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Photo Essay: Proposed Area for New Paw Sox Stadium in Providence

Lawyer James J. Skeffington took a walking tour Thursday of the former Route 195 land in Providence where he and other owners of the PawSox hope to build a new stadium for the team. Brown University owns a northern parcel of the land, where its Admissions Office is currently located. The southern section had been slated for a public park. Get a better sense of where exactly this parcel of land is and take a look at some pictures taken from the site:

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National Ceramics Conference Lands in Providence

The Cate Charles Gallery on South Main Street — the combo efforts of mother-daughter duo Kim Charles and Catherine Schrage — offers up something unique this week in its “Porcelain in Three” ceramics exhibition. The gallery usually features paintings or sculptures, but opted for a porcelain ceramics display including works from Susan Schulz, Seth Rainville and John Oles. This no doubt makes the gallery a prominent stop in this week’s The National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) conference hitting Providence from March 25 – 28.

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NCECA (pronounced en-see-kuh) works to cultivate new generations of ceramics artists by inspiring people at all levels of the artistic process, whether in working with the artists themselves or by fostering the greater art collecting community. Providence plays host to the NCECA’s 49th annual conference with the theme “Lively Experiments.” In addition to conference programming at the RI Convention Center, dozens of galleries across the state — just like the Cate Charles Gallery — will be included on guided bus and shuttle tours.

“Artists that we’ve talked to said to expect people in the thousands coming in for the conference,” said Catherine Schrage, the Cate Charles Gallery Press & Marketing Manager. “It’s a big deal on the national level. We’re very excited!” According to Schrage, NCECA draws massive crowds not only of enthusiasts, but collectors as well. At Cate Charles and many other galleries, all the work will be on sale at a 50/50 split between artist and gallery.

The Cate Charles Gallery’s exhibition “Porcelain in Three” featured three artists with distinct styles. Susan Schulz recreates objects both natural and manmade down to the intricate detail to produce assortments of objects so lifelike in some cases that you think you’re looking at shells or coral covered in dust.

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One woman’s trash is another woman’s artistic inspiration.

Seth Rainville’s pieces are intricately detailed yet 100% usable bowls and teapots, one of which included a few tiny porcelain chairs he encourages exhibition attendees to move around.

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A perfect landing place for your keys, wallet, and spare change? Or a work of art? How about both?

John Oles’ work included a whole section of porcelain meets stone, featuring small structures of contrast and balance in assorted positions. Among the most compelling was a piece aptly titled “Balance.”

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The aptly titled “Balance”.

The NCECA conference runs through March 28. Take a look at the following links for more information:




One Foot in the Grave Makes a Statement

footDave Borges recently debuted his new film, One Foot in the Grave, at Cable Car Cinema in Providence. It was shown to a sizable audience of mostly cast and crew, and it was paired with Bryan Casey’s shorter thriller He Never Said a Word, a film that Borges helped to edit.

Both films were commendable. He Never Said a Word was legitimately frightening, with a wordless figure haunting an aging drunk. What it lacked slightly in production quality, it more than made up for in a harsh use of sound effects and music that amped up the fear factor created by interesting camera angles.

Perhaps my favorite moment came after the man’s kitchen counter just disappears, playing the same trick that his disappearing ‘gansetts had been playing all night. He stumbles outside in a rage to say something like, “Musta been some hippie! High on tha weed…damn hippie! My mah got me that table… He probly gunna sell it fer sumthin…like wacco tobacco!” It’s hilariously crotchety and colorful in the way that some horror flicks go for. Needless to say it made me chuckle, luring me into a false sense of ease that made the appearance of a mysterious figure that much more frightening. Is he a drunken delusion? A cruel ghost? We might never know.

The main event of the evening, however, was Borges’ One Foot in the Grave. The film opens on a brief, but uber-effective animated sequence, showing us how 25 years prior to the events of the film, a young girl went out partying one night and wound up dead in the street, leaving behind two grieving parents. After the title screen, we cut to Angelo Morello, now an old man weathered by the loss of his only daughter, Mary, and once again struck by loss as he sits beside his wife’s deathbed.

The best visual storytellers are the ones who pay attention to how all the elements flow together. Meaning needs to be communicated clearly and succinctly, and above all, attention to detail can add a great deal of richness to any story. These aren’t exactly novel ways of looking at things, but I was reminded of these ideas while watching Borges’ film.

footAfter the title sequence, we’re given that close shot on Angelo as he sits beside his wife. He’s staring off into space, generally miserable, and obviously preoccupied thinking about the same sequence we’ve just seen: the pretty young girl being murdered by a group of shadowy men. Within seconds, his wife gasps her last breath as Angelo gently eases her with coos and reassurances. In the span of less than 2 minutes, we’ve got a very clear set-up to our story: This man has carried resentment for his daughter’s murder for a quarter-century and with his wife also dead, he has nothing left to lose.

What is he going to do about it?

Similar premises have certainly been done before. Off the top of my head, I can think of stories like Taken that resonate, and others like A Man Apart (2003), Man on Fire (2004) or Hard to Kill (1990) that are more similar.

Vigilante-revenge action flicks are a dime a dozen, but Borges does a great job of making One Foot in the Grave something unique, mostly by employing a cast and crew composed entirely of Rhode Islanders working in a very familiar local landscape. They were trying to make a film about the Rhode Island mafia without relying on tropes like heists and fast cars. In that, the team certainly succeeded.

I mentioned attention to detail in film before because Borges has it. In an early sequence, Angelo wears slacks and an undershirt and proceeds to meticulously dress and arm himself. The hero of the story emerges with a naturally gruff version of Batman’s voice, Walter White’s jacket, and a cobalt black version of Rick Grime’s gun. Whether Borges intended to evoke such specific character aspects, they were present for me as Angelo proceeded to exact sloppy, violent revenge against everyone involved with his daughter’s murder.

What’s kind of wonderful about One Foot in the Grave is that unlike the heroes in similar stories, Angelo doesn’t have expert training and doesn’t go about his vengeance in a long, drawn-out way. He is just a regular guy and far from a perfect killer. He’s sloppy and brutal, which adds a hefty dose of reality to the story. Though the film moves along at a brisk pace as people begin to notice the murders, the eventual climax is well-timed. Everything wraps up in the span of a few hours of movie-time.

My list of complaints is far shorter than my list of praises. I wasn’t always sure who the tertiary characters on screen were. There’s a pair of brothers who factor in somehow, a la Ziggy and Nick Sobotka from The Wire (though the Sobotkas were cousins). The older, seemingly more straight-laced brother takes on a detective role in the story, following the chain of clues into the final confrontation.

All of the moving parts to the narrative never fully crystallize. Some of these finer points could have been clarified with a longer running time and more scenes of Angelo interrogating people or a bit more information or character development.

But then again, perhaps part of the point is that those minute details don’t really matter. After all, Angelo isn’t on the hunt for answers; he is on the hunt for vengeance. He isn’t overly concerned about his own survival, and therefore hunts with all the precision of a blunt object: hard to miss, and even harder to ignore. The same might be said of One Foot in the Grave. The film makes a statement, and it doesn’t mess around.

Dave Borges has said that his ultimate goal is to use this shorter version of One Foot in the Grave as a launching pad to get a longer feature made by submitting it to film festivals across the country.

For more information: onefootgrave.com




Work/Death Labor History Tour/Concert

For many Rhode Islanders, Slater Mill Museum in Pawtucket is a destination reserved for elementary school field trips, but a recent nighttime Labor History tour coupled with a concert by musician Work/Death marks an attempt to make the museum more accessible to adults.

“The Japanese have a word, ‘karoshi,’ which translates roughly to something like ‘work/death,’” said musician Scott Weber, who named his band after the term. “It tells the story about how office workers work themselves crazy and eventually commit suicide. That kind of behavior developed because of the industrial revolution. How does this concept of  labor affect our lives? That’s what we’re here to talk about.”

Tour guide Joey L. DeFrancesco explains, “Our average tour sort of caters to schoolkids and things like mandatory field trips, so we usually focus on the big names — Samuel Slater, Moses Brown — and the technology,” said tour guide Joey L. DeFrancesco. “In tonight’s tour, labor history is the focus — the people who worked here and how it changed the community. The concert adds another unique element to it.”

DeFrancesco himself worked at a local hotel eight years ago where he claims employees were treated poorly. After getting involved in the local union, the rest was history — literally. He plunged into the local history of the industrial revolution and in addition to becoming Slater Mill’s go-to tour guide, he also does after-school educational programming for Central Falls schools. A part-time musician, he got involved with community arts group AS220, where he met Scott Reber of Work/Death. Together, they came up with the idea to combine this labor history tour with a concert.

DeFrancesco led a full group of about 30 people through the several mill buildings, no doubt the typical tour circuit, but with different emphasis. The people in attendance were exclusively adults — oddly enough, mostly couples both hipster and otherwise, based on the amount of snuggling in the cold. DeFrancesco still mentioned the “big names” and surveyed the water-powered technology and the machinery, but spoke at great length about the community.

“Most people don’t realize that RI was a hub for the slave trade, and for a long time you had 6-year-olds processing slave cotton for pennies a day, working 13-hour days,” he explained. “It was a different kind of slavery.” Rhode Island had more slaves than any other New England states with local heroes like Moses Brown (the founder of Brown University) being prominent leaders who profited from the slave trade.

The people of Rhode Island originally worked artisanal and agricultural trades, going by their own schedule and producing only what they and their families needed, for the most part. DeFrancesco shared a schedule for local shipbuilders, who took breaks at mid-morning and then again at noon, each time partaking in rum and beer. That’s right: rum before noon. People worked on their own time and made their own schedules free of regulation.

Some mills were already processing flax and cotton into threads and fabrics, but the industrial revolution brought in new technologies and a demand for greater numbers of workers. Local townspeople frequently protested working conditions.

“I never realized how much the labor movement really began in Rhode Island,” said college student Dan Putnam. “Makes you realize that there’s more than meets the eye with these old buildings.”

An entire workforce of women trained to manage special machines even staged their own organized protest when their wages dropped. “It was really cool to hear about how it was even the first place where a female labor movement happened, so long before anything like the women’s rights movement,” said another college student, Tori Spencer.

After the hour-long tour of the museum’s buildings, inside and out, the crowd enjoyed brief refreshments before Reber’s Work/Death performance of his piece “The Great Textile Strike of 1934.″

“There’s real interest out there in purely noise-based music,” Reber said. In an intro to his performance, Reber talked about the noise of life around us that people so often tune out in favor of headphones. He explained that by capturing and blending sounds we can actually tune in to a new kind of music, one that is everywhere.

Reber grew up in industrial Woonsocket, Pawtucket’s neighbor to the north and kindred community with a mirrored history of French Canadians manipulated into working long hours in textile mills powered by the very same river: The Blackstone. It was there that he first learned to listen to how the things around him colored his experience.

“Even noise-based music can related to people in a cathartic way, like tradition or even popular music.”

Reber worked as a janitor with the AS220, often cleaning up after concerts and other arts events. He’s also hosted a show on Brown Student Community Radio and spent some time volunteering by doing music and art therapy for Generations in Smithfield.

The performance itself was 15 minutes of artfully blended cacophony featuring the sounds of textile machinery at work, grinding and stripping, stretching and wrenching. The sequences were long enough and grating enough to sicken the listener, inducing a kind of horror that must have struck every 6-year-old who had to dive into machinery to retrieve loose threads while narrowly avoiding being crushed. Then, piano chords began to compete against the noise, eventually building into a crescendo that included what sounded like a crackling, raging fire (no doubt a reference to when Pawtucket residents burned a mill to the ground as a labor protest).

It added to the experience that the concert was held on the night of a cold snap. Though unnaturally cold this year, even for New England, the temps chilled and numbed everyone’s feet in less than an hour, reinforcing that oddly burning question: How did workers manage for 13 hours a day 200 years ago with no heat in the dead of winter?

Check the Slater Mill Calendar for upcoming events: slatermill.org/calendar/

 




Three Shoeboxes — A World Premiere

curtainBest-selling and award-winning local author Steven Manchester delivered the world premiere of his first ever stage play, Three Shoeboxes. Put on by Footlights Reportory Co. at The Grange in Swansea, the play opened February 25 and details a man’s struggles with PTSD and the devastating consequences his illness has on his family. The lead character, Dennis Anderson (Chris Mac), refuses to ask for help until after he loses everything and is forced into treatment. Only then is he set on a path toward redemption.

The story originally began as a screenplay for Manchester, who, much like the play’s lead actor, is a Desert Storm vet all too familiar with how PTSD attacks the mind. While Manchester’s daughter was acting in Footlights’ Junior Division, he got to know Susan Nader, the president and founder of Footlights Repertory Co. She read the script and suggested paring it down to a size suitable for the stage. After eight weeks of intensive sessions, the story was converted into stage form and the production gradually came together.

“It was really strange in a way. I’m so used to writing, and as a writer I spend all of my time and energy up here,” Manchester said, gesturing to his head. “So to do something like this was just a phenomenal experience. So different from what I’m used to, but really exciting at the same time. Sue and even the actors — everybody adds their own little piece to the story.”

Three Shoeboxes is a heartfelt and intensely relatable story with a quality core group of actors in all the leading roles. Chris Mac, a 40-year veteran to the stage and Navy veteran to boot, brings Dennis’ anxiety to bear with vivid detail. Dennis suffers from frequent panic attacks, and Mac thrives with these on stage, triggering the audience’s anxiety as well. The building rage and frustration at his disease culminates in an inevitable meltdown. While smashing apart a set, Mac sent two cups flying into the audience. Though undoubtedly unintentional and entirely harmless, the small breach in the fourth wall made the experience that much more visceral.

Dennis is a loving father and husband who works hard to support his family, but he loses his way. Although he and his wife Tracy (Jennifer Morin) live comfortably on just Dennis’ salary while she’s stayed home to care for the kids, she longs to restart her career in journalism. Deep down, Dennis seems to support her on some level, but his traditional approach to family structure interprets her ambition as an emasculating attack that only exacerbates his anxiety.

Though at its core Three Shoeboxes is about how PTSD affects the lives of not only those afflicted with the illness but also those around them, the play grapples with domestic violence in the family dynamic. Rather than simplify that narrative into the far-too-common story of the female victim and the abusive husband, Manchester opts for conveying human complexity. Dennis isn’t a bad man. He is just a sick man. “If you had diabetes, you’d take your insulin wouldn’t you?” a therapist asks Dennis at some point. It’s so important for society to recognize mental illness as just that: an illness. The openness with which Manchester approaches that idea is immensely important for any audience.

Though Tracy’s character takes a back seat in the play’s second half, Jennifer Morin does a wonderful job conveying all the complexity of being a modern mother. Balancing an ambitious career with home life is never easy, especially while trying to wrangle three children. Much of her relationship issues with Dennis stem from misaligned expectations and a lack of communication. Dennis wants to be the provider and expects his wife to be content as a stay-at-home mother, whereas Tracy longs for a more balanced sharing of household responsibilities so that they can both thrive professionally.

It’s understandable, particularly in this day and age that Tracy could want that. She’s a strong woman who isn’t afraid to stick up for herself and, particularly in the first act, it’s clear that she will stop at nothing to protect her children. Morin does a fantastic job at conveying all this and given the timing of this play, her performance echoed Patricia Arquette’s Olivia Evans in Boyhood. Stories with room for roles like these are proving to be incredibly important in today’s world as motherhood becomes more complex.

The rest of the cast in Three Shoeboxes is serviceable and effective, with the other standout performances coming from the actors playing the three Anderson children. The young Brady Couto was a delight as the youngest, Tyler. It’s not common to find an 8-year-old with the acting chops to carry such a strong, emotional portrayal. Steven Manchester’s own daughter, Isabella, played the middle Anderson child with a kind of sweet-hearted sass that could bounce deftly from warmth to hilarity in a beat.

Manchester is perhaps best known for his #1 bestsellers Twelve Months and The Rockin’ Chair, but his prolific career also includes the award-winning Goodnight, Brian, several other novels, and three short stories that were included in “101 Best” for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.




Urban Sweat — Cranston’s Oasis

sweat1 Whether you’re on the hunt for an intimate retreat for you and your significant other or a relaxing solo getaway, Cranston’s Urban Sweat at Raffa Yoga might just be the oasis of relaxation and respite from the snow you’ve been waiting for.

Yoga studios and wellness centers aren’t hard to find in Rhode Island, but I guarantee you haven’t experienced anything like this. Tucked away in an industrial area of Cranston, Raffa Yoga offers a sweeping and comprehensive array of health and wellness services. Though they offer wonders like anti-gravity yoga and an infrared sauna, the real draw comes from the expansive urban sweat lodge that takes up most of the square footage in their wellness cosweat2mplex.

I ventured out with my plus-one on Valentine’s Day for a relaxing spa morning (before the 18th blizzard of the year struck) and the experience went a bit like this:

We made our 10am reservation almost a week ahead of time. They take walk-ins but it’s always a good idea to make your reservation in advance.

Stop 1 was the juice bar, where they sell a variety of juice blends aimed at detoxification or increased digestion. I opted for the “Relax & Restore” blend, which consisted of kale, apple, celery and cinnamon, a refreshing and invigorating potion. Conveniently, they were able to just add the cost onto our bill without the hassle of an additional transaction; it’s the subtleties that make all the difference.

sweat3First-timers will get a complete tour of the area. Each attendee is provided a locker with towel, shorts and t-shirt (both one size fits most), but all are more than welcome to wear their own clothes. From there it’s a short walk into the Active Relaxation Center, which is something of a massive lounge area. There’s iced cucumber water along one wall and individual sauna rooms on opposite ends. Dozens of cozy bean bag chairs litter the center with two king-sized water beds to one side of the room, rife with fluffy pillows. Urban Sweaters use this area to hydrate and cool down in between sessions in the saunas.

As veterans, we knew our first stop was the Eucalyptus Steam Room. Though similar to a traditional sauna in size, this room is anything but typical. It’s kepsweat5t at 140 degrees and 100% humidity and infused with eucalyptus leaves. Every few minutes, the steamer will kick on and pump more in and you’ll feel the temperature slide up and up. There’s only one light in the center of the room overhead, casting an eerily pleasant green glow. The steam gets so dense that you can’t see across the room, which can’t be more than 10 feet across. It’s the kind of tiny room you could get lost in (but in the best way possible!). After a little while, you might get a little bit disoriented, but rest assured, it’s a pleasant kind of delirium.

You enter the Eucalyptus Steam Room by wading through the Urban Hamman, a marbled Turkish-styled sauna with a bit less humidity and heat, but a lot more space to lounge about. A great method is to plunge right into the Steam Room and then cool down lightly with a brief cool shower rinse in the Hamman before going back in. You could spend a whole day just drifting back and forth.

After a nice, refreshing stretch doing just that several times, we headed across the Relaxation Center into the Himalayan Salt Grotto, one of the larger sauna rooms available that’s kept at 90 degrees and humidified by a salt-water fogger. Himalayan rock salts cover every surface in the entire room, even the ceiling. They crunch underfoot and glow from every corner. Most people lay directly on the salts and just bake.

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After that, it was about time to make use of the Relaxation Center. Music wafts over the area from unseen speakers, always instrumental and the kind of ethereal tunes you’d expect to hear during a session of yoga or meditation. There’s an ambiance of stillness and quiet, not unlike a library, that makes every lethargic person milling about only speak in whispers. The cucumber in the water adds a light, but noticeably refreshing flavor.

Before we could fall asleep on a pair of orange bean bag chairs, we went inside the Yellow Turmeric Sauna, known for its hot, dry character and the many bags of turmeric hanging on the walls. Turmeric is a spice from India known for its detoxification effects and though it’s detectable in the air, the effects are hardly pungent in the sauna. It adds a pleasant, spicy aroma.

The Turmeric Sauna, along with the Black Charcoal Sauna, are the two smallest options in Urban Sweat. There are no seats and each only fit about six or so people lying down, conservatively. The Black Charcoal is the hottest and driest of them all, peaking at 180 degrees dry heat.

There’s no real right or wrong when it comes to the order, but the three different sections are undoubtedly your moist heat, your dry heat, and the Himalayan Salt Grotto is your happy, mystical medium. We rounded out the end of our day at Urban Sweat by claiming one of the water beds for a nice nap.




Trivioke: Test Your Knowledge and Your Voice

boomWatching a room full of drunk people sing along to a Backstreet Boys song while filling out a trivia sheet somehow seemed so natural when it happened, even if it’s a bit hard to imagine. “Trivioke” is the collision of your two favorite late-night activities: trivia and karaoke. Jan 23 brought Trivioke to Boombox PVD as a new monthly tradition for those on the hunt to belt out the lyrics to classic songs and simultaneously flaunt their knowledge of pop trivia. This new fusion competition was dubbed by MCs John Taraborelli and Desiree Nash, but was originally the brainchild of The Dean Hotel’s branding and culture director, Aarin Clemens.

Cait Amirault (center) of “La femme dangereuse” mulls over her options
Cait Amirault (center) of “La femme dangereuse” mulls over her options

“We were really looking for an easy-going after work event that the locals could enjoy,” said Clemens. “As a hotel, a lot of what we do at The Dean sort of caters to out-of-towners visiting, but this allows us to really program for the locals. And I just love that it becomes a highly competitive team sport!”

Six teams of four packed into the main lounge area of Boombox, which felt like just the right number of people. Some teams, like “Farts & Trolls 420” came for the casual laughs, but others, like the competitive “Team Denim Jackets” (the very first to sign up) are veterans to both the mic and trivia sheet. The francophile “La femme dangereuse” sported chic clothing, huge sunglasses and notorious bad(ass) attitudes.

Gray Jones of “Gary Busey as Buddy Holly” said, “I’ve always just loved that Providence has this small town feel. Intimate places like Boombox really add to that. It’s a great place to come when we have guests because it’s just so unique.” When asked if they were fans of trivia or karaoke more, the team laughed and Gray said, “We’re just Boombox fans!”

The night started out tame enough, with nobody really knowing what to expect (myself included). All anyone knew was that there’d be trivia and karaoke with a fully stocked bar less than 10 feet away. Who could argue with that? The first two rounds featured your standard trivia with a lean toward pop culture. Each team had to properly identify an SNL celebrity impersonation for round one (“I can see Russia from my house!” anyone?). And in round two, called “You oughta’ know,” teams had to show their general knowledge of no-brainers like, “What is the first element on the periodic table?” Tell us: ARE you smarter than a fifth grader?

By round three, everyone was liquored up just enough to get to the good stuff: Based on a written clue of a commonly misquoted song, teams had to identify the song, find it in the karaoke song book, and sing it properly for their crowd of adoring fans.

In between and during rounds, a few mics drifted from MCs to players and from team to team. The main television in the lounge kept rolling popular karaoke songs. Individual contestants and whole teams would erupt into spontaneous renditions of whatever popped up. It was in these brief stretches when the element of competition faded and gave way to good old-fashioned drunken debauchery. Most of the players wanted to win, but everybody came to have a good time first and foremost.

Contestants stayed well past the scheduled end of Trivioke to mingle with their opponents and keep singing. And of course, they kept trash talking even after the final tallies came in.

The Dean Hotel opened its doors last April, and along the way has introduced gems like a German-style beer hall (Faust) and of course, the Korean-style karaoke lounge that fans have been mobbing every weekend for months (Boombox). Find it all on 122 Fountain St, PVD. Keep an eye on Boombox’s Facebook account for updates on next month’s Trivioke, which will happen on Feb 20.