Smile Politely

Five things in arts this month: April 2023

The inside of a dimly lit space. A wood sign is hand painted to say "boneyard festival" with an arrow pointing up a staircase
Boneyard Arts Festival on Facebook

April is the March Madness of Champaign-Urbana’s arts community. There are two huge events — Boneyard Arts Festival and Ebertfest — that garner a lot of attention. But there is also a whole lot happening in the normal goings-on of creative production in our twin cities. And though there are technically only five things on this list, I’m offering you a little Easter surprise: one of the five things is actually a recommendation for four separate things. It’s like an Easter egg, or Russian nesting doll, or a writer/editor who simply cannot edit out some incredible programming. Follow along with SP’s Arts coverage for previews, interviews, reviews, and announcements about other programs, productions, and events. 

Graphic of The Little Mermaid. The Disney artwork is used. Ariel, the mermaid, is sitting on a rock that protrudes from the sea. She has red hair. The moon frames her and is bright and yellow. The waves on the ocean are blue and green.
Champaign Central High School Drama on Facebook

The Little Mermaid at Central High School

Central High School’s drama department is putting on a production of The Little Mermaid. With the new live-action movie version set to be released at the end of May, this timing feels right. Central’s theater program is top-notch under the direction of LaDonna Wilson; it’s one of seven schools selected to perform at the 2023 International Thespian Festival this June at Indiana University. So dust off your inner child (or your actual child) and get tickets to see these talented young people sing about gadgets, gizmos, whosits, whatsits, and thingamabobs.  

On Saturday the 15th and Sunday the 16th, there will be a meet and greet photo opportunity for kids to pose with their favorite characters. Additional information is available on the ticketing website

The Little Mermaid
Central High School
610 W University Ave
W-Sa Apr 12-15, 7 p.m.
Su Apr 16th, 2:30 p.m.
Tickets online; $7 – $15 

EKAH, "Salmagundi," Graphite and digital painting. A digital artwork that features an abstracted landscape with a rabbit traversing it. There are many colorful squares and some circles.
EKAH, Salmagundi, graphite and digital colors, 2023; 40 North on Facebook

Boneyard Arts Festival

40 North’s annual Boneyard Arts Festival is the weekend of April 14th, and the line up looks overwhelmingly robust. There are tons of artists participating — one venue boasts 90 different artists — with plenty of places to visit. On my radar are a few exhibitions / performances: Mark Roberts, creator of the sitcom Mike & Molly, will be performing on Friday and Saturday at SURFACE51 (read my interview with him next week); University Avenue in Champaign will have several venues within walking distance including 112, 114, and 119 E University are worth checking out. Of course, NORDEN-organized Boneyard Art Market at Lincoln Square Mall is a must for picking up artfully crafted things. The Prairie Glass House will be open, too. Take a look at the website and plot your weekend.

Boneyard Arts Festival
Venues across Champaign County
F-Su Apr 14-16; times vary depending on venue

An installation image of David Shrobe's wall-hung artwork. Three wall-hung pieces are exhibited by Monique Meloche Gallery. Two are on the right wall and one is on the left. They are colorful and feature Black figures.
David Shrobe on Instagram

Indulge Your Intellect

There are always so many amazing lectures and visiting scholars on the University of Illinois campus, and as we near the end of the semester, the community is rich with opportunities to hear from very cool and interesting creatives. 

Portraits of (l-r): David Shrobe, Dave Eggers, Daniel Gumbiner.
(l-r): David Shrobe, Humanities Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Dave Eggers; Daniel Gumbiner by Christian Peacock

On Tuesday, April 11th, hear from New York-based visual artist David Shrobe, who “creates multi-layered portraits and assemblage paintings made in part from everyday materials that he finds in multiple geographies, and especially from around his familial home.” His visit is part of HRI’s Interseminars programming. 

David Shrobe
Levis Faculty Center
919 W Illinois St
W Apr 11th, 7:30 p.m.

Dave Eggers and Daniel Gumbiner will be in conversation on Wednesday, April 12th. Eggars is a U of I alum, is the creator of McSweeney’s, and has published more than a dozen books, and won numerous awards, which is to say, he’s a well respected and prolific author. Gumbiner’s debut novel, The Boatbuilder (2018), was nominated for a National Book Award and a California Book Award Finalist. His next novel comes out this fall. A book signing will follow their discussion. 

Dave Eggers + Daniel Gumbiner
iHotel Chancellor’s Ballroom
1900 S First St
W Apr 12th, 6 p.m. 

Portraits of (l-r): Nikky Finny, Ruth Nicole Brown, John Jennings.
(l-r): Nikky Finney by Forrest Clonts; Ruth Nicole Brown; John Jennings by Tarji Stewart

Poet Nikky Finney and former U of I Professor Ruth Nicole Brown are in conversation on Wednesday, April 19th at the Spurlock Museum; Finney will give a reading and sign books on the 20th at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center. You can read more about those events in our recent SPlog

Nikky Finney + Ruth Nicole Brown
Spurlock Museum / Livestream
600 S Gregory
W Apr 19th, 7:30 p.m.

Nikky Finney Reading + Book Signing
Alice Campbell Alumni Center
601 S Lincoln Ave
Th Apr 20th, 7:30 p.m.

U of I grad and former U of I Professor and New York Times best-selling author John Jennings returns to C-U on April 20th to close out the Black on Black on Black on Black lecture series. Jennings, with collaborator Damian Duffy, adapted Octavia Butler’s Kindred and Parable of the Sower into graphic novels (the remaining Parable books are in the works, too). 

John Jennings
Krannert Art Museum, Room 62
Th Apr 20th, 5:30 p.m.

The interior of the Virginia theatre, with a lower level and balcony. The seats are filled with moviegoers.
Jessica Hammie


Roger Ebert’s Film Festival is marking the 10th year since his passing, organizing the festival around empathy. There are some great films in the lineup, with plenty of special guests. Check back the week of the festival for our preview that outlines all the highlights. 

The Virginia Theatre
203 W Park Ave
W-Sa Apr 19-22
Tickets online

Parable Trailer from Meiyin Wang on Vimeo.

Parable of the Sower

Speaking of Octavia Butler: Toshi Reagon’s musical / operatic adaptation of Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents is a “genre-defying work of political theatre featuring a powerhouse ensemble of 20 singers, actors, and musicians harness[ing] 200 years of Black music.” The book, if you haven’t read it, is a dystopian novel in which the United States has been ravaged by climate change, social upheaval, and zealous tyrants. It’s not exactly a light, uplifting read. But it’s an important story of survival, one that centers Black people, and Black women specifically. The book is a classic for a reason (pick it up, or pick up Damian Duffy’s and John Jennings’ graphic novel adaptation). 

I’m very excited to see how Reagon has adapted this content for a 90 minute stage production with music — it’s sure to be an exciting and moving experience. 

Parable of the Sower
Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
500 S Goodwin
F + Sa April 28-29
Tickets online; $30


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