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Igniting WaterFire

 

I am standing at the head of a boat holding a lit torch above my head. I can’t see what is going on behind me. There is only the sound of water moving beneath the boat, and the epic songs of a soundtrack blaring from speakers in the middle of the river. I am dressed all in black, from head to toe, and my hair is up in a ponytail (no hairspray).

This is the moment when water meets fire.

Typically, WaterFire guest lighters come from the organizations sponsoring the WaterFire. But today, there is no guest lighter on the wood boat Phoebus, and so another first-time volunteer named Christine and I are given the opportunity to add wood to the fires throughout the night.

The night started with a volunteer check-in next to the river. Before the sun has set, and the fires are lit, there are hordes of people wearing black, scurrying around and through the river. For full lightings, staff and volunteers are on site setting up WaterFire from 5am, and on site the night before, too.

And of course leading up to the event, the food trucks, merch table and volunteers all have to be organized. There are around 25 staff members and 200 to 350 volunteers working to make each event happen and keeping track of tons of random details that must be sorted out. For example, in the staff meeting leading up to WaterFire, there was a 10-minute conversation about where the most appropriate place was for the “Public Caresser” performance artist to do his … caressing? It turns out that the crowd, moving outward and backward from him, causes bottlenecking.

As far as WaterFire volunteer positions go, I’m certain I’ve gotten the best deal as I stand on Phoebus to help light and feed the fires. During a full lighting there are seven wood boats that are used, all named for Greek gods, goddesses and heroes, but because today is the basin lighting, with only the braziers in the circular Waterplace Park and leading up to Providence Place Mall being lit, only four wood boats will be used.

Barb is our short, spunky captain who decided to learn to drive boats and be a boat captain at 62 years old, after several years volunteering for WaterFire in other capacities. She and her equally friendly first mate Chris welcome us on board. Chris takes us through the safety precautions and the ideal technique of adding wood to the fire before we get going.

Moving through the river, we see how the wood for the fire is stored in every nook and crevice beneath the canal, stacked up in piles beneath the bridges. We don’t go straight to the basin, but once we get close, we slow and wait for the perfect timing.

American Idol contestant David Hernandez is performing the pre-lighting show, but it’s not possible to see or hear much from the boat, waiting further down the river for our cue. Eventually, a circle of people holding torches form a circle around Waterplace Park, and our boat begins to move into the center of them. We see the smiling faces of the Met’s students, whose 20th anniversary is being celebrated. Christine moves to the front of the boat and holds her torch up to the torch of a person on land. Once our torch is lit, the boat takes us next to the braziers where the wood has been prepared, and Christine begins to move the torch downward to light the fire before passing it back to me.

What if the fire doesn’t light? What if I drop the torch? What if I knock all the logs out of the brazier? And fall off the boat in the process?

But there I am – holding the torch above my head, dressed in black and standing at the front of Phoebus. Suddenly, I feel unstoppable. Lowering the torch, I make sure it makes contact with a newspaper and paraffin filled wick in the center of the logs. Within mere seconds, the wick ignites, and before long, all of the wood is up in flames.

For information on becoming a WaterFire volunteer, go to waterfire.org/volunteer.

 




Theater Artists and Students Seek to Dismantle White Supremacy at Trinity Repertory Company

On May 15 a group affiliated with students of the Brown/Trinity MFA program and identified with the hashtag #dismantlebrowntrinity staged a silent protest outside of Trinity Repertory Company as their critique of ongoing institutional racism of the theater.

Adrian Blount, a soon-to-be MFA in the Brown/Trinity program, and one of several organizers of the protest, says they organized around the goal of dismantling white supremacy, and chose the mantra “#dismantlebrowntrinity,” after seeing several productions at Trinity Rep with directorial misrepresentation of black experiences, which perpetuated stereotypes and the erasure of bodies of color. While the protest specifically called attention to the problematic nature of Trinity’s current production of Oklahoma! and several of the theater’s race-related casting choices throughout past productions, Blount explains how the group’s larger aim is “to identify, investigate, and dismantle a framework that places whiteness at the center of every point of the theatrical process,” which the group refers to as white supremacy.

The protest consisted of around 10 people, with support from other members of Brown theater faculty, Theatre Arts and Performance Studies (TAPS) students and Trinity Repertory employees, standing outside the theater in the early afternoon holding signs such as “color-blindness is violence,” “stop racist caricature” and “my body will not be erased.” They distributed educational and satirical hand-outs to patrons, Trinity Staff, and some members of the Oklahoma! artistic team, including director, Richard Jenkins, according to a tumblr page created to highlight the group’s actions and thoughts. Blount says that spreading awareness about the problematic nature of the current production of Oklahoma! is the group’s first tactic in working toward their larger goals.

“I don’t think it’s a complete ignorance of violence toward people of color,” says Diane Exavier, MFA playwright in writing for performance at Brown. “My dissent comes in what I view as a continual failure by the theater to truly investigate the meeting points of historical and present day social contexts in the plays produced [at Trinity]. To me, this very simply speaks to an absence of dramaturgy: the kind of script analysis, social research and scholarship that would actually lead to a deep and considered exploration of what it really means to produce a canonical work like Oklahoma! in Providence in 2016,” she says.

The criticisms expressed related to Oklahoma! include the play being a celebration of settler colonialism. As well, the casting of the character Will Parker as a black man, a dim-witted dancing cowboy seeking the affection of the white woman Ado Annie, is in line with caricatures that were created and enforced by the black minstrel shows of the 19th century, where performers put on blackface and present caricatured representations of black people, which then turned into common archetypal tropes that continue to influence modern art and media. Additionally, in the satirical letter passed out as part of the action, the protesters also drew attention to the black male casting of the character of Jud, the town pariah, fitting racist conceptions of black bodies being perceived as “terrifying and beastly on sight,” and to the racist caricature of the Persian peddler Ali Hakim, being played by a white man.

Background information around the racist stereotypes as they date through media were highlighted in the literature handed out as part of the protest. The pamphlet also highlighted how Oklahoma! is appropriated from the Cherokee nation playwright Lynn Riggs’ play Green Grow the Lilacs, which was a play that “paid homage to a culture that defines and informs his very existence,” and which originally heavily referenced forced Native American removal, but was appropriated to be made more palatable for white audiences.  

On the same day as the protest, artistic director of Trinity, Curt Columbus, published a statement in response on the Trinity website. The statement said that the casting choices in Oklahoma! are “not accidental, nor unconsidered, but is part of a larger conversation about race and justice that we have been having for many years at Trinity.” Columbus writes that they did not want to ignore this dark side of the play. “Our production of Oklahoma! intentionally shines a light on this overlooked part of the story, to encourage our audience to consider the part that race and privilege have in the overarching American narrative.”

In an open letter written in response to Columbus’ statement, Trinity Rep intern Cathy Braxton, also involved in organizing the protest, questions, “What is the purpose of having brown bodies on stage perpetuating stereotypes without fully addressing where these stereotypes surfaced?” She writes about the need to have people of color invested in the socio-political climate regarding race, gender and class involved in the process of theater making, to no longer have whiteness systemically at the forefront silencing divergent perspectives and experiences. “White responsibility is not to take the narrative and forward it, but to make space for people of color to voice their own experiences and stories without the threat of imposed whiteness. White responsibility is to acknowledge the problematic nature of a piece and refuse to perpetuate and finance it.”

Additional dialogue with some of the protest’s organizers, as well as the writing published on their tumblr page, points to how the group has found that this framework of centering whiteness is not limited to Oklahoma! but has shown its face in many of its theater’s productions and in various facets of the theater, such as in the staff working at Trinity Repertory, and in talkbacks after the performances. On the tumblr, Blount writes about her experiences with the theater while acting in their production A Christmas Carol. Blount says that The Heidi Chronicles, which was playing concurrently with A Christmas Carol, white-washed an intersectional framework in favor of a white feminist framework, rendering invisible the humanity and feminist identities and experiences of the black women actors in the production.

Blount also draws attention to how casting choices made around Mayella in the production of To Kill a Mockingbird meant the piece was not able to observe the racial injustices that it was meant to call attention to. “Trinity chose to ‘complicate race,’ by casting Mayella Violet Ewell as a black female playing a white female. Thus ignoring the historical lynchings of black men in that time period for being falsely accused of raping white woman. Black women were, and still are, fetishized by white men and to this day black women are very rarely given any justice when they are victims of rape.”  She also points out “the decision to produce a play about a white man who chooses to help out a black man falsely accused of rape is problematic in and of itself because it derails the issue that this white man is doing it so he has the moral high ground.”

“Why is American theater, Trinity included, and theater-goers alike, in love with portrayals of late 19th century and mid 20th century trivial narratives that are written in the safe and quiet rooms that block out the brutal violence against people of color happening at the same time? Why do we keep returning to the stories that have actively erased us in service to stages that sing about, celebrate and dance vivaciously to the tune of white, middle class enjoyment and pleasure?”  writes Brown University TAPS PhD candidate Lily Mengesha in a letter of support for the movement.

Instead of having theater perpetuate existing socio-political violence, Exavier says that there is “an opportunity to actually treat theater as a space of challenge and exchange, a space to encounter difference and new knowledge. …Don’t be lazy, or don’t rely on comfort, in your attempts to approach some of the most pertinent issues of our time.”

The #dismantlebrowntrinity group’s tumblr page can be found at dismantlebrowntrinity.tumblr.com

 




Guitar Virtuoso Joe Satriani to Play at The Vets

 

Photo Credit: Jon Luini
Photo Credit: Jon Luini

Joe Satriani is bringing his prodigious guitar shredding to Providence this Thursday, March 31, where he will play at The Vets Auditorium at 7:30pm.

Since picking up the guitar at 14, Satriani has sold more than 10 million albums, been nominated for 15 Grammys, gone on tour as Mick Jagger’s lead guitarist and been a teacher to many other famous guitarists, including Steve Vai. “We are celebrating 30 years of making instrumental rock guitar music,” Satriani says about the tour in an interview with Motif. He’s got a lot to celebrate.

The tour bringing him to the Ocean State is called “Surfing for Shockwave,” for his latest album, Shockwave Supernova. The album is based around Satriani’s idea of a performative alter-ego character, “Shockwave Supernova,” who is more outlandish than he is. “I’m basically a shy person with a job that requires a very outgoing personality, so, getting out on stage, meeting fans and mixing with industry folks requires extra effort,” he says. The album is also a return to the sci-fi/space motif that Satriani has circled around since his first album Surfing with the Alien. “I didn’t start out wanting to be a space cadet, but maybe that’s what I am.”

Satriani has a reputation not only for technical prowess, but for playing the guitar in ways that others never thought of or dared to try. He infuses intense fast-paced solos with legato licks, and layers elements of jazz and blues guitar onto hard rock songs. “I always stay focused on creating strong melodies first, then let the technical innovation follow if needed,“ he says. “I love the recording process, too. It’s an art form all its own. I use the studio like an instrument. …I’m always looking for ways to make new and interesting recordings.”

Even after more than 30 years, writing music still has its challenges. “It’s always hard work, emotionally and physically. Writing from the heart takes its toll and can leave you feeling a bit wounded now and then.” But Satriani says that Shockwave Supernova was a thrilling and cathartic roller coaster. Providence fans can expect to experience it for themselves, alongside a mix of older material as well.




Artists Collaborative Opening in Warren

The Collaborative, a new artists collective in Warren, is having an open house on Sunday, March 13 to mark their grand opening.

The Collaborative was founded by local artist Adam Tracy, director of the La Salle Scholars Program Jeff Danielian and Rhode Island College Professor of Film Uriah Donnelly. For the moment, The Collaborative is a gallery space showcasing seven local artists, including one Tiverton High School Student. Donnelly says that the artists involved are mostly a group of friends, but that they have already had other artists reach out to them, looking to get involved.

While the work that will be showcased at the open house is mostly paintings and mixed media, they hope to use the space to feature a wide variety of forms, with physical space being the only limitation. While there is no specific vibe that the gallery is going for, Donnelly says they will move away from “classic” art, and that it will be “edgier than you might see at other places.”

The Collaborative is also hoping to extend beyond being a gallery space. Donnelly said that the idea really came out of seeing a lot of young people who were struggling artists living in Warren and recognizing “a need for a place for folks to get together.”

One way they would like to foster community is through partnerships with local schools, perhaps in the form of workshops and other arts education. They would also like to have a featured “Student Artist of the Month,” as a way of encouraging young artists by bringing them into a larger community and providing space to display their art. The Collaborative would also like to bring in speakers around topics such as grant-writing, accounting, and other skills useful to artists, but not always easy to learn about.

While funding for The Collaborative is currently tenuous, Donnelly insists that they are “figuring it out.” They have applied for various grants and are hoping to get funding through partnerships with local businesses. Also, the open house should bring in some funds through donations, and through a raffle and a silent auction.

The Open House on March 13 will celebrate the opening with refreshments and live music by Atwater-Donnelly, Josh Grabert of Torn Shorts and another band to be announced. It will take place at 498 Main Street, Warren.

thecollaborative1 thecollaborative3 thecollaborative2Photos by Janet Moscarello Photography




RI Music Hall of Fame Announces New Inductees

On February 12, 2016, amidst RI Music Hall of Fame’s (RIMHOF) displays of some of the state’s most talented musicians, they announced eight new inductees to be added to the club of “the greats.”

The new inductees, Greg Abate, Frankie Carle, Bill Harley, Carl Henry, Carol Sloane, Sugar Ray & The Bluetones, Richard Walton, and The Young Adults have all released multiple albums. With work in different genres and forms ranging from Abate’s Be-bop saxophone to Sloane’s contemporary jazz vocals to Bill Harley’s children’s music, each have made their own mark in the music world beyond Rhode Island. Displays highlighting their accomplishments will be installed along the brick walls of Pawtucket’s Hope Artiste Village, in RIMHOF’s museum space.

The Vice Chair of the RIMHOF, Rick Bellaire, read through the names and accomplishments of the musicians to a crowd of about 60 people. As their names were called, each recipient stood in their seats, raised a hand or gave a subtle nod of the head. Bonita Flanders of The Motels was handed flowers from the person sitting next to her, waiting patiently with the bouquet on their lap. Sugar Ray and the Bluetones dressed up in jackets and suits, as did many other inductees, and after the ceremony, they took photos together in the corridor where their pictures would soon be displayed.

There was no elaborate stage or grand wooden podium, and Bellaire’s speech was held up, fittingly, by a music stand. A dignified announcement ceremony with Rhode Island charm, and only a precursor to the larger induction ceremonies that will take place on April 21 and April 24, with accompanying concerts at The Met and Chan’s.

To be inducted to the Hall of Fame, one of the biggest criteria is making a musical splash beyond the Ocean State. Bellaire explains how many people know the musicians who are being inducted, but don’t realize they are from Rhode Island, or don’t realize how significant they are in the larger music world. It’s about “staking our claim in the hierarchy of the great artists,” he said.

And the RIMHOF is setting out to do more than put pictures on a wall. With previous inductees coming back to celebrate the new ones, they are hoping to create a strengthened sense of musical community, says Chair of RIMHOF, Robert Billington. Dave Goldstein, Co-Founder of RIMHOF, explains that the displays are only the most outward expression of the work they’re doing. They also archive and collect material that is getting lost, and are hoping to leverage the attention around the Hall of Fame to create other initiatives to help the music community.

It is only the 4th year of the RIMHOF, and looking forward, Billington says they would love to move to their own building, and create three-dimensional displays to celebrate the artists and the music more permanently.

For now, Bill Harley says, with a smile,  that he looks forward to coming to the farmers market to stand casually in front of his display, and wait for someone to notice.

 




Len Cabral: The Storyteller

It’s 1966, and the North Providence High School football team’s out on the field for practice. One of the players, Len Cabral, looks down at a grass stain on his uniform.

“Out, damn’d spot! Out, I say!”

His teammates look at him.

“Which of you have done this? Thou canst not say I did it: never shake thy gory locks at me.”

Before he became an internationally acclaimed storyteller, before a lifetime of traveling the globe, collecting and sharing its tales, Len Cabral was a Shakespeare-quoting football stud.

“I spent more time in the locker room than a library,“ says Cabral. But he was turned on to Shakespeare by an English teacher, and before long, had other teammates quoting Shakespeare on the field. Or he’d spout Bob Dylan songs, singing ‘‘How does it feel…?” to an opposing player while tackling them to the ground. “I had a lot of fun with language.”

Len Cabral was only beginning to find his voice. And often, it was a goofy one.

After high school, he went into the military. It wasn’t until he started working at a daycare in the early ‘70s that he began experimenting with storytelling in an attempt to keep the attention span of the very young children. Getting a sense for what he wanted to do, he attended Rhode Island College and took classes on theater, children’s literature, early childhood development, dance and mime. Knowing that the GI Bill wouldn’t pay for a full degree, when anyone bothered him about requirements or a specific class he was supposed to take, he’d just tell them, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll take it next year.”

Then, Providence Inner City Arts, an organization that Cabral was a part of and eventually president of, got a grant for two people to do creative dramatics in daycare centers in Providence. It was mostly theater at the time until about six or seven years later, when Cabral shifted his focus to storytelling and started traveling the country.

Forty years of storytelling later, and that focus is on FUNDA Fest, the annual storytelling festival put on by the Rhode Island Black Storytellers (RIBS). They have been performing at schools around the city all week, in addition to performances at various libraries and theaters. The festival has been going on for 18 years, and the Rhode Island Black Storytellers have been around even longer.

Because of the festival in late January, it’s a little bit busier of a day than usual, but not by much. After two high energy shows at the International Charter School, Cabral arrives at the next school early for his final show of the day. It is the end of the lunch break and Cabral is led to an auditorium turned cafeteria where he will be performing.

lenCabralHe walks in and the kids are sitting in strict rows of perfectly aligned beige tables. A man in a purple button-down stands at the center. He blows his whistle, referring to each table by its number. “Number 16”  is told to proceed. They go single file to put down the trays from their pizza lunch, and when a soft murmur rises from this room of children, they threaten to take away their recess. “You want me to let you outside?” he hollers, in between shrieks of his whistle. Off to the side, another teacher pushes his chest out, raising his shoulders up and backwards at the child he is talking to, exerting himself.

It’s a performance of power and intimidation, and Cabral is not impressed. At the first school, where he has been doing shows for ten years, he remembered the teachers, hugged them and stopped to chat. They showed off their students’ artwork. Now, he stands in the corner watching yet another, third man yell at a child for not sitting straight. For the first time in a busy day, Cabral loses his charismatic smile. In fact, he’s pissed off. “These kids should be having little conversations among themselves, telling stories,” he says. He explains that at schools like this, the kids look at him like he’s Santa Claus. “I’m not going to be another adult who is condescending to kids,” he said earlier in the day.

Cabral knows that telling stories is not a neutral act. “I got more concerned about having a story that has something to say.” he explains. “There’s so many things that make us disconnected in society … [Stories] help us with empathy and compassion.” So he makes an effort to find stories with female heroes, with elderly heroes, and tells stories from around the world, creating the opportunity for students to see themselves in the tale, or challenge a stereotype. “I try to find the right story for the right audience.”

Sometimes, when he gets to a school, especially all white schools, he goes straight to the library and sits on the ground, reading books. He knows that the kids are watching him, and wants them to see and hear things that will make them question assumptions they’ve learned from the media or their parents.

This school, however, is mostly students of color, and when they finally exit the lunch room, a new bout of power struggles occur as the fifth grade class enters. Once they’re seated, Cabral launches into his first story, a crowd favorite: “Old Man Winter.”

As he speaks, he gets a couple restrained giggles, so he goes bigger. A couple more laughs? The voice gets sillier and louder and his body starts stretching across the space in exaggerated movements.

If they’re getting restless he sits down, starts speaking more softly.

In between stories he does a variety of activities, from repeat-after-me activities, to poems, songs and jokes. In the morning, he started humming ever so quietly, and it was only a couple moments before the kids stopped talking and started humming with him, and then singing. He uses these more off-handed moments between stories to teach small tidbits about nutrition, or encourage the students to learn their parents’ or grandparents’ languages, if they haven’t already.

With this older and decidedly more cynical group, he decides to talk to them.

“I might be in the room right now with someone who will discover the cure for cancer. Or clean the atmosphere. Or write a book. I hope you have your sights set high.”

And like that, the room is silent. The young girl who, not long before, was rolling her eyes, whispering “This is weird,” to her friend isn’t saying a thing.

Cabral later admits that once, after a similar speech, a high school student almost made him cry. She approached him after the show to thank him, to tell him that no one has ever told her that before — that she could amount to something.

Who knows what this group will walk away thinking. Perhaps they will talk about Cabral’s stories to their parents, or remember one of his stories years later. At the very least, for 50 minutes these children were not being yelled at. They were not being physically intimidated by large men, not having whistles blown at them. Instead they were laughing and being told that they could do anything. They were dreaming of other places, other worlds.

Once the show was over and the kids rushed outside to go home, Cabral sighed.

“They were in need of a story.”

 




Providence Student Union Wants Ethnic Studies Classes

psuOn January 20, the Providence Student Union (PSU) held a rally to demand the introduction of ethnic studies courses to all Providence public high schools by next fall.

Students gave speeches about the need for a more inclusive and nuanced curriculum to a crowd of over 75 people outside the Providence School Department. “They make it seem like our countries are meaningless,” said Diane Gonzalez, a senior at Classical High School. She said students would be more excited for classes if they felt the material was relevant to them and their families.

The students also spoke about how the few mentions of people of color often happen in problematic ways.

“The oppression of enslaved African-Americans and Native Americans is disguised as this ‘cultural exchange,’” said Lee Caraballo during her speech. Another student, Latifat Odetunde, questioned why black history in the curriculum starts and ends with slavery.

While 91% of students in Providence public schools are students of color, fewer than 100 of their textbooks’ 1,192 pages are dedicated to people of color, making up less than 10% of the history curriculum, says Afaf Akid, a senior at E-Cubed Academy. As well, about 75% of Providence teachers are white, and Seena Chhan, a student from Central High School, spoke about wanting these courses to be taught by teachers of color.

The PSU’s campaign is not the first of its kind. Students around the US, in Oregon, California, Texas and Arizona, have made similar demands, to varying success. Gonzalez said she was inspired by the documentary Precious Knowledge about the fight for ethnic studies in Arizona. “They were not only learning about history; they were learning about oppression and about how to be leaders in their communities,” she said. “I deserve an education that makes me feel powerful.”

A recent study conducted by Stanford University looks at an ethnic studies pilot program with at-risk 9th graders and found that the course led to attendance improving by 21% and GPAs rising nearly a grade and a half.

The students put tons of work into organizing the event, such as coordinating with many different groups around the city, including Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE), the Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM), Youth in Action, the Environmental Justice League of RI and more, said Justin Silva, a student member of PSU. About a week prior to the rally, they also organized a petition aimed at the Providence School Board stating their demands, which has now been signed by close to 500 people.

Silva said that most people have been supportive so far. The crowd, largely made up of high school students of color, also consisted of teachers, administrators and other supporters. The Providence School Board superintendent, Chris Maher, attended and says he is in favor of ethnic studies classes.

More than anything, the students seemed excited, and determined, to learn new material. They carried brightly colored signs with slogans such as “My history is my identity” and “Without knowledge of history we are like a tree without roots.” They spoke about Zapatistas and Che, and in one speech, held up black and white photos of important resistance leaders — Bayard Rustin, Grace Lee Boggs, Ella Baker — and taught the crowd about them.

The rally ended with a chant: “Our History Matters.”




Fête Feels the Rebirth Groove

rebirthRebirth Brass Band has taken the streets of New Orleans, screen time on HBO’s “Treme” and a Grammy. On Wednesday, December 2, they took the stage at Fête Ballroom.

When the crowd was asked by the band how many were hearing Rebirth for the first time, around a quarter of the room cheered. It seemed like the majority of the audience knew the band — Providence brass band aficionados and musicians happy to throw down $25 to see the NOLA legends.

The band jumped straight into their set of rhythmic grooves and high-energy horn melodies. They took more time to speak between songs at the beginning of the show, the trumpet player Chadrick Honore charming the audience with jokes and banter. In a phone interview before the show, Keith Frazier, bass drummer and original member of the band, said that the difference between playing in New Orleans and being on tour is that not everyone is familiar with their style. “People at home know what to do with the music,” said Frazier.

Two or three songs in, in the middle of “Move Your Body,” Honore smiles. “You think we’re playing a song,” he says, “but we’re telling you what to do.” After encouraging the audience to come closer to the stage, to dance, the crowd became more comfortable and the band started moving more quickly. The interlude between songs became a simple “keep the music rolling,” and that’s exactly what they did.

If you didn’t already know that Rebirth was Keith and Phil Frazier’s brainchild and life’s work of over 30 years, you would not have guessed. With only Keith’s glasses and cap visible bobbing behind the bass drum while he tapped away at his cymbal with a screwdriver, and the bell of Phil’s Sousaphone towering above the band, the Frazier brothers did not push themselves into the spotlight. Rather, the bass drum and sousaphone guide the band between songs and ground the music in steady rhythms and grooves. It is obvious the brothers are not interested in being the face of the band, but the heartbeat.

Meanwhile, other members of the band, such as Stafford Agee on the trombone and Vincent Broussard on the saxophone, took turns delivering solos. Unlike many brass bands, there was no rushing to play the highest notes as fast as possible. The solos were smooth, funky riffs in conversation with the rest of the music. The songs were largely a call and response format, moving from moments of playing in sync to layering different elements and riffs on top of each other.

While Honore swayed a little with the music, most of the band stared straight ahead, professional and focused. Even with space made for  improvisation, it is clear there were no surprises. They know exactly what they’re doing. “[It’s] like getting up and going to work,” says Keith Frazier. “Work that I really enjoy.”

They played many of the songs they are known for, like “Feel Like Funkin’ It Up” and a soulful “Casanova” that blended into “Do Watcha Wanna.” A cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” got the crowd moving.

The two brothers started Rebirth with trumpet player Kermit Ruffins in high school. Being too young to play in bars, they’d play on the streets of the French Quarters of New Orleans. Now, the band has become emblematic of New Orleans street brass music in their own right. Frazier says they feel responsible to represent that culture, and that they “try to keep those elements of what we played on the streets on stage.” However, in adding more more elements of hip-hop, reggae and R&B into the music, he says they are also looking to “be at the forefront” of taking the genre into new realms. “I gotta leave my stamp on this music.”




Cloud Eye Control: Half Life

In Cloud Eye Control’s Half Life, performed at Columbus Theatre on November 21, images projected in front and behind an actor create the illusion that the woman, moving subtly on the stage, is being whipped through mountains or getting lost in the sea. She holds up her hand to have a flurry of dots fly out of it. Fish swim across the stage as they are consumed by a fiery red substance. Half Life uses multimedia and technology to build illusions not typical of live performances. The scenes layer animation with sound and movement to produce an abstract but visceral exploration of feelings of uncertainty and isolation in the wake of Fukushima.

In a talkback after the performance, co-creators Chi-wang Yang and Miwa Matreyek explained how they and their third partner, Anna Huff, devised the show not through a focus on ‘story,’ but by approaching larger themes and ideas, such as what Matreyek called a ”collective imagination of fear.” The scenes go back and forth between two characters, A-ko and B-ko, with one moving through natural environments, and the other in a sanitized, virtual reality, where she interacts with screens and projected faces. The show makes use of contrasting images and forms, such as nature breaking down, and operatic songs alongside futuristic video game-esque soundscapes.

The multimedia not only influences the content of the show, but becomes an inherent part of the experience in theme and form. The characters interact with it in various ways, from responding to static projections to directly influencing the technology. In part of the show, one of the women sits in front of a camera, which sends the image onto a screen in front of her, where a model is digitally rendered on top. At times, the screens are ever so slightly re-arranged to box the actor in and physically isolate the characters, trapped in their separate worlds. Through layering different elements, the show creates feelings of chaos that draw attention to the anxiety and trauma of a broken world.

During the talkback, the actors, Jenny Greer and Sara Sinclair Gomez, said the presence of technology also posed a performance challenge as they did not have real life people and objects to engage with.

Quieter moments where the projections fade, silhouettes and shadows take over the stage, are perhaps the starkest, most vulnerable moments in the show, but they are briefly lived. During the talkback, Yang explained that stillness was the hardest to capture amidst so many facets of the performance. Indeed, the final scene, where the characters come to the front of the stage, making contact with each other for the first time, singing an emotional operatic appeal, almost falls short compared to the energy of the rest of the piece.

Perhaps Half Life is signalling a new era for performance art and theater makers, simultaneously highlighting the potential of new multimedia forms while pointing a finger to its emptiness. The audience is left to marvel at what is possible, and mourn the moments of real human interaction that get lost along the way.




Hope Street Merchants Association Wants to Install Solar Powered Lamps

“How can we do something to make the streets more beautiful?” asks Line Daems, co-president of the Hope Street Merchants Association (HSMA).

Their answer: Install locally designed solar powered street lamps. On November 18, co-presidents of the HSMA, Line Daems and Pernilla Frazier, and Jonathan Harris, responsible for the design of the lamps, spoke to an intimate gathering of about 20 people, including Mayor Elorza, about their newest project: “Off-Grid on Hope Street.”

The lights will be about two feet large and circular, with the solar panel creating a south-facing slant through the top of the bulbs. The poles of the lamps will be approximately 12 feet high and can be spun by hand, with small slits up and down them through which you can see artwork on the inside of the base of the poles. The idea behind the design was to incorporate the solar panels in a way so that they are an integral part of the visual appeal of the lamp, instead of distracting from it. They originally collected design suggestions and proposals from students at Johnson & Wales University, which were then narrowed down by a committee, with Harris being responsible for the final design of the lights.

The lamps are not intended to be fully functional street lamps that will replace the city lamps, but have the sole purpose of being decorative, creating ambient mood lighting for the streets in addition to the regular street lights. The project is “emblematic of what our neighborhood stands for,” says Frazier. The HSMA will own the lights as an organization and be responsible for installation and maintenance, but will work in partnership with the city to ensure compliance with any city rules and ordinances.

During the presentation, an audience member pointed out that Hope Street will not actually be “off the grid,” as they will continue using the same amount of electricity for the regular city lights. The solar power will be used to charge batteries in the light, which are able to store enough charge to last five days without additional charge. So, even in Providence’s most gloomy rainy season, as long as there is a good sunny day once every five days, the lights should continue working.

Now, the HSMA are looking to raise $150,000 for the project, which would pay the artist and fund the creation and maintenance of the lights. Initial money will go toward constructing a prototype to work out any problems and demonstrate the idea to potential funders. In seeking sponsorship, they are hoping that the Miriam Hospital will be a potential sponsor, as they previously supported HSMA projects. They are also hoping for support and sponsorship from the City of Providence, local solar power companies, Governor Gina Raimondo’s office and will be looking into any grants that may be available. They say they are confident they will get the money together.