Summer in the City

PVDFest is an annual event that typically transforms The Creative Capital into a boisterous celebration of art and culture. Unfortunately, the dumpster fire that is 2020 necessitated its cancellation this summer. But PVDFest’s commitment to public art hasn’t wavered. People out taking a socially distanced stroll through the city’s streets might have noticed three pieces of PVDFest-commissioned art pop up this season: “Head in the Clouds, Feet on the Ground,” by Jerold Ehrlich; “Bee Violet,” by Allison Newsome and Deborah Spears Moorehead; and “Dream Weave,” by Karin Giusti. These pieces will be on display until fall. For more information, go to pvdfest.com/public-art




Get Your Flea Fix!: Providence Flea returns to the great outdoors

If you, like us, have been missing your casual Sunday shop along the river at the Providence Flea, have we got some good news for you! On Sunday, August 2, Providence Flea will begin a 5-week outdoor trial run that welcomes shoppers back to the river.

Providence Flea takes safety seriously, and it’s made some changes to its format to ensure the health of its vendors and shoppers. Fewer vendors will attend each event — rather than three rows of vendors, shoppers can expect two for a total of 38. Vendors prefer cashless payment, and crossing rows between vendors will be prohibited. Masks and social distancing will be required.

As always, food trucks will be available at the Flea. Some of them might require preordering, which can be done on site. And although eating while browsing isn’t allowed, there’s plenty of space along the river for a picnic. What better way is there to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon?

Providence Flea takes place Sundays, Aug 2 – 30 from 10am – 2pm across from 345 South Water St, PVD; for more information on social distancing guidelines, go to providenceflea.com/covid-19.html




Get Out!: PVDFest announces a Downcity scavenger hunt

PVDFest has joined the ranks of organizations stepping up to entertain and delight cooped-up locals despite the changes social distancing has forced. This certainly isn’t the summer for the throngs of people dancing in the streets PVDFest usually encourages, but an outdoor scavenger hunt with your bubble? That idea kind of has us dancing.

On August 3, PVDFest will announce via its social media platforms its 15 scavenger hunt locations, all located on the PVDFest footprint. Then you and your bubble, armed with cameras, are tasked to find those spots and snap a picture or video of yourself at each location. Post your finds on social media with #PVDFestHunt and you’ll be eligible to win some prizes!

The PVDFest scavenger hunt runs from Aug 3 – 17. For more information, go to pvdfest.com/pvdfesthunt




Comic Book Junkies: The hero we all need

Days after Lenny Schwartz and Nathan Suher premiered their film Far From Perfect: Life Inside a Global Pandemic, fans were clamoring for more. “I told them I’d only do if it they cancel San Diego Comic Con. And then they cancelled San Diego Comic Con and I don’t like to break a promise,” said writer and co-director Schwartz. And that’s how Comic Book Junkies, which will stream over a Facebook watch party on Saturday, July 25, was born.

Comic Book Junkies is a comedy that focuses on fans and cosplayers who are thrown into turmoil when San Diego Comic Con 2020 is cancelled because of coronavirus. That’s enough to throw any comic book junkie for a loop, but then the earth gets thrown into a black hole by an unknown villain. To save the world, these fans and cosplayers must become the one thing they have all aspired to be: heroes.

Making this film provided a bit of a balm for Schwartz, who was disappointed about San Diego Comic Con’s cancellation. “I know it seems like it is this crazy place but honestly, I have been at every one of them for the last 12 years(this would have been 13). The first three years I went as a fan and the last 9 as a professional. It is my time out from the real world.”

The film was created in a similar way to Schwartz and Suher’s previous social distancing film. Schwartz wrote more than 100 vignettes that he sent to their actors, who were each tasked with filming their piece. Then Suher stepped in to stitch all the pieces together.

“When you have a script where everyone is recording their scene independently and the stories sometimes directly intertwine, there is a risk that the performances that are intended to dovetail with each other just don’t work out as they did on paper. As an editor, I have had to deal with that several times on this film by occasionally finding creative ways to create chemistry between abutting scenes,” co-director and editor Suher said.

Luckily, Schwartz and Suher had a little more time to plan Comic Book Junkies than they did Far from Perfect. “With Comic Book Junkies Lenny and I discussed several months out how we were going to allow for enough time to find and accentuate the nuances in the performances with the use of basic editing, some music cues, and manipulating some of the video and audio for dramatic or comedic effect.  The extra time also gave us the opportunity to inform the performers if their submissions needed to be redone for either technical reasons or if we felt they needed some direction,” Suher said.

Schwartz was thrilled with the number of actors who wanted to be involved in the film and the quality of their performances. His favorite moment from the film? “It was great to work with Lloyd Kaufman of Troma Films. I see Lloyd every year in San Diego, and I have ben watching his films since I was 13. It was an honor. But I can’t pick a favorite because I am so appreciative of the actors’ work and love the thought everyone put in.”

Comic Book Junkies will be shown via a Facebook watch party on Saturday, Jul 25 at 8pm. For more information, go to facebook.com/events/293303155190042




Death Drop Gorgeous: Providence film to stream as part of Boston’s Wicked Queer film festival

Young gay men who work at a local drag club are lured out through the dating app POUNDR and then brutally murdered. This is the story behind Death Drop Gorgeous, a film written and directed by Michael Ahern, Brandon Perras-Sanchez and Christopher Dalpe that is set to be streamed on July 25 as part of the Wicked Queer: The Boston LGBTQ Film Festival. If you enjoy B-movies, ’80s slashers, John Waters-style irreverence and Giallo psychedelia sprinkled with unforgettable drag queens, then this is a ride you’ll want to get on.

Ahern said of the film, “Death Drop Gorgeous came to fruition because we wanted to create a horror movie we hadn’t seen being made. A lot of queer folks love the horror genre, but proper representation is often lacking within it or the representation is cliche and underdeveloped. We started writing it on nights and weekends and our mantra was, ‘Let’s see how far we can take this.’ The momentum kept on coming!”

Providence almost becomes a character in this film. Ahern said, “I think people will recognize a lot of themes and motifs throughout the movie that’ll remind them of the creative capital.” But Ahern credits the community for helping to bring the film to fruition. “Between partnerships and local businesses who let us film in their establishments, to our actors and local drag artists who signed on, to fundraising our budget, this entire endeavor has been a community effort, so the film is definitely a love letter to our little city.”

This is Wicked Queer’s 36th film festival. Though the film typically is hosted by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and screened in theaters throughout the city, this year’s festival will be entirely virtual. “Wicked Queer is kind of my proudest achievement thus far,” said Ahern. “This is our first feature film and to say we got into one of the longest running queer film festivals in the nation? Insanity. Shawn Cotter, executive director of Wicked Queer, has been so supportive of our grassroots ethos, and we couldn’t be happier to be amongst family. Also, our film is legitimately wicked queer, so it feels quite appropriate to be premiering with them.”

The Wicked Queer Film Festival takes place Jul 24 – Aug 2. For more information on the festival, go to wickedqueer.org. Death Drop Gorgeous streams on July 25 at 9:30pm. For more information on Death Drop Gorgeous, go to deathdropgorgeous.com.




La Piazza

To help Federal Hill restaurants survive capacity restrictions placed to keep diners and restaurant workers healthy, the Federal Hill Commerce Association will close two sections of Atwells Avenue on Fridays and Saturdays from 5 – 11pm this summer. The street closure will allow participating restaurants to expand their outdoor seating into the streets so that they can serve more customers while maintaining safe social distancing. Diners will have to adhere to mask-wearing guidelines and make reservations at one of the 20 restaurants participating.




Bringing the Arts Home: FirstWorks’ virtual summer camps keep kids creative

Syncopated Ladies

When Rhode Island schools closed in March, cutting students off from in-person arts education, FirstWorks, a nonprofit that works to ensure equitable access to the arts, stepped in to bring their educational opportunities virtual.

Kathleen Pletcher, artistic director of FirstWorks said, “We are always concerned about students’ access to the arts because the arts do a variety of things. We’re trying to train kids as artists and create new ways into learning. Learning to work collaboratively, empowering kids to express themselves and be civically engaged. The arts can really address some of the issues in the education system. They are a strong asset that can be not measured as precisely as math scores or literacy, but level the playing field in terms of income, and they give students a boost in succeeding.”

After the success of their virtual learning series, Pletcher and her team began thinking about how to conduct live workshops with students over the summer. “What do kids want to do this summer?” Pletcher asked herself. “Students like to be able to move and do things and build things.” So FirstWorks answered that student need by developing two virtual summer camps — one devoted to dance and the other devoted to theater.

Jillian Davis of Complexions Contemporary Ballet

These free summer camps run for one week in July, for 90 minutes a day. Pletcher says that the time commitment allows for a lot of variety of activity, spontaneity and social interaction in the programming, while also leaving kids plenty of free time in their day to play.

Pletcher says the camp instructors FirstWorks invited exemplify the organization’s commitment to diversity. “We invited artists we have relationships with — some of the leading artists in the world — but we did it with a consciousness of the diversity of students in RI schools.” They chose instructors with experiences and values that would mirror those of their students in order to provide kids with role models. But students’ needs aren’t FirstWorks’ only focus. “We, too, recognize that this is a really hard time for artists, and we are conscious of our role in sustaining and strengthening their work,” Pletcher says.

The Summer Moves Virtual Dance Camp is designed for students in grades 3 through 8 and will feature Shake It Up classes with Syncopated Ladies, an all women dance squad from LA. Pletcher says of the group, “They’re very cool and committed to history and empowerment.” Also? They worked with Beyonce. Students also will learn hip-hop and storytelling with Sokeo Ros, modern dance with performer and educator yonTande, and movement workouts with the principal dancer of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, America’s first fully multi-cultural ballet.

The Virtual Theater Arts Camp is for students in grades 5 through 7. Pletcher says, “Students will imagine creative worlds and characters, write those worlds and characters, and then manifest them from home.” They’ll do this under the guidance of theater educator Sophie Siegel-Warren, puppeteer Heather Henson, costume designer Machine Dazzle and spoken word artist Chachi Carvalho, who believes in empowering young people through self expression. Pletcher says of this team of artists, “These are artists, from both the world stage and the Rhode Island stage, who really care about paying it forward.”

Chachi Carvalho

What can students who join these camps expect? “I think students can expect to have a really fun time!” Pletcher says. “Anybody who’s curious and excited to learn will be learning from some of the best.”

To help the artistic young person you love learn from the best this summer, sign up by going to first-works.org/education/firstworks-virtual-summer-camps. Summer camps run from July 20 – 24. The dance camp takes place each day from 10 – 11:30am and the theater camp takes place each day from 1 – 2:30pm.




Take Action: The Womxn Project is #sustainingcommunity

Photo credit: Sara Archambault

Conversation without action won’t drive change, so The Womxn Project — a local organization always pushing for justice — is taking action and calling on community members to do the same.

Last weekend, in partnership with the RI Democratic Women’s Caucus, The Womxn Project projected a series of statements on the State House calling on white people to take action to stop racism.

We asked Jocelyn Foye, co-director of The Womxn Project, what women’s role is in the quest for racial justice. “Fundamental leadership is coming from women of color, and we want to be a support system to them,” she said. “I think that you’re seeing a lot of activists are women. [The Womxn Project] is not exclusive to a gender, but we also are recognizing that there is a power in that group.”

The organization recently put out a video series that gives tips to white people on how to listen and learn, provides ways people can push for justice, helps parents raise anti-racist kids and gives advice on ways to create change in day-to-day lives.

“This is our problem,” Foye said. “We created this problem and we need to do something about it.”

Find the video series on The Womxn Project’s YouTube channel with #sustainingcommunity: youtube.com/channel/UCrgBHwfrU_8176Q9vjQ7f4A




Sculpture on the Lawn: Bristol Art Museum features a walking tour of art

Bristol Art Museum recently unveiled an outdoor exhibit featuring works by artists Michael Cochran, Mike Hansel, Rob Lorenson, Paul Menensis, Matt Noiseux, Derek Riley and Mark Wholey. These works appear along Hope Street in Bristol on the lawns of Colt School, Linden Place and the Bradford-Dimond-Norris House.

Guest curator Rob Lorenson, who organized the exhibit, said, “With the closure of institutions of art as part of social distancing, public art has a role to play in availability. Outdoor sculpture is always available and in spaces that are conducive to social distancing. In this exhibit you don’t even need to get out of your car to enjoy the artwork. Over the duration of the exhibit and multiple encounters – a real relationship with the artwork can form.”

Interested art lovers are invited to view the works by car or by taking a stroll down Hope Street. They will remain on display through Labor Day. For more information, go to bristolartmuseum.org




Dancing with Jim Reaper: We spoke with the spooky specter about the man beneath the cloak

On May 30, just hours before Rhode Island enters Phase 2 of the governor’s reopening plans, Rhode Islanders Against Excessive Quarantine will hold a rally outside the State House protesting the shutdown. In anticipation of the event, Motif spoke with Jim Reaper, the cloaked specter often found circling these protest events, holding a sign that reads “Soon.”

Motif: Why did you start attending these protest rallies dressed as the Grim Reaper?

Jim Reaper: At the rallies, a lot of people weren’t wearing masks. They were very close together. Sharing a microphone. They were welcoming death. And a light bulb goes off. Wouldn’t it be funny if I showed up there as the Grim Reaper? One of my friends, Mike Knives, who fabricates really cool stuff, made a cloak for me in a day. Then I made a sign and just started showing up.

Motif: How did people react to you?

Jim Reaper: People were very confused, which was kind of what I was looking for. I wanted to spark something in their brain. Some people were confused. Some people were angry. Some people tried to get in my face. That cloak is huge and it makes me look bigger than I am. So one guy made fat jokes. People tried to get pictures with me. Some people really did get in my face. Photos from the rallies show one guy was pointing at me. One guy was coming at me.

I took people with me to document it. People who were sizeable. Because I was completely outnumbered. I can take a punch, but you never know what’s going to happen. I’ve been getting weird physical threats on my Facebook page. 

Motif: What do you touch in people that makes them so angry?

Jim Reaper: We all have viewpoints. I play devil’s advocate. Everyone’s livelihood is getting attacked. We’re all getting hurt. Some of the things I’m doing does seem to mock their revolution. But I’m not trying to mock them, just point out the hypocrisy and the ignorance.

It touches a nerve because everybody is at their peak of emotion. We’re all getting frustrated with the situation. Nobody likes this. So I think when you say, “Hey, what you’re doing is hurting us,” and make them maybe rethink what they’re doing, I think it sparks a knee jerk reaction.

I’d probably get along with these people on a personal level, but it becomes a political issue. And it’s not even about politics, but I think people line up [along party lines].

Motif: What do you think about the state’s reopening plan?

Jim Reaper: We might be moving too fast. Fifty percent capacity [at restaurants] seems a bit much. It seems a little aggressive, but I’m not a disease expert. I don’t blindly follow, but I trust that whatever regulations they’re putting in are working. Our numbers are low. Do I feel like my rights are being taken back a little? Of course. But I’m not going to go crazy about it.

Motif: You seem to promote mask wearing on social media.

Jim Reaper: My girlfriend is a nurse so I take a lot of leads from her about what’s considered safe. I share information about people who are making masks. I try to promote those people to get people to put masks on. My finger is on the pulse of small businesses, and my next shift is going to be promoting small businesses that really need to start getting back into shape. 

Motif: Are you planning to attend the May 30 rally?

Jim Reaper: I’m going to the one on the 30th. I don’t know what will happen. I’ve been to two or three of them. I’d guess there were 75 people at the first one I went to, and the second one I went to had maybe 35 people. The Facebook group Rhode Islanders Against Excessive Quarantine has about 6,000 people in it, which is a small percentage of the state. Then the number of people who are showing up and protesting is even smaller. It’s such a minimal amount of people who are opposed to this, but 100 people defying orders could potentially affect thousands. Protest from home. Stay home. Phase 2 is very aggressive. And it’s right around the corner. They’re getting what they want, just not as the pace they want. It’s the whole Veruca Salt thing. They’re stamping their feet. Their arguments boil down to, “I’m inconvenienced.” Be a community. Adapt and everything will be fine eventually.