Each week, Melissa "Mimi" Merli answers three arts and entertainment questions:
1. What are some last-minute things I can do during the holiday break?
Well, today's the last day to check out four fall exhibitions including the University of Illinois School of Art + Design Faculty Exhibition — love it or hate it — and the interesting, 1970s-flashback, mail-art "Return to Sender: Ray Johnson, Robert Warner, and the New York Correspondence School," at Krannert Art Museum, 500 E. Peabody Drive, C. Johnson was called the most famous unknown artist of his time. The museum's open from 2 to 5 p.m. today; admission is free, but a $3 donation is suggested.
On Tuesday, when the whistle blows, that means the Traditional Jazz Orchestra, featuring some fine players, perform their first-Tuesday-of-the-month gig from 5 to 7 p.m. at The Iron Post, 120 S. Race St., U. Cover: $5. Always a hot time!
And for something a little different: WILL radio's Kevin Kelly will be with musician Tom Turino for "Live and Local" on Friday evening at the Allerton Mansion at Allerton Park, Monticello. Cover: $5. There's a cash bar too, from 6:30 to 10 p.m. Just don't drink (too much) and then drive.
2. Will Ebertfest ever switch to reserved seating?
I doubt it. I've asked before and have been told no.
So I checked again this past week with Nate Kohn, festival director. He said:
"We always try to leave enough time between films so that audience members don't have to stand in line. Sometimes the length of films makes that difficult. Rest assured we always do everything we can to get patrons into the theater as quickly and efficiently as possible.
"Reserved seating is something we have considered. But given the social history of the festival, its casual nature — from the beginning, people have made new friends during the festival and want to sit together — and the added cost of reserved seating, we decided it wouldn't work for us.
"And please note that, aside from the VIP seating section for festival guests and sponsors, no group has ever had reserved seating at the festival."
3. Why should I keep watching "Downton Abbey"?
I don't know about you, but I will be parked in front of my TV, tuned into WILL, at 8 tonight when the fourth season gets underway. I've been a fan since the beginning.
One of my "Downton Abbey" newbie friends recently called it a soap opera. Oh, but what a glorious one, with gorgeous costumes and sets, and interesting characters and actors. Dame Maggie Smith and Shirley MacLaine are worth the price of cable.
And unlike most soaps, "DA" moves ahead as it's set in the context of its time, now the jazz age. I also look forward in the fourth season to the introduction of new characters, among them love interests for the recently widowed Lady Mary, and Jack Ross, the first black in the period drama.
Played by Gary Carr, Ross is a cool, suave jazz singer from Chicago. He ends up at Downton Abbey after a chance meeting in a London club with one of the characters.