Smile Politely

Five things in arts this month: November 2020

As we enter the season of gratitude this year, it’s easy to focus on what’s been lost or forever changed. Like everything else, gratitude will look different this year. But preparing for this article has given me hope. It has reminded me that artists are resilient and often at their best when the chips are down. It has reminded me of the necessity of laughter and of forward motion. And when we are at risk of numbness from compounded crises, artists remind us to be brave as they provide us with maps into and through complex emotions, and offer calls to action. I am also grateful that in a time of economic uncertainty, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, along with its University of Illinois performing arts departments, have opened up access to its reimagined virtual events, free of charge. I hope this will inspire new audiences and new experiences. And with that, I humbly offer this list of five must-do arts experiences for the month of November. 

November Dance 2020

Two dancers on stage in preview of November Dance 2020. Photo from Facebook

Photo from Facebook

If you caught my interview with November Dance Concert Director (and Dance at Illinois Department Head) Jan Erkert, you already know why you definitely need to watch this groundbreaking COVID-safe dance experience. Let these resilient and talented dancers and choreographers remind you of what art in general, and dance in particular, offers us in the most trying of times. 

“Why do humans tend to carry on no matter what? Despite multiple pandemics colliding and the numerous obstacles in our way . . . we are moving forward because it’s in our blood. These limitations have been frustrating and exhausting, but have also filled us with gratitude knowing that the practice of being in the body and listening and creating from its vast resources is, simply put, . . . precious. We invite you to enjoy these dances that are a result of the strange yet wonderful moments together this fall.” — Jan Erkert, from the November Dance 2020 program

If you’ve been wanting to dip your toes into the world of dance, this diverse program is a great place to start. And with free livestreaming, and the ability to rewatch on Vimeo, it couldn’t be easier to access. And if you can, stick around for the talkbacks and give the artists some virtual love in lieu of the live applause they will most certainly miss. 

November Dance 2020
November 5th at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.: Kayt MacMaster and Sarah Marks Mininsohn
November 6th at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.: Sara Hook
November 7th at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.: Endalyn Taylor
November 8th at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.: Bevara Anderson
Get the livestream link on the Krannert Center for Performing Arts website

A talkback session will follow each performance. The performance and talkback for each date and time will last approximately 40 minutes.

Each performance will also be available on Vimeo as individual videos from Monday, November 9th, through Monday, November 23rd.

Jupiter String Quartet and Michi Wiancko: To Unpathed Waters, Undreamed Shores

Jupiter String Quartet on stage. Photo from Facebook

Photo from Facebook

With the staggering one-two punch of pandemic and climate crisis, this collaboration between art (Krannert Center and the School of Music) and science (the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences and the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and ENvironment) meets the moment well. Jupiter String Quartet’s performance of Michi Wiancko’s To Unpathed Waters, Undreamed Shores, “celebrates the beauty and vitality of the natural world, suggesting hope and inspiration as humanity addresses fears and worries for our planet. The central themes of regeneration and resilience highlight the need to protect each other and our most vulnerable populations.” 

Each of the seven movements speak to a unique environmental circumstance. For example, Movement 4, entitled “Invisible Eviction,” tells that “the world is one fire.” Movement 5, entitled “Crying, Together,” is “a song of mourning dedicated to our most vulnerable populations.” A conversation between the Jupiters, composer Michi Wiancko, and Associate Professor Daniel Miller of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences will follow. 

Jupiter String Quartet and Michi Wiancko: To Unpathed Waters, Undreamed Shores
Friday, November 6th, 3 p.m. 
Free Zoom event. Register here

Virtual Small Press Fest 2020

Illustrated text spelling out

Image from Facebook

If this looks familiar, its because it originally appeared in my list for five things in arts in October 2020. After realizing that the original date conflicted with another online zine event, Virtual Small Press Fest was pushed back to November. Well, from what I’ve seen on Facebook, the extra time was spent curating a robust festival program. Highlights include In Pursuit of Smut: Collecting South Asian Comics, Zines, and Erotica, Making and Saving Queer Zines, Introduction to Manga, and a Virtual Dance Party with DJ Baub. If you’re a zine fan who wants to be a zine maker, check out the Urbana Zine Fest Walking Map, get your zine kit at Art Coop, and follow the map to find writing and drawing prompts. I can’t wait to see the results shared on Instagram. Be sure to use #SPF2020. 

Virtual Small Press Fest 2020
November 12th through 14th
Individual events are listed on the SPF Facebook page

Psh*tter! A Drinking Song for the Year of Our Lord 2020

Scene from Psh*tter! A Drinking Song for the Year of Our Lord 2020, with woman seated in a chair. Photo from Facebook

Photo from Facebook

One of the 60+ COVID cancellations at Krannert Center, Psh*tter! promised a provocative and wildly entertaining night at the theatre. A NSFW satirical mashup of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi tackling the big themes of history, politics, humanity, and personal choice, it was sorely missed last spring. But here’s the good news. Illinois Theatre recently announced that a COVID-safe, audience-less performance has been filmed and will be available for viewing mid-November. Chalk one up for the resilience and creative problem solving of Illinois Theatre. 

The KCPA announcement stated that “[director Lisa Gaye] Dixon and her team have used a mix of virtualand distanced rehearsals, new physically distanced blocking and fight sequences, costumes redesigned to include masks, a designated COVID production supervisor, and a filming process, also directed by Dixon, that will allow for digital delivery of this timely piece.” 

“In a world of madness and farce, Dixon and her creative team have shaped the
grotesque journey of Daddy Ubu and Momma Ubu through corruption, temptation,
supernatural predilection, and the savage pursuit of power while employing puppets,
sound effects, and somehow, the entire Polish army too.”

Psh*tter! A Drinking Song for the Year of Our Lord 2020
Available to view online mid-November
Stay tuned to the KCPA website and Facebook page for updates

Virtual Book Launch of Laughing to Keep from Dying

Image with photos of author Danielle Fuentes Morgan, W. Kamau Bell and a copy of Fuentes Morgan's new book

Image from Facebook

Okay. This event had me at W. Kamau Bell. But seriously. Danielle Fuentes Morgan, assistant professor in the Department of English at Santa Clara University is a scholar to know. Specializing in 20th and 21st century African American literature and culture, Fuentes Morgan explores “the ways that literature, popular culture, and humor shape identity formation. In particular, her research and teaching reflect her interests in African American satire and comedy, literature and the arts as activism, and the continuing influence of history on contemporary articulations of Black selfhood.” Her scholarly and popular writing addresses everything from “Black Lives Matter, the dangers of the “Karen” figure, race and sexuality on the Broadway stage, and Beyoncé.” And how lucky are we that our own University of Illinois Press has published her new work, Laughing to Keep From Dying: African American Satire in the Twenty-First Century.”  Trust me. This is one conversation you won’t want to miss. The book drops on November 16th and you can order a copy here

Virtual Book Launch of Laughing to Keep from Dying
Wednesday, November 18th, 6 p.m. Central Time
Register for the online event here.



Arts Editor

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