Experimental Compositions: The illusion and immersion of Happy Place

(Happy Place: Dan Lippel (guitar), Andrew Smiley (guitar), Will Mason (drums), Kate Gentile (drums), Gelsey Bell (vocals), Charlotte Mundy (vocals); photo credit: Bryan Sargent)

As late January’s nor’easter dropped nearly two feet of snow in Tiverton, Will Mason prepared for his students’ return to in-person classes following extra Omicron precautions. After a week of slow snowmelt, heavy rains gave way to a flash freeze. When Mason stepped outside on Saturday morning for a walk with his dog, he described the ice-encrusted environment as a “juxtaposition of motion and stillness, force and resistance.” Mason listened to the wind. With a mild apology for departing from his postmodern milieu, he recalled a poem by Wallace Stevens:

For the listener, who listens in the snow,

And, nothing himself, beholds

Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

An assistant professor of music technology and theory at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., Mason advises his students that “interesting music is made by interesting people.” Encouraging them to cultivate different sources of inspiration, he argues that a film or a book, or a walk around a city or on a rural trail, could subsequently manifest in art as much as hours in the thrall of the composers he teaches most often: Johann Sebastian Bach and Duke Ellington.

“I try to have it feel like an experimentation sandbox and less like a math class,” said Mason.

During a childhood day trip to Boston from his hometown of Falmouth, Maine, Mason slipped from his seat at the Museum of Science’s Mugar Omni Theater during an immersive panorama – the scenes and sounds triggering an involuntary perception of action rather than observation. In high school, he drove around Portland’s suburbs lost in the counterintuitive time signatures of the drums on Radiohead’s albums, Kid A and Amnesiac. As an undergraduate studying political science and contemporary improvisation at Oberlin College, a liberal arts school and musical conservancy 30 miles west of Cleveland, Mason discovered a vast world in the avant-garde.

Having recorded and toured with Like Bells, instrumentalists in the footsteps of Do Make Say Think, Mason moved to New York for a PhD program in music theory at Columbia University. While living in the East Village of Manhattan, he suffered a sudden inability to sleep, explaining in an essay: “it was a watershed year in both my academic and musical life and I couldn’t shut my mind off at the end of the day, and irritation at being unable to sleep only compounded the situation.” Mason’s struggles with insomnia and anxiety led to hallucinations, and new ideas.

“I spent a lot of nights sitting at my kitchen counter sketching music,” said Mason. “In general I became fascinated with the ways that exceptional or aberrant psychological states have contributed to various musical traditions across the globe and across history.”

While Mason mitigated his risk of psychoses with treatment, the drafts he composed during what he considers “a kind of productive isolation” laid the framework for a two-drum, two-guitar avant-rock project, Happy Place, named with an ironic nod to its bleak origins. After the 2016 release of Northfield, the four-piece welcomed sopranos Elaine Lachica and Charlotte Mundy. The sextet mixed its 2020 album, tendrils, at Machines with Magnets in Pawtucket. The vocals, Mason said, contrast with “lower, crunchy guitars” and the “low end heft” of distorted drums.

With the instrumentation of Northfield’s “Rapture!,” which threatens like the brooding swarm of Isis’ The Mosquito Control EP, Mason sought to telegraph feelings of both anguish and ascendance.

Dissonant and disconcerting, Happy Place’s albums imbue the forceful quirk of Shellac and Don Caballero with the spirit of Sun Ra. Released by the independent label Exit Stencil Recordings, both Northfield and tendrils could be at home in the older catalogs of Southern and Touch & Go Records. The band’s artistry fits as much in a time machine to the warehouse shows of Fort Thunder as in a black box theater on campus at Berklee College of Music.

After moving to RI for the position at Wheaton, Mason anticipated performing live, but the pandemic put those intentions on hold. Around classes, he began to adapt his dissertation into a book on the illusory feelings conjured by “human-machine couplings in the studio” – the tools used to make modern music. He wrote new compositions from his parents’ home on the island of Vinalhaven, Maine, and sought inspiration on woodland walks in neighboring Little Compton.

As well as listening to “the junipers shagged with ice, / The spruces rough in the distant glitter” on a snowy day with Wallace Stevens, Mason returns to John Cage’s lectures on silence and the Alaskan journals of John Luther Adams. Crediting composer Pauline Oliveros, Adams reflected, “These days, most of us are inundated with music and other sounds. I feel very fortunate to live in a place where silence endures as a pervasive, enveloping presence.”

“Doing and knowing are inseparable,” said Mason. “I try to keep things very hands-on.”

Happy Place makes its RI debut with Brooklyn-based free-jazz player Ned Rothenberg at The Columbus Theatre, 270 Broadway, PVD on Sat, Mar 12. Doors 7pm. Show 8pm. All ages. $15 (at press time). Proof of full COVID-19 vaccination required.

Nick Politelli: Examiner

Examiner, the debut release from local guitarist and songwriter Nick Politelli, is a well-crafted rock record that mixes tight hooks with experimental grooves. 

Politelli started playing music around age 20 while studying abroad in London, initially fashioning himself as a folkster “hybrid between Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie.” Back in his native RI, he picked up the electric guitar when he joined the band Ravi Shavi. He also joined the band Lookers as a guitarist soon after and began writing songs on the side. His first publicly released song, “Absent Minded Fool,” came out on Ravi Shavi’s Special Hazards in 2020.

For the production and recording, Politelli employed the services of a major songwriting influence: Keith Zarriello of the NYC cult favorite the Shivers. He was initially turned on to the band by Ravi Shavi bandmate Rafay Rashid, who also served as co-producer on the record. 

Examiner was recorded over two humid weekends in June of 2021 at a cabin studio not far from Woodstock, NY operated by a friend of Zarriello’s. “There was no running water, and I woke up in the mornings flicking ticks off my arm,” said Politelli.

“I immediately loved Nick’s demos, and to me it was refreshing to hear catchy rock songs after so long,” said Zarriello. “I wanted to make sure we were innovative in some way and didn’t try to copy anyone else too much. I think it’s important that rock/guitar music continues to innovate and embrace experimentalism otherwise I fear it will become pure revivalism.”

Zarriello’s influence can be felt throughout. He played many of the bass parts, as well as some live and programmed drums, and arranged the song “While We’re Still Lonely,” which previously sounded nothing like the final version. The song is built on a patchwork of simple guitar harmonies over a slow R&B groove, and Politelli noted that the close mic’d vocal lends a more vulnerable feel. 

“If there’s one element that made this EP identifiable,” said Politelli, “I’d say it’s actually the snare sound. Keith had it locked in when I arrived at the studio. I’m not sure how he discovered it, but it was perfect for the project.”

Named for his day job as a real estate title examiner, the record at times recalls ’70s New York bands like Television and the Talking Heads, and their ability to build a song from the ground up based on simple, biting guitar riffs. “Caramelize the Light,” which Politelli cites as his favorite, employs a kind of spoken word crooning. 

“Mind is Racing (all the way over in the right lane)” examines the urban sprawl, complete with local references to Newport’s Freebody Park and sweet bread. “That one originated with me staring out my old apartment window, being angry about condo development in my neighborhood,” said Politelli.

Initially he didn’t think “Mirah,” with its sparse lyrics and a repetitive groove, was even a real song. “Keith convinced me to put it on the record. I believe in it now, but I certainly didn’t then.”

My pick is “Unholy Lonely,” the pitch perfect pop song which Politelli stated was his attempt at writing a Shivers-style tune. 

Because the studio time was limited, Politelli turned to Deer Tick drummer Dennis Ryan to fill in some of the gaps. Ryan lended some additional engineering, and played some drums and bass.

For Politelli, taking the plunge into making his own music worked out. “I basically started this effort without a band –or much of anything –and relied heavily on my musical friends to help make it happen.” 

He has recently put together a band of his own, and still plays with Ravi Shavi and Lookers. 

Check out Examiner at Bandcamp

An Octoroon at The Gamm: A powerful mix of past and present

Marc Pierre. Photo by Cat Laine/Painted Foot

It’s deep in the second act when the purpose of the painful scenes and demeaning words becomes clear; as one actor says, “The point of this whole thing is to make you feel something.”

The actor is referring to a scene in An Octoroon, on stage now at The Gamm Theatre, in which a Native American is wrongly accused by an angry mob of a murder. Moments earlier, the stage held large televisions showing footage from the January 6, 2021 White House insurrection. This is the fast-paced mix Director Joe Wilson Jr. creates to push the powerful messages in Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ play.

Jacobs-Jenkins reworked a 19th-century play by Irish playwright Dion Boucicault, deconstructing the piece into an overly, yet masterfully melodramatic look at slavery. He’s placed himself, as the unnamed Black playwright, and Boucicault into the two-hour piece for dramatic effect and to add power to his messages.

In Wilson’s hands, An Octoroon explodes like a steamboat loaded with fresh cotton and poorly stored kerosene. Before anyone even sets foot on the catwalk stage, painful, yet necessary, messages unfurl. The two televisions are set up for the audience, running through a range of disparaging cartoons and news footage from Ku Klux Klan marches to “Song of the South” to Bugs Bunny in blackface. It is immediately clear – as rappers Mary J. Blige and others pump through the speakers – that this show plans to pack a punch.

The largely white audience (when I attended) follows the story of George, who returns from Paris to save his uncle’s failing plantation. George falls in love with his uncle’s illegitimate child, called an octoroon because she is one eighth black, and finds himself battling the evil overseer, M’Closky, for woman and plantation.

In Boucicault’s day, Black actors were not allowed on stage so white actors would don blackface to play them. Jacobs-Jenkins continues this in “An Octoroon,” with Black actors donning whiteface and white actors wearing black or redface. The message is unspoken yet no less impactful.

This happens against the backdrop of melodrama, which Wilson exploits expertly through his actors. Jason Quinn, for example, portrays Pete, a slave with such extreme gestures and overdone submission that he is pure farce. His white gloved hands outstretched, Quinn is minstrel-like while chastising the house staff or pandering to George.

Alison Russo, as the daughter of a nearby plantation owner who vies for George’s affection, is also gifted with stylized melodramatic delivery. While Russo’s most fascinating transformation is into the steamboat captain who comes ashore to bid on slaves when the plantation goes up for auction – complete with corset and hoop shirt, a hand-held moustache and manly slouch her only differentiating elements – she plays the audience well with both delivery and mannerisms.

This is a well-chosen and beautifully coached cast. Michelle Walker swings from sassy slave to street-smart punk, playing nicely with Jackie Davis’ meeker Dido. Shelley Fort’s portrayal of Zoe, the octoroon, is heart-wrenching in its soulfulness. She is torn between two worlds and when her existence is threatened, Fort pumps in just the right amount of emotion to tug the audience’s heartstrings.

But, Marc Pierre as the Black playwright, and alternately George and M’Closkey, and Jeff Church as Boucicault and the Native American Wahnotee, drive the brilliance. In one scene, George and M’Closkey get into a physical altercation. As challenging and potentially corny as that sounds, Pierre rolls on the stage, shifting from one personality to the other believably. In another scene, he fights as M’Closkey with Church’s Wahnotee in an equally realistic and powerful few moments.

It was a solid and strong choice by Wilson to infuse this show with the insurrection footage, as well as clips of former President Donald Trump. This is not only a reflection of the dark days of slavery, but the current days of hatred and unrest. In ending the show with “What a Wonderful World,” though, the director’s message is hope, inspiration and power.

An Octoroon is on stage through Feb 20. For more information, go to www.gammtheatre.org

Art Scene Glows: RI Galleries Holiday Guide

Glad tidings, RI! This holiday season is going to be very bright. As 2021 draws to a close, the majority of our art galleries have not just survived the pandemic – they are thriving. Restrictions brought innovation and when in-person events went temporarily dark, a virtual world came alive. Gallery Night ran virtual trolley tours and live-streamed artist interviews that allowed viewers to be a part of events without leaving their own homes. Many galleries took advantage of increased web interest and amped up their online presences. Web sales were downright robust at many sites. 

COVID has made us all more aware – safety protocol is taken seriously at all venues. But as the world slowly opens up again, the public is coming back. And while visitor numbers are down, viewers’ enthusiasm seems to have doubled.

Neal Walsh, curator of the AS220 galleries, noticed the optimism. “When we were by appointment only there was a different vibe, but with everybody who came to see shows … there is a certain excitement to be there. People were really appreciative to see art again. It was a good reminder of why we do this.“

Nearly every gallery in RI is having a holiday show: take advantage! They are all within easy driving distance. Bérge Ara Zobian, artist/gallery director of Gallery Z, used COVID as an opportunity to move his gallery to Warwick. Which might be “faaah” from PVD, but is “neah” to Cranston.

Bérge reminds us to, “Support the arts – RI galleries are a tax free zone, and the arts are what make RI unique.” 

If you want to find the perfect gift, Ellen Matesanz from the Art League of RI has a tip:  “Choosing art is deeply personal. You have to understand something about the person you are buying for, especially if you are thinking in terms of decor.” Her solution? “Visit a gallery together and see what they are attracted to.” 

Debbie Duggan, treasurer of Portsmouth Arts, notes that their buyers appreciate the in-person experience. “People like to be able to look at the art.” 

This year people are shopping for art gifts from around $100 up to several hundred. But there are a lot of small art holiday sales going on too, with visual goodies to please every palette. 

Art League of RI 

The Art League has moved its show gallery from Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket to Suite 107A on the first floor of 80 Fountain St in Pawtucket.

You can sign up for Art League’s Program on PAPER on Dec 8 at 5 pm. With Lauren Pearlman Sugita, Founder and President of Paper Connection International. Discussion

and demonstration of interesting papers for use in photography, printmaking, drawing, painting, and collage. Register at eventbrite.com/e/203381929827

And to shop online, follow the links at fb.com/ArtLeagueRI/


115 Empire St, PVD       

Shoppers can find an amazing array of original art and prints at artandeditions.as220.org.

This colorful online shop, a project run jointly between the AS220 Galleries and AS220 Printshop, features the work of talented local artists. AS220 usually doesn’t update its listings until after our press deadlines. You can often find them at as220.org/author/parisparis

Artists’ Cooperative Gallery of Westerly

14 Railroad Ave, Westerly

Catch their Annual Holiday Gift Show this year from Dec 3 to 22.  


BankRI Gallery

This is one gallery that was showing artists throughout the entire pandemic. Curator Paula Martiesian told us: “early on when everything was in lockdown mode, the bank was still open.”

Showing now through Jan 3, 2022. 

BankRI Turks Head Gallery, 1 Turks Head Pl, PVD: Paintings of Spain by Madolin Maxey 

BankRI Gallery at 137 Pitman St, PVD: paintings by Christian Drury


Blackstone River Theater Gallery

549 Broad St, Cumberland

This year’s Holiday Art Show through Dec 14 features original pastel paintings by area artist Karol Nicholson, viewable two hours before and during scheduled theatre events, with 50% of sales going to support the theater. The annual Holiday Craft Fair on Dec 4 includes 24 local vendors and nonstop live entertainment. Over the next eight weeks their concerts and holiday programming will include some of the season’s biggest acts, a homecoming concert, and silent auction fundraiser.

This venue requests both masks and proof of COVID vaccination.  Director Russell Gusetti told Motif: “If anything, [the vax mandate] has been met very favorably by our audience, and I’m told time and again by patrons as well as performers that it is one of the primary reasons they are comfortable returning to live performance.”


Bryce Studio 

99 Spring St, Newport

Mike Bryce, known for his ultra-local and affordable paintings of all sizes, as well as his dedication to painting while exhibiting at craft fairs, has opened a studio in Newport. This is a rare opportunity to see his work indoors and on the walls. Hours are flexible and by appointment, so drop a message at fb.com/Mikebryceart/ for details.

DeBlois Gallery  

134 Aquidneck Ave, Middletown

Their Holiday Show this year featured the art of Ewa Rose, Dec 4 – 28


Gallery Z   

Please note: The Gallery has moved and expanded to 100 Bellows St, Unit #8, in Warwick

Open Thurs. and Sat. 12 to 5 pm and by appointment or chance. On the 3rd Saturday of every month there is a reception from 1 to 4pm. Saturday Dec 18 is the opening for holiday works, featuring 39 artists from around the world and 134 pieces of art and ethnic handicrafts. Special gift items and reduced prices throughout December.


HeARTspot Center and Gallery      

1970 Pawtucket Ave, East Providence

Small Works Holiday Show Nov 20 through Jan 12

Opening on Small Business Saturday Nov 27, 11am to 4pm

Gallery hours Tues 11am – 2pm, Sat noon – 3pm; and by appointment


Hera Gallery 

10 High St, Wakefield   

Small Works Show, showcasing works from Hera members, all for sale & under $100.

Nov 20 through Dec 18, 2021


Imago Foundation for the Arts 

36 Market St, Warren

Open Thurs 3 – 6pm, Fri – Sat noon – 6pm, Sun noon – 4pm

And you can always shop online. imagofoundation4art.org/

Providence Art Club

11 Thomas St, PVD 

Little Pictures 2021 – Open to the public Dec 1 – Dec 23 

Current Gallery Hours. Sun – Fri, 12-4pm


Patina Studio 

8 Puncatest Neck Rd, Tiverton

Featuring fine metalwork by Teresa Mowery. Gift hint – the limited edition copper and brass ornaments would make for ideal family keepsakes.   

Shop hours Sat – Sun 11am – 4pm and by appointment until Christmas.


Portsmouth Arts  

933 Anthony Rd, Portsmouth

Holiday show will be held at the Common Fence Improvement Association building through Dec 17. 


The Cooperative

4 Market St, Warren

Gallery Takeover with Zach Prosser, Dec 11 – 13, 5 to 8pm

Zach Prosser is bound to dazzle with a series of works expressing color, movement, and energy. 


The Gallery at Sprout CoWorking

166 Valley St, PVD

Rising Sun Mills Complex, Bldg 6M

Now through December, showing original woodblock prints, linocuts, paintings and illustrations from current and former members of AS220 industries, in a show titled “Corner Where the Dunkin Donuts used to be and other Rhode Island Landmarks.”


The Glass Station Studio and Gallery 

446 Main St, Wakefield

Featuring hand blown glass by Even Horton & Jennifer Nauk, along with an amazing array of glass and jewelry by local and national artists. Visit the Gallery or shop online for gorgeous vases and jewelry, and a spectrum of artful ornaments for any décor.


The Main Gallery at Providence City Hall

25 Dorrance St, PVD   

Showing through Jan 19, 2022: 

Off the Court – Footwear Design, Style, and Cultural Expression at Providence Recreational Centers. We’re not sure if you can buy anything, but take a look anyway!


The RISD Museum 

20 N. Main St, PVD

Ongoing family and teen art and craft workshops, exhibitions and events –

and the museum gift shop across the street always holds an intriguing array of art. 

risdmuseum.org/exhibitions-events/exhibitions#content for details.

South County Art Association

2587 Kingstown Rd, Kingston

SCAA 50th Anniversary Holiday Sale, thru Dec 19, 2021


Spring Bull Gallery  

55 Bellevue Ave, Newport

Holiday Little Pictures Show. Showing through Jan 2, 2022.


URI Urban Arts and Culture Program

URI Providence Campus, 80 Washington St, PVD

Steven Pennell, Gallery Coordinator, tells us that sales were unusually high these last 6 months: “I think people were not traveling so they had extra funds and were fixing up their home environments.”  

Currently showing: Climate Change Inequalities with John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities at Brown University. 


Warwick Center for the Arts  

3259 Post Rd, Warwick

Winter Market for Artists and Artisans: Dec 4 thru 18.


Happy holiday shopping! And don’t forget – when visiting in person, please check ahead for COVID safety restrictions. 

Bimonthly Beast


The Next Crop of Poets

Don’t tell me that the current generation of young people has fried its collective brain with too much screen time. Don’t tell me either that teenagers spend their days playing video games, eating Cheetos and wasting time while draining their minds of good old-fashioned creativity. Well, tell me if you must, but be ready for me to prove you wrong.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Connie and I went to a poetry slam for youth at AS220 to see if it might be a good field trip for the students at the high school where we both work. Turns out that there are a whole bunch of local young people who are cranking out some very well-written and brilliantly performed original poetry. Seems that little old Rhode Island is home to a thriving crop of growing young poets who are bursting into bloom.

I don’t know which performance I liked the most. There was a magnetic young man who wove the words holy, queer and church into a poem that was so intense I think I stopped blinking. I know I quit breathing. But then there was the soulful guy who told the audience that it was his first time performing at AS220 before blowing our minds with these two lines: Six feet below the glass ceiling / Brotha in a box. And that wasn’t even the end of his piece. I won’t forget the woman who bled every heart in the place dry with a poem about being used for sex or the other young lady who earned whistles and snaps with a poem about chronic illness.

These young people – ages 14 to 21 – are kicking literary ass. Their command of metaphor, slant rhyme and complicated meter impressed me, as did their style, diction and overall ability to give a riveting performance. I left feeling inspired. I hope I get to take my own students so that they can feel inspired, too.

* AS220 is located at 115 Empire St. in Providence and has a poetry slam for youth, open mic style, on the third Thursday of each month at 8pm. No censorship of language or content.

Rhode Island Spotlight: PeaceLove Studios Uses Art to Help People with Mental Issues

pl3The dozen girls and boys who have gathered around a set of tables for an evening workshop don’t know it yet, but the masks they create over the next 90 minutes will help many of them work through issues they are facing: maybe problems at home, or school or with friends. And they will share their feelings of frustration, happiness or worry.

The kids are candid and the atmosphere at this studio in the heart of Pawtucket’s Hope Artiste Village is one of safety and support. It’s what you might expect at a place called PeaceLove Studios. Peace of mind, and love for yourself.

pl2“Our vision was when you walk in the doors here, we don’t care who you are, what you are, what you got, it doesn’t matter. We’re all people,” said Jeff Sparr, who co-founded PeaceLove in 2009 with his cousin Matt Kaplan. Their mission: To help people facing mental health issues through art. The numbers tell the story: One in four Americans has a diagnosed mental illness, but two out of three will not go for help because of a perceived stigma.

Sparr knows it all firsthand. A star tennis player at Ohio State who came back to Rhode Island to run his family’s textile business, he has suffered most of his life from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Desperation pushed him toward expressive art.

“Mental illness robs you of a sense of control and I was immediately attracted to the sense of control,” he said. “When I painted I was in control. I found that kind of invigorating for my soul.”

So why has mental health been such a difficult topic to talk about openly? “Very simple: invisible and misunderstood,” Sparr said. “It’s hard to fix something you can’t see and you can’t understand.”

pl5PeaceLove runs a variety of workshops for all ages. The mask-making workshop often fills up quickly. A 10-week after-school class has Providence public school students making transformational collages. And one night we sat in on a drumming workshop for two dozen adults. Dr. Hank Brightman, a trauma and wellness specialist, took the group through a variety of exercises using drums, transitioning into an art project that focused on purging negative thoughts and issues.

pl4“Everybody has a story or a connection to mental illness or mental health,” says Matt Kaplan, who also sat in on Dr. Brightman’s session. Kaplan focuses primarily on the business side of PeaceLove. The seeds were first planted in 2008 when he urged Sparr to sell some of his artwork.

“And in one night we sold about $16,000 worth of art work. At the end of the night I said, ‘Here you go buddy — $16,000. What do you want to do with it?’ And he kind of looked at me, thought about it for a few seconds and he said, ‘[When] I paint it makes me feel better, maybe it’ll help other people.'”

They founded PeaceLove, a non-profit with a twist: It also has a for-profit side that generates revenue to help fund the studio through the sale of various PeaceLove merchandise. The organization has a partnership with Alex and Ani’s Charity by Design Program, which created a peace of mind bangle. Over the last year they have sold more than 60,000, generating tens of thousands of dollars for PeaceLove.

So like any good businessmen, Kaplan and Sparr thought about branding.

“Could we build a brand to make mental illness cool?” Kaplan asked. “Not cool to have it, but cool to support it. There’s nobody wearing a positive symbol for mental health; you know the yellow bracelet, the pink ribbon project, you know red for AIDS. A lot of great causes have great brands people can buy and in buying it show their support, but mental health didn’t have that.’’

pl1It began with the PeaceLove symbol that Sparr painted a decade ago and which anchors the studio in Pawtucket. The financial model has allowed PeaceLove to reach a broad spectrum of people — those who can afford to pay, like schools or corporations, but many classes are offered free and open to the public.

PeaceLove is expanding and will open a new studio in Las Vegas later this spring with the help of Zappos, the online clothing and shoe stored based in Vegas. The location may be different, but the message is the same. Sparr says dealing with mental health issues is a daily battle for him and millions of others. And his message also remains the same:

“I’m not going to let it stop me,” he said. “And that’s when I’m winning. I think that’s the key to battling any affliction or illness. Not letting it define you. Not that it’s not difficult. It is.”

If you want to see the video version of this story go to www.RhodeIslandSpotlight. If you know of a person or organization who you think deserves the Spotlight, send an email to jim@RhodeIslandSpotlight.org

SENE Celebrates its Seventh Year

Want a film screening, live music and art every night of the week? The SENE Film Music and Arts Festival seeks to provide just that. During the week of April 20th through the 25th, filmmakers and film enthusiasts will gather at the seventh annual festival.

Co-founders Phil Capobres and Don Farias are the nice guys of the film festival circuit; that might be why Cherry Arnold chose to have the world premiere of her new film Bluebirds Fly, Love and Hope on the Autism Spectrum at SENE. Cherry, who had a hit on her hands a few years ago with the doc Buddy, turned her lens from corrupt ex-mayors toward autism and how it affects the lives of several families.

“The hardest part of running a festival is saying no to filmmakers. We wish we could show them all,” said Capobres, co-founder and artistic director of the festival. Receiving thousands of submissions, the selections are brought down to 120 films, ranging from comedy, horror, sci-fi, animation and documentary. The nice guys of the festival circuit reach out across the world for films. They come from Kazakstan, Spain and Iran, as well as all across the country, but the festival has not turned its back on local film. There are 27 films from local filmmakers that include a zombie musical short featuring music by Providence musicians The Denver Boot, as well as horror of the most relatable kind. In The Creed, a woman finds herself unable to get rid of tickets to a concert from the titular band. Terrifying.

The festival also celebrates local artists who left home and made good, like the Giovanis brothers, who have brought their film Bereave back home to their native Rhode Island. The brothers, originally from Coventry, have been working in Hollywood for years and their new feature has received excellent reviews and accolades. The film stars Malcolm McDowell, Jane Seymour and Keith Carradine. McDowell is a suicidal husband who gets a new lease on life when his wife disappears.

What sets this festival apart is its focus on not just film, but all art and how it interacts with film. “We get a lot of films submitted about art and music,” said Capobres. Further highlighting the deep connection between film and music, there will be a film scoring panel on Saturday at noon at The Columbus Theatre. Mauro Colangelo, who has scored everything from  Ferrari and Reebok commercials to feature films, will be there explaining the process along with Eric Barao, Dean Cascione and Rich Kelly.

The festival starts Monday at The Colombus Theatre with a program of feature films (see review of the festival opening film: Wildlike), horror shorts and a series of films commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Horror buffs should be sure to check out the film Tuck Me In, which delivers a potent shock in its incredibly tight one-minute running time. “I showed it to a co-worker who said after watching it she would not sleep that night,” said Capobres.

Tuesday kicks off the music with a performance by the Whiskey Treaty Roadshow and a screening of a film about the band followed by a program of music videos. The live performance will take place a the Brooklyn Coffee & Tea House, a favorite venue of local filmmakers. The owner of the Brooklyn, Tony Demmings, will receive an award at the Limelight party on Thursday night. Other award winners include Motif Publisher Mike Ryan and Jon & Betty Jane Berberian of the Columbus Theatre. The Limelight party held at the Warwick Art Museum features music and art by URI seniors as well as live music, food, beer and more.

Friday the SENE fest travels around the world and back again with a series of international films followed by a screening of local shorts.  The international feature Hunting the Phantom features Kristanna Lokken (of Bloodrayne fame) and Armand Assante in a science-fiction conspiracy thriller.

Saturday brings a day full of films including documentaries, short films, an LGBQT short series, animation and more. The animation screening includes films ranging from family-friendly to not-so-family-friendly fare.  “We give families a warning before the R-rated animation starts,” assures Capobres.

The week culminates in a party with a live performance by New Jersey-based indie songwriter Zak Smith, 2013 Jersey Acoustic Music Award Winner for Best Vocalist.

The mission of SENE is bringing people together through film, music and art, and the festival has always succeeded in doing just that. You may come for the films, but you stay for the music, art or the community. SENE continues to grow every year with more and more submissions; however, the festival’s founders seek to grow while keeping their mission intact. According to Capobres, “We don’t want to get too big. We want the festival to feel intimate.”

The SENE Film Music and Arts Festival runs from Apr 20 – 25. For information on schedule and venues or to purchase all-access passes, go to senefest.com.

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.

cate charles

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.

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.

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.”

The aptly titled “Balance”.

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

Art Seen: Stadium Theatre Performing Arts Center — the Pride of Woonsocket

At the start of my professional life I had the opportunity to work at Trinity Square Theatre, building scenery designed by a world-renowned set designer: Eugene Lee. Lucky me! Theater offers so much in the way of great positive interaction with other creatives all working toward one common goal. It’s a vast soup poured into a funnel leading to opening night. Just great. Theater is second to none as an educational experience, and Rhode Islanders are very fortunate to have so many different performing arts facilities, studios and classes to choose from. On the top of my new list is the pride of Woonsocket, the Stadium Theatre Performing Arts Center, and there’s a bright future ahead with the passing of Question 5 on the recent ballot.

I decided to pay them a visit as there are great rumors circulating about the theater, its terrific team, and what looks to be more major renovations to add to their already beautifully restored theater and facilities. What a glorious place to visit. First an introduction by executive director, Cathy Levesque, and the seasoned president, Armand Desmarais; then a red carpet tour by the building manager, Jim Keegan, all before interviewing Lisa Surrette, the educational director who I was there to meet and interview. What a great team of friendly, warm and articulate folks. These impressive folks are proud and positive in their mission.

Lisa Surrette is a sparkling example of the people you hope to meet in theater and especially in education. Still with a twinkle in the eyes, she offered impressive numbers of the summer and year-round enrollment and the ongoing productions, performances and activities (too much too mention here), and we chatted about shared experiences in teaching and her role as the education director at the Stadium. Amidst many distractions (she’s a busy lady) she graciously toured me through a class in progress and showed me some of the tech-people working on stage, all spiced with joyful facts she shared. Soon we were joined by a member of their staff, 20-year-old Adam Landry, who, among other roles at the Stadium Theatre, is currently directing this fall’s Willy Wonka… production as part of the Stadium’s Young Actor’s Academy. The young director is already deeply immersed in the life of theater and while sharing a few smile-filled sentences, I felt one of those Zen moments in life; seeing the young me, while he was speaking to the older version of himself. It was wonderful.

A society can be appraised by its treatment of its own youth. As a lifelong creative and active participant in the arts, I cannot stress how important this gem of an organization is to the area and community at large. This is a remarkable place for great things to happen for young people. With its expert team of terrific professionals, selfless volunteers and the overall community support, we can expect only good things can come from the Stadium Theatre, which boasts a colorful lineup of professional productions and first-rate entertainment. If you haven’t already, you should visit them at 28 Monument Square in Woonsocket or online at stadiumtheatre.com.  And most of all, please support the local arts.