Scene and Heard: Local Legend Skip Shea

skipshea1Skip Shea is a well-known name in New England, and he’s been making that name for himself in the horror film genre and others. He has a body of work that showcases his status, which is something of a local legend.

One afternoon, not too long ago, I had the pleasure of having coffee with this gentleman, and I learned that his integrity and passion for his art is intense and highly personal. Skip was gracious enough to share some of his knowledge and chat with me about a project that is near and dear to my heart, and I’ve been watching his career ever since. I am particularly impressed with the way he turned some tragic moments in his own life, and those of other people, into amazing pieces of cinematic drama.

Shea took us on a very wild ride in November 2013 with his work on a film that has gone all the way to Rome. That film was Ave Maria, and it is not an easy one to watch, folks. Based on the story of Alessandro Moreschi, the famous last castrato, he took us deep into the New England woods for a look at this Catholic ritual, which turns out to be a twisted and horrifying one. Shea was a victim of sexual abuse within the Catholic school system, so bringing his film to Rome for its Italian premier at the Interiora Film Festival, epicenter of the Catholic Church, was a bold move that showed undaunting conviction.

His boldness doesn’t surprise me, though. Skip Shea is a man of many talents; he’s a filmmaker, performer, artist, actor, poet and writer. Skip was mainly a painter and a poet, but after surviving the death of his daughter, Shawna, in 1999, and weathering the constant re-surfacing of stories about sexual abuse in the church, he decided it was time to make a change and forge his own path. He owned an art gallery in Uxbridge, Mass., that was about the abuse, and a gentleman named Marshall Cohan encouraged him to get the exhibit to New York. Shea wrote a one-man show, which Cohan funded, and by December 2005, Skip was on stage in New York at the Bowery Poetry Club. The one-man show “Catholic (Surviving Abuse and Other Dead End Roads)” chronicled his life, which has not been an easy one. Skip chose to find the humor in the years of clergy sexual abuse he experienced, his life as an alcoholic, and the death of his daughter and presented his show as mostly a comedy. The show went on to have a successful run at the Jimmy Tingle’s Off Broadway Theater and toured the East Coast. Enter a film career here, when Skip answered an ad for background actors, for the film Shuttle, which was shooting in Worcester, Mass. Casting director Anne Mulhall was a tremendous help, and he quickly became a union (SAG) actor.

Skip has  written, directed and produced 11 short films: Ave Maria, Out of the Night, The Bar, Choices, Microcinema, Mail, Video Diary: Last Entry, They Serve Breakfast Here All Day Long, Putting On Its Shoes, Children of the Asylum, and Nostalgia. Recently, I had a private viewing of two of his films, The Actor and Under the Dark Wing, both of which will premiere at the SENE festival this month in RI. The Actor is based on a life story, about love lost and  regained,  and art lost and regained, and the ultimate redemption involved. Under the Dark Wing is about the appearance of a young mysterious girl who enters the lives of two thugs and changes them forever. The Actor will screen on 4/27 at 5pm at the Cable Car Cinema in Providence, and Under the Dark Wing will screen the same day at 1pm, at the same location.

Skip Shea is also the recipient of many awards. Children of the Asylum won the Audience Award for Best Regional Short at the 2013 SENE Film and Art Festival, Out of the Night won the Best Horror/Thriller Short at the 2013 Worcester Film Festival, Microcinema won the Best Horror Short at the 2012 Jersey Gore Film Festival and the Rondo Hatton Honorable Mention Award for Best Short, and Choices also won Best New England Film at the 2012 Massachusetts Independent Film Festival. In addition to all of these awards, Ave Maria will screen in Hollywood as part of the Holly Shorts Horror Nights Film Festival on May 22 at the famous Graumann’s Chinese Theatre. Great news, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see his own handprints in the cement there one day.

If that isn’t enough, Shea also published a piece called “Songs of Mourning,” a memorial to those killed in the September 11 attacks in New York, and also a memorial to his late daughter, Shawna Shea. The song was selected by New York City jazz musician Jon Faddis to be performed at the 9/11 10th Anniversary Commemorative Concert performed at Symphony Space by the New York Chamber Music Festival.

I asked Skip about the state of local filmmaking, and what he thought about our emerging scene in New England. “A lot of people look at the major films that come in as a gauge of the community, but I tend to look more at who is actually making it happen here. Regardless of how the tax credit situation was dramatically cut in Rhode Island, there is a lot happening. Chad Verdi, Richard Griffin. Anthony Ambrosino, Nick Delminico and Christian De Rezendes, to name a few, have made a splash in the industry on their own with their own unique business formulas. These successes can’t be ignored, with the major lesson of just do it. Have a business plan, goals and a path to achieve those goals, and then just do it. Start out with shorts to learn the process. And then move on.”

So what’s next for our legend-in-residence? Currently he’s developing a feature-length film as well as working on a documentary called The Karma Doctors with Lisa Campion about healers who are helping a couple with financial difficulties, the underlying reasons for their troubles, and how these folks heal. Skip also founded the Shawna Shea Memorial Scholarship Independent Short Film Festival to benefit the Shawna Shea Memorial Scholarship .

I’m a big fan of his “put it all out there” style of filmmaking. If you catch his screenings at SENE this month, you will be, too. I definitely look forward to more of his work, and will keep you updated on his accomplishments. Film is rolling, people.

For more information on Skips film’s and others at the SENE Festival, please visit senefest.com/index.html or follow Skip at facebook.com/skip.shea?fref=ts

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