Elephant's Graveyard ensemble members

Theatre

Elephant’s Graveyard

Village Theatre

Friday, May 5, through Sunday, May 14

As an actor in the college’s theatre department, Augustana senior Debo Balogun has triumphed with a number of demanding assignments: the title role in last fall’s Othello; the stylized performance technique required for Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal; the famed “All the world’s a stage” soliloquy in Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

But the Chicago native’s weightiest challenge to date might lie in the drama Balogun is currently directing for New Ground Theatre – because by “weighty,” we’re talking several figurative tons.

“The play is based on the true story of the only known lynching of an elephant” says Balogun of author George Brant’s Elephant’s Graveyard, running at New Ground’s Village Theatre May 5 through 14. “It was back in 1916 in a town in Tennessee called Erwin. There was this big circus called Sparks World Famous Shows, and before the actual circus show, they would have a parade on one of the main streets in town. But the circus had an elephant trainer who was very inexperienced – it was only his second or third day on the job – and they assigned him to handle Mary, who was basically the circus’ biggest attraction. And Mary was this big elephant.

“So this inexperienced guy was riding Mary, and he started mistreating her in a way that caused her to lash out at him – and that resulted in him being killed by Mary. This happened in front of the entire town. And they were angry, and scared, and demanded justice. And that justice was achieved by the town hanging Mary using a chain and crane system at a nearby railroad.”

Balogun knows what you’re thinking. “Obviously, this is a very dark show,” he says with a chuckle. “There’s no getting around that at all.” But Elephant’s Graveyard – described by the Times of London as “the most striking production” and South Carolina’s Columbia City Paper as “a theatrical masterpiece” – is a work that Balogun has adored ever since he made his acting debut in a high-school production of Brant’s 2007 work.

“I’ve always been attracted to plays that deal with these universal concepts of what it means to be human,” says Balogun. “Love, loss, et cetera. No matter where we come from or what our backgrounds are, these attributes kind of unify us as a human front. And Elephant’s Graveyard speaks on a universally human element that has the potential to be very catastrophic if left unchecked, where people can be very much consumed by propagated fear – propagated anger and hatred – toward things they don’t necessarily understand. Which inevitably leads to very awful things happening, like the hanging of Mary – although the play’s message is certainly very timely considering the state of affairs in today’s America.”

Elephant’s Graveyard, says Balogun, “is essentially a very present/past way of storytelling. It’s all monologues except for a few interactions, and the story told as if it’s happening in real time, right now, in front of the characters.” But while this theatrical conceit may seem a simple one, the production itself – with its 15 characters, period costumes, and live music – is anything but.

“Initially, I wanted to produce the show as part of Augustana’s inaugural season at the Brunner Theatre Center,” Balogun says. “But because of the size and the requirements of the show, it was deemed to be a little too ambitious for the resources we had at hand. It would have had to go up in the new Black Box Theatre, which would have been too small a space to make it work. So I was encouraged to find other ways of producing it, and that and my own passion and drive for the project kind of pushed me toward starting a GoFundMe campaign.”

Elephant's Graveyard ensemble members

Elephant's Graveyard ensemble members

Consequently, last summer, Balogun and several friends initiated The Elephant Project, designed to raise $2,500 for a 2017 staging of Elephant’s Graveyard. “I knew that we would need some type of budget to make this work,” says Balogun, “what with there being two musicians on-stage, and a huge part of the cast being circus characters with very specific costumes, and buying the rights to the show, and renting a space, et cetera, et cetera.”

The space came through New Ground’s artistic director Chris Jansen. “I think the show fit in with New Ground’s mission of doing contemporary pieces,” says Balogun, “as well as reaching out to younger theatre artists in the area, so I guess that prompted her and the New Ground board to be accepting of this project as part of their season.”

And with The Elephant Project garnering more than 600 followers through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, Balogun and his team eventually “racked up about $2,300 through GoFundMe – although after a series of in-person donations, we’re now closer to $3,000. I’m very happy with that.”

He’s also clearly happy with his crew that includes technical directors Emma Brutman and Amanda Caputi, and his cast that boasts such Augie-theatre students and alumni as Elise Campbell, Aubrey Lyon, Joshua Malone, Emily Mason, Maddie McCobb, and Tristan Odenkirk.

“This is the first full-length show that I’ll be directing,” says Balogun, “and I started off very intimidated. But I’ve had almost a year to kind of get myself ready – to get in the right mind space and solidify my concept – and I think that’s helped a lot with kind of easing out any road bumps that may have come along toward the beginning, when I was still trying to establish a good environment for the actors. As of right now, six or seven weeks into the rehearsal process, things are looking very good, and I’m really excited for the finished product to be up and running.”

And opening just two weeks before the official closing of the Greatest Show on Earth, no less.

“Right?!” says Balogun of the timing. “Believe me: I did not plan on that at all.”

Elephant’s Graveyard runs at Davenport’s Village Theatre (2113 East 11th Street) Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., and tickets and more information are available by calling (563)326-7529 or visiting NewGroundTheatre.org.

Ryan Collins, photo by Joshua Ford

Ryan Collins, photo by Joshua Ford

Literature

Rock Town Lit Fest

Midwest Writing Center

Friday, May 5, and Saturday, May 6

Here’s a riddle for ya: What has three legs, dozens of voices, and only one eye? Answer: The Rock Town Lit Fest!

Permit me to explain. The legs are the three stops in the inaugural event’s May 5 literary crawl. The voices will be those of the many local and regional writers, publishers, and even musicians participating in this May 5 and 6 celebration of the written word.

And the eye? Well, it’s actually the “i.” The only one found in the phrase “Rock Town Lit Fest.” Trust me, that riddle works better out loud ... though admittedly, not much better ... . So maybe the Midwest Writing Center Executive Director Ryan Collins should do the explaining from here on out.

“When we moved into the library,” says Collins of his organization’s fall relocation to its current home in downtown Rock Island, “we were talking about the possibility of doing some kind of new event that would showcase local writers and local publishers, and something that would maybe coincide with some other event happening in the District. And while we’ve done things similar to this before – we’ve had book fairs, we have readings a lot – we’ve never done anything quite like this.”

The “this” that Collins and his associates decided on was a two-day festival, one beginning the same day as Rock Island’s Gallery Hop!, that would incorporate a number of different literary-themed events: readings, panel discussions, a book fair, and – for the first time in the Quad Cities – a traveling “Lit Crawl” modeled after those presented in Iowa City’s annual Mission Creek Festival. (The River Cities’ Reader is one of the Rock Town Lit Fest’s co-sponsors.)

“I’ve read for Mission Creek, like, three years in a row,” says Collins, “and it’s always a good time. Some legs of their crawl are in venues where you maybe wouldn’t expect to find performances of any kind – salons and things like that, all scattered around the downtown area. But ours is just the three legs – kind of a beta test, to see how it goes.”

With the scheduled writers and readers including such well-established area talents as Misty Urban, Sean Whitney, and Farah Maklevits, May 5’s Rock Town Lit Crawl will begin at the Midwest Writing Center at 6 p.m., and although “there are more poets than anything else,” says Collins, “we’ve also got some fiction and nonfiction writers kind of sprinkled throughout the night.

“We’re gonna start with four or five readers on the ground floor of the library,” he continues, “and then four readers at the second leg at the Blue Cat [Brew Pub], and at least five readers when we end up at Rozz-Tox at 8 o’clock. The first two legs will go on about 45 minutes so people have time to mosey down to the next spot at a leisurely pace. But we might go on a bit longer at Rozz-Tox. That’s where Benjamin [Fawks] is putting together an after-party with live music” by the “twisted country” artists of Dimples. “And that’s also where we’ve got our headliner reading – a woman named Tara Betts.”

Tara Betts

Tara Betts

Betts is the author of two full-length poetry collections and is a two-time Chicago representative at the National Poetry Slam competitions. “We’re really excited to have her here for this,” Collins says. “She’s been around the Chicago scene for a long time and is widely anthologized, and was even on [HBO’s] Def Poetry Jam back in the day. She’s one of those people who’s contributed a lot to the scene and just had a book called Break the Habit released from Trio House Press, and we’ve been trying to get her for a while. So with her book coming out, it seemed like a good fit. She’s amazing.”

As for the literary amazement on May 6, it comes with the commingling of what Collins says is “about two dozen authors and about a half-dozen magazine publishers” who will gather for the Rock Town Lit Fest & Book Fair at the Midwest Writing Center and the upper floors of the Rock Island library.

“It’s from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” says Collins, “and while it’s definitely local-centric, we’ve got a couple people coming from Chicago, someone from Des Moines, Iowa City, Decorah, Cedar Rapids ... . There are hour-long readings at 11, 1, and 3. The first one is kind of a mix of fiction and nonfiction readings, and the one at 1 features younger writers from some of our youth programs, like the Atlas magazine we publish, and hopefully contributors to Augustana’s Saga and the St. Ambrose journal Quercus. And then at three, we’ve got a featured reading with people that are in an anthology called New Stories from the Midwest 2016,” including editor Jason Lee Brown and contributors Keith Lesmeister – winner of the Midwest Writing Center’s 2015 Great River Writers Retreat competition – and Augustana College professor Kelly Daniels.

“And then throughout the day,” says Collins, “we’re gonna have panel discussions on ‘Writing & Place’ at 10, ‘Writing as a Healing Process’ at noon, and ‘Writers on Reading’ at 2. It’s a lot going on, for sure. But it’s really exciting. And if we have a good response, hopefully we can build on it, and make it a regular thing.

“I know it’s easy to get wrapped up in the New York Times bestsellers and things like that,” says Collins. “But there’s a lot of writing of all kinds going on in the Quad Cities, and by people of all different ages and walks of life. Every New York Times bestseller was probably a writer in their hometown before they got to that point. So this is an opportunity to maybe see some talent on the rise before it gets to another level.”

For more information on the Rock Town Lit Fest, call (309)732-7330 or visit MWCQC.org.

What Else Is Happenin’ …?

MUSIC

Thursday, April 27 – United States Navy Band Sea Chanters. Touring vocal ensemble performs traditional choral music, sea chanteys, patriotic fare, opera, Broadway show tunes, and more. Bettendorf High School Performing Arts Center (3333 18th Street, Bettendorf). 7 p.m. Free. For information, call (563332-7001 or visit NavyBand.Navy.mil.

Thursday, April 27 – Johnny A. Rock, jazz, and blues guitarist/songwriter John Antonopoulos in concert, with an opening set by Charlie Hayes & Detroit Larry. The Redstone Room (129 Main Street, Davenport). 7:30 p.m. $16.75-17. For tickets and information, call (563)326-1333 or visit RiverMusicExperience.org.

Friday, April 28 – Angaleena Presley. Country-music singer/songwriter and member of the country trio Pistol Annies in concert, with an opening set by Angela Meyer. Daytrotter (324 Brady Street, Davenport). 8 p.m. $8-12. For tickets and information, call (563)293-3240 or visit Daytrotter.com.

Friday, April 28 – The Steepwater Band and Minus Six. Concert with the co-headliners and area rockers. The Redstone Room (129 Main Street, Davenport). 8 p.m. $9.50-12. For tickets and information, call (563)326-1333 or visit RiverMusicExperience.org.

Friday, April 28 – This Wheel’s on Fire. Bob Dylan celebration featuring performances by Iris DeMent, William Elliott Whitmore, David Zollo & the Body Electric, Elizabeth Moen, B.F. Burt, Jason T. Lewis, The Recliners, and Ingrid Streitz. Englert Theatre (221 East Washington Street, Iowa City). 7 p.m. $20-25. For tickets and information, call (319)688-2653 or visit Englert.org.

Saturday, April 29 – Quad City Symphony Orchestra Family Music Carnival. A celebration of music and art featuring performances by area musicians, children’s activities, and more. Davenport RiverCenter (136 East Third Street, Davenport). 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Free. For information, call (563)322-7276 or visit QCSO.org.

Saturday, April 29 – Quad City Symphony Orchestra Family Concert: Dr. Seuss! Concert presentation of the author’s The Sneetches and Green Eggs & Ham, conducted by Benjamin Klemme and featuring actors Michael Boudewyns and Kimberly Schroeder. Adler Theatre (136 East Third Street, Davenport). 2:30 p.m. $3-20. For tickets and information, call (563)322-7276 or visit QCSO.org.

Saturday, April 29 – Old Shoe. Chicago-based five-piece Americana and roots-rock musicians in concert, with an opening set by The Dawn. The Redstone Room (129 Main Street, Davenport). 9 p.m. $11.50-12. For tickets and information, call (563)326-1333 or visit RiverMusicExperience.org.

Sunday, April 30 – Side-by-Side Concert. Event featuring more than 150 musicians from the Quad City Symphony Orchestra and Quad City Symphony Youth Ensembles playing together under the direction of QCSO Conductor Mark Russell Smith. Adler Theatre (136 East Third Street, Davenport). 3 p.m. $5-20. For tickets and information, call (563)322-7276 or visit QCSO.org.

Sunday, April 30 – Community-Wide Side-by-Side. Area musicians and members of the Quad City Symphony Orchestra perform Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” under the direction of QCSO Conductor Mark Russell Smith. Davenport RiverCenter (136 East Third Street, Davenport). 6 p.m. $20-25 registration, observers free, with space available on a first-come, first-served basis. For information, call (563)322-7276 or visit QCSO.org.

Sunday, April 30 – Scott H. Biram. Texas-based blues, punk, country, and heavy-metal musician in concert, with an opening set by Jack Greele. Rock Island Brewing Company (1815 Second Avenue, Rock Island). 7 p.m. $13. For information, call (309)793-1999 or visit RIBCO.com.

Tuesday, May 2 – George Winston. Concert with the California-based pianist in support of his forthcoming solo piano album Spring Carousel. Englert Theatre (221 East Washington Street, Iowa City). 8 p.m. $35. For tickets and information, call (319)688-2653 or visit Englert.org.

Wednesday, May 3 – Richie Kotzen Band. Concert with the rock singer/songwriter/guitarist and member of the super-group The Winery Dogs. Rascals Live (1414 15th Street, Moline). 7:30 p.m. $20-35. For tickets and information, call (309)797-9457 or visit RascalsLive.com.

Thursday, May 4 – Ceschi Ramos. Connecticut-based singer/rapper in concert, featuring opening sets by Serengeti, Chisme, Sister Haus Eviction Notice, Sons of Mars, and A. Barb. Daytrotter (324 Brady Street, Davenport). 7 p.m. $8.50-10. For tickets and information, call (563)293-3240 or visit Daytrotter.com.

Friday, May 5 – The Jimmys. Concert with horn-based blues musicians, featuring an opening set by The Mercury Brothers. The Redstone Room (129 Main Street, Davenport). 8 p.m. $9.50-10. For tickets and information, call (563)326-1333 or visit RiverMusicExperience.org.

Friday, May 5 – Weedeater. North Carolina-based rock and metal musicians in concert, featuring opening sets by Aseethe and No Funeral. Rock Island Brewing Company (1815 Second Avenue, Rock Island). 9 p.m. $13. For information, call (309)793-1999 or visit RIBCO.com.

Friday, May 5 – Beach Slang. Concert with the punk-rock band from Philadelphia, featuring opening sets by Harsh Times and Starry Nights. Daytrotter (324 Brady Street, Davenport). 8 p.m. $12-15. For tickets and information, call (563)293-3240 or visit Daytrotter.com.

Friday, May 5 – Mike Posner & the Legendary Mike Posner Band. Concert with the multi-platinum-selling singer/songwriter and his ensemble. University of Dubuque’s Heritage Center (2255 Bennett Street, Dubuque). 8 p.m. $10-30. For tickets and information, call (563)585-7469 or visit Dbq.edu/heritagecenter.

Sunday, May 7 – LeAnn Rimes. Chart-topping, Grammy-winning country-pop singer/songwriter in concert. Englert Theatre (221 East Washington Street, Iowa City). 7 p.m. $54.50-204.50. For tickets and information, call (319)688-2653 or visit Englert.org.

THEATRE

Thursday, April 27, through Sunday, April 30 – The Good Doctor. Neil Simon’s Broadway comedy of vignettes inspired by the works of Anton Chekhov, directed by Kevin Babbitt. Scott Community College’s Black Box Theatre (Room 228 through Door 2, 500 Belmont Road, Bettendorf). Thursday through Saturday 7:30 p.m., Sunday 2:30 p.m. $8 at the door. For information, call (563)441-4339 or visit Facebook.com/ScottTheatre.

Friday, April 28, through Sunday, May 7 – Titanic. Maury Yeston’s and Peter Stone’s Tony-winning musical set aboard the doomed oceanliner, directed by Erin Platt. Augustana College’s Brunner Theatre Center (3750 Seventh Avenue, Rock Island). Friday and Saturday 7:30 p.m., Sunday 1:30 p.m. $8-14. For tickets and information, call (309)794-7306 or visit Augustana.edu/arts.

Friday, April 28, through Saturday, May 6 – Beauty & the Beast Jr. Student version of the Tony-winning fairytale musical based on Disney’s animated film, directed by Dino and Tina Hayz. The Center for Living Arts (2008 Fourth Avenue, Rock Island). Friday and Saturday 7 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m., May 6 at 2 p.m. $12.50. For tickets and information, call (563)940-1956 or visit CenterForLivingArts.org.

Friday, April 28, through Sunday, May 7 – Annie Get Your Gun. The City Circle Acting Company of Coralville’s production of the Tony-winning Irving Berlin musical, directed by Krista Neumann. Coralville Center for the Performing Arts (1301 Fifth Street, Coralville). Friday and Saturday 7:30 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. $12-27. For tickets and information, call (319)248-9372 or visit CityCircle.org.

Friday, April 28, through Sunday, April 30 – James & the Giant Peach. Stage-musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s book. University of Dubuque’s Heritage Center (2255 Bennett Street, Dubuque). Friday 7:30 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m., Sunday 2 p.m. $5-10. For tickets and information, call (563)585-7469 or visit Dbq.edu/heritagecenter.

Saturday, April 29, through Sunday, May 7 – Merlin & King Arthur. Student-performed adventure comedy about the Knights of the Round Table, written and directed by Aaron Randolph III. Davenport Junior Theatre (2822 Eastern Avenue, Davenport). Saturday 1 and 4 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. $6-8 at the door. For information, call (563)326-7862 or visit DavenportJuniorTheatre.com.

Monday, May 1, through Friday, May 5 – Iowa New Play Festival. Four debuting productions and readings of numerous original scripts in the University of Iowa’s annual festival held in the David Thayer Theatre, Theatre B, and Cosmo Catalano Acting Studio. University of Iowa Theatre Building (200 North Riverside Drive, Iowa City). Productions $5 at the door; readings free, but tickets required. For information and a play schedule, visit Theatre.UIowa.edu.

Friday, May 5, through Sunday, May 14 – Pump Boys & Dinettes. Tony-nominated musical comedy about rural waitresses and diner patrons, directed by Courtney Crouse. Timber Lake Playhouse (8215 Black Oak Road, Mt. Carroll). Friday and Saturday 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 2 p.m. $17-25. For tickets and information, call (815)244-2035 or visit TimberLakePlayhouse.org.

Friday, May 5, through Sunday, May 7 – Bye Bye Birdie. Tony-winning musical comedy about a ’50s rock star joining the Army. Orpheum Theatre (57 South Kellogg Street, Galesburg). Friday and Saturday 7 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. $12-15. For tickets and information, call (309)342-2299 or visit GalesburgOrpheum.org.

Tuesday, May 9, through Friday, May 12 – Charlotte’s Web. Joseph Robinette’s stage adaptation of E.B. White’s children’s book. Timber Lake Playhouse (8215 Black Oak Road, Mt. Carroll). 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. $6, with a complimentary chaperone ticket for every 10 students. For tickets and information, call (815)244-2035 or visit TimberLakePlayhouse.org.

DANCE

Friday, April 28, through Sunday, April 30 – Iowa Dance 2017: Dancing Our Visions. Performances in numerous public spaces, workshops, presentations, and more. Downtown Iowa City. For information, call (319)400-4695 or visit IowaDance.org.

Saturday, April 29 – UNYK Multicultural Dance. Performance by Augustana’s ensemble featuring dances from numerous genres and cultures. Augustana College’s Centennial Hall (3703 Seventh Avenue, Rock Island). 8 p.m. For tickets and information, call (309)794-7306 or visit Augustana.edu/arts.

Thursday, May 4 – Marc Bamuthi Joseph: /peh-LO-tah/. Touring performance of the multi-disciplinary work featuring dance, live music drawn from multiple traditions, poetry, shadow work, and film. Hancher Auditorium (101 East Park Road, Iowa City). 7:30 p.m. $10-35. For tickets and information, call (319)335-1160 or visit Hancher.UIowa.edu.

LITERATURE

Thursday, April 27 – SPECTRA: Natalie Eilbert and Derrick Austin. The Midwest Writing Center co-presents readings by the poets and Ron Wallace Poetry Fellows at the Wisconsin Institute of Creative Writing. Rozz-Tox (2108 Third Avenue, Rock Island). 8 p.m. $5 suggested donation. For information, call (309)732-7330 or visit MWCQC.org or RozzTox.com.

Thursday, April 27, through Saturday, April 29 – Carl Sandburg Festival. Annual celebration of the American poet, writer, editor, and area native who won three Pulitzer Prizes, with numerous readings, classes, and other literary events held at additional area venues. Carl Sandburg College (2232 South Lake Storey Road, Galesburg). For information, call (309)341-5416 or visit Sandburg.edu.

VISUAL ARTS

Thursday, April 27, through Monday, May 22 – Mark Cook: Emotional States. Exhibit of paintings by the Rock Island native. Bereskin Fine Art Gallery & Studio (Suites 102 and 104, 225 East Second Street, Davenport). Wednesday through Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Free. For information, call (563)508-4630 or visit BereskinArtGallery.com.

Friday, May 5 – Gallery Hop! Midcoast Fine Arts co-sponsors demonstrations, performances, works for sale, and more with local artists at a variety of venues in the District of Rock Island. 6-10 p.m. Free. For information, call (563)424-1210 or visit Midcoast.org.

Saturday, May 6 – Village in Bloom Arts Festival. Fifth-annual event honoring John and Isabel Bloom, featuring art exhibits, live music, children’s art activities, and more. Village of East Davenport. 10 a.m. Free. For information, visit VillageInBloom.org.

Sunday, May 7 – girlpARTs fest2. Fundraiser for the NormaLeah Ovarian Cancer Initiative featuring an artist market, a silent auction, food, and concert sets by Milltown, Earth Ascending, and Wicked Liz & the Bellyswirls. The Redstone Room (129 Main Street, Davenport). 1 p.m. $10-15. For tickets and information, call (309)794-0009 or visit NormaLeah.org.

EVENTS

Friday, April 28 – Fish & Fire Friendraiser and Fundraiser. River Action hosts its 15th-annual event featuring a 5:30 p.m. social hour, silent auction, and cash bar with music on the sky deck, and a 7 p.m. catfish dinner followed by the presentation of the 18th Annual Eddy Awards. Modern Woodmen Park (209 South Gaines Street, Davenport). $12-45, For tickets and information, call (563)322-2969 or visit RiverAction.org.

Saturday, May 6, and Sunday, May 7 – Monster Jam. Touring event with monster-truck sensations including Grave Digger, Max-D, and many more. iWirelessCenter (1201 River Drive, Moline). Saturday 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday 2 p.m. $13-50. For tickets, call (800)745-3000 or visit iWirelessCenter.com.

Saturday, May 6 – Tour de Brew QC. A National Bike Month celebration with stops at eight area pubs during the day’s 35-mile bike ride. Starting at Rock Island Brewing Company (1815 Second Avenue, Rock Island). 10 a.m. $30-40 registration. For information, visit QCTourDeBrew.com.