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Black Orchid Coffee House harks back to the Beat generation

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Black Orchid Coffee House harks back to the Beat generation



Two local poets are taking Performance Network at face value and using it to . . network; that is, to meet other artists in various media, exchange ideas, get feedback, collaborate.

That’s the impetus behind their creation of the Black Orchid Theater Coffee House series, to premiere at Performance Network Wednesday and, they hope, become a regular feature in Ann Arbor.

Mark DuCharme and Felicia French felt Ann Arbor needed a new forum for poets and other artists who are not yet “names” to present their work and see what colleagues are up to. Says French, who has participated frequently in the Detroit Women’s Coffee House Series:

“It’s hard to find arenas for new young talents. If you’re not a known name, you don’t have much leeway to get an arena to perform. I feel like I’ve been seeing the same people doing the same things over and over. This could be a forum to experiment with the old things and update them, and to try out new things.”

Wednesday night’s schedule will include readings and performances by French and DuCharme, singer/guitarist Lizette Chevalier of the Detroit Women’s Coffee House series, and musician/composer Todd Wyse. On the walls will be paintings and sketches by local artists D. Malnori and Carol Middlebrooks. The mike will be open to anyone else who gets the itch to perform.

The idea harks back to the coffee houses of the 1950s, made famous by the likes of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and others of the Beat generation, whose poetry readings were often accompanied by folk music or jazz.

The only comparable setting in Ann Arbor is Nikki’s All-Night Cafe, launched recently in Sottini’s Sub Shop, 205 S. Fourth Ave., and running from midnight to dawn once a month, offering any poets present the chance to read. Nikki’s supplements existing poetry readings, such as those at Ann Arbor’s Guild House, and readings by nationally known poets at the Detroit Institute of Arts’ “Lines” series and at the University of Michigan.

Black Orchid hopes to capture the feeling of artistic interaction and excitement generated by the Beat coffee houses, but its own more formal, theatrical setting reflects a different emphasis. The stage is the thing, according to DuCharme, who aims for multi-media performances which will eventually include dance and drama as well as poetry, music and visual arts. (To allow for all these media, Black Orchid has to engineer its own lights, sound and stage management.)

"We’re just doing something a little different -more formal in the staging of it, and in emphasizing other kinds of artists,” says DuCharme. “But there’ll be an element of surprise: an open mike.”

The Coffee House series fits well into Performance Network’s ongoing “Works in Progress” program, which has concentrated on staged readings of new works by local playwrights. Besides a stage. Performance Network offers Black Orchid what French calls “a place with a name,” for artists who may not have one yet.

Needless to say, the Black Orchid Theater Coffee House series is not just for performing artists (or, what DuCharme calls with a grimace, “struggling artists”); its eclectic fare could be a welcome source of alternative entertainment for those who would rather just listen and appreciate. The next coffee house is tentatively scheduled for sometime in September, when it’s hoped that students might stoke the creative fires even higher. Whether Black Orchid becomes a regular series, only time, and the response to Wednesday’s first installment, will tell.

Performance Network, 408 W. Washington St., presents the Black Orchid Theater Coffee House, Wednesday at 8 p.m. A $2 donation is requested at the door. For more information, call Performance Network at 663-0681.