Rhody Rambles: Bits: From polo to improv, seaside to stageside

Newport Polo takes place every Saturday during the summer, and continues through late September. One of their biggest matches of the year took place on Saturday, August 24, when USA took on England.

The event features field-side seats for the serious fans, as well as food and drink options and a swath of rented tailgate spaces, where you might have a friend throwing their own canopied party by the edge of the field, where you can have your own eats and drinks all match long. Following the August match, there was a brief award ceremony and an equestrian-scented afterparty.

For USA-England, the crowd was immense — people in every direction encircled the sizeable field. (Motif will try to bring in Sean Spicer to count the crowd next time. I was told it’s the largest playing field of any professional sport. But I don’t think they’re counting sailing. Or skydiving. Is that a professional sport, or do James Bond movies just make it seem that way?)

In any event, the players, they did not disappoint. There is surprisingly little horsing around on the field, and even the horseplay is not rough. Players were exceedingly polite to one another throughout the match, and partied together — and with the fans — afterward. But if you’ve never been and you’re imagining (full disclosure — this might have described your author before this match) effete-postured equestrians trimly tapping croquet balls about a manicured lawn, you’re way off — these athletes really worked it, building up a sweat that could cascade off them as their mounts made abrupt turns. And those mounts also have a rigorous workout. “The horses that don’t like playing don’t end up doing it. Some of them love it, some of them are just like, ‘OK,’ but if one doesn’t like the sport, it won’t end up on the field,” one veteran fan explained when I said, “I wonder if the horses know what’s going on, and how they feel about it.” They certainly seemed happy, and also displayed good sportsmanship. Er, sportshorseship.

The US team was being systematically demolished at first. About halfway through (there are six periods), USA was behind 6 to 1. Then they staged a remarkable comeback, and the regular play ended with a 6-6 tie and a gobsmacked announcer whose dry, dulcetly British tone kept fans up-to-date on developments, including how ties are resolved.

After such a triumphant comeback, the US did lose the match — barely — in sudden death, but it’s safe to say they exceeded the expectations of their English counterparts and kept the audience on the edge of their seats.

Newport polo takes place on Glen Farm, 250 Linden Ave in Portsmouth. There are matches through the end of the month. nptpolo.com

The Providence Improv Fest took place September 12 – 14. Although it’s called the PROVIDENCE Improv Fest, and does, in fact, take place in Providence, it’s actually a fest attracting talent from all over the country. For those jaded by the hit-or-miss quality of a lot of ultra-local improv, this was a chance to see truly accomplished performers plying their craft — and it might surprise you to see how many are locally based.

Games were played, stories unfurled, and in the end everything led back to the beginning, but with a twist. A gambling ring based on summer camp archery was broken up, an executive was abandoned on a drugged-out back-to-nature trip to Africa, a rodeo cowgirl with an aversion to chairs taught chess to a scientist, there was a disarmingly haunting musical about love in a pumpkin patch, gang culture cut to some performers’ livers, there was an in-depth exploration of magic that turns everyday objects into birds, and the game of shooting hoops at your local barcade was explained in exquisite, existential detail. With two stages plus workshops going non-stop, a lot of other weird things probably happened, and a new crop of remarkable situations will surely erupt at this raucous event next year.

One sweet side effect of the Improv Fest was seeing the new space at AS220 function to good effect. The entire food and bar area was recently reopened after extensive renovations, and now focuses ordering on one side of the space, leaving more room to sit, stand and mingle. The space is tastefully decorated with fun murals and photos from the early history of AS220. And the gateways from food and alcohol land to the performance spaces on either side have been restructured, so there is less bottleneck and you don’t have to go outside to go in again. These logistics made everything run more smoothly, despite sell-out crowds for every show we could find.

Tim Thibideau, the lead of an extensive crew of organizers, closed the fest by thanking the audience and diverse performers from near and far. “If you’re into improv, some people think you’re weird. But we all know we’re weird, and we accept it,” he said. “I hope you all keep making things up for as long as you can!”

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