I'm perpetually amazed by the awesomeness of people who come to the Haunted Bookshop. They're interesting, they're funny, and they have great taste. Even the casual remarks they exchange at the register and the books they decide not to keep are awesome. I feel privileged to be in this town.
One of the best things here is a group called ACE Experiment. We've had the pleasure of hosting a few events of theirs so far, and by pleasure, I mean oh wow, that was awesome layer cake with awesome frosting and a glass of fine, vintage awesome on the side.
ACE Experiment invites people to a wide range of activities all over town, simultaneously making fun available, making a stand for really good causes, and supporting the places that host their events. Here, we've hosted read-throughs of Shakespeare plays - so far, Twelfth Night and Merry Wives of Windsor. These read-throughs are free and open to the public. Anyone can come and watch, or better yet, come and participate. Participation involves reading along in the script, taking the lines assigned to you (you get to play lots of different characters in different scenes), and adding your unique humor, style, and interest to the 'performance.'
I haven't just laughed until my guts hurt and loved the wide and wild range of readers and readings - I've learned more about the plays. For example, last Twelfth Night, I abruptly realized that reading Antonio and Sebastian's scenes with homoerotic tension actually works as an interpretation while it also causes people to crack up in a delighted, completely nonhomophobic way. Okay, that's not news to a lot of people who have read or seen the play before, but now I get it, too. I wonder what other people have learned from the readings? Some had little to no experience of theater, so it might have been the first time they got to try turning lines on a page into living action. That experience changes the way people read anything, for better and forever.
They were certainly having fun. The guy who read some of Olivia's lines as though he were Humphrey Bogart had everyone in stitches. The night we all chimed in to say "By gar!" throughout Merry Wives brought together an incredibly diverse group of people, from trained actors to ACE regulars to folks who just happened to see the event listed in the program for the Book Festival (these were overlapping groups). I've also noticed how people really pay attention to how a line sounds when it comes out in different ways, from funny to insightful, and both give attendees pleasure. Everybody leaves grinning, even a little giddy.
In a time when everyone is overworked and undersatisfied, when making time for evening events seems like a big gamble few people feel able to take, when classic theater seems like work to enjoy or even inaccessible, ACE read-throughs are panacea. It's free. It's just people - there are no entrance requirements. The plays become accessible (don't get a line? interrupt and ask! someone will explain in a friendly, fun way); the folks around you are great company; nobody says a discouraging word; and everybody has a good time. It's just what we needed.
So here's my toast to ACE Experiment. Watch their blog and/or Facebook page for notifications of upcoming events, and we'll let you know whenever we get the chance to host an ACE gathering. We're in the business of circulating Iowa City's awesome, and we're sure you'll get your awesome's worth out of a night with ACE.