NOTE: Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Margo Jefferson has rescheduled her Nov. 7 reading at the Englert for April 18, 2016.
Don't go digging out your brooms and leftover candy. Iowa City's new Witching Hour festival on Friday and Saturday (11/6 and 11/7) isn't about Halloween. But it will be full of tricks and treats designed to spark creativity and creative thinking, from concept to completion.
"The name is getting back to the notion of the unknown," says Andre Perry, Englert Theatre's executive director and one of the festival organizers. "For us, it didn't have to fall on Halloween weekend, because the other side of the holiday is the Day of the Dead - the rebirth and remembering of things past. That concept is really engrossing to me and really interesting.
"'Witching Hour' encapsulates the idea of people coming from another world, bringing ideas from other zones," he says.
Artists, writers, scientists, entrepreneurs and forward-thinkers will gather in various downtown venues to share what spurs their creative process. They will participate in afternoon lectures and discussions, then in the evening, the performers will share their artistry through music, comedy, literature, film, dance and magic.
Many live in the Corridor, but others are coming from around the Midwest and both coasts. Among them are comedian/actor/writer Brian Posehn from "The Sarah Silverman Program" and such sitcoms as "Friends" and "Seinfeld"; Doomtree musicians from Minneapolis; Rachel Hatch, research director at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, Calif.; filmmaker Su Friedrich, who teaches video production at Princeton University in New Jersey; and writer Rachel Yoder of Iowa City, a founding editor of the literary journal "draft: the journal of process," which has editors in Cambridge, Mass., and Portland, Ore.
At its core, Perry says organizers deemed it "really important to have a festival that was encouraging us to think about why we make things and how we make things. It's all about exploring and engaging the unknown - getting at that essence of trying new a project out or working on a crazy project that's about answering almost unanswerable questions, like studying the universe, or what does it mean for a writer to sit down and have idea for a book and turn that idea into a novel."
"We thought that was a really interesting path to follow, and that it was something that wasn't explicitly being met or discussed in any other festival event that was happening in our area."
He says "the last piece of the puzzle" is providing a festival without an instantly recognizable headliner to reel in audiences.
"This is more about how can we get back to the point when you were 12 or 15 years old and your parents took you to see a really cool theater piece or your older brother or sister took you to see a rock 'n' roll concert, or a teacher gave you a book that when you read or see it or listen to it for the first time, and it just blows your mind and opens up the doors to a new world.
"It's all about getting back to that point of engaging the unknown for the first time, and going to an event where you don't know everything."
Dessa, one of the co-founders of the Minneapolis music collective Doomtree, epitomizes the evolution of a career through a circuitous path of education and exploration, "defined by some opportunities and some closed doors."
Born to a mother who was a professional singer with "a world-class voice," Dessa figured if she didn't have the chops to "beat the competition" in her own household, she would study philosophy instead, and create music on the side. But since she couldn't figure out what a philosophy career would look like, she turned to writing essays. She wasn't making any traction with that, either, until a friend urged her to perform an essay at a poetry slam. That's where she met hip-hop artists, and finally found her musical niche.
She and six other Doomtree core members, all in their 30s, have solo careers but live and work in collaboration to produce music and encourage other artists. They have released an album together and will wrap up their current tour with a 9:30 p.m. show Friday (11/6) at the Englert Theatre.
"Between us, we have a lot of varied tastes that come together in very unusual ways," she says, adding that in concert, it's her goal "to do the best job I can and let the art do its work, striking chords of connection with people."
Draft's Yoder, 37, is looking forward not only to sharing her experiences as a writer, but in talking with other artists.
"It's a really interesting idea for a festival, where artists get to go and talk shop," she says. "It's something that's going to really appeal to the incredibly large artist community in Iowa City. ... To be able to go and see the artists talk about their work is a really compelling idea."
That's a philosophy driving "draft," a non-profit journal that features first and final drafts of stories, essays and poems, as well as author interviews. It's newly affiliated with Iowa City's James Gang, a non-profit that encourages community-oriented experiences connecting creativity and service.
Yoder says "draft: the journal of process" is designed to show readers that "these wonderful stories don't just arrive in the world fully formed, beautifully written." That notion is at the heart of Friday's discussion from 5 to 6:15 p.m. at Merge, 136 S. Dubuque St.
"To be able to see behind the scenes can take that sort of mystery out of the writing and bring it down to a level where it feel really accessible for everyone," she says. "Of course, there's still things we'll never know. The muse is wily, but it's always nice to see that these artists who we admire are human and have very human first drafts."
WHAT: Witching Hour festival
WHEN: Friday (11/6/15), first event at 2 p.m., last event at 11:59 p.m.; Saturday (11/7/15), first event at noon, last event at 11:30 p.m.
WHERE: Downtown Iowa City: Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St.; FilmScene, 118 E. College St.; Gabe's, 330 E. Washington St.; The Mill, 120 E. Burlington St.; Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St.
FRIDAY SAMPLER: Discussion, "Black Art/White Space," 4 to 5 p.m., Iowa City Public Library; "Magic and the Unknown," by Nate Staniforth, 7 to 8:30 p.m., The Mill; Doomtree performance, 9:30 to 11 p.m., Englert; Phox performance, 11 p.m. to 12:15 a.m., The Mill; "Dracula" screening, starring Bela Lugosi, 11:59 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., Englert
SATURDAY SAMPLER: Film director Su Friedrich, noon to 1:30 p.m., FilmScene; discussion, "The Future of Work," Rachel Hatch, 2 to 3:30 p.m., Iowa City Public Library; screening of "Shadows," directed by John Cassavetes, 7 to 8:30 p.m., Englert; comedian Brian Posehn, 9:30 to 11 p.m., Englert; Midwest Disco by Maids, 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., The Mill
FULL SCHEDULE: Witchinghourfestival.com/schedule
TICKETS: $25 one-day pass, $45 two-day pass; $10 students for Doomtree, Phox, Brian Posehn performances; Englert Box Office, (319) 688-2653 or Witchinghourfestival.com