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Movies, trivia, art and improv: Off the beaten path at Cap Times Idea Fest

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The Cap Times' crack trivia team ponders a question at Idea Fest 2018 in Tripp Commons. They'll be back for Smarter Than You Trivia this year on Friday, Sept. 13 and still tough to beat.

Cap Times Idea Fest has a ton of great speakers this year (check out the full schedule now) but there’s a lot more to the festival than panel talks. Here’s a quick guide to great sessions and activities a little off the beaten path.

All the President’s Men

Two days before the festival starts, on Wednesday, Sept. 11, we’ll host a special Idea Fest-themed Cap Times Classic Movie Chat at Marcus Point Cinema. “All the President’s Men” — the 1976 film about the Washington Post’s Watergate stories that brought down President Richard Nixon — will screen at 7 p.m. and our film critic, Rob Thomas, will host a chat in the theater immediately afterward.

Not coincidentally, there will be many folks from the Washington Post at Idea Fest. All-star reporters and columnists Carol Leonnig, Alexandra Petri and Catherine Rampell will highlight a 12:30 p.m. session in Shannon Hall looking at the state of the nation and American politics going into 2020.

The moderator for that session will be Post Associate Editor and Madison native David Maraniss, who will also moderate a separate session at 1:50 p.m. with U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas. Maraniss' latest book, “A Good American Family” will be the focus of a third session at 4:30 p.m.

Tickets for “All the President’s Men” are on sale now, but if you purchase a pass to Idea Fest, you can get a free ticket to the movie as a bonus. Email us at for more information about that.

Smarter Than You Trivia

For a decade, Smarter Than You Trivia has been Madison's best trivia experience, and Paul Guse is bringing it to Cap Times Idea Fest again on Friday, Sept. 13. If you haven't seen it before, trust us when we say that there will be no better way to get ready for the evening's keynote session with Eric Holder.

If you're already a fan, then you can count on more live musical covers, chances to win questionable snacks reviewed in Rob Thomas' "Yeah, I Ate That" column and of course a question about William T. Evjue, who in addition to being the founder of The Capital Times in 1917 was also elected to the state Legislature in 1916 as a Republican.

Nope, not kidding.

Yes, there will be a cash bar. Sheesh.

You are more than welcome to show up and join a team at random, but if you have a fully formed team you’d like to bring, email us at and we’ll get you signed up.

Does everyone on your team have to be an Idea Fest ticket holder? No, but we won't stop you from shaming them until they cave and buy one.

Speaking of which, they can do that right here.

Public art: Changemaker

A new feature at Idea Fest this year is an interactive art piece. Mallory Shotwell of Arts + Literature Laboratory will create a piece called “Changemaker.” Festival participants can write their wishes for change on one side of a wooden circle and then attach it to a clear, mounted Plexiglas sheet. As the piece builds, one side will be a litany of potential changes and the other a mosaic of color.

Shotwell said in her artist statement that “we all have the power to change. Change ourselves. Change the world around us. Everywhere you look there are opportunities to make change by engaging with your community. Get in touch with what you and your community care about, collaborate with others, ask big questions, and explore ideas. We are all tied together, and we can be change makers.”

The piece will be mounted in the foyer outside the entrance to Shannon Hall in the Memorial Union.

Building better public conversations

Civic discourse is at the heart of Idea Fest, but most of the sessions are about listening to others speak. The Local Voices Network, however, aims to build better civic discourse through small group discussion, and you can take part in that at Idea Fest.

LVN is a nationwide effort launched by the nonprofit Cortico and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. The idea is that small groups of people get together to talk about what’s really happening in their communities and then upload recordings of those discussions to a shared database. People in these conversations will get to hear snippets of recordings from other groups to help spark further discussion.

Madison is a pilot city for LVN thanks to the involvement of UW-Madison political scientist Kathy Cramer, whose 2016 book “The Politics of Resentment” opened a lot of eyes about the depth of the urban/rural political divide in America. Cramer will speak at Idea Fest, from 8-9 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 14, in the Alumni Lounge at the Pyle Center, and immediately afterward in the same room there will be a chance for audience members to participate in LVN talks from 9:20-10:20 a.m.

There will be opportunities for attendees to sign up on the spur of the moment, but you can also pre-register here. In addition to the 9:20-10:20 a.m. session, there will be further LVN talks during the day that you can also pre-register for here.

If you’d like to learn more about LVN, listen to our Madsplainers podcast from April. One of the Madsplainers, reporter Abigail Becker, will moderate Cramer’s session at Idea Fest.

Improv comedy

Whether it’s at their regular improvisational comedy shows at Glass Nickel Pizza, parties you still remember or corporate functions made bearable, Monkey Business Institute has been entertaining Madison audiences for more than a decade, and a group of their players will close out Idea Fest on Saturday evening in their own way in the Memorial Union’s Play Circle Theater. Expect audience interaction and a less-than-reverent take on events. Our own Jason Joyce will do his best to maintain order.

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