DareMe: Making the Jump


When the door of the Cessna 182 whipped open at 10,000 feet above ground, the cold rush of air snapped me into reality. Soon I’d be freefalling at close to 120 mph before a nylon parachute would deploy and save me from gravity’s grasp. That inescapable truth was made even more clear when Sampson Jacobs, a fellow jumper and videographer (and Motif staffer), leapt out of the small aircraft. One moment, he was turning around to give the thumbs up and an adrenaline-infused hoot. In the next, he was lost to the clouds.

I started to breathe heavier.

Dean O’Flaherty, a masterful instructor and owner of Boston Skydive Center, adjusted my goggles so they’d fit comfortably on my face. He then scooted us toward the opening. I struggled to place my long legs on the small metal platform outfitted just under the right wing. I couldn’t help but think they looked like Muppet appendages flapping in the 80 mph wind.

“When we leave the aircraft, arch your back, kick your feet back toward me – like a banana,” he shouted to me as the wind rattled throughout the airplane’s small cavity. “And remember to keep your chin up and smile for the pictures.”

At this time, I was not thinking about being photogenic. I was thinking about how to pace my heart so it didn’t explode mid-air. While working in the emergency department the night before, I googled “likelihood of cardiac arrest while skydiving.” It was a moment of hypochondria, but I wanted to know the risks involved with the sport. According to my quick research, the danger of injury is very, very low. I reminded myself of these statistics as Dean tugged on the rigging that would keep us afloat during our aerial adventure. I knew I was in good hands as my jumping partner has logged over 23,000 jumps since he first started in his native UK at the age of 18.

One precise shove was all it took for us to be out in the open. As my cheeks filled with air, Dean reminded me to smile and take in the view. After 45 seconds of soaring through the atmosphere, the parachute ripped open. I felt a reassuring tug of my harness on my limbs and suddenly there was soundless peace. It was a beautifully clear day so we could see the tops of Boston, Providence and Newport. Dean handed the reigns over to glide us to the left and to the right. I was even instructed on how to slow our downward trajectory. The sunlight was glistening off water bodies surrounding springtime greenery.

With the ground fast approaching, Dean instructed me to kick up my legs. We landed with ease. Safety in a grassy field, he unclipped my harness, and I heard the whoops from my fellow jumpers sitting near the company’s small center. “It’s absolutely amazing after you get over the sheer terror,” joked Bruce Allen, one of my fellow jumpers (and Motif staffer). “I knew I had to do this. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

PVDFest to Transform City into Magical Wonderland

Dust off your binoculars, a pair of sturdy walking shoes and a sense of childlike wonder. In early June, 17-foot winged dinosaurs will glide through streets of downtown Providence in search of merriment and new friends. But there’s no need to fear these ephemeral beasts. Close-Act, an arts ensemble from the Netherlands, is behind their every move meant to transfix and entertain audiences young and old.

The enchanting spectacle will be part of PVDFest – a four-day international arts festival hosted by arts nonprofit FirstWorks and the City of Providence. From June 2 through June 5 public spaces — such as streets, parks and outdoor stages – will be transformed into visual playgrounds. In addition to the musicians, sculptures and performance artists, more than 70 merchants will be present at the multifaceted event that celebrates the unique offerings of the Creative Capital. Last year, over 100,000 people attended.

“There’s going to be so many treats — including surprise street performances, world class music, workshops meant to expose children to the wonders of art. Everyone can participate in this celebration that forges new partnerships between local creatives and those from across the world,” notes Kathleen Pletcher, the founder and director of FirstWorks. “We want people to look at our landscape – whether it be Grant’s Block or Burnside Park – from another perspective. Our mission is to expose everyone to the wonder of the arts.”

For those looking for summer sizzle, the festival will feature some red hot flavor. The 17-piece Afro-Cuban All Stars will be delighting music aficionados. Director Juan de Marcos González, who arranged the famed Buena Vista Social Club, leads a multi-generational line-up drawn from some of the island’s most beloved bands. Their performances are a celebration of Cuba’s rich musical history. And Haitian multigenerational collective Lakou Mizik will play a compilation of Vodou chants and drumming, Rara horns fashioned from sheet metal, Carnevale rhythms, gospel ballads and folk.

For those familiar with sounds hailing from the Ocean State, brother-sister rock duo Vulgarrity will be making an appearance. Brian Chippendale (of Lightning Bolt) will showcase his high-energy drumming in Black Pus. And Providence galleries, including Grin, will be featuring exhibitions.  “There’s going to be so much to see,” notes Pletcher. “PVDFest is a magical world ready to explore.”

The PVDFest takes place June 2 – 5 at various locations throughout the city. For more information, visit pvdfest.com. Feeling like giving some love to the Providence arts scene? PVDFest is welcoming volunteers. Check out pvdfest.com/volunteer.

90s Love: Todd Oldham Exhibition at RISD Museum

oldhamWhen prepping for the debut of his spring line in 1994, iconic apparel designer Todd Oldham did something a bit unexpected. Searching for inspiration, he set wood chips on fire in a metal trash can and photographed the wild blaze. The hot result was Flame Ensemble, a dye-sublimation printed stretch flannel dress paired with matching boots. Its polyester velvet was made by ski-fabric makers and the footwear was anointed with jeweled spiders on the zipper pulls.

This type of out-of-the-box creativity is evident throughout the RISD Museum’s All of Everything: Todd Oldham Fashion, the first major exhibition to focus on the playful aesthetic of the artist’s 1990s fashion career. The raucously colorful show features more than 65 full ensembles made using an assortment of unexpected materials: ornate Indian fabrics, intricate beading, Swarovski crystals. For instance, Love Ball Dress — a piece constructed out of fuzzy pipe-cleaners – was made in honor of the first New York AIDS fundraiser held in 1991.

“We’re always throwing curveballs,” Oldham recalls. “I felt I had something new to say in this medium that had juxtaposition and duality – not a normal approach to fashion, come to find out.”

One of the most stunning visual gems is Fluttering Flower Ensemble, a printed satin coat with applied floral decoration and printed knit cashmere hot pants. Seamstresses interested in the technical side of design will be pleased to examine the layered fabric. It’s Chinese silk embroidered in India, which was photographed and made into sublimation papers. The team then die-cute polyester organza flowers and stitched them onto polyester fabric before it was printed, so the transfer went right through and then it ghosted.

“On the body, the pattern doesn’t look disrupted; it shimmers,” Oldham writes in the artist statement. “Because the pattern matches up, it doesn’t become visual chaos. This was one of the few times I thought we did something that hasn’t been done before.”

Oldham is definitely a designer of the people who’s slipped into many mediums. Before high-def television made its debut, he hosted “Handmade Modern” – a DIY home furniture show that aired on HGTV. In one episode, he makes a leather-studded ottoman with the help of Joan Jett. The pair added circumferential studs to give an alt edge to the piece, which Joan later took home. And those keen to early MTV programming might remember when he hosted “Todd Time,” a three-minute segment included in the popular “House of Style” hosted by friend and mega-supermodel Cindy Crawford. The soft-spoken Oldham was always disarmingly congenial, which made for mighty revealing interviews.

Oldham retired from his wholesale business in 1999. The revelation that he was done with his haute couture fashion house actually occurred while he was making a green satin shift that Crawford would wear in a spring line. The designer felt as though he simply wanted to spend his limited time elsewhere. But he hasn’t stopped working creatively. In fact, he’s now some of the brains behind Kid Made Modern, a line of DIY home projects. His lessons inspire children to mash together discarded home items to make beautiful, functional works of art. Some of his colorful books even inform readers about mid-century visionaries such as Alexander Girard, Isamu Noguchi and Verner Panton.

But luckily for die-hard fashion enthusiasts (or those who simply enjoy a pop of color), his wonderful ’90s apparel designs live on in Providence. “I am most flattered RISD is celebrating my fashion days,” he says. “I had such fun making the clothes and the great pleasure of working next to amazing artists along the way.”

Hurry down to the RISD Museum! The exhibition runs through Sept 11, 2016.


Girls Rock Out to PJ Harvey: Supporting Sisterhood at the Mic

MeJane.band_photo.pure_joy.PORTRAIT (1)
Photo credit: Murray Scott

MJ_OneLine-still1aWearing a sparkly mini with lace-up boots, Caitlin Strokosch shot a knowing glance to her two bandmates and gave an alto roar into her mic. Performing as local act Me Jane, the buzzed-haired beauty played out during the PJ Harvey Cover show, an event held the night of Easter Sunday. A total of eight bands crooned and thrashed before a large audience clustered near Aurora’s neon-lit stage.

But the event was more than a peppy nod to PJ Harvey, the iconic British musician who first rose to fame in the ‘90s for her grungy indie sound, poetic lyrics and disregard for stuffy female conformity. The show’s proceeds benefitted Girls Rock! RI, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering females of all ages through music programming and workshops that cover sensitive topics including healthy relationships, media literacy and relational aggression.

“Often female-identified folks are not listened to in our society,” explained Hilary Jones, musician and director of Girls! Rock RI. “So our programs are a space where they are encouraged to express themselves and get loud and know that their voices, opinions, feelings and experiences are important.”

For Strokosch, supporting the cause was more than half the fun – especially because the members of Me Jane (which also includes Rachel Sholly on drums and Lisa Agustin on bass) met in 2010 through the org’s annual Ladies Rock Camp. There, the classically trained cellist picked up a guitar for the first time. The trio composes songs that range in genre, including a two-minute waltz and a lengthy stoner-rock epic about death and fire.

“Girls! Rock has been transformative experience for all of us – musically and personally… There’s no hierarchy in our band and most songs we write together, in what usually ends up being a ridiculous and organic process,” Strokosch said. “We always jump at the chance to support Girls! Rock anytime we can.”

Bill Keough, a local musician and a former booking manager, showed his support by playing renditions of “Victory” and “Yuri-G.” As he explained on stage, he made a reverent vow to continue playing music after attending one of Harvey’s Boston shows. “The power and honesty of her songwriting resonates deep within my psyche,” he explained. “I know she is writing from a woman’s perspective. But we are all creatures of emotion.”

For others, the show helped inspire an evolution of identity. Vivian Madrid sang the song “Shame” and “This is Love” with a full band after taking vocal lessons through Girls! Rock. According to the self-proclaimed introvert, the experience blasted her outside her comfort zone.

“I have always loved to sing at home — in the shower and especially in my car. But my self-doubt and inferiority complex has always creeped up in certain moments of my life,” Madrid explained. “It’s been amazing to know I can do something, even if I’m scared. Being part of this organization was life-altering.”

Girls Rock! RI will be holding a super fun fundraising event in May where bands will perform songs by “girl groups” from the ’60s. This org is also currently holding Group Lessons for youth and adults in guitar, vocals and keyboards and the participants will be performing at a recital showcase in May. This summer, two Girls Rock Camps for more than 80 campers will be held. Volunteers are wanted!

Derby Ain’t (All) About the Fishnets

On a recent Sunday, the crunchy sound of ripped masking tape echoed off the walls at the Attleboro YMCA’s gymnasium. To the female athletes sitting on the sidelines, it was a cue to lace up their roller skates, secure their helmets and throw on an extra swipe of deodorant. They were in for an afternoon of full-contact drills meant to prepare them for the bloodthirsty bouts hosted by Providence Roller Derby (PRD).

“Skate, skate, pivot!” yelled the day’s coach. “Skate, skate…Now stop! Go again.”

Most of the group accomplished this technical feat with graceful ease. But in the thick of the crowded pack, one pig-tailed player fumbled the sequence, resulting in a hard fall and cracked knee. A fellow skater with the moniker “Smashley Olsen” jumped up to help her off the track and nurse the fresh injury. The women later practiced how to take and deliver “hits” without getting knocked off their wheeled footwear.

“You’ll see some players wearing fishnets and glitter, but this isn’t your grandmother’s derby. Bruises and broken femurs happen on the track. Those events are traumatic for everyone,” noted Citizen Toxie, the league’s president. “That’s why we try to practice at least three times a week. It’s a sport that requires incredible endurance, form, strength and body awareness.”

With approximately 60 players, it would be an understatement to say PRD is an active league. There are three local Rhode Island teams: Mob Squad, The Old Money Honeys and Sakonnet River Roller Rats. In addition, “travel teams” – specifically the Rhode Island Riveters, Killa Bees and Rocky Point Rollers — compete regionally. In mid-March, players drove up 95-North to go up against The Port Authority, the home team representing Portland, Maine. Games in New Hampshire, Washington, DC and upstate New York are scheduled through June.


If not familiar, the rules of the game are complex. Regulated by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), the sport is played by two teams of five members moving in the same direction around a track. Plays consist of a series of short match-ups (called “jams”) in which both teams designate a jammer who scores points by lapping members of the opposing team. The teams attempt to block the opposing jammer while assisting their own jammer.

“In relation to football, the jammers could be compared to quarterbacks who play offense and defense at the same time,” explained Toxie. “There’s much strategy involved.”

For some newcomers, the intensive nature of the game can be more than a bit intimidating. But for veterans of the league, nothing compares to the rush of whizzing along the track. For instance, a player who goes by the alter ego Toni Montana grew up playing basketball and lacrosse. But as an adult, she found it harder to find social hobbies that offered the same level of physical intensity and comradery. After just one practice, she was hooked. As a third watch corrections officer, she often forgoes sleep to participate in practices and write press releases for the league’s website.

“It’s addicting. The running joke is that derby is a monster that’s going to eat your soul — in a good way,” Montana quipped. “And yes, we do check girls on the track; it’s part of the game. But we’re all very close and always willing to help each other. We’re an adrenaline-charged family.”