In heart of winter, arts alive in Rolfe Square

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In the deep freeze between storms last week, the K.C. Moaners warmed some chilly souls at the Characters’ Café at Theatre 82 in Cranston’s Rolfe Square.

On an otherwise lonely Tuesday night, the Café was packed with patrons keeping the beat with handmade spoons as they watched the band play some well-worn instruments, including a mandolin, guitar, harmonicas, jugs, a washboard and a washtub bass – even a few kazoos.

“We’ve been playing together for years,” said guitarist (and kazooist) Jim “Rhode Island Red” Chapin. “We have a good time.”

Chapin, of West Warwick, plays all over Rhode Island with the K.C. Moaners.

The band has numerous members playing at different times at varying venues, but on this night, Chapin had help in the form of Kevin “Woodstock Whitey” Collins, of Woodstock, Conn., on the washboard and harmonica, “Dust Rag Deck” Nieforth, also of West Warwick, on the washtub bass and harmonica, and “Dancin’ Dave” Haller, of Providence, on mandolin.

While Characters’ Café proprietors Jennifer and Michael Ray catered to their customers, serving up hot tea, coffee and a variety of sweet treats on a cold night, the Moaners encouraged plenty of audience participation. Dust Rag Deck’s handmade spoons (as well as the washboard at times) were passed throughout the cozy café, and soon enough, the place was thumping, clicking and clacking through some old blues, folk and jazz favorites.

“They’re a good group of guys,” Michael Ray said. “They always make people smile.”

Ray said the Moaners play the first Tuesday of every month.

Characters’ Café, which will celebrate its first-year anniversary in April, is located in the same storefront as Theatre 82, at 82 Rolfe Square. Theatre 82 is the secondary venue for the Artists’ Exchange (AE), located just north at 50 Rolfe Square. The Café is open for breakfast and lunch, and features evening activities as well.

Artists’ Exchange

The Artists’ Exchange serves as a hub of activity and includes a black box theatre, arts classes, galleries and a host of other unique intricacies.

According to AE’s Visual Arts Director Karen Bouchard, students of all ages can learn how to do just about anything, including drawing, painting, stained glass, woodworking, book altering, digital arts and pottery.

“We offer great learning spaces, school programs, summer camps, art parties and two theatres. We even have a rock ‘n’ roll camp,” Bouchard said.

AE also works in conjunction with the Park Theater every year for a production of “A Christmas Carol.” It also plays host to a number of other theater companies, including EPIC Theatre, Marley Bridges Theater Company and the Burbage Theatre Company, in addition to AE’s own Black Box Theatre.

AE offers small classes, which allow the instructors and students more one-on-one time. The Herald sat in on a couple of classes on Thursday.

Joshua Baptista’s Cartooning Fundamentals class worked on constructing geometric shapes and spatial relations during their afternoon session. Students Adam Case, Sebastian Bancosme, Ethan Chandler and James Harvey are on their way to creating their own cartoons. Baptista, who has been teaching this class for about three years, said that this session featured a lot of monsters.

Instructor Brian Medeiros’ Ceramic Handbuilding class featured students creating ceramic masks for display. Each student, Stella Loezos, Ruby Houle and Gregory Tatevian, on this day was working on building up the foundation of a mask they built in the previous class. Each student brought in ideas and inspirations from their lives to add onto their mask. Inspiration included a popular actor’s linear facial features, a handmade sketch and Harry Potter.

The students, just in the beginning of their eight-week class, used a technique called “scratch and attach” to add new pieces to the current clay mask, which was kept moist with a paper towel from the week before. This technique involves scratching the surface of the mask with a tool, in this case a plastic fork, then attaching the new piece over the scratched portion. According to Medeiros, this creates a solid bond between the clay surfaces that will survive a trip or two through the kiln.

AE is owned and operated by Gateways to Change Inc., and has been open for 11 years.

AE’s spring session starts March 9.

For more information on the Artists’ Exchange, Theatre 82 and Characters’ Café, visit www.artists-exchange.org. For more information on the K.C. Moaners, visit www.facebook.com/TheKCMoaners.

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