TAPS Program Benefits from its Inclusivity

BannerBrown University’s theater programming has long held a fine reputation in the state, and it is currently progressing in exciting ways! The Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies (TAPS) is the intellectual and artistic center at Brown for faculty and students interested in the aesthetic, historical, literary, practical and theoretical explorations of performance in global perspective. This includes not only theater, but also dance, speech, performance art and performative “roles” in everyday life.
In addition to the undergraduate program, the department offers a doctoral program in theater and performance studies, an MFA program in playwriting, and the Brown/Trinity MFA programs in acting and directing.
I spoke with Brown Theatre student Ahmed Ashour to get his perspective on the program. Here’s what he had to say.
Alison O’Donnell: Tell me a little about the program itself. I hear it’s evolving!
Ahmed Ashour: It’s really funny to have come into a program, only to learn that soon it will be undergoing some drastic changes. TAPS is split into three tracks — theatre arts (broadly-defined track for people who mostly would like to be performers, directors, or designers), performance studies (theory and history), and writing for performance (W4P). However, the program is shifting a bit in the coming year, as W4P is being absorbed into theatre arts, and dance is being introduced as a new track. Concentration requirements differ across the different tracks, save for a few history courses that survey the history of theater from its ancient Greek beginnings to its various movements in the 20th century.
AO: What are some of the features of the program attractive to Brown students?
AA: The program, which requires 10 course credits for concentrators to complete, requires a healthy mix of theater history/theory courses and practice/studio classes. However, I would say there is a larger offering of history/theory courses as well as dance courses due to the long list of amazing faculty we have in performance studies and dance, like the phenomenal Rebecca Schneider, Spencer Golub and Sydney Skybetter. Many of Brown’s professors of the practice (acting, directing, speech/voice, movement, etc.) are working artists who work locally and nationally on both small and big-scale projects. While they teach few classes, the opportunity to take a class with any one of them is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The department requires concentrators to finish a loosely defined capstone that serves as a culmination of their studies with the department, and offers opportunities in the form of senior slots for both theatre and dance concentrators to experience the rush of conceiving and rehearsing a piece with the production support of the department. Anything you miss in an official class, you can most certainly learn independently in Brown’s student theater and dance scene, which offers a mind-boggling amount of opportunities throughout the year.
AO: What is most appealing to you personally?
AA: Regardless of the discipline, all classes are made even more exciting by Brown’s open curriculum. Unlike conservatory programs or other BA theater programs that are closed off to the larger student body, you can find engineers, anthropologists and physicists in your introductory acting class — affectionately called TA23 — here at Brown. To be able to practice your craft alongside people who have a variety of interests gives you new insight to the work, and I think the program has only been made better by its inclusion of the entire Brown community, not just TAPS concentrators.
The same goes for the department’s productions and Brown’s theater scene in general. It’s really a choose-your-own-adventure kind of place. There are a variety of opportunities to do theater without concentrating or even committing to anything past one production. I am currently directing the department’s senior slot show called Back of the Throat by Yussef El Guindi, which discusses government surveillance of Arab and Muslim Americans in a post 9/11 / US PATRIOT Act world, and one of our cast members is a senior who has never auditioned for a show at Brown prior to this one. I think that is the beauty of doing theater at Brown — people are there because they choose, despite their busy schedules or what they chose to study, to be there for a piece that matters to them and to the world.
AO: How does Brown connect to the world? What part do Brown students play in this?
AA: Theater at Brown looks at the wounds in the world we live in — of which there are many — and what stories need to be told, and prioritizes these stories without being weighed down by the pressure to produce commercially appealing pieces. Any student from the Brown community can approach the Sock & Buskin board, which produces the department’s season, with a play that they think is important for the community to see, and the board will give that play full consideration for inclusion in its upcoming season. Student theater (including production workshop, musical forum, Gilbert and Sullivan, opera productions and Shakespeare on the Green) works similarly — all works that are produced are proposed by students and their design teams, which allows for a multitude of perspectives to be considered. This year, productions like Back of the Throat, Yellow Face by David Henry Hwang — which deals with Asian-American representation in the entertainment industry — and Next to Normal, which deals so thoughtfully with mental illness — have all been timely, and spoke to a truth we are living as a community.
We as a student body are constantly in response to the world around us, and it is comforting to see theater at Brown provide a different platform through which students from all walks of life and backgrounds have their voices heard. That, combined with the open curriculum, means that theater at Brown is truly a communal creation where everyone has a say in what they want to see, and not just dictated by the few students who are concentrating and their faculty mentors. I think students who are considering making a career in theater should really consider this program for its awesomeness.
AO: How has this program impacted your life? Is there a sense of community?
AA: To say that the program has been a second home to me is an understatement. I started out as an engineer at Brown, and had only taken one TAPS class in my first three semesters at Brown. I didn’t come from a theater background either — I only started my junior year of high school. The beauty of the open curriculum is that you can find your home/your calling at any point, and you’d still be able to jump in, dedicate yourself as much as you want, and be the architect of your own experience. This program has taken me as I am and provided me with the space to grow at my own pace, and I am so so SO excited for the next step in my life after today. And with the openness of the program to everybody, I feel like, unlike a lot of BFA programs, I am in community with the entirety of Brown — not just the select few who’ve decided to concentrate/major.
I sat at the strike of Sometimes the Rain, Sometimes the Sea last spring, directed by my mentor Kate Bergstrom (Brown/Trinity MFA’18), and reflected on my time here. I looked at the cast — a phenomenal group of people who I am still very close with — and thought of how lucky I am to be doing what I’m doing every day. Theater at Brown has changed me from a person who hates rain to a person who runs into it, and I think that is telling of the program — a community of people that is focused on creating spaces for discussion, growth and change. And boy, do we need the arts now more than ever to bring about change in what can be a very bleak world. Brown Theatre is that engine of change, and I am so so so proud to be a part of this program!
Back of the Throat runs from Nov. 29th – Dec. 2nd in Leeds Theatre, 83 Waterman Street in Providence. For tickets to this or other upcoming shows, contact the Brown Theatre Box Office at boxoffice@brown.edu, or call 401-863-2838 Tuesday – Friday 12pm-4pm.

Wrimos Take Note!

Ever thought about writing The Great American Novel? Well, what are you waiting for? November is National Novel Writing Month! Often shortened to NaNoWriMo, this is an annual, Internet-based creative project in which participants attempt to write a 50,000-word manuscript during the month of November.
NaNoWriMo’s focus is on the length of a work rather than the quality, encouraging writers to complete a draft to be edited later at the author’s discretion. The project started in July 1999 with 21 participants (called Wrimos). By the 2010 event, more than 200,000 Wrimos took part and wrote a total of more than 2.8 billion words. Participants may see encouraging messages from well-known authors on the website, designed to motivate them throughout the process. It also provides participants with tips for dealing with writer’s block, information on where local participants are meeting, and a virtual community of support.
Looking to participate? You may register on the website, where you can post a profile and information on your novel. Word counts are validated on the site, with writers submitting a copy of their novel for automatic counting. Municipal leaders and regional forums help connect local writers. For more info visit: nanowrimo.org
The RI chapter of NaNoWriMo is in full swing for this event. If you’d like to participate, check out the NaNoWriMo Sprint Day at What Cheer Writers Club in Providence on Sunday, November 18 from 10am to 5pm. “NaNoWriMo participants can come and work side by side with snacks and support provided!” says What Cheer’s Jodie Noel Vinson. What Cheer Writers Club is a non-profit society dedicated to providing coworking and community for content arts. See our story at motifri.com/calling-all-creators

An Interview with Trinity Rep’s Conversationalist-in-Residence, Christina Bevilacqua

I had the recent opportunity to speak with Trinity Rep’s conversationalist-in-residence, Christina Bevilacqua. Our conversation follows:
Alison O’Donnell: What does a conversationalist-in-residence do, and what brought you to play that role at Trinity Rep?
Christina Bevilacqua: I kind of made up the title! In the 11 years I spent producing humanities-based conversations at the Providence Athenaeum for the Salon Series, which I founded in 2006, I came to appreciate how much impact frequently held community-based discussions can have, especially when they feature a mix of people across disciplines. In fall 2016 when I began meeting with Trinity Rep’s artistic director Curt Columbus, associate artistic director Tyler Dobrowsky and artistic associate for community Rebecca Noon about Trinity Rep’s commitment to community engagement, I proposed working as the conversationalist-in-residence as another way to bring attention to the theater’s increased focus on its relationship to the wider community, enhancing the important, inspired work that Rebecca had been doing for several years. Trinity Rep has an incredible asset in its audience — some of whom have been loyal subscribers for over 40 years! That audience is very knowledgeable about the company and the world of the theater in general, and they love the talk-backs with actors and directors that have long been a feature of Trinity’s productions. What we began to talk about two years ago was Trinity’s potential for cultivating conversations outside of the theatergoing audience, using the works that Trinity was presenting on stage to create conversations about issues going on in our local and national communities, and centering those conversations within the local community. So I began to work very closely with Rebecca to think about how to bring the themes and ideas from the plays to a wider audience.
Then last fall I began working full-time as programs and exhibitions director at Providence Public Library (PPL), where my charge was to create humanities-based programming in arts and culture that was open to the diverse public that PPL serves. So as a collaborative endeavor, Trinity Rep and PPL piloted a program series called Context & Conversation, where we looked at the themes and ideas at work in each of the plays in Trinity’s season, then thought about places in our city and state where those themes and ideas could be found in real life, and then invited people from these real life settings to see the play and then join us for free, open-to-the-public, moderated conversations in which we could use the play as a springboard for discussion of issues and ideas. We  made sure to hold the conversations in places that connected to the themes of the play, so for instance when Trinity Rep was producing Death of a Salesman and Skeleton Crew last fall, our Context & Conversation event took place at the Amalgamated Transit Union’s offices in South Providence; when Native Gardens was on stage last spring, Context & Conversation happened in a greenhouse in Cranston. We learned a lot in doing the pilot, and this year we have another wonderful series lined up, in settings from Wage House (an improv theater in Pawtucket), to Butler Hospital, to the Sophia Academy, to the Herbarium at Brown University. And each conversation will include at least one artist, one scholar and one community practitioner among the participants, to make sure that we get a wide range of perspectives from which to view and discuss all our topics. [See the full schedule and lineup here: trinityrep.com/context-conversation]]
AO: What are your beginnings, and how did you develop your interest in theater?
CB: I grew up in a military family and moved nearly every year and went to lots of different schools, which I think gave me a sense of curiosity, taught me to celebrate different ways of life and gave me an ability to weather and even enjoy a certain amount of uncertainty and change. I went to high school and college in the 1970s, a time experimentation and creativity were in the air, and in both of those experiences I had a lot of freedom and independence to create my own path. I studied literature and creative writing at Bard College, then moved to New York City and got a job in a giant publishing firm, where I pretty quickly determined that corporate life was not for me. I was doing volunteer work at the time and realized that my volunteer work was more interesting than my paid work, which eventually led me to a master’s program in social policy at the University of Chicago, followed by two years working to support survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault who were going through the criminal justice system. I then moved back to the East Coast and in a story too long to tell, I spun a childhood love of sewing into spending the next eight years as a custom milliner, making hats for customers in Boston, Washington D.C., New York, Chicago and San Francisco. I would travel to each city and set up an open studio in someone’s home, I’d bake tiny cookies and serve wine, and for two days women of all ages would come and try on hats and place orders. I loved gathering people, and also loved watching the way that a hat could in some cases underscore a person’s identity and in other cases totally transform it — very theatrical! Other obvious connections to theater were through my parents, who always subscribed to the local theater wherever we lived, and I grew up with them playing the records from the musicals of the day, somewhere in my brain are stored all the songs to Wonderful Town, Fiddler on the Roof, etc! And I was an avid ballet student from 5 till around 20, including performing a lot in high school; I still find myself humming the mazurka from Coppélia every now and then. As an adult I became actively interested in theater when I moved back to Providence in 1997, the mix of productions and plays was very rich, and I think I came to appreciate the way that theater helps us ask questions about our lives and times and see them in new ways. And of course my interest in conversation and dialogue is utterly engaged by theater, which takes its energy not only from the dialogue between the actors on stage, but from the communication between the actors and the audience, and then the conversation that the audience members have with one another as soon as the lights come up. The theatrical experience is also conversational in that it happens in real time and carries that sense of uncertainty — unlike a movie, where the performances are set, one of the great pleasures of theater is to see a production on two or three or five different nights and have each experience be different, because it’s live, and happening in a moment and living only in memory in the next moment. There is nothing like it! And in a world where there’s so much trashing of the humanities, the experience of being in the theater makes clear how important the humanities are to people’s lives. Theater gives people a way to work through difficult issues. It’s not like a political debate, which is more like a boxing match, where you’re defending a position and the stakes are high. In the theater, and in conversations about what we’ve experienced in the theater, we can consider issues from different angles, and there doesn’t have to be a winner or loser. People can go away considering different ideas than those they were certain of when they came in. That is something very important and increasingly rare these days. 
AO: What are the accomplishments that mean the most to you, and what are you working on now and for the future?
CB: I loved the work I got to do at the Providence Athenaeum in curating and producing the Salon Series, in part because I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many fascinating and varied people and organizations, and in part because it was such a laboratory of experience. I feel like I am still analyzing what I learned and thinking about how to apply it in new settings. The PPL is currently undergoing a major building renovation that also heralds a new era for the library in terms of mission and reach. The role of the public library in American history and culture is so foundational, the opportunities that it has represented and continues to represent for people of all different ages, backgrounds and identities really has no parallel; it’s essential in our democracy to have this kind of civic space. PPL’s incredible collections staff has also carved out a unique role in working with local artists through our Creative Fellowship, and also with acquiring, cataloging and making available to the public the archives of important local arts organizations like AS220 and UPP Arts, and both of these endeavors provide great resources for programming. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to think about how we animate our collections and our civic space with humanities-based programs, both in the newly-configured library (when it’s finished!) and out in the community. Context & Conversation with Trinity is one such program, and we’re also working collaboratively with many other individuals and organizations in the city and state, including Stages of Freedom, Community MusicWorks, Southside Cultural Center, the Pond Street Project, the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and others, so given the great collaborators we have lined up, I’m optimistic about new accomplishments to come. Finally, this summer I was very fortunate to be a fellow in the month-long National Endowment for the Humanities-funded Munson Institute of American Maritime History at Mystic Seaport, where I met many legendary as well as soon-to-be legendary scholars, and since PPL’s Special Collections include many maritime-related items (including not only whaling logs, but actual whale teeth!) I now know a host of scholars who can help us bring the stories of these collections to our audience in new and lively ways.

AO: What is your sky’s-the-limit dream project?

CB: I’ve never been good at definitively deciding where I want to be and then heading directly there, I’m better at starting out with a kind of vague idea and sense of curiosity and then learning through experience where I want to go next. I’m very interested in getting people together, across differences, for shared experiences. I’m keen on cultivating interest in the arts as a way to make sense of the world, whether that means creating your own art, going out of your way to experience the art created by others in your community, or both. I’m dedicated to bringing the meticulous work of scholars out of the academic halls and into our community, where their ideas can help us see our lives in new ways, and where they can engage a non-academic audience in discussion and maybe see their work in new ways. I think that knowing some history can help us be more creatively and resourcefully responsive to our own time, so I like putting together events in which a historical context gives us new understanding and opens our eyes to possibilities. So some combination of those things would be my dream project, and in the work I get to do at PPL and Trinity Rep, I am engaged in all these endeavors. Plus, after a lifetime of living in different places, I absolutely love Providence, and its mix of people, its beauty, its complicated history, its deep commitment to arts and culture, and its idiosyncrasy and eccentricity make it endlessly inspirational. So despite never having known what I wanted to do when I grew up, I think I have found it — even if I can’t totally explain exactly what it is!

CCRI Puts Students on the Right Path

CCRI’s theater program offers students the opportunity to explore the theatrical arts academically, professionally and in performance. “I had a very profound experience helping people discover themselves as actors or lovers of theater,” said Ted Clement, CCRI theater program coordinator.

CCRI’s Associate in Fine Arts degree in theater offers two tracks: performance and technical. Both tracks combine liberal arts general education courses and fundamental theater arts courses. General education requirements fulfill the theater student’s need to develop conceptual and communication skills necessary for successful transfer and completion of a Baccalaureate of Arts degree or a successful professional career. Clement explains, “The structure is to start students as theater majors from the beginning.”

Fundamental coursework in theater not only prepares students to understand the process through which plays are created, but helps them comprehend the roles played by the dramatic arts in their local, national, international and multicultural communities. Practical instruction in the performing and technical arts offers students a hands-on opportunity to participate in the theater and prepares them for future careers.

“This program is a professional training program designed to lay the groundwork, serving as the first half of a BFA degree,” explains Clement. “Our graduates leave us with considerable expertise, a clear career path and a strong sense of achievement. We also proudly serve a huge population of students from a variety of non-theater majors. We endeavor to share the experience of theater with the entire CCRI community. All things for all people, depending on what you’re looking for. It’s a place where students find community, collaborating in their art in the variety of classes they’re experiencing. A lens to look at life and a way to express it.”

The CCRI Players, originally the Gamma Tau Players, is the longest continually existing student group at CCRI. It is governed by an elected group of student officers, guided by a constitution, and supported by faculty advisor Bert Silverberg. “The productions staged by the CCRI Players and presented to the community provide the laboratory experience that enables students to pursue lifelong learning by exploring the forms of expressions through which we interpret ourselves and the world,” says Clement.

They offer a four-show season during the school year, including three faculty-directed main stage productions and a student-directed project. This year they begin with Green Day’s American Idiot in October, then Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews in December. They’ll present Bethany Henley’s Crimes of the Heart in February, then close in April with a student-directed one-act festival. They also house the CCRI Summer Repertory program, which is an intensive, seven-week program open to students, alumni and the general public during which two Shakespeare shows are produced entirely by students. The program also serves as a recruiting opportunity for high school students.

Student Frank Gilleese, who was nominated in Motif‘s theater awards for 2018 Male Performance, College, feels a sense of family here. “The CCRI Players is an organization that focuses on providing a loving environment that accepts people of every walk of life and gives students the chance to be theater artists and experience the art form in a safe place,” says Gilleese. He is passionate about the “plays, musicals and 10-minute shows they do throughout the year, as well as opportunities to go to the KCACTF festival to compete and grow among other talented artists.”

Gilleese can’t say enough about the camaraderie within the group. “The program accepted me right from the beginning and gave me a chance to be a part of the experience, and I am thankful for the program every day!” He reflects briefly and adds, “I’ve grown as a person and made some great friends along the way who inspire me to be the best I can be on stage and off.”

Get Your Flippie-Floppies: Blackstone Valley River Tours Will Put You On a Boat

The Blackstone Valley Tourism Council held its Silver Anniversary Celebration on Sunday, August 20, to commemorate the first launch of their river boat, Explorer. The celebration took place at Festival Pier in Pawtucket, which now has a beautiful park and easily accessible boat ramp. Not so long ago, people wouldn’t have dreamed of putting a boat or kayak into this area of the polluted Blackstone River, and wildlife also was scarce.

The free event included rides upon the 40-passenger Explorer, which took its maiden voyage 25 years ago. Blackstone Valley Tourism Council president Bob Billington welcomed visitors with a quick intro on the history of the boat before we launched into a kid-friendly tour that offers many discovery opportunities for adults. We marveled in peaceful awe as our boat glided up the Blackstone River, under the skillful hand of Captain Bob Dombrowski, toward a waterfall located just before historic Slater Mill. Tour guide Patti McAlpine reminded us the mill was at the head of the Industrial Revolution circa 1760, making the region famous. This waterfall, larger than the highly visible one by the mill itself, is hidden under a highway overpass and might’ve eluded us for life if we hadn’t gotten close up on a river boat tour.

As Dombrowski turned us around toward East Providence, down the Seekonk River, McAlpine told us the Indian names for different borders and landmarks. She playfully asked us historical questions, and, if we answered correctly, we were rewarded with swirly green lollipops.

“It’s exciting to explore your own backyard from a whole different vantage point,” said director of marketing James Toomey, and locals on the tour marveled at the landmarks they’ve known forever (“That’s the back of the Boys & Girls Club! … That’s Shea Field back there! … ”), viewed from a different perspective. It’s surreal to think you can live somewhere your whole life and suddenly see something completely new that’s been there all along.

Each seat had a small pair of binoculars at the ready, which passengers could use to watch wildlife in and along the water’s edge. We saw a turtle sunning himself on a limb, a few jumping fish, a soaring turkey vulture, cormorants and ducks. You never know what you’ll see, and a different trip might include deer, muskrats, egrets, blue herrings, falcons and even bald eagles. “We continue to update our tours so we invite people to come back and check out our other locations,” says Toomey. He adds, “This wildlife needs protection. If we don’t manage it properly, it will go away.”

In fact, it had for a while. McAlpine informed us the river was once teeming with salmon, which died off after a dam was built and industrial pollutants made their way into the river. Efforts to clean the river and restore its natural beauty encouraged wildlife to return.

Back on land, visitors were treated to the fun sounds of ukulele band The Unlikely Strummers. Also on hand were members of the Providence Children’s Museum who were there to discuss their upcoming programs while kids played on a giant foam block building set nearby. Director of education Kristin Read pointed out that, ironically, a group of kids worked together to create a waterwheel! The BV Tourism Council also partners with Mystic Aquarium on most of their environmental programs, and aquarium representatives were in attendance with live sea animals. Blackstone Valley Tourism Council director of environmental education Marina Flannery managed the event and was available to answer questions about educational tours and classroom programs. The council also works closely with the RI Preservation Society.

The well-informed guides will turn tourists and locals on to Blackstone Valley’s rich history and scenic landscapes. Toomey encourages folks to take advantage of these resources. “Getting people out there and seeing the beauty has really been the goal of the councils, and fall foliage season is prime time to be on the water.”

Coming up in September are the Pawtucket Arts Fest Dragon Boat Races on September 8 – a cultural event that draws thousands of people each year — and the Blackstone Culinaria Food Tour on September 22. After September 9, the tours switch from the Pawtucket location to Cold Spring Park in Woonsocket. Also check out the regularly scheduled Nature & Heritage tours, special sightseeing events and food tours, and youth environmental education programs, or charter a tour for coworkers and friends for your next event! Visit rivertourblackstone.com for more info and to book online, or call 401-724-2200.


Unnecessary Farce Is Totally Absurd!

20180804_190619Two rookie cops. Three unpredictable pilferers. Eight doors. In one room, an alleged embezzling mayor is due to meet with his female accountant to discuss the budget. Meanwhile, in the room next-door, two undercover cops wait to catch the meeting on videotape. The sting goes awry when there’s some confusion as to who’s in which room, who’s being videotaped, who’s taken the money, who’s hired “The Highland Hitman,” and why the pretty accountant keeps taking off her clothes. (Yes, really!)

The two rooms are actually one open area, separated only by the passage between the two doors of these adjoining rooms. Two doors are front exits, two are back exits and two are closets. You can already hear the ‘coming out of the closet’ jokes waiting to be sprung!

Things seem to go very wrong every time one of the rookies opens a door. Act I opens with Eric (Jake Clarke), an awkward and horny young man, assuring his boss the surveillance cameras are set for the mayor’s arrival. Enter Billie (Christine Cauchon) in uniform — which kinda defeats the purpose of being undercover. And what cop surveillance would be complete without doughnuts? Cauchon’s overly dramatic character makes for the perfect bumbling novice, and she’s got a sense of humor to boot. You can’t help but love her. Cauchon embraces her part whole-heartedly. “The role of Billie is one of my hardest to date. The physical comedy, the timing, the high speed nature of the show in general is all new to me in the scripted world. I’ve loved every second of working on it, especially the cast and crew. It’s been such a positive rehearsal room, and that really is such a joy.”

Eric apparently has some skill in the bedroom, despite his gawky mannerisms. As Karen (Emily Carter) settles in her room waiting for the mayor, she can’t seem to control her urges to relieve Eric of his clothing. This seems to be a theme. She later undresses for Agent Frank (Daniel F. Green) when things get “hot.” Frank also seems to be a fledgling in the field. His blundering buffoonery creates some heated hoodwinking. We can’t tell if he’s trying to be good or bad.

When the sweet mayor enters Karen’s hotel room, things really liven up! He’s ready to get down to business. Unfortunately, the neophytes aren’t ready for him, and he is asked to wait in the lobby until Agent Frank can inspect the room for electronic bugging devices. Mayor Meekly is portrayed by Terry “Santa Claus in plain clothes” Simpson. With his great delivery and expressions, Simpson is a scene stealer who leaves you smiling!

Another scene stealer is Ryan Sekac, who portrays Todd, the jovial but crazy Scottish hitman. Ya gotta love his sneaky grin and articulate eyebrows, which seem to have a life all their own. His hair is as thick as his accent — which is incoherent to everyone but Billie. There are some fun moments trying to ken his meanin’. Also, we’re still not quite sure whether or not he can play a manly bagpipe, but he can rock a kilt! Hats off to costume designer Witt Tarantino for that one.

There is a lovely twist after Mayor Meekly’s wife, Mary (Sandy Cerel), enters Karen’s room. Simpson was especially pleased to share the stage again with Cerel, with whom he appeared in On Golden Pond at Arctic Playhouse.

Rebecca Magnotta is the director as well as the scenic designer of this Paul Slade Smith script at the Contemporary Theater Company. She has been with CTC since 2010, and this is her fourth production here (Rebecca is known for aggressively painting the sets deep into the night). Our hotel rooms were a calming, oceanic shade of green, pleasing to the eye. The French doors add a touch of class to the otherwise economy-class feel of the beds (which see a fair amount of activity as the night progresses). Lighting design credit goes to Jeremy Chaing.

Magnotta says this show was a departure from her norm. “I’m more used to directing Shakespeare,” she says, “which is a lot of poetry, and Unnecessary Farce is more of a machine. Every element is a gear, and at every moment, the gears need to turn in a very specific way to make the whole thing work.” It does. She adds, “Thankfully, I’ve had the privilege of working with some absolutely amazing artists who make the show happen.”

The folks who made the show happen seemed to really enjoy themselves, as they sometimes had a bit of trouble keeping a straight face, reminiscent of a live SNL skit. You will leave grinning too. At the end of the play, we learn what unnecessary farce really means.

Unnecessary Farce plays at the Contemporary Theater Company, 327 Main St, Wakefield. Fridays and Saturdays Aug 10 – Sep 1. All shows at 7 pm


Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

JosephaTDCTheatre By The Sea continues celebrating its 85th anniversary with 50-year-old Webber/Rice classic, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a show that owner/producer Bill Hanney describes as a “rousing, rollicking rock opera.” Rock? Well, let’s just say you are treated to a variety of styles in this musical with little dialogue, save for the Narrator’s parts, angelically delivered by Marie Eife. Says Hanney: “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was so well received when we produced it at North Shore Music Theatre, I thought, since it hadn’t been done at Theatre By The Sea in nearly two decades, it was about time we bring it back.” He describes the show as “energetic and exhilarating… the perfect family entertainment!”

The sights! The sounds!  A cast of young actors dances down the aisle toward the stage and swallows it whole. It’s a fun feast for the eyes, reminiscent of a one-ring circus. There is so much going on, with each fleeting second, the eye tries to decide where to focus next within a veritable popcorn machine of activity. Lights, by Jose Santiago, include large Christmas-y bulbs in primary colors above the audience seating area. This not only gives a festive, psychedelic feel to the show, but adds dimension beyond the stage.

You can thank director/choreographer Richard Sabellico and associate director/choreographer Aldopho Blaire for the precision synchronicity of the cast, which can only come from persistent rehearsals. The energy flow here is unbelievable from start to finish. There is a bit of a lull after the intermission, then a sort of physical crescendo happens that brings you right back to the exhilarating liveliness.

According to Sabellico, this story is told by a traveling troupe of beleaguered performers touring the country in 1967, Jacob and Sons Traveling Salvation Show. “As the Overture begins,” Sabellico explains, “the actors enter the theater and start loading in the show, setting the props, hoisting the scenery and readying the stage for the performance. Their costumes (by designer David Costa-Cabral) are makeshift, catch as catch can garments — whatever could be bought, borrowed or stolen. They may not look the best, but they serve the purpose and Jacob’s budget.” Sabellico goes on to explain, “The Salvation Troupe encourages its audience to use their imagination to fill in the blanks. We are asking the same thing of our TBTS audience.”

You may recognize the biblical story of Joseph (Luke Steinhauser) as told by the Narrator (Marie Eife). The patriarch of this circus is seasoned veteran Tom Gleadow, whose lines are delivered with comedic skill as Joseph’s father, Jacob, and as two additional comic characters, Potiphar and Baker. Jacob and his 12 sons are introduced, and we learn that the brothers are jealous of Joseph for his coat of many colors — a not-so-subtle reminder that he is Daddy’s favorite. Joseph’s dreams foreshadow his destiny to rule over them. When their attempts to off Joseph fail, they instead sell him as a slave to some passing Ishmaelites, who take him to Egypt. They lead Jacob to believe that Joseph has been killed, showing his ravaged coat smeared with (goat) blood as proof. In Egypt, Joseph becomes the slave of Egyptian millionaire Potiphar, rising through the ranks of slaves and servants until he is running Potiphar’s household, but suspected advances on Potiphar’s wife (Julia Feeley) land Joseph in jail. It is here where Joseph, no stranger to nightly visions, helps two inmates interpret their dreams. The Baker is to be executed, but the Butler (Gerard Lanzerotti) will return to servitude. The remaining prisoners encourage Joseph to chase his dreams.

The freed Butler — who’s got the moves like Elvis — tells the Pharaoh (Michael Williams) of Joseph and his dream-interpretation skills. Joseph not only correctly prophesizes, he oversees the famine preparations and soon becomes the second-most powerful man in Egypt. Famished back home, Joseph’s brothers express regret at selling their brother and deceiving their father as they travel to Egypt in search of food. It is here where the unrecognized Joseph feeds them at a table for 12, much like the apostles at the Last Supper, and we hear each cast member sing a short phrase. While each has a trained voice, the heavenly sound of Levi (Bryan Dougherty) is cotton candy to the ears.

Joseph lovingly gives them sacks of food, but plants a golden cup in the sack of his youngest brother, Benjamin (Marty Lauter). When the brothers go to leave, Joseph stops them, inquiring about the “stolen” cup. Each brother empties his sack, and Joseph accuses Benjamin of robbery. The other brothers implore Joseph to take them prisoner and set Benjamin free. It is within this scene another actor stands out – Elijah Emmit Curry portrays Naphtali, complete with dreadlocks, and a calypso tone overtakes the stage. His deep, soulful voice is one you could listen to all day. Now seeing his brothers contrite, Joseph reveals himself and sends for Jacob. After a happy reunion, Joseph dons his dreamcoat once more for a joyous conclusion.

You can’t help but notice Joseph using sign language during the dream sequences. “The sign language was Richard’s (Sabellico, director/choreographer) idea. It is not a part of the original script,” says Luke Steinhauser. “Though I’m not entirely sure (of) Richard’s intent with it, in my opinion, Joseph’s translation of dreams transcends normal speech, or, in this case, song. The magnitude of the act is otherworldly or divine and by both signing and singing, I’m speaking in two languages at the same time.” He goes on to say, “I haven’t used sign language before! But I find the physicality of it with what I’m saying to be magical and inspiring.”

Directors tend to put their own special stamp on their productions, and Steinhauser wasn’t too far off the mark with his assumption. Says Sabellico, “I decided to use sign language after seeing a college showcase where a young deaf actor signed his performance. I was so moved by it and felt it to be a very spiritual demonstration of the emotion of the piece. I began to think how Joseph’s journey involves a spiritual awakening for him and eventually for his brothers. I listened to the music and envisioned what it would be like for an audience to watch the character sign as he sang. Initially, I only was going to use it for the final song, but then got the idea that when he explains his dreams to his brothers, he also signs them, an action which connects him more deeply to the experience and hopefully connects the audience on a different level as well. So, each time he explains a dream, he signs it. As soon as I watched the first run through, I knew I had made the right decision. That’s when I got the idea of Joseph teaching the whole cast to sign to signify the completion of the journey.”

Sabellico further explains that he sees the whole piece as a spiritual journey, “a return connection with God, which, I’m sad to say, many people lose along the way in life. I am hoping the audience senses what I am trying to do and they leave the theater a bit more connected to their spirituality than when they came in.”

Bill Hanney’s Theatre By the Sea presents Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat through August 12. 364 Cards Pond Rd., Wakefield, RI 02879. Email: boxoffice.tbts@gmail.com or call 866-811-4111 / 401-782-8587 or visit http://www.theatrebythesea.com/joseph for tickets.

Epic’s Constellations Is Stellar!


image1 (4)Director Joanne Fayan has returned to Epic Theatre Company “to helm the first of two summer shows that look at life and love from every angle of the imagination,” as written on the official Constellations Facebook page. Nick Payne’s Constellations takes us through the various stages of the way humans meet, hook up, break apart, reunite and carry each other through the hard times, and how choices affect relationships. This two-character drama stars Christopher Crider-Plonka (Red Speedo, The Bedroom Plays) as Roland, and Hannah Lum (Life Sucks, The Homecoming) as Marianne.

The cast played well off each other throughout the shifting scenes. I had little difficulty following the intricacy of the relationship between Roland, a beekeeper, and Marianne, a Cambridge University academic specializing in “theoretical early universe cosmology.” Despite the odd job descriptions for this duo, it’s possible to see yourself in the characters since they are as normal and natural as we are. If you’ve ever been in love, it’s hard not to identify with Roland and Marianne, particularly when playing back memories of our romantic circumstances, both euphoric and trying.

Leading lady Lum proffered emotion through her very expressive eyes and facial movements. With Plonka, who also served as lighting designer, emotion becomes apparent via his robust voice. Whether they are blithely dancing or kissing fervidly, yelling angrily or delivering snide remarks, you feel the earnestness exuded between these star-crossed lovers. Their destinies collide as much as they swirl together, starlight refracting from individuals who become one and whirl back again to their lone corners. And while we see them as they see each other, we also are given a glimpse into how they see themselves. Their life changes are at times awkward, also painful, but ultimately they regain their cherished allegiance and their relationship’s youthful innocence.

They are disadvantaged by self-consciousness when they meet, remaining impaired even as they grow closer. Constellations reminds us how rudimentary communication can be, even with those who are closest to us. Verbal exchanges — here both casual and life-changing — tend to be a matter of emotional jeering and even, at one point, hand signaling across an indomitable galaxy.

The costumes are street clothes, immaterial to the production. The low lights move from white — in a room full of celestial patterns on the floor and walls designed by Jillian Eddy — to red each time a situation becomes dire. This is particularly poignant during a scene where there is an unexpected altercation. Pushing the envelope is always a risk, but also adds that certain je ne sais quoi often appreciated when repetition is involved.

Payne’s script is intentionally redundant, which has us jumping around between parallel universes in a 72-minute nebulous wormhole where there is no space in time. Those timeframes are separated by audibly ominous, Twilight Zone-ish zaps and bongs designed by Fayan.

Every shifting scene and posture indicates “a change in the universe,” as the stage direction reads. There are actually only about five concrete scenes in Constellations, however, each of those vignettes is presented repeatedly. This offers the performers a fortuitous opportunity to keep trying out the same lines with different inflections, something seldom seen in live theater. Marianne and Roland meet at a BBQ, and from there it’s boy meets girl, boy loses girl, rinse, repeat. At one point, Marianne explains to Roland that in “the quantum multiverse, every decision you’ve ever and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes.” You don’t have to be a quantum physicist to find these examples in your own life. At some point or another, you ran circumstances of a breakup over and over in your mind, trying to find reason among the futility of the situation. To further complicate matters, our aging memory throws a wrench into our reiteration, causing changes to that inner voice so easily marred by the tone of someone else’s voice.

Within this universal theme, where words are often not enough to bind us together in our human condition, our stars have the task of making each interpretation a new experience, lest the play leave us sleeping in our seats. Lum and Plonka did a fine job of that, keeping us engaged every step of the milky way.

Tickets can be purchased at artists-exchange.org/epictheatrecompany.html. Be sure to book early to secure tickets for this engagement, which runs July 13 – 28, as many showings are already sold out. All Performances at Epic Theatre, 50 Rolfe Square in Cranston. Students (high school and college) and military receive free tickets to any performance as part of Epic’s Free Ticketing Program. With no intermission, you’ll be tippling a cocktail by 9:30pm after an 8pm showing.

The Write Stuff — Local Playwrights Behind the Plays You Love

The local theater scene is BOOMING! But have you ever thought about who is behind the creative magic? Well, we’re pulling back the curtain to pay tribute to some of the local folks who create stories for the stage. I threw several questions at some local playwrights to learn a little about them and their creative process.

BarbSBarbara Schweitzer writes plays, poems and mini-mysteries. Her first collection of poetry, 33 1/3: Soap Opera Sonnets (Little Pear Press, 2008) was named a Best Book by the Providence Journal the year of its publication. Her short plays have been produced regionally in RI, Massachusetts and Maine. Leavetaking and Sub-Zero are published in play and literary anthologies. Her radio essays have been featured on RI’s NPR station in the weekly This I Believe program. M.M., her first full-length play, won a 2017 Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA) Playwriting Merit Fellowship award, making her a three-time winner.

“Writing plays is what I like,” says Barbara. “Not only do I love the wide-open page and the myriad relationship possibilities of the genre, but it is such a rich experience to work in collaboration with other theater artists. Theater is the most magical of art forms.” She lives in North Smithfield with her husband and cat.

Alison O’Donnell: What and/or who is your inspiration? Where do you draw your ideas?

Barbara Schweitzer: Most of my ideas bump into me (usually when I am in solitary motion: running, driving, showering). When I “invent” an idea (one that didn’t jump into my mind), it usually gets so heavy I can’t carry it along far enough to make a story. Where ideas come from? Life (as in current events), science (especially medical), but mostly people — those living and not. We people are such elegant messes, and there is nothing better for writing than a mess. Who is an inspiration? All women playwrights and storytellers.

AO: Favorite play ever? Why?

BS: I am sorry I can’t narrow it down except by stopping these thoughts… I love Paula Vogel’s The Baltimore Waltz for its beautifully rendered pain. I love Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice for its poetic beauty. I love Suzan-Lori Parks’ Father Comes Home from the Wars for its incredible range and agility. Annie Baker’s The Aliens for its powerful softness. I love The Crucible for its transcendent brilliance, Our Town for its depth and simplicity. I love Midsummer Night’s Dream for its magical realism from the 16th century.

AO: How do you handle writer’s block? What hooks get you started?

BS: Oh, the scourge of writer’s block. Life is my writer’s block. It is so seductive and time-consuming to live and work in this beautiful world. The only way I overcome it is to wrestle a chair out of the force of time and sit down with my keypad in front of me. There I start writing a lot of garbage that I then selectively (metaphorically) take out to the curb for trash pickup. It is always painful to watch the accumulation of such stinky stuff, but really there is nothing to do but do it if I want to get to real writing. What brings me over the writer’s block is remembering the process and stepping into it. Sometimes the heaps are not so high (I tell myself before I sit down).

Hooks? Morning. Coffee. Cognition. I keep ideas, notes, scraps of paper everywhere that I thumb through to begin my writing day. Remembering that I am the only person who can tell the story spurs me on. (Anybody else will write it differently.) Also, I remind myself that I don’t have to do it – I don’t have a boss – so I do not have to write if I don’t want to. That always reminds me that I do want to.

AO: What’s next on your slate?

BS: I am just coming off the high of a completed first draft, so I am not thinking of the future. I’m looking forward to the rewrite and discovery of what I meant to say in this play.

AO: Sky’s the limit– what is your ultimate dream project?

BS: To write a play that is so true it rocks both me and the world. And having it read and produced, of course.

AO: What advice would you give to aspiring playwrights?

BS: What I’ve learned is that if I want to make stories 3D (which is what theater uniquely accomplishes), I have to write them first. Then I have to join with other people to make them come alive. Going to theater, joining in, talking to, making friends, engaging in the world is required. Writing requires solitude, but writing for theater requires connections. So the writer’s life is both entirely solitary and entirely engaged with other people. That’s the difference between being a playwright and a poet. A poet can be far more solitary, sending work out, getting acceptances in, doing occasional readings, then coming home. A playwright must walk through the door after their solitary confinement and relate. The actors, directors, theater people and audiences are all part of the play. They infuse the playwright’s words with their unique lives and amazing insights, and this is what makes a play the living art it is.

NickANick Albanese was a theater major at CCRI, later branching out into local community theater, including the New Playwrights Festival at Brown University. He then began acting in student films at RISD and worked on Hollywood film sets as they came into RI. He even did stand-up comedy for 10 years all over New England and other parts of the country. Always writing ideas down in notebooks, he would come up with one-act plays. Finally, in summer 2007, he wrote, directed and starred in an Internet series called Bread Butter and Bullets. That same summer, he landed a role in the Showtime series Brotherhood. In 2015, Nick wanted to return to his theater roots, so he began writing more one-act plays and did an evening of one-acts with a group of performer friends at Theatre 82 in Cranston. The son of Sicilian immigrants, he produced his one-man play, The Last Sicilian, which had a successful run for two and a half years. In January 2018, Nick brought The Last Sicilian to New York City, inspiring him to start his own theater group when he returned home to Providence, where he lives with his wife and three kids.

Alison O’Donnell: What and/or who is your inspiration? Where do you draw your ideas?

Nick Albanese: Well, I’m inspired by people like Billy Crystal, Steve Martin and John Leguizamo, to name a few, because they’re actors as well as writers, just like me, and they inspired me (especially Billy Crystal) to write my own One-Man Play and The Last Sicilian. I get my inspiration from my life, the life around me and the people with their stories or situations.

AO: Favorite play ever? Why?

NA: So many to choose from, but I guess it would have to be A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams because I remember reading it in high school and then seeing a couple of local productions. It was my first glance at real theater besides the high school versions of The Wizard of Oz when I was a kid. And then seeing the film with Marlon Brando, knowing him from The Godfather, and him playing such a great character, Stanley Kowalski. Like many actors, for a time I was always watching Brando’s work.

AO: How do you handle writer’s block? What hooks get you started?

NA: By not writing for days, weeks or months! Ha! Yeah, writer’s block is not fun but usually when something comes to me, it’s all at once and sometimes it’s more than one idea, like the dam broke. And it begins from reading, watching a film or a documentary. True stories inspire me big time! Someone’s work that you really admire will inspire you to start writing again, for sure.

AO: What’s next on your slate?

NA: I’m currently just finishing a two-weekend run of my second full-length play, The Last Days of Rockin’ Rob’s. In July, my one-act play, Clyde & Bonnie will be in the Artists’ Exchange’s 13th Annual One-Act Festival. In August my play Everybody Needs Some Therapy Sometimes returns for a weekend at the Artists’ Exchange. And in October, my Mafia play called Many Sides to the Reaper (based on true events in NYC in the 1980s) will have a three-weekend run at Theatre 82 in Cranston.

AO: Ultimate dream project?

NA: I’m looking forward to Many Sides to the Reaper and The Last Sicilian has been a dream come true. It has been an awesome experience! So I would have to say finishing the screenplay version of The Last Sicilian and to have it produced into a feature film is a dream project because it’s the story of my people, my family and my life.

AO: Advice for aspiring playwrights?

NA: Don’t overthink it. Let the ideas come from your life and the people around you. Sometimes a story has been told, but you can put your own twist on it. Write about what you know to begin your new adventure of writing. But remember, you have to enjoy it. The story has to make you happy or make you think and even inspire you before you can present it to people and make them feel those same feelings.

KevinBKevin Broccoli is a writer, actor and producer. His plays include American Strippers, Kill the Virgin, and Rose’s Money. He serves as artistic director at Epic Theatre Company, and is the proud author of two books, But That’s Just Me and To Cleopatra on Her 16th Birthday. Kevin lives in Johnston.

Alison O’Donnell: What and/or who is your inspiration? Where do you draw your ideas?

Kevin Broccoli: I’m usually inspired by something that bothers me. I see a problem and I want to send a bunch of invisible people to solve it or take it apart. I usually start with that and a good title and go from there.

AO: Favorite play ever? Why?

KB: I really do love Take Me Out. I just think it’s perfect. Being in it years ago was a dream come true. There’s so much art in the line. The words just stay in your brain forever.

AO: How do you handle writer’s block? What hooks get you started?

KB: For me, the only way to get through writer’s block is to keep writing. Just write your way out of it. You may write a thousand awful pages before you get to anything decent, but those thousand pages are necessary. Just keep writing.

AO: What’s next on your slate?

KB: I’m currently working on a bunch of interconnected plays that look at superheroes and superpowers. I want to create the theatrical equivalent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

AO: Ultimate dream project?

KB: I want to write for television one day. It’s my favorite medium.

AO: Advice for aspiring playwrights?

KB: Write. Write. Write every day. It will change your life. It will make your life better. It can save your life. Just write.

BenJBen Jolivet’s plays include Tig, Get Rough with Me, Cain+Abel, and Want Went Down. His play Cold won the David Getchell New Play Award, received a citation from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, was a semifinalist for the Princess Grace Award and finalist for the Woodward and Newman Drama Competition. He was a 2013 Mass Cultural Council Dramatic Writing Fellow. Jolivet holds a BA from Southern New Hampshire University and is finishing his MFA at Hollins Playwrights Lab in Roanoke, Va. He lives in Cranston.

Alison O’Donnel: What and/or who is your inspiration? Where do you draw your ideas?

Ben Jolivet: When I was growing up, a lot of my inspiration came from writers I really admired — Paula Vogel, Tony Kushner. As I’ve grown up and grown into the world, my inspiration now really comes from the reality that, as a white, cis-gendered man, I’m taking space in a community that has offered people like me more opportunity than is reasonable. So, what I take inspiration in now is in large part about finding ways to use that position of privilege to get other people at the table. Where can I write great roles for women or genderqueer people? Where can I encourage casting that more accurately reflects the population of this country? How can I write roles and plays that allow for that reflection of the actual population? That’s what gets me at the keyboard now. I don’t always succeed, I do not have the answers, but I try.

AO: Favorite play ever?

BJ: Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov. It could have been written yesterday. The way the characters struggle with love and the Earth and the need to feel like they’ve accomplished something lasting in the world? It kills me.

AO:  How do you handle writers’ block?

BJ: I allow myself to take breaks. I tend to write in big bursts, so I’m not someone to writes every day, and sometimes I burn myself out. So, during what I call the “fallow times,” I try to consume more — refill the battery. But to me, writers block is sometimes more about having too many possibilities than too few. When I’m faced with block on a specific project, I try to find a bounding box that will help me narrow down what could happen. When I can’t, sometimes that’s because I haven’t defined my characters well enough. If you listen to them, characters often will tell you what they would do.

AO: Next on your slate?

BJ: As I type this, I’m working on my thesis for my MFA — so that’s what’s next. Getting that play into shape. It’s kind of a big play with a lot of characters, and it’s long. But I’m really excited about that. I’ve got a few projects I’m hoping will come to fruition, too, but they’re too early to know.

AO: Ultimate dream project?

BJ: I don’t really know. I tend to get excited about whatever it is I’m doing. Mostly, my dream is to get my work into the hands of audiences who are going to enjoy it. However I get there, usually, is A-OK with me.

AO: Advice for aspiring playwrights?

BJ: This goes not just for playwrights, but directors, actors, anyone making theater. Whatever you’re making, no matter how challenging it might be, remember that you’re asking people to leave their comfy homes, drive somewhere, find parking and sit with your story in usually uncomfortable chairs in a space probably not as well-heated or air-conditioned as they would like. They’re giving you the gift of their time, so try as hard as you can to give them something that makes it work it. Put your best out there. Not everyone’s going to like everything you make, and that’s not the point — the point is that you try to put something out that is worth their time and the money they spent. Don’t settle for good enough. Push yourself as far as you can go to make it your best. And then, once performances start, no matter what happens, you can rest assured you gave it your all.

LennyS.Lenny Schwartz’s premiere play was Lost in a Daydream in 1996. In 1999 he directed what was to be Daydream Theatre Company’s first show, The Scarecrow. Since then he has written and directed over 40 plays. Awards include Motif’s Best New Work 2008 for The Scarecrow, 2009 for The Wire Game, 2017 for Ben Minus Zoe Minus Ben, and 2011 More Teeth. Buster Keaton: Fade to Black. Planet Connections NYC Best Playwriting 2013 for Subject 62, and 2016 for The Social Avenger and many more. He is also a screenwriter with several films to his credit including, but not limited to, Murder University, Normal, Accidental Incest, Long Night in Dead City (Best Screenplay and Feature 2017 Shawna Shea Film Festival) and Higher Methods.

Alison O’Donnell: What and/or who is your inspiration? Where do you draw your ideas?

Lenny Schwartz: My inspiration is the world and the people in it. I just write what I feel. And I just go from there. I love to tell stories and I always will. I’m also inspired by creative people. Anybody who is creating something and trying to do something new inspires me.

AO: Favorite play ever?

LS: My favorite play ever is Anything Goes. It was the first musical I was in when I was 16. I loved it. Of course, I wasn’t in the last few scenes so I never bothered to find out or read how it ended. So I just pretended the boat got lost and landed in German waters and was promptly sunk. What a great musical. I do also enjoy Barefoot in the Park. If somebody wanted me to direct it, I might.

AO: How do you handle writer’s block?

LS: I have never gotten writers block as I don’t believe in it. I believe in being lazy and having “writer’s laze.”

AO: Next on your slate?

LS: I’m currently bringing my new musical The Inside of His Severed Head to the 2018 Planet Connections Theatre Festivity in NYC August 3-5. After that I am directing three projects I have written: Ditko, about Steve Ditko — the co-creator of Spiderman. Dr. Strange for fall 2018. And Me Three: A Guide to New Beginnings, which is about the current climate we find ourselves in both with all of these celebrities committing these horrible acts and our current political climate. It’s a messed-up comedy from hell, and is the third part of The Social Avenger trilogy. I hope everyone hates it!

Then in fall 2019 I’m doing the play Seduction of the Innocent based on the Wertham book. I just broke ground on writing it and I’m excited. I’m also helping producer Richard Griffin direct his play version of Titus Andronicus in November. Speaking of which, Richard is a filmmaker who directed a script I helped write called Codename: Dynastud, and I also wrote the upcoming film — coming in September — called Higher Methods. I’m also sneaking in a night of superhero plays I wrote, sometime in the next three months.

AO: Ultimate dream project?

LS: I’m doing them right now. I mean, sure I would love to have more money and sometimes not have to worry. But my favorite thing is always what I am working on at the moment. That being said, I’m working on a second musical called Pussy Hannukah Comes to Harlem.  It’ll be THE feel-good musical of 2020! And … I’d love to write and direct a Transformer film with at least one Wahlberg too. There’s that.

AO: Advice for aspiring playwrights?

LS: Write every day. And listen to people. And then don’t listen to them at all.

Join the Family at Little Falls Cafe

Surely everyone from RI has heard of historic Pawtuxet Village in Cranston, nestled in a Narragansett Bay cove famous for the burning of the Gaspee (look it up!). In the heart of the village is a quaint coffee house called Little Falls Café, where friends and family (or friends who are family and family who are friends) gather.

Established in 2001 by spouses Jeff St. Germain and Matt Donnelly, the café is still going strong and running smoothly, despite the duo having side businesses. St. Germain is a realtor with Keller Williams, and Donnelly is the proprietor of Heart in Hand Massage Therapy just up the road. As if they aren’t busy enough, they are the proud parents of two children, and are eagerly awaiting the arrival of two more. They bring that family feel to the café, having created a sense of community where strangers and friends can come together and experience art, music and cultural diversity. “Through the years, the café has sponsored many events for the young and old alike,” says St. Germain. They also encourage taking an active role in the activities and preservation of historic Pawtuxet Village.

Jennifer Del Sesto of Narragansett, who frequented the café when she lived in the village, returns whenever she can. When asked what her favorite menu item is, she pointed to her ham and cheese croissant. “It’s so hard to choose though, everything is so good!” Coupled with the fact that scone and soup choices may change daily, you’re sure to find something new to try each visit.

Jess Watts has been the creative chef here for many years. She’s been known to add gluten-free or vegan choices, including lemon poppy or cinnamon scones, using cane juice and flax seed meal in place of the usual eggs and sugar. It’s interesting to see what she’ll whip up next. She uses farm-fresh vegetables in season for her vegan and vegetarian options, as well as the hearty meat stews and chilies, never sacrificing flavor for her creations. 

The quiches and pizzas looked amazing, but I had to choose just one and went with the vegan pizza strip. It’s a big slice of heaven, with just the right amount of crushed red pepper heat. The whole wheat crust was rubbed with garlic, crunchy yet soft, and topped with spinach and black olives. To die for!

I was told the coffee is awesome, and I wasn’t disappointed in my iced vanilla hazelnut. It’s no wonder there’s a steady stream of customers at the 6am opening. All coffees are available by the pound for home brewing, blended and ground to your preference. They also feature an eclectic choice of teas, featuring whole leaf organic hand-blended options, which are beautiful to look at and smell fantastic.

Open seven days a week, the café closes at 4pm Monday through Thursday, with slightly extended hours on the weekends. Don’t want to leave the house? Delivery is available via doordash.com. Stay for a packed sandwich and latte at a cozy table, grab a fresh-baked muffin and tea to go, it’s all good!

Little Falls Cafe, 2166 Broad St, Cranston; littlefallscafe.com