“It’s a positive thing to be different.”
Tony award winning writer Lisa Kron shared this sentiment during her lecture on Nov. 1. “A Conversation with Lisa Kron” was put on by the Eastern Michigan University Center for Jewish Studies, and sponsored by several EMU academic departments including the Honors College, as well as the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor and the Ann Arbor Jewish Community Center 2018 Books and Arts Festival.
According to it’s director Martin B. Shichtman, the EMU Center for Jewish Studies Speaker series is designed to bring “respected thought leaders and artists to EMU’s campus to conduct public lectures/performances, lead conversations, and engage with the university and greater Southeast Michigan communities.”
In his introduction, Shichtman discussed his personal relationship to Lisa Kron, discussing how they met and how he invited her to the university, praising her for her “luminosity,” a compliment which Kron affectionately smiled and gestured to herself. He also discussed her many awards and accomplishments in the world of theater, including her work on the Tony award winning 2015 musical “Fun Home,” based on the graphic novel of the same name by author and illustrator Alison Bechdel.
Kron was interviewed “actor-studio style” by Jessica “Decky” Alexander, a professor of Communications, Media and Theater Arts at EMU, as well as a member of the EMU Center for Jewish Studies advisory board.
When asked about her childhood, Krom spoke of fondly of her parents making “great characters” for her work with their compelling lives. Her father, a German-Jewish man, escaped Germany during the Holocaust at age fifteen, and her mother, a “true Midwesterner” according to Kron, grew up in Northville, Michigan.
Kron shared an excerpt from “In The Wake,” a story about a woman and her family’s reactions to the 2000 U.S. presidential election, where the character Judy shared her disdain for American democracy. A lighter piece she shared was a monologue written just after the Thomas-Hill hearings in 1991 and later performed for Anita Hill, who Kron recalled being “luminous,” just as Schictman had described Kron earlier in the presentation.
Kron also mentioned her work with Chant Bank, an organization founded in 2017 by theater artists, musicians and activists who, according to their Facebook group page, “took to the streets after the 2016 election… the group came together with a mission to build up that collective repertoire by drawing from the deep well of the past for songs and chants newly resonant today.”
Adding to this, Kron said, “people wanted to make a sound and didn’t know what sound to make,” and Chant Bank wanted to “find ways to bring better chanting to the middle of the resistance.”
She then led the audience in song with a piece she wrote, with the crowd sitting in front of her chanting, “Get ready for a blue wave, we’re gonna vote you out!”
Though the presentation wasn’t directly about politics, Kron did mention how her work and work in the theater are important in a country impacted by political hardship.
“People get together in rooms,” Kron said after the lecture. “You take all of your anxiety and your confusion and you take it out of yourself and put it on stage. Even if you don’t have answers to your questions or reassurance, you’ve lifted it out of yourself.”
Kron also discussed her appreciation to the EMU Center for Jewish Studies having her on campus doing work with students.
“I get to hear a little bit of student work, it’s really great to come to campus and feel the energy the students bring.” She said.
Hunter Butkovic, student assistant in the EMU Center for Jewish Studies, said despite the department being small, the events they put on are very important especially with “all the politics” as of late.
“It’s vital for people outside the community to know what the department is,” Butkovic said, while also clarifying that she herself is not a member of the Jewish community.
“People should know how the department supports the Jewish community as a whole as well as the Jewish community on campus. These things matter. It’s important to pay attention to people that aren’t like you.”
The lecture is part of a speaker series put on by the EMU Jewish Studies department, following presentations by actor Ari Axelrod in September and scholar Dr. Michael Berenbaum in October. During his introduction for Kron’s presentation, Shichtman also mentioned the department’s next two events: a presentation by Jason Francisco, an artist, essayist, and documentarian later this month on Nov. 19, and the second annual Center for Jewish Studies Hanukkah Celebration on Dec. 2 with writer Aaron Wolfe as keynote speaker.