‘Thespians can boogie, too’: Riverside Theatre and HomeBrewed team up to support Free Shakespeare

Brew and the Bard

Big Grove Brewery — Sunday, Feb. 16 at 5 p.m.

Martin Droeshout’s William Shakespeare; illustration by Jav Ducker/Little Village

If you’ve attended a fundraiser in the Iowa City area in the last several years, there’s a better-than-average chance that you’ve heard the sounds of HomeBrewed. They’ve played shows for CommUnity’s Project Holiday meal campaign, for Strengthen • Grow • Evolve, for the local chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness and many other Johnson County nonprofits. But they’re not just a popular choice for their blues riffs and decades of combined musical talent. They actually seek out these opportunities as their raison d’etre.

And more often than not, they don’t just seek them out: They create them.

By day, Peter Damiano is the director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Iowa. He has also, since 1990, taught at the UI College of Dentistry in the Department of Preventive and Community Dentistry. But in what cannot possibly be a large amount of free time, he is the leader of HomeBrewed’s fluctuating lineup of generous musicians.

Damiano sings and plays harmonica for the group, and is the driving creative force behind their ever-increasing selection of original tunes. He also serves as band manager and publicist, and he is the point person for the band’s most important work: guiding and collaborating with the organizations they support.

“Peter is just so organized,” Kate Markham, development director at Riverside Theatre, said. “He’s just really been on top of it.”

Markham has been in the planning stages for Brew and the Bard, Riverside’s big kickoff event for their free summer Shakespeare programming. There’s no cover for the event, but it launches their big fundraising campaign for the summer show, which will be announced at the event.

Riverside Theatre performs Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ in 2018. — Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

“We’re just dropping hints kind of everywhere,” Markham, whose desire to spill the beans about the title was almost palpable, said.

Markham attended summer Shakespeare shows at Riverside every year when she was in high school and college, and is excited to be part of the process of bringing them to the wider community. “It’s so fun to offer a free production … in that beautiful festival stage,” she said.

Free Shakespeare will be in its third year this summer, and Riverside artistic director Adam Knight said it “felt like we didn’t reach the ceiling of reaching the community.” So the theater decided on this kickoff event and big reveal. They’ll be announcing not just their summer Shakespeare but their second summer show, as well as exciting changes to the production schedule.

But they wanted a new format, a new idea. More than anything they wanted the event to be a community “thank you” and outreach party — a celebration.

“Mostly it’ll be about the music — and having fun,” Markham said. “We’re very serious most of the time … Thespians can boogie, too.”

They landed on Big Grove for the location (Markham and Knight are very excited about lifting a Burch the Bear beer in celebration), the closing day of their current play, The Agitators, as the date and HomeBrewed as the perfect fit for the entertainment.

“People, when they see us play, see that we’re having fun, which allows them to have fun,” Damiano said.

Damiano and his crew specialize in fundraisers like this, where the group they’re working with is testing new waters. Sometimes they’ll reach out to an organization; sometimes they’re approached. But Damiano says they enjoy “finding where there’s a niche or a gap.” The amount of work Damiano puts in varies based on the needs of the organization, but he has developed a smooth-running operation that takes the pressure off coordinators.

“When we do events … it’s a lot of us paying attention to every detail,” Markham said, adding gratefully: “HomeBrewed has so many connections in the community.”

Damiano spent a few years on the board of the Regina Foundation, a financial support organization for Regina Catholic Education Center in Iowa City. But other than that, he said, he’s been entirely self-taught in fundraising. He’s largely self-taught musically, too.

“I’m afraid if I learn something, then I’m gonna think I have to follow some rules,” Damiano said of his excursions into songwriting.

He’s done just fine ignoring the rules of how to make things work so far. What Damiano brings to the table is a passion for uniting the community and an uncanny ability to get people to buy into his goal. Everyone in HomeBrewed, including Damiano, is a volunteer. The morphing mix of roughly 10 musicians, from UI students to retirees, are a varied group. But the one thing that’s unwavering is their commitment to “music with a mission” and the community it serves.

Genevieve Trainor believes that there is no greater goal than collaboration in the arts for the good of the community. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 278.

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