Smile Politely

Five things in arts this month: December 2020

This year, more than ever, how we spend our holiday time and budget will impact the financial and creative survival of Champaign-Urbana’s artists and makers. What we have to enjoy in post-COVID life will likely depend on what we support now. So in the words of Queen Bey, if you like then you better put a ring on it. Which translates to this: While fully acknowledging that some of us have been harder hit than others, supporting local artists can take different forms, some only costing you time and a few kind words. If you would like to shop, but can’t, use your social media currency to spread the word and support the #locallove moment. Direct message someone whose work you admire. I promise you this is a gift they will cherish. This month, performance artists are working in new ways and without the fuel of live applause; while spaces like Krannert Center are event livestreaming for free. This is a gift to our community when we need it most. So let’s enjoy it and acknowledge it, and share it with those we love. 

Somi: in the absence of things

Image of Somi dancing alone on stage. Photo from Facebook

Photo from Krannert Center’s Facebook event page

Like many performers on the road at the onset of COVID-19, dance artist Somi had to decide where to wait it out. Rather than returning to NYC, she came home to Champaign to spend the stay at home order with her mother. During this time, Somi “found herself reflecting on the deep sense of personal vacancy she was feeling in the absence of live performance.” This inner journey resulted in in the absence of things, an experimental short film that blends spoken word, art song, and movement with deconstructed concert recordings from Somi’s new live album “Holy Room—Live at Alte Oper with Frankfurt Radio Big Band, which was co-created with commissioners from Krannert Center, Baryshnikov Arts Center (New York), and ArtsEmerson (Boston). in the absence of things ” aims to frame the disruption of otherwise quieted cultural spaces as a larger metaphor for the work most American arts institutions still need to do in service of Black storytelling.” Stay for the after-film discussion featuring a conversation with the director of the film, Mariona Lloreta; and Obie Award-winning Artistic Director of New York City’s National Black Theatre (NBT) Jonathan McCrory which will explore “the meaning of the film, the collaborators’ creative process, and the role of Black artists during and beyond COVID-19.”

Somi: in the absence of things
December 1st, 7 p.m., through December 8th
Performance length: Approximately one hour
Free. Get additional information, including viewing link here

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

Dance scene from Psh*tter. Photo from Facebook

Photo from Krannert Center’s Facebook page

My interview last month with Psh*tter’s Genesee Spridco and Dane Brandon took us behind the scenes and into the trenches of COVID-safe theatre production where logistical challenges were met with thoughtfulness and creative problemsolving. Spridco had shared that “it has made us very aware of taking care of each other.  We are even more attentive to the culture with which we make theatre and what of the ‘old normal’ can be scrapped from this experience.” I, for one, am excited to see the result of all of this challenging work and innovation, as they stage what Spridco referred to as “a vast departure from the realism and naturalism that is found in Illinois Theatre’s repertoire.” In fact, in the remount Illinois Theatre “added a bit of material that includes the new world we have slid into including the pandemic and recent emotional uprisings.” It sure sounds like just the kind of resilient and cathartic spectacle we need right now. 

Psh*tter! A Drinking Song for the Year of Our Lord 2020
Available to view December 3rd through December 12th
Performance length: 75 minutes
Free. Get additional information, including viewing link here

Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol

Photo of puppet character from Manual Cinema's Christmas Carol. Photo from Facebook

Photo from Krannert Center’s Facebook event page

I first fell in love with Manual Cinema during their Krannert Center performance of No Blue Memories. And if, like me, you feared it would be years before you saw them again, I’ve got good news. Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol will be available to stream this weekend. This modern, retelling of the Dicken’s classic tells the tale of “Aunt Trudy, an avowed skeptic, [who] has been recruited to channel her late husband Joe’s famous Christmas cheer. From the isolation of her Chicago apartment, she reconstructs his annual A Christmas Carol puppet show—over a Zoom call while the family celebrates Christmas Eve under lockdown. But as Trudy becomes more absorbed in her own version of the story, the puppets take on a life of their own.” This performance promises to bring the best of Manual Cinema’s multi-genre magic. 

Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol
Available to view December 5th through 6th
Performance length: Approximately one hour
$15 per household. Get additional information, including viewing link here

Mack Glass Christmas Tree Build

Photo of Jason Mack outdoors building a glass Christmas tree. Photo from Facebook

Photo from Mack Glass’s Facebook page

Champaign-based glass artist Jason Mack is not gonna let the pandemic stop him from building the world’s largest glass Christmas tree (the current record is held by a 27.5 foot tree which resides in Italy ). Currently setting up on North Neil Street, Mack is ready to take on the record and the dizzying 31 foot height (and weighing in at two tons). If you can’t make it out for the live action, you follow Mack’s progress on Facebook or Instagram. You can also purchase a gift-sized tree from Mack’s online shop and on site. So let’s support him as he brings the record to Champaign, along with a big dose of holiday spirit. Fun fact: the tree will be constructed entirely out of donated clear and green glass bottles and jars. 

Mack Glass Christmas Tree Build
502 N Neil St, Champaign
December 5th, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 
Get more information here

Shop Local Art

Bear with me as I take to my yearly soapbox. Buying local art this season may not have all of the feel-good finery of an in-person festival, but its the loss of those many festivals to COVID that makes our support this season so necessary. Local artists and makers are hurting. But they are also resilient, and in the face of too many challenges, have continued to do what they do best: create. And they miss us too. And not just for in the pocketbook. They miss the energy of in-person sales. They miss the feedback from fans. They miss seeing and interacting with colleagues. So, this season, if you can spare some of your shopping budget for locally-made goods and art, please do. And if you can’t, spread the love for local art on social media and help drive sales, maybe even from places far from Champaign-Urbana (silver lining). Stepping off of soapbox now. Below are several guides to help you navigate the wealth of made-in-Chambana art and goods.

Image with Nordic holiday designs announcing The Little Red Hut. Photo from Facebook

Image from Norden’s Facebook page

The Little Red Hut
Main Street, Downtown Urbana
November 27th through December 20th

Illustration for CUDO's Misfit Market CU online portal. Image from Facebook

Image from Misfit Market CU’s Facebook page

Champaign-Urbana Design Organization (CUDO) Misfit Market CU Online Portal

Multicolored grid design with Holiday Art Pop-Up Palooza event information. Image from Facebook

Image from Holiday Art Pop-Up Palooza’s Facebook event page

Holiday Art Pop-Up Palooza 2020 Live
Saturdays & Sundays, November 28th through December 13th
Featuring live sales from artists on each date

Illustrated grid with green and purple holiday wrapping and text describing categories in 40 North's holiday local art guide. Image from Facebook.

Image from 40 North’s Facebook page

The comprehensive guide to shopping local art across the media we’ve all been waiting for.  Find it here

Editor’s note: Since the original posting, Smile Politely has learned that Somi’s in the absence of things will be streaming through December 15th, one week longer than originally planned.

Top image from 40 North’s Facebook page

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