Eric Bennett is a Providence based writer and Associate Professor of English at Providence College. He is this year’s fiction fellowship recipient, for his novel Make Yourself Decent.
We asked him a few questions about his life and art making in Rhode Island for our new series, Rhode Island Cultural Anchors.
RISCA: Give us a brief overview of your day yesterday – what did you do in both your personal and professional life.
EB: After dinner I polished a 250-word endorsement of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man for the student newspaper at Providence College; googled clips of the Chinese internet celebrity HoneyCC; read about Meitu apps that transform Shanghai selfies into universal fantasies of perfection and drive the booming business in plastic surgery in Chengdu; kept trying to record a MIDI part for “Broke My Heart on You” for the forthcoming Hopper album, Hopperesque; and typed up some notes on William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale.
RISCA: What Rhode Island artist or arts organization most inspires you?
EB: The painter Todd Ingham, now in exile in Oregon City, was an undervalued civic marvel throughout the years he roved the streets sorting plastic, gluing memory boards, painting the beauty in defunct bridges and saggy wires, and postulating how the divine delight of numbers, coursing invisibly all around us, structured reality, including the street plan of Elmwood.
RISCA: What do you love about the art community/scene in Rhode Island?
EB: On Monday and Thursday nights you can walk from your apartment in the West End to band practice at the Wurks. On Tuesday night you can walk an even shorter distance to your writing group, comprised of brilliant, serious writers, meeting just off Dexter Field. On Wednesday night you can drive down to Cranston and drink a beer with Andy Davis at subModern Studios as he runs punk vocals through a wurlitzer and humors your affection for Bob Seger’s “Fire Lake.” On Friday, at Ada Books (also a short walk) you can browse comics drawn by locals, then head over to an opening at RISD or a play at The Players on Benefit Street. On Saturday afternoon you can chat with Mike Samos at Empire Guitar about what the band Geraldine’s up to. Do I sound like a promotional magazine? Who cares? This place is the best!
RISCA: What is one thing you think the art community in Rhode Island needs?
EB: Authentic German rouladen.
You can read more about Eric at ericbennett.org, and catch him at Writers Night during the Fellowship Exhibition at the Warwick Center for the Arts in March 2019!
Twice a year RISCA awards grants in a number of categories. Over the course of a few months, we will be profiling the amazing artists and organizations that received grants at our April 1, 2017 deadline, two at a time. Project Grants for Individuals Artist: Keith Munslow Project: Keith Munslow curates, produces, directs, and performs in the Empire Revue, a monthly variety show. This show provides work and a performance showcase for 9-12 comedic actors/writers every month, as well as a performance showcase for 4-6 guest acts of many performance varieties. His focus is on local performers and often local topics. It has been going on at AS220’s mainstage for over 11 years.
Each month the show revolves around a different theme, decided upon by me with the input of the Sparkling Beatniks. These themes are designed to create a central focus for the writing of each show; I will be asking the group to brainstorm ideas on the basis of this theme, and to deeply explore the different interpretations of that theme, in order to achieve a true variety of material. In addition, I focus on pushing each writer/performer to explore different modes of comedic expression, to create a variety not only in topics but also in their presentation. Each show may include several traditional sketches (several characters acting and speaking), but I will also strive to inspire the group to create pieces based more in movement, song, puppetry, or other presentations.
The outcome of this project is that, each month, a high quality show will be presented at an affordable price for audience members. It provides a showcase for the writing and performance skills of each of the Beatniks, as well as a showcase for the local guest acts. It is my intention to provide a stipend to all performers (actors, guest acts, and house band), as well, in appreciation for the time and energy they will be devoting to ensuring the ongoing quality of the show, and to acknowledge the value of their work and creativity. Artist Bio: Keith is an award-winning performer who combines music, storytelling, comedy, visual art, and improvisation. He began the Empire Revue in 2006 after talking with the founding Artistic Director, Burt Crenca, about ways that he could become more involved with the organization. Burt identified a cabaret-style variety show as programming that would benefit the community, and Keith took that suggestion and ran with it. As of this writing, the Revue has produced 128 shows since its inception; many times over the years, the show has been sold out as its popularity has grown.
In addition to the Revue, Keith performs hundreds of shows annually, for children and adults at festivals, concerts, schools and libraries throughout New England and beyond. His music for children has earned him three Parents Choice Awards, an American Library Association Notable Recordings Award, and a NAPPA Award, and can be heard on Sirius XM Kidsplace Live. He is a founding member of The Providence Improv Guild, for whom he currently teaches musical improv, and leads the house musical improv team. He also performs with the New Orleans-flavored blues band, Superchief Trio, and in a duo show with musician/storyteller Bill Harley. He recently released “Big Buncha Buddies,” his eighth album of music for children and families, with fellow songwriter Bridget Brewer. Keith has composed music for Perishable Theatre, Manton Avenue Project, and Elemental Theatre, and created an original score and libretto for an adaptation of Lysistrada at Providence College. A dedicated teaching artist, he currently teaches theatre arts at Moses Brown School, and is the Artist-In-Residence at Paul Cuffee School. Teaching Artist Roster Artist: Mandy Howe Discipline: Visual Art Artist Bio: Mandy Howe is an artist and art teacher from Rhode Island. Her paintings reflect her connection to the natural world and her concerns for the environment. She uses both natural and man made objects to describe the landscapes and shorelines of Aquidneck Island, exploring the influence of the environment on the art of different cultures.
Students will explore their own environment and make art about where they live. Art projects will be inspired by Navajo sand art, Tlingit button blankets, Kente cloth patterns and El Anatsui sculptures; as well as Australian Aborigine song lines, Marshall Island stick maps and navigational charts of local waters. The curriculum is designed to meet the needs of any age and can be integrated with any subject: Social Studies, World Cultures, Literacy, Natural History, Science, etc. Visiting artists and field trips will be included. Collaborations will generate a culminating project such as scrapbooks, an exhibition, a mural or a site-specific installation.
Twice a year RISCA awards grants in a number of categories. Over the course of a few months, we will be profiling the amazing artists and organizations that received grants at our April 1, 2017 deadline, two at a time. Project Grants in Education Applicant Organization: South Kingstown School- Wakefield Elementary Participating Artists: Beth Hettrick Berry, Issa Colibaly, Thaun Harris, Hannah Beakman, Mich Muller Project: UPBEAT is a multi-arts theater production that would involve upwards of 200 elementary school students and 75 adults. The theme will revolve around the cross cultural understanding and personal exploration. The script was written by playwright Beth Berry, in collaboration with music faculty and the classroom teachers. It is flexible to allow for maximum participation by the student body. It will be aligned with the Arts Grade Span Expectations.
Our goals for this project are to enhance understanding and appreciation of the arts, and to demonstrate how the arts support the internalization of information from other core subjects, in this case geography, and social studies, both for the students and for the adults who will work with them.
There are no “try-outs”. Basically, a flexible, adaptive script is written. Participants are then told the “story” of the drama, until they are familiar with all the characters and plot. Students and adults then cast themselves into various roles, and any necessary adaptations are made to the script. When a participant chooses what role he or she would like to play, the experience becomes a highly personal expression of self. This connection continues to develop during the rehearsals, as students discover kindred spirits of all ages who felt drawn to that same role. During the final performances, their artistic selves and accomplishments are applauded and appreciated by peers, family, and community. About the Organization: The mission of the South Kingstown School Department, in partnership with families and the entire educational community, is to educate ALL of our students in the knowledge and skills necessary to ensure readiness and success in college and career. Project Grants for Individuals Artist: Michael Gore Project: Supported by members of the Extraordinary Rendition Band Michael Gore will continue to organize the work of the EYE: supporting the landscape of creative arts education in Providence through free youth instruction in music and activism. It explores activism through music and includes free programming for PPSD students in the forms of individual lessons in brass instruments and percussion, group ensemble rehearsal with select public performances, and after school percussion ensembles.
The Extraordinary Youth Ensemble is the educational outreach project of the Extraordinary Rendition Band, which has conducted music activism education, through groups of individual members, for 4 years. Since March 2013, we have partnered with Vartan Gregorian, Reservoir Ave and Pleasant View Elementary Schools, The Met High School, and Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts.
This Spring of 2017, finds us continuing to build on our previous efforts in music activism education, sharing the ERB’s model of public performance, shared-leadership and public service with a younger generation of musicians. The explicit goal is to help our students build skills in instrumentation, band leading, music composition, and develop ideas about what “playing an active role in their community through music” means to them.
RISCA funds are supplemented by donations from the Extraordinary Rendition Band (ERB donates 25% of its annual earnings from gigs to this outreach work) and donations from community partners. Michael Gore currently manages the RISCA Individual Artist Grant and overall EYE programming, but that role has been shared in the past by other ERB members and former members including Avi David and Josh Lantzy.
Programming from the previous year that will be continued in the current one includes: Hope Academy EYE Percussion Ensemble
Entering its second year run by ERB Bass Drummer and the Musician in Residence of Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts, Avi David. It has also been Co-Instructed by EYE Student Interns from Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts, including Odyssey Scott, Shelby Hopkins, Jamie Cores, and Ariel Cruz. Reservoir Elementary EYE Percussion Ensemble
Has been run for 3+ years by ERB Percussionist and Photographer David Lee Black. It has also been Co-Instructed by EYE Student Interns from Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts, Orianda Rodriguez, Shelby Hopkins and Jessica Michocoj. Description of School-Based EYE Percussion Ensemble Programs:
Typical workshops are 60-75 minutes in length and occur once a week for ten weeks. The curriculum has focused on music education, with a heavy emphasis on exploring the role arts can play in community engagement, development and activism. Students have been introduced to beat, rhythm, musical notation, and are learning complex drumming sequences.
What separates our approach from traditional music education programs is our focus on creating a democratic citizenry through music. In this program, students will generally work together to develop a communal list of social causes that they would like to support and will research local events at which they may provide musical support. Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts EYE Instrument, Composition, and Group Ensemble
For the past three years high school students at TAPA have participated in individual brass instruction and group ensemble rehearsal, as well as music composition support. They have learned trumpet with Michael Gore, saxophone (alto and tenor) with Keyla Hamilton, trombone with Joey Distefano, and group rehearsal with multiple ERB instructors including Tristan Holbrook. Exciting developments include:
-The formalization of both volunteer and paid intern positions for high school student members of the EYE to co-teach EYE Percussion Ensembles in our elementary school programs.
-EYE and TAPA Percussion Ensemble students performing in Daniel Bernard Romain’s “En Masse” performance at the Dexter Training Ground during PVD Fest.
-Last school-year we graduated our first multi-year group brass musicians from the EYE. This included one trumpet player, three trombone players, and a percussion and bass player. Not only did they get to perform at their own graduation at TAPA before they moved on to the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College.
-Since their graduation we have now had two of those members return as alumni-young adult musicians to join at ERB rehearsal and even perform during PRONK! (the Providence Honk Festival).
It is really amazing to see the first realization of what we have hoped for years would develop: a real community of musicians engaging with their community across age and other demographic factors. To bring people together through community and music. Artist Bio: Michael Gore is a founding member of the Extraordinary Rendition Band, a local, democratically run, activist oriented street band. One concrete example of our activism is the dedication of our time, energy, and financial resources to help bring tuition-free music education back into our community.
The ERB is made up of many lifelong musicians, educators, organizers and social activists including Avi David, Musician in Residence, Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts (TAPA); Dana Borrelli-Murray, Executive Director, Highlander Institute; Michael Gore, English Language Arts Instructor and Department Lead at TAPA; Melanie Clark-Medyesy, Speech Pathologist, Woonsocket Education Dept.; Donna Okrasinski Ph.D, Aspiring Principal, Pleasant View Elementary; Meghan Kallman, Graduate Student and Instructor at Brown University; and Michael Urso, Adjunct Instructor at the Community College of Rhode Island.
The ERB has been directly involved with youth music programming at various levels, including Boys and Girls Club workshops, instrument making activities and instrument petting zoos. In the Spring of 2013, the ERB received a grant from the I WAS THERE Project, which gives residencies to writers, artists and oral historians to engage students of the Vartan Gregorian School in learning about the rich history of their school and the Fox Point community. The project culminated in a collaborative performance with the ERB and Vartan Gregorian student musicians through their school. Hundreds of families attended this historic event which showcased the school’s commitment to community, culture, family engagement and youth voice.
In previous years the youth band was approached by Holly Ewald and the Urban Pond Procession and asked to play in their yearly parade. The students voted in support of this cause and played in that year and in its most recent (and final year) Urban Pond Procession this past year.
The fall of 2014 saw the inauguration of ERB’s most recent youth music education project: The Extraordinary Youth Ensemble (EYE). With the funds made available by this grant over the previous year, we have been able to greatly expand our music education projects in Providence. Over the 2014-2015 school year, ERB members taught weekly music and bucket-drum classes with students at Reservoir Elementary. The EYE bucket-drum class performed at a number of community events, including informational events with the Urban Pond Procession and the annual Pronk Family Fun Day.