Champaign on Oct. 27 (Sunday) with Shozo Sato and his wife, Alice. Shozo Sato is the founder of Japan House and a professor emeritus of art and design.
Tickets for "American Ham Tour" will go on sale at 10 a.m. Monday (Sept. 23) at Krannert Center; the cost will be $10 for U. of I. students, $30 for the general public. The performance is supported by the College of Fine and Applied Arts, and Krannert Center. Tickets for the dinner are $325 per person; they are available by calling Japan House, 217-244-9934. With only 45 seats available for the dinner, the tickets are expected to sell out quickly.
Offerman is featured in the current big screen hit "We're the Millers," as well as the 2012 action comedy "21 Jump Street," George Clooney's 2009 dark comedy "The Men Who Stare at Goats," and a long list of other movies and television shows. However, in the early 1990s, Offerman was a theater major at the U. of I., and not yet exhibiting such star potential, according to Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud, the director of Japan House. "He had pretty much decided to just be a carpenter," Gunji-Ballsrud said.
Along with other struggling actors, Offerman was encouraged to enroll in Sato's Kabuki theater class, and there, he flourished. Offerman became a frequent dinner guest at the Sato home, and traveled to Japan with Sato's Kabuki troupe. Along the way, Sato taught Offerman life lessons in discipline and mindfulness, mostly by demonstrating these principles himself.
"Shozo is constantly teaching as he just lives his life," Gunji-Ballsrud said. "It's impossible to get away from the philosophy of traditional Japanese arts and culture when you're with professor Sato, because that's just his way. He's a constant teacher."
For the past two decades, Offerman and Sato have remained close. In 2003, when Offerman married actress Megan Mullally, Sato officiated at their wedding ceremony. And last year, when Sato had his final Kabuki performance at Illinois, Offerman flew in to attend. During that visit, Offerman toured Japan House - a facility built in 1998, five years after he graduated.
"He was truly taken by this place," Gunji-Ballsrud said. "A week later, he called and made his first donation, and asked what else he could do. It's really heartwarming that with his busy, busy schedule, he's willing to do this."
Offerman will sign autographs and pose for pictures with guests at the East Meets Midwest dinner - an 11-course meal beginning at 2 p.m. that will be prepared by chefs Shin Matsuda, Thad Morrow and Drew Starkey.
Matsuda, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, is the chef at Arami Go! in Chicago. Previously, he was chef de cuisine at the Winnetu Oceanside Resort on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. In Chicago, he was chosen to help open Arami and Slurping Turtle.
Morrow is the owner and chef of Bacaro in downtown Champaign, where Starkey also works as a chef. Bacaro is known for using fresh produce from local and sustainable farms. Both Morrow and Starkey trained under Mario Batali, a chef featured on the Food Network, PBS and now on ABC's "The Chew."
Ho Etsu Taiko, a Japanese drumming group from Chicago, will perform midway through the meal. The dinner will conclude with a trio of Japanese sweets created especially for the occasion by Tamaki Levy, the chef at Japan House.
Despite achieving a successful acting career, Offerman has kept up his carpentry skills, and displays some of his handiwork on his website. Gunji-Ballsrud said Offerman is working on a special piece for Japan House.
"He has been so unbelievably generous, kind and humble, it's been a joy to associate with him," she said.