And I do some electronic work as well but for a solo performance I try to limit myself to the sounds of the instrument. I will definitely doing more different things as I go along. To shorten that up a little bit, my performance will be a largely improvised structured improvisation for solo bass. As someone who started out as a classical musician has moved into the improvised music world, it is nice to have that foundation of form

T: Cool, that feeds into my next question: do you exclusively play the upright bass or do you do any electric as well?

B: Yeah I do both. I’ve been playing more electric bass with some different projects in the past few years. I’m playing in the band Saajtak an Ann Arbor/ Detroit group, which has allowed me an avenue to build up my electric bass playing. I have been working on building up a set of effects pedals over the last few years. I have always been interested in electronics, but haven’t spent the time digging into that necessary to building an array of sounds I want to use. So that has been a good project to work on that side of things. It requires a degree of experimentation, especially using effects on the upright.

T: You said you started out playing classical music, about when did you start playing music? And was bass your first instrument?

B: I started playing bass in 4th grade orchestra class. I took piano lessons before that but quit after a year. So bass was the first instrument that I really played, and its always been that way.

T: And did they have you start out on a cello tuned to fourths, or something?

B: Nope, they had little basses. Now that kids are starting younger an younger, the string world is weird like that where kids will be playing at three or four years old, there’s a whole school of bass pedagogy making tiny basses tuned an octave higher.

T: Who are some of your biggest influences? Not necessarily just bass players, but people in the classical music world, the improvised music world, or the composing world that you draw a lot of influence from.

 B: I feel like there are probably these hinge figures, like in high-school hearing The Bad Plus was kind of a big point for me. There are an amazing group but also what they were doing with a jazz trio was new to me; I had never heard that style of music before. I think I found there album in a Barnes & Noble when I was in 10th grade or something. I grew up in rural Minnesota, without a lot of access to live music, so a lot of my early music discovery came through the internet. So hearing The Bad Plus was like ‘ok these people are playing jazz but they are incorporating a bunch of different styles of music as well. Also hearing John Zorn’s Naked City, my sister got me this album when she was in college, was a pivotal point for me when I went ‘ok music isn’t so strictly divided into genres, there are people crossing and spanning these boundaries.’ So John Zorn became a big influence for me in college, in the way I approached classical music and played with other people. Then through studying classical music I found all these other composers like Gunther Schuller, or Kaija Saariaho has been an influence in the way I think about sound. As a bass player, Stefano Scodanibbio, an Italian bass player, was a really influential figure in contemporary music for me. He was also a figure in contemporary music, a lot of contemporary composers wrote pieces specifically for him. Figures like him, and the French bassist Joëlle Léandre, similarly she has a background in contemporary classical music, but went on to do entirely her own thing, and does mostly improvised performances now. Lately I’ve been really influenced by doom metal and drone music, that kind of experiential nature of music.

T: You sort of talked about growing up, and starting music in your school orchestra. What advice do you have for young kids starting in music?

 B: Find other people who share interests that you have. If someone shares an interest with you they’ll be able to introduce you to so many things. So if I know someone who likes a band that I do as well, that serves as a hinge point and they can show me cool things that I haven’t heard before. You can sort of introduce each other to things you didn’t know you liked yet. Also, collaborate. Seek out people who do different things. I think I’ve learned a lot from dancers, visual artists and how they do things. Just be open to how other people do things, because art making can be a social, as well as individual, process. Also, I’m someone who went to school for music, but I think its important for young people who are growing up now to know that you don’t have to go to school for your art. Just because your not studying it doesn’t mean you won’t do it, if you’re passionate about it. There are so many ways to make art.

T: What do you think the UMS artist in residence program has allowed you to do?

B: It has allowed me to experience different things through UMS, they gave each of us a stipend to make art and tickets to four shows of our choice. Also, meeting the other artists in the program has been really helpful.

T: Threads was born out of the idea of displaying the artistic environment in Ann Arbor, how has Ann Arbor, as a place or as a community, affected your work?

B: Definitely the people I have worked with here and met here have been the most important experience. And getting to Detroit more, with their vibrant improvised music scene, has been great. There are a lot of really great musicians here with some big ideas, which are cool to witness and be involved in.

T: Could you give me a definition of a sandwich?

B: I heard a great debate on the radio about whether or not a hotdog was a sandwich and that whole bag. For me personally, a sandwich requires two pieces of bread.

T: So a sub sandwich? Not a sandwich?

B: Hmmm. So a sub, to me, seems to be divided. Yes, technically it is one piece of bread but its sliced to act like two pieces of bread.

T: But then isn’t a hotdog a sandwich too? With both you have to tear the bun open, there is still only that hinge.

B: See I still think of the hotdog with the dog on top, whereas a sub is on its side. So it could be an orientation thing. Whether it’s hinged or not, there is still a top and a bottom. With the hotdog, the bun is primarily underneath. The stuff is between things that are underneath and on top of it.

T: And do the things underneath and on top have to be bread? Or can they be non-bread entities?

B: I would say it has to be bread, or at least the idea of bread had to be there, and then removed. Like for a breadless sandwich: it’s a breadless sandwich, the “breadless” implies that there was bread in the beginning, which was then taken away. Same goes for an open-faced sandwich; it was once closed, and now it has been open.

T: Thank you so much for elucidating the open-faced problem for me! and thank you in general for sitting down and talking with me.

B: Not a problem, see you at Threads.

UMS Artist in Residence Siobhan McBride

Karen Toomasian

Lang sat down for an interview with UMS Artist in Residence, Siobhan McBride. Here's what Siobhan has to say:

Threads: How would you describe your work for someone who has never seen it, or doesn’t know who you are?

Siobhan: I make small paintings in Acryla gouache. Although gouache is flat by nature, the paintings have many layers. I use tape to delineate shapes or lay down areas of tape and cut shapes out with a knife. I then paint into the taped boundaries. The paintings are accumulations of numerous layers of painted shapes.The paintings are descriptions of weird and quotidian experiences, passages from books, film fragments, things caught in the corner of my eye, and an attempt to conjure slippery memories. I hope the work is strange and suspenseful like the excitement of exploring a new place, and the thrill of knowing you are drifting back into a frightening dream.

T: As a kid, when did you start drawing/ painting? and did you begin in any different medium or type of art?

S: I probably started drawing at the same time I learned to shape my first letters. I’d try to draw letters then try to draw a dog. Most people do some sort of drawing at a very early age. I colored Easter eggs and carved pumpkins. I had a chalkboard and drew our house in cross section with all the furniture, like a doll house. I ate crayons and pencil erasers.

T: Do you think there was a good community of the arts where you grew up?

S: I grew up in Queens, NY where there is a rich community and so much art to see. I can gorge there in a way I haven’t experienced anywhere else. As an adult, I wasn’t serious about making art until I moved to Philadelphia for school and I found a wonderful community and life long friends.

T: Any Suggestions for younger artists just getting started?

S: Go see as much art, in person, as possible. Every time you take a trip, make a point to see art. Spend much more time making things than thinking about making things.

T: Who would you say are the biggest influences on your work?

S: For me, influences change all the time. Something or someone that looms large one year might disappear in significance the next. I love Jan Van Eyck, Brueghel, and Vermeer. I love James Castle. I love Bonnard and Vuillard. The films of Michelangelo Antonioni for creating empty spaces that feel charged with meaning. Many novels, this last year Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and Ursula K LeGuin The Dispossessed. Always, Nabokov’s short story Signs and Symbols.

T: Could you give a brief summary of the UMS artist in residence program and what it has allowed you to do personally in relation to your art?

S: Residents get tickets for four shows of their choosing and a stipend. We see shows and get together occasionally to discuss our experiences. It’s given me the opportunity to meet incredibly talented people (the residents, the folks who run the program, performers) and see some remarkable shows that I might not have otherwise seen.

T: Has Ann Arbor, either as a geographic place or an artistic environment, affected your art?

S: I am new to Ann Arbor so it’s hard to tell. I’ve moved around a lot. It tends to take some time for a place to impact my work. My palette is possibly darker. I lived in Miami before moving here and of course the climate was very different.

T: I've got a theory that you can tell a lot about a person based on what their favorite bad movie is, what is yours?

S: Anything with Nicolas Cage. He’s made a few excellent films many really terrible ones. I’ll watch them all; I don’t care.

T: If you could be a plant or nonhuman animal, what would you be?

S: I would be a green, or night, heron or an otter, or a mushroom colony.

UMS Artist in Residence Emilio Rodriguez

Karen Toomasian

Lang from the Threads Team sat down for a Q&A with Emilio Rodriguez, one of the featured UMS Artists in Residence. Here's what he has to say:

Threads: How would you describe your work for someone who has never seen it, or doesn’t know who you are?

Emilio: I would just say that my work is a fusion of poetry and theater. I like to say if poetry and theater had a baby that would be the genre I would like to go under.

T: Does that fusion normally occur in the writing or the performance of the pieces?

E: A little bit of both. I definitely write it with poetry moments written in and I like to find actors who have experience doing poetry readings to make that come to life.

T: So when you were younger were you into both theater and poetry or was one of them your ‘first love,’ so to speak, and the other you adopted later?

E: I didn’t discover theater until college so maybe poetry, or just writing in general. I was really fortunate that my mom was a preschool teacher so I started reading really early. So at a very young age I could say “you know I’m kind of bored of this story, what if I just write this story and be in control of that.” So I thank my mom for encouraging me.

T: About what age were you when you started writing? And then at what age did your current blend of poetry and theater begin?

E: I think I would say that I started writing when I was about five, you know not good stuff, just like “tie my shoe, the sky is blue.” That sort of stuff, if you know what I’m saying. And then late college is when I started mixing poetry and theater. Probably the beginning of college is when I discovered spoken word and def poetry jam and all of that. And then, also discovered theater in college as well, and figured out how to mix those as best as I could.

T: At school did you study theater, or poetry, or something else?

E: I formally studied theater. I took a couple of poetry classes and there was a spoken word club on our campus, and so I got really involved in that and became the president of that. That was sort of my training in that.

T: You’ve already said how, growing up, your mom was an integral part of your writing, but did find that there was a good community of artists where you were

E: Growing up I moved around a lot because my dad was in the military, so I had a lot of home bases. But I would say that the place I was the longest was Riverside, California, and they do not really have the best arts scene. So I think that’s why I got into theater so late. I can’t remember ever seeing a play. I think in kindergarten we saw a ballet or something. So that’s why I’m really thankful that my mom had that early literacy background to get me into stories at a young age.

T: Did you have school plays at all?

E: (Laughter) It’s so interesting! I was in 3rd grade, my brother was in 5th grade, and they did The Wizard of Oz, and I was not cast and my brother was, and my brother doesn’t do theater at all. The same thing happened with a church play, I auditioned and my mom said “if I’m going to drive you out there I may as well take your brother.” And my brother got the part and I didn’t.

T: That’s rough.

E: And now he doesn’t act at all, he’s going to grad school for business.

T: Going in a little bit of a different direction, this festival is based around the Ann Arbor community of arts, and exposing people in the area to that community. Do have any suggestions to young artists and people just getting started in the arts?

E: I would encourage people to look around for resources and go out and support whatever medium they’re in. Like if you are an opera singer go out and see opera, because that’s how you can network with people who are being successful in that area. I guess that is what I try to do, I try and see theater as much as I can.

T: Who would you say are your biggest influences?

E: That’s a good question. So I really love Sandra Cisneros House on Mango Street, that was one of the first books in high school that was required reading that I actually read, because I liked it. So she was a big influence for me in melding poetry into whatever art form you do and being authentic to the people in your neighborhood and your communities. And I really love Ntozake Shange. She wrote For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf, which I directed in college. Basically people who have a poetic sense to whatever their art form is, or whatever their form of writing is have been most influential to me.

T: Could you briefly explain what the UMS artist in residence program is, and what it entails? And further, what it has allowed you to do.

E: It entails seeing five shows for free at UMS, then was also have meetings together. There are five of us, each from different disciplines. The main goal was to get us to see how other disciplines affect us. So, both with the meetings and the works we chose to see, they encouraged me not just to see the plays but to see the opera and the jazz music. It also allowed me to apply for an excellence in higher education in theater award, which I ended up being a finalist for.

T: Has the artist in residency program been your first exposure to Ann Arbor?

E: Well I had done a play in Ann Arbor as an actor at the old Performance Network so I really just knew that area. We would meet in that area and eat in that area, so the residency was my first time seeing even the power center and the state theater, I had no idea what any of that was.

T: How do you think that being in Ann Arbor has affected your work? And that could be geographically, community-wise, or in terms of being a part of the artist in residency program.

E: I think that it’s a little bit odd because I actually live in Detroit, so there are not a lot of young people going to theater. So being in Ann Arbor was really cool because you young people in the audience because of the university. And working with a couple of the theaters in the area has been really beneficial because that 20-30 year old crowd is what I really like to write for. When I come to Ann Arbor it’s really nice to have those people in the audience.

T: So I’ve got a theory that you can tell a lot about a person based on what their favorite bad movie is. What is your favorite bad movie?

E: I don’t know if this counts as a bad movie but one of my favorite movies is To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. It’s John Leguizamo, Wesley Snipes, and Patrick Swayze are drag queens who travel from New York to California for a competition.

T: That sounds awesome! One more question for you: if you could be a plant or non-human animal, what would you be and why?

E: I would be a kind of tree. I know that sounds simple but I just want my leaves to fall off because I love the idea of losing something and getting it back and being able to appreciate it and just when you appreciate it, you lose it again.

T: I never thought about the question from that angle, that’s awesome. Well thank you so much for sitting down and talking to me!

Submissions Are In

Karen Toomasian

WOW! We’ve received submissions from over 100 artists! We are absolutely blown away. The amount of interest in the festival is humbling and inspiring. We want to say thank you to every artist who has submitted their work for Threads! It means so much to us that so many incredible people want to come together.

We are already working on the impossible task of forming the final lineup, and can honestly say that this festival will be jam packed. Every single artist will be absolutely stunning. Thank you so much to everyone who helped spread the word - we can’t wait to see you there!




Karen Toomasian

Thanks for finding out about us and making it all the way to our website!  

We want this festival be something really special.  That won't happen without all of the incredible people you know hearing about it and coming!  We really want to get as many people as we can involved.  It's time to let everyone know what is happening!  

Please consider helping us out while we get the word out about this festival.  The more people involved, the better!  We need you to contact all of your friends and family who may be interested in performing, displaying work, attending, advertising, sharing, supporting and getting excited about this!  

We are on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!  Let your friends know and keep up with us there!

Stay tuned as always for more information! 

Lots of exciting details coming very soon!

We're So Excited.

Karen Toomasian

This festival came from a decision to share.  We as the creative team find so much joy in experiencing the art making that's happening in Ann Arbor and surrounding areas.  People are making amazing things all around us, all the time.  We want a time and place to bring those people together, and let them share themselves with our community.    

We hope we can help create a space where the diversity that exists in our community can be experienced in various performances and display.