Smile Politely

Five things in arts: May 2024

The Literary Cafe in Downtown Champaign has a black awning and tables outside on the sidewalk. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

As soon as the semester ends and students flock back to Chicagoland, it’s time to celebrate Friday Night Live events, Urbana and Champaign markets, PostMark, quiet evening walks on the quad and in the parks, and, of course books! Summer reading season is upon us and it’s time to pick out what you’re going to read on vacation or at the pool or in your corner chair by the window. Even if you’re not a big reader, browsing at our local bookstores is just flat out fun. While books and book-related events dominate May, there are plenty of arts events and happenings. Here are a few of them.

The exterior of The Literary in Downtown Champaign. A neon pink sign that says "lit" hangs in a window. There are black awnings over the windows, and planter boxes on the bottom of the windows.
Mackenzie Schabowski

Book Clubs at The Lit

Books. Brunch. Bar. I — literally — do not need anything else. And yet, The Lit offers so much more. Host to book clubs, special events, readings, and children’s story time, The Literary will be hoppin’ all of May. Here’s a taste of the Literary’s offerings for May. All events are free but it’s always smart to call ahead for details.

Book Club: An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison
Th May 16th at 7:30 p.m.

Book Club: Hijab Butch Blues by Lamya H
Sa May 18th at 4 p.m.

Literary Trivia
F May 24th at 6:30 p.m.

Coven Book Club: Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery by Brom
Sa May 25th at 5:30 p.m.

Knit Night: Knit and crochet the night away!
Su May 26th at 5 p.m.

The Literary
122 N Neil St

Urbana’s Station Theatre presents Describe the Night, directed by Latrelle Bright

Playwright Rajiv Joseph won the Obie Award for Best New American Play in 2018 with his epic, Describe the Night. Joseph’s play spans several decades with a story woven together by soldiers, poets, babushkas, and journalists. A mix of actual historical figures and imagined counterparts tackle Russian history by placing truth and fantasy in a recipe served up with literal and metaphorical leeches. Loosely based on elements of Jewish writer Isaac Babel’s life and work in Soviet Russia, the play is ambitious and I very much look forward to seeing how Latrelle Bright stages it at our Station Theatre in Urbana. 

Describe the Night by Rajiv Joseph
The Station Theatre
223 N Broadway Ave
May 9-19
Tickets: $10-$17

Black and white photo of two round wicker chairs and a round table against a brick wall.
Erlanger House, Urbana; Photo by Phillip Kalantzis-Cope

Book Launch: Mid-Continent Modern: The Champaign School of Mid-Century Architecture

May is stacked with book events and I am geeking out about this one. Everything about it sounds fun (let’s recall I am a lifelong researcher and English teacher so factor that into my definition of fun). I adore mid-century architecture, book launches, and the Krannert Art Museum. 

This book documents the contributions of architects Jack Sherman Baker, John Gordon Replinger, A. Richard Williams, Robert Louis Amico, and Jeffery S. Poss to the Midwest’s built environment. All were keenly aware of the prairie landscape of Central Illinois, its vast vistas, and the prismatic forms of houses, barns, and granaries that punctuate the horizon. Mid-Continent Modern: The Champaign School of Mid-Century Architecture tells the story of their work, and the people who live, use, and care for these buildings. The authors will be available to sign books at the event.

Mid-Continent Modern: The Champaign School of Mid-Century Architecture (Immaterial Books, 2024)
Philip Kalantzis-Cope and Jeffrey S. Poss
Krannert Art Museum
500 E Peabody
W May 15th, 4 to 6 p.m.

Photo of a paper mache version of a giant cicada. It has a black body and big red eyes with orange and white wings.
Sid Cada; Tuscola’s Vault Art Gallery on Facebook

This looks to be a delightful day of family-friendly arts and crafts while learning more about the onslaught of these “harmless” critters as they make their way up from the ground to their mating perches in our trees. The day will include rock painting, acoustic music, and plenty of refreshments. Maybe there’s a fun craft to make out of molted cicada shells. You go ahead. I’m going to be hiding in my house wrapped in netting the whole time these things are screaming in my yard. 

The Vault Art Gallery
100 N Main St
Sa May 18th, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Free, but plenty of local arts and crafts to buy

Forty-four years strong and Fame is still one of the best summer films

Part of 92.5’s Rewind Film Series, the historic Virginia Theatre will be showing 1980’s Fame, starring Irene Cara, Gene Anthony Ray, Debbie Allen, and Lee Curreri. Fame premiered in the summer of 1980 and has been reworked several times as both a television show and a stage musical. Glee? High School Musical? Those wouldn’t have existed without Alan Parker’s brilliant film about teens, talent, and tenacity. I just wish it was on a double-bill with Flashdance

Virginia Theatre
203 W Park 
Th May 23rd, 7 p.m.

Arts Editor at Smile Politely

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