“People always say, ‘I love to see your shows, but always feel a little bit disappointed because I want to be in a piece myself,'” says David Feiner, cofounder of the Albany Park Theater Project. This weekend’s Heat Included, the company’s new festival of performances, panels, and workshops, “is a first step.” The teen theater group, whose work is inspired by the members’ own stories and those of their neighbors in the northwest-side community, will present two pieces–Mr. Edwards, celebrating a legendary local teacher, and A Better Life, about three undocumented immigrants. The workshops will cover storytelling and community building; the panel discussions include one on undocumented workers. “We’ve heard these people’s stories, entered their lives,” says Feiner. “Now what might we do for them on a political and policy level?” A Better Life will be performed today at 11 AM and 8 PM, tomorrow, January 10, at 2 and 8, and Sunday, January 11, at 2. Performances of Mr. Edwards are Saturday at noon and 6 and Sunday at 6. Scheduled panelists for Saturday’s 4 PM discussion on undocumented immigrants include Fourth District congressman Luis Gutierrez, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights’ Sandra Del Toro, Center for Urban Economic Development researcher Chirag Mehta, and attorney Ruth Dunning. Events are at the Eugene Field Cultural Center, 5100 N. Ridgeway in Chicago. Tickets to each are $10, $5 for students. For more information call 773-866-0875 or see www.aptpchicago.org.


The Field Museum’s ongoing Year of Biodiversity and Conservation program is currently featuring exhibits on the New World tropics, which run from Mexico down to the southern tip of Argentina and are home to nearly a quarter of all the plant and animal species on earth–with dozens of new ones being discovered every year. Today’s kickoff events for Biodiversity in the Neotropics include a roundtable discussion at 2 with museum scientists Bruce Patterson (curator of mammals), Barry Chernoff (curator of fish), and conservation ecologists Doug Stotz and Robin Foster. In addition to discussing their work in the neotropics, they’ll talk about an ongoing study of the tropical rain forest ecosystem that has so far tracked the development of more than 30,000 plants. The day’s programs also include a slide show and behind-the-scenes tour of the botany department (tickets are $18 and registration is required), a lecture by zoologist Larry Heaney on his work in the Philippines, and a “meet the scientists” event with insects division collections assistant Jim Louderman and others. Apart from the slide show and tour all events are free with museum admission, which is $10 for adults, $5 for children 3 to 11, and $7 for students and seniors. The museum is at 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr. in Chicago and it’s open from 9 to 5 daily. For more information call 312-665-7400 or see www.fmnh.org.

In a perfect world, Elvis Presley would have turned 69 this past Thursday. Among the thousands of impersonators keeping his memory alive is Chicago native Trent “the Dream King” Carlini, whose Las Vegas-based multimedia act includes more than 25 songs, eight costume changes, an 18-piece band, a video montage, and backup vocals by “the Carlini Angels.” He’ll swivel and shake tonight at 8 at the Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River Rd. in Rose-mont. Tickets range from $39 to $49; call 312-559-1212. For more on Carlini go to www.thedreamking.com.


The contestants in tonight’s Chicago Hustle & Salsa Championships get two minutes to “just dance”–no choreography or fancy costumes allowed. They’ll be judged on teamwork, technique, timing, content, and entertainment; the winners get $500 and go to April’s Van McCoy International Hustle Championships and International Open Salsa Championships in Miami Beach. Doors open at 5 and there’s a salsa and hustle workshop at 5:30. The contest runs from 6:30 to 10

at Buzz Nightclub, 308 W. Erie in Chicago. Admission is $15 in advance, $20 at the door; there’s no fee to compete. Call 773-635-3000 or see mayihavethisdance.com for more information.


One day away from the end of his four-month stint volunteering in the West Bank town of Jenin, International Solidarity Movement activist Brian Avery was shot in the face. The Israeli government says the shooter was probably a Palestinian sniper, but Avery–who had his hands in the air and was wearing a vest identifying him as a noncombatant–says the gunfire came from an Israel Defense Forces armored vehicle. The Chapel Hill native has since undergone three facial reconstruction surgeries and has at least two more to go; currently he’s on a speaking tour to raise awareness about the situation in the occupied territories and money to pay his medical bills. He’ll speak tonight at 7 at Grace United Methodist Church of Logan Square, 3325 W. Wrightwood in Chicago. The suggested donation is $5. Avery will be in the Chicago area through January 15; for information on other appearances call 312-491-1789 or see www.nwsustain.org.


In his 2002 book, The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African-American Culture, Bakari Kitwana calls hip-hop “arguably the single most significant achievement of the [post-civil-rights] generation.” The book examines the state of black youth culture, including the socioeconomic and cultural forces that have led teens and young adults to embrace “anti-intellectualism, ignorance, irresponsible parenthood and criminal lifestyles.” Kitwana, former executive editor of the Source and former editorial director of Third World Press, will participate in a panel tonight called New Voices, New Visions: Political Activism Post-Civil War Era. He’ll be joined by WVON host Monique Carradine and others, and the discussion will be moderated by UIC education policy professor David Omotoso Stovall. Cosponsored by the Chicago Historical Society’s Harold Washington Lecture Series and the Chicago Hip-Hop Political Action Committee, the evening will also feature performances by local hip-hop and spoken-word artists. It runs from 6 to 9 at the CHS, 1601 N. Clark in Chicago. Admission is free but seating is limited; for reservations call 312-642-4600.


Thanks to Tracy Chevalier’s best-selling novel Girl With a Pearl Earring–and the new movie based on it–the already familiar Vermeer painting of a wide-eyed young woman with a gleaming bauble on her ear is now as ubiquitous as that Justin Timberlake McDonald’s ad. Chevalier, whose new The Lady and the Unicorn could do the same for a set of medieval tapestries, will appear twice this week in Naperville. Tonight at 7 she’ll speak and sign books at the 95th Street branch of the Naperville Public Library, 2035 S. Cedar Glade. It’s free; call 630-961-4100. On Thursday, January 15, she’ll talk at a noon lunch at Meson Sabika, 1025 Aurora. Luncheon tickets are $45 and include a copy of the new book; call Anderson’s Bookshop at 630-355-2665 for reservations.

Ten years ago Friends of Volo Bog launched an informal book club for readers interested in nature. They called it Of Books and Bogs, and their first selection was Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. This month, to mark its tenth anniversary, Of Books and Bogs has chosen A Fierce Green Fire, Marybeth Lorbiecki’s biography of Leopold, who was born in Iowa, got a forestry degree at Yale, and–long before the posthumous collection that made him famous was published–wrote the wildlife ecology bible, Game Management. The group meets on the second Wednesday of each month; naturalist Stacy Iwanicki leads the discussion. It starts at 7 at the Vistor Center Library, Volo Bog State Natural Area, 28478 W. Brandenburg in Ingleside (11/4 miles west of Highway 12, between Routes 120 and 134). It’s free; call 815-344-1294 to register.


“I appreciate that every faith has its share of literalists,” says Toronto-based broadcaster Irshad Manji. “Christians have their evangelicals. Jews have the ultra-Orthodox. For God’s sake, even Buddhists have fundamentalists. But what this book hammers home is that only in Islam is literalism mainstream. Which means that when abuse happens under the banner of Islam, most Muslims have no clue how to dissent, debate, revise or reform.” In her new book, The Trouble With Islam: A Wake-Up Call for Honesty and Change, the out lesbian and self-proclaimed “Muslim refusenik” criticizes the Koran for condoning slavery, anti-Semitism, and misogyny and argues that even “moderate” Muslims are often anything but. She’ll give a free reading tonight at 7:30 at Barbara’s Bookstore, 1350 N. Wells in Chicago; call 312-642-5044.