Authors Posts by Gwyn McAllister

Gwyn McAllister


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New York musician Garrett Manley performed at Salt this past Sunday. — Photo by Gwyn McAllister

In a cozy barn-like building lit by candles, a small crowd gathered on overstuffed couches, chairs, and rustic wooden benches to hear a lone musician play guitar, improvising a jazzy set, accompanied by the sound of chirping insects and a soft breeze from across the Lagoon.

It’s a scene reminiscent of a group of friends enjoying a casual get together, except that the backdrop is shelves of jeans and a few old rock posters — The Velvet Underground, John and Yoko — and the makeshift stage area is surrounded by racks of flannel shirts, vintage dresses, and shelves of boots and shoes.

The boutique Salt MV on Lagoon Pond Road in Vineyard Haven has hosted musical evenings since the beginning of August. Last Sunday’s entertainment was provided by jazz guitarist Garrett Manley of Brooklyn, N.Y.

This Thursday, Sept. 4, Lexie Roth is the featured entertainer. Ms. Roth has released three CDs of her own and has been featured on albums with Keith Richards, Slash, Steve Miller, Levon Helm, and her father, Arlen Roth, a famed guitarist, guitar teacher, and writer. Ms. Roth has performed in venues throughout the country including the Montauk Music Festival on Long Island. She will be joined at Salt by Maesa Pullman of California.

The funky shop, located by the entrance to Veterans Field, carries clothing, shoes, jewelry, and home décor items. It has been open, somewhat under the radar, for the past 15 years. This summer, owner John Zannini decided to increase hours and visibility to some extent. The store has been open since August and on occasional evenings the rustic space features live music.

Manager Sabra Saperstein, who took over the day-to-day operations earlier this summer, has been responsible for recruiting musicians. So far the lineup has been a mix of locals and friends of Ms. Saperstein from her off-season home of Brooklyn. “It’s been a great opportunity to have friends come and visit and get some beach time and play music,” she said.

It’s also provided a new spot for music lovers to check out performances in a quiet space that’s a far cry from the bar scene. The music tends towards neo folk — solo acts or duos – and the lofty space makes a great listening room, similar to that of The Pit Stop in Oak Bluffs, which closed a year and a half ago.

The season’s entertainment schedule kicked off with a guest DJ from New York on August 1. The first live performance was by local songstress Nina Violet, who brought on board a musician friend who was visiting from Australia. So far there have been about half a dozen shows featuring to mostly solo acts and groups who play around the New York area.

Last weekend’s musical evening featured jazz guitarist Garrett Manley, who plays regularly with New York groups and occasionally as a solo act in bars and clubs around Brooklyn. He played a number of impromptu arrangements of old jazz standards on a 1965 Gibson guitar with an amazing sound. The tall vaulted roof of the old wooden building with rough plank flooring provided excellent acoustics. People wandered in and out enjoying the cozy ambience and watermelon juice refreshments provided by the store, as well as the balmy evening breeze.

For those inclined to shop, there is plenty to browse through. The store carries a selection of reasonably priced vintage, including lots of old Levis, flannel shirts, and leather goods. Mr. Zannini, a designer who has worked variously for Ralph Lauren,Filson, and Vineyard Vines, has gathered a wide range of jeans, from the American made brand Wild Ass, which sell for $35, to some of the the higher end brands such as the hip Brooklyn Denim.

There are racks and a selection of shoes and boots including some used as well as some new boots from Filson. A counter display case holds a good selection of jewelry, a mix of old and new items from independent designers. There are beaded bracelets, interesting leather cuffs, and some wampum. The large center space is surrounded by unpainted indoor/outdoor statuary. Buddhas and other Eastern figures in a range of sizes are found resting on the floors and shelves and spilling out down the outside steps.

It’s an eclectic mix and a fun space to wander around. Browsers are always welcome. Check out the store during the daylight hours before the racks get pushed aside for evening performances. Or just drop in for a relaxed evening of music and socializing.

Salt MV is open daily from 10 am to 7 pm. Music with Lexie Roth and Maesa Pullman on Thursday, Sept. 4, at 8 pm. Free. BYO refreshments. For future music events, visit Salt MV’s Facebook page.

Curator and artist Margot Datz assembled all the pieces on display for the Take a Walk on the Wild Side exhibit. — Michael Cummo

A menagerie of critters currently occupies one section of the Old Sculpin Gallery in Edgartown. The show is called Take a Walk on the Wild Side: Exploring the Fauna of the Island to which 25 artists contributed about an equal number of species. There are birds, beasts, insects and – of course, given our Island locale – lots of fish and other marine creatures.

Fish are a common theme in Old Sculpin's current show.
Fish are a common theme in Old Sculpin’s current show.

The Old Sculpin is the viewing space for the Martha’s Vineyard Art Association (MVAA) and generally only members show their work there. This year, being the MVAA’s 60th anniversary, they have decided to open the gallery to outside artists for a couple of fundraising shows.

“We’re doing new things this season,” said gallery manager Jennifer Bottone. “We’re inviting non-members to participate.”

The current show includes work by an almost equal number of members as other artists. “I think there’s been a great response to these types of shows,” Ms. Bottone said. “Our membership energy has increased.”

Like the previous open-to-all-artists show — a Plein Air exhibit that hung in July — the event is a fundraiser for the MVAA scholarship fund. The association provides scholarships for both graduating high school seniors going on to college and to families who may not be able to afford the association’s summer kids’ art programs.

Artist and author Margot Datz juried the show and came up with the theme. “Were always celebrating seascapes and flowers and maritime traditions,” she said. “I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to see all the different types of animals?”

The gallery sent out a call to artists early in August asking them to submit work featuring Island fauna — wild, domestic, or barnyard animals.

Ms. Datz contributed three pieces to the show. Each showcases a different dimension of the very talented artist’s range. A bejeweled bunny is a good example of the wit and whimsy that Ms. Datz is perhaps best known for. A  barn scene, viewed from the perspective of an owl in the rafters, has a great storybook feel. The third — a painting of a reclining calf — is a more straightforward, masterfully executed portrait.

Ms. Datz’s daughter, Scarlet Blair, also has a piece in the show — a charming profile head shot of a lab facing off with a rooster. Ms. Blair has clearly inherited her mother’s talent and sense of humor.

The larger pieces include two Gyotaku fish prints — a method similar to gravestone rubbing, using an actual fish. The two prints are huge, a testament to the two contributors’ fishing talents, as well as their artistic skills.

Edie Yoder has executed a lovely Chagall-like scene featuring a woman and a goat standing near a stream with what looks like a gypsy caravan in the background.

Some of the most appealing pieces include two little oil paintings of birds by Sharon McCann Daly, June Schoppe’s stylized depiction of swimming fish, a lovely ceramic of coral and sea plants by Jennifer Langhammer, and MB Thompson Dowlin’s vibrantly colored small oil of a  butterfly among flowers. “I usually do buildings and architecture,” said MVAA member Ms. Dowlin, commenting on her response to themed shows. “Sometimes artists like a challenge. They like a call. It offers a suggestion.”

Photographs include Louise Clough’s Not So Wild Turkeys, featuring the birds roosting on an outdoor deck, one of Benjamin McCormick’s fantastic underwater fish, and Harvey Beth’s extreme close-up of a feeding hummingbird.

Daisy Lifton, who creates beautiful works of art using a traditional Japanese ink and watercolor technique, chose an extinct species for her subject. She has managed to resurrect the bird that once flourished on the Vineyard with her ink wash depiction of a mated pair of heath hens.

Wild geese captured the imagination of two Island artists. Corinne Kenney created a wonderful oil portrait of a standing goose with wings outstretched, while Anna Finnerty’s lovely pastel titled Trapps Pond Waders shows the birds in a more relaxed moment.

Thomas Fane did a fun pen-and ink-sketch of a sheep while Meg Mercier contributed a pretty pastel farmyard scene with lambs.

Ms. Datz was pleased with the variety of media and subjects. “Our affection for these animals invited interpretation,” she said.

Ms. Datz was also happy to give lesser known artists a chance to exhibit. “There are people who aren’t affiliated with any other gallery that we might call amateurs but have this creative bent. The thing that’s really important is that this show was open to everyone. I could see it as something that attracted enough people to do it again.”

Take a Walk on the Wild Side runs through September 5. For more information, call 508-627-4881 or visit

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Photo courtesy The Martha's Vineyard Playhouse

The Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse winds up its season of Monday Night Specials (play readings featuring professional actors) with two new works. On Monday, Sept. 1, the Playhouse presents a comedy/drama by Avram Ludwig, movie producer (Swingers) and actor. The Same Boat will tread some familiar ground for Vineyard audiences as the action takes place on a sailboat headed to the Island. A staid Connecticut couple’s life is shaken up when a bohemian young woman enters the picture. The reading is at 7:30 pm at the M.V. Playhouse on Church Street in Vineyard Haven. Admission is $25.

Another work with a similar title — but very different subject matter — will be presented on Saturday, August 30 at 4 pm, also at the Playhouse, also $25. The Same Man compares the lives and work of two of our greatest contemporary authors — George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh. The play is written by attorney/author David M. Lebedoff and based on his critically acclaimed book of the same name. Mr. Lebedoff, a former treasurer of Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, has written a number of other nonfiction books covering topics from partisan politics to the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Both plays will be followed by Q&As with the playwrights. For more information, call 508-696-6300 or visit

Lila'Angelique, left, and S. K. Thoth of Tribal Baroque perform at the Union Chapel on Sunday, August 31. — Dan Rubin

One of New York City’s most often witnessed and most talked-about performances is coming to the Vineyard this weekend. New York-based street performers S. K. Thoth and Lila’Angelique are known throughout the world for their unique brand of opera, though they tend to operate somewhat under the radar, so it’s only the lucky few who are in the right place at the right time who get to witness their colorful and emotionally charged act.

On Sunday, the two will present their very unique music and dance show Tribal Baroque at the Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs for one performance (or “prayformance,” as they refer to their concerts). The show is a Wendy Taucher Dance Opera Theater production.

It’s a bit challenging to describe exactly what Tribal Baroque is. To begin with, there are the costumes. Thoth has a look that’s both androgynous (he tends to wear a skirt or apron/loincloth) and a blend of ethnic elements. His shaved head and facial adornments suggest a Tibetan monk, but he also incorporates a number of other cultures in his look with extreme eye makeup, fur, silver jewelry, and other adornments. His look, like that of his partner and wife Lila’Angelique, changes from performance to performance. Lila is partial to pink and white, and in hair, makeup, and clothing and she favors feathers, flowers, and elaborately bejeweled facial art. While Thoth embodies sort of a savage virility, Lila is pure feminine with more than a touch of the Romantic era of periwigs and frills.

Despite what might be seen as an outlandish look, the husband and wife duo are very serious musicians and vocal technicians. Lila sings in a beautiful coloratura soprano voice. Thoth is an accomplished countertenor and classically trained violinist whose mother played timpani for the New York Philharmonic. Both performers play violin expertly while providing percussion through multiple rows of ankle bells.

The performances are mini operas based on a fable of Thoth’s own imagining. In his days as a solo act, Thoth created a country, language, and mythology around which he based a complex series of song and dance pieces. Lila joined him in 2009, adding another element and a great deal of depth to the story and performance.

“It’s changed everything,” Lila said of their collaboration in a recent Skype interview. Thoth had his own energy — the male. Now it’s very much yin and yang with both of us both feeding off each other. There’s a lot more energy to work with. The performance is more fleshed out.”

The music is unusual for its invented language, but the compositions are classically structured and quite beautiful and very rhythmic. The music incorporates classical sensibilities and elements from a number of ethnicities including gypsy and other folk music and chanting that resembles both the Gregorian and the muezzin call to worship. It’s a fascinating mix that somehow works really well and highlights the two disparate and equally virtuosic vocalists.  Despite the language barrier it’s easy to absorb the themes of yearning, devotion, love, and valor, the basis of any great opera — or myth, for that matter.

In 2002, before Lila and Thoth had joined forces, filmmaker Sarah Kernochan made a documentary about Thoth that won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject. Ms. Kernochan, who has written a number of screenplays and won two Oscars, spends her summers at her home in Edgartown.

Thoth and Ms. Kernochan have maintained a friendship ever since the making of the film. During the Skype interview, Thoth said, “We’re really good friends. We’ve kept in touch over the years and got closer in fact after the film.” Thoth explained that he has some issues around trust and added, “She’s one of my only friends.”

Ms. Kernochan discovered Thoth at his regular haunt, the vaulted Angel Tunnel in New York City’s Central Park. That is still the couple’s preferred street performance space. Tribal Baroque “prayforms” up to five times a week, although they try to do no more in order to give their much strained voices a break.

“We perform all over the world,” said Lila. “We just performed on the Royal Mile [in Edinburgh] for a couple of months. We went to Amsterdam and performed outdoors at the Rijksmuseum.” The couple arrives straight from an extended European tour when they appear here. After this show they will return to New York City.

Although they rarely perform by invitation, the members of Tribal Baroque are often approached during their informal shows and recruited to appear at venues or private parties. Joe Ashcroft and Mollie Whalen of Vineyard Haven chanced upon a performance in San Diego and arranged, through Wendy Taucher, to bring the couple to the Vineyard.

Interestingly, both Thoth and Lila’Angelique have Island connections. He visited the Island with his mother once while his mother was touring with the musical “Showboat.” He recalls having a small part in that show and even remembers his one line. Lila’s mother’s godfather was the late author William Styron, who spent summers here. She hopes to have the chance to meet Styron’s widow Rose, who she last saw when she was a child.

The Tribal Baroque show is sure to prove one of the more unusual events of the summer season. But, surprisingly, the group’s appeal seems to be universal as witnessed by the variety — from hipsters to Park Avenue matrons — among the spectators who tend to stick around enthralled by the duo’s street appearances.

Musicians and music lovers will enjoy the original compositions and virtuosity of the players. Others will appreciate the spectacle as much as the stories and the music.

Thoth and Lila will be on hand at a reception at the A Gallery in Oak Bluffs following the performance.

Tribal Baroque performance, Sunday, August 31, 6 pm, Union Chapel, Oak Bluffs. $25; $20 general in advance; $50 front row in advance. Meet the Performers reception follows at A Gallery. For more information and tickets, visit or call 646-872-7249.

Aparna Ramaswamy of the Ragamala Dance Company performed at The Yard last weekend. Photo by Sally Cohn — Sally Cohn

Like a Hindu goddess come to life, Aparna Ramaswamy of the Ragamala Dance Company enchanted a sold-out house at The Yard this past Saturday night. In two weekend performances, the master of Bharatanatyam dance presented four intricate dances each with a different theme — the Divine Feminine, the Ganges River, a love poem, and a celebration of life.

Dressed in traditional costume comprising a sort of sari/pants/pleated skirt combination, with a jeweled headdress, belled ankle cuffs, and eyes made up in an exaggerated cat eye style, Ms. Ramaswamy expertly combined a series of statuesque poses with fluid dance moves and mimed actions. Accompanied by a singer, a chanter, and two musicians (all female), the accomplished dancer utilized every part of her body — from her eyes, head, and neck to her very supple fingers — to achieve a program that was in equal parts a spectacular display of dance and a very moving and spiritual experience.

Ms. Ramaswamy, along with her mother and co-choreographer Ranee, her musical accompanists, and a small troupe of dancers were in residency at The Yard in Chilmark for two weeks before presenting their work Sannidhi (Sacred Space) to the public on Thursday and Saturday nights.

Aparna Ramaswamy.
Aparna Ramaswamy. Photo by Sally Cohn

The Minneapolis based Ragamala Dance Company was founded by Ranee Ramaswamy in 1992. The mother and daughter are co-artistic directors and choreographers. Their work has been performed at venues all over the world and they have received commissions from a number of prestigious organizations including, most recently, Lincoln Center Out of Doors.

The New York Times gave a rave review to that performance of Ragamala’s Song of the Jasmine, which featured five dancers in a music/dance collaboration, calling it, “a soulful, imaginative and rhythmically contagious collaboration with the superb jazz composer and alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa.”

Bharatanatyam is a classical form of Indian dance that dates back to ancient times when it was performed as a form of devotion to the gods in the Hindu temples. Since enjoying a revival in the 19th and 20th centuries, Bharatanatyam has become very popular throughout India and elsewhere. The music — called Carnatic music — is an integral part of the dance. As the younger Ms. Ramaswamy explained in a Q&A after Saturday evening’s performance, the Ragamala musicians work very closely with the choreography team in creating the dances. Bharatanatyam is said to be the embodiment of music in visual form.

The musicians, who also performed an intro and an interlude unaccompanied by dance, were fascinating to watch. Sitting on the floor to the side of the stage, along with Ranee who at times read from classical Indian poetry and chanted, were vocalist Ramya Sunderesan Kapadia and sisters Anjna (violin) and Rajna (percussion) Swaminathan. Both highly skilled, the sisters improvised a good deal, demonstrating both their prowess and the level of connectedness they have attained in the years spent performing together.

Ms. Ramaswamy stressed the amount of training that each of the members has gone through. Although the younger troupe members, including Aparna, were born in the U.S., they have all spent years studying under masters in India.

“Each of us comes from a very well known, well respected teacher in India,” said Ms. Ramaswamy. She and her mother both studied under one of the world’s greatest living Bharatanatyam dancers.

However, as Ms. Ramaswamy explained to the Saturday audience in a knowledgeable and articulate manner, the Ragamala dancer’s work is very much a product of the member’s experience living in this country as well as their roots in India.

According to the Ragamala website (, “We draw from the myth and spirituality of our South Indian heritage to make dance landscapes that dwell in opposition — secular and spiritual life, inner and outer worlds, human and natural concerns, rhythm and stillness — to find the transcendence that lies in between. Together we craft every moment to create intricate and complex worlds that convey a sense of reverence, of unfolding mystery, of universal celebration.”

The quartet of dances enjoyed by Yard audiences last weekend were both aesthetically pleasing and emotionally gratifying. There was something mesmerizing about watching the fluid movements and marveling at Ms. Ramaswamy’s grace and strength that provided a soothing, meditative experience. Although the lyrics would have been unintelligible to most Western audiences, the poems were read by Ranee in English and the stories and themes of each dance were obvious. In particular, the dance that dealt with the relationship that Indians enjoy with the sacred river, the Ganges, was very literate and beautiful as Ms. Ramaswamy used her expressive hand movements and postures to full effect.

Both informative and exhilarating to watch, the Ragamala performances were a great example of the spectrum of dance that The Yard brings to Vineyard audiences every summer.

“This summer we’ve had an overarching theme of artists who have clearly dedicated themselves to the past but are not trapped by the past,” said David White, in his introduction to Saturday’s performance.

After the performance, Mr. White said that he hopes to have a continuing relationship with the Ragamala dance troupe.

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Cotton candy, ribs, burgers and tempura go great with a little music. The fair is always a popular place to hear Island musicians. — Ralph Stewart

Before the Fair moved from the Grange Hall to its current home in 1995, live music meant fiddles, lots of fiddles — from a fiddlers’ contest to live bands featuring fiddle music. You get the idea: music fit for a county fair.

Now, however, the soundtrack to the Fair includes a little bit of everything, from blues to country to doo-wop to jazz. If you want the more traditional fiddle, folk, and bluegrass, visit the Acoustic Corner. For something a little bit different, check out these bands on the main stage.

Blue Ribbons – Best in show

Blue Ribbons have been bringing their catchy piano-driven original rock to clubs in Cambridge, Boston, and beyond for years. Classic rock with a jazzy feel. The soulful singing, smokin’ guitar, and traditional rock sound will remind you of a host of rock legends — Eric Clapton, the Band etc.

Jon Zeeman – Jazz my day

Jon Zeeman started out his career playing in New York City and Scandinavia. Since the 1990s, Zeeman has established himself as one of the most popular local musicians — playing everywhere from dive bars to private parties and fundraisers. A mix of jazz, jazz-funk, blues and rock, the band is a tight unit of consummate musicians led by master guitarist Zeeman whose influences include Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix.

The Stragglers – Country for the country fan in us all

Since the mid-1980s, The Stragglers have been bringing good old-time country music to Martha’s Vineyard. In their heyday, The Stragglers played venues around the Island such as The Hot Tin Roof and bars and parties.

Named for the fact that “people straggle in and out of the band,” according to founder Merrily Fenner, the group has changed its lineup over the years, but the music remains a tribute to the greats of country. Some sample songs include “Hey, Good Lookin’” and “Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.”

Serendipity – Girls just wanna have fun, 1950s style

Serendipity started out as an all girls’ band (girls of a certain age, that is) but they have since added one guy on guitar. Still, a lot of their music hearkens back to the 50s and 60s — the days of doo-wop and girl groups. Fun, feel-good music that will take you back in time. Sample songs include “One Fine Day” (the Chiffons), “Fever” (Peggy Lee), and “Shop Around” (the Miracles).

Island Country – Walk the country line

Old-time country is, not surprisingly, what you can expect from the band Island Country. Think Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard. Founder Rick O’Gorman has been playing country music for 30-plus years. “I’ve played at every bar that was ever on the Island and some that are still on the Island,” he says.

He’s gathered together a group of similar minded musicians for a band that will include Anthony Benton Gude on pedal steel guitar, and they will be recruiting surprise guests. “We love country music and we’re thrilled to play the Fair,” says Mr. O’Gorman.

Bored of Health – Alt rock meets country

You may have seen them playing clubs around Boston — places like Johnny D’s in Cambridge have been hosting Bored of Health for more than 10 years now. Anything but boring, their original pop/rock/country tunes will get you up and dancing — maybe even two-stepping. A new, countrified sound for alternative rock fans. Members include Islander Tauras Biskis on drums, along with keyboards, guitar, and standup bass.

The Roundabouts – Full circle of musical genres  

The Roundabouts have been around a little longer than their namesake — the mid-Island intersection — and they’re similarly winning Islanders over. The band, founded by husband and wife Erik and Cheryl Lowe, plays country, blues, and rock with a rockabilly sensibility and a nod to the classics. This is their third year at the Fair. They also play at bars around Oak Bluffs and will appear at the P-A Club on Saturday night. Sample songs include a range of country and blues: “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Route 66,” “Kansas City,” and, for a slight psychedelic departure, “Magic Carpet Ride”

The Ben Higgins Band – Hooks galore

The Ben Higgins Band plays all original tunes with a mix of country and progressive folk featuring catchy tunes. The three-piece unit includes piano, guitar, banjo, and resonator for a rich, full sound.

“I like to think that we create some sort of positive atmosphere,” Ben Higgins says. “The songs get stuck in your head. That’s what people say.”

Judge for yourself. This fall Vineyard native Higgins is headed for country music hub Nashville, so check out his band at the Fair while you can or catch him playing piano at the Lambert’s Cove Inn in West Tisbury every Thursday through Sunday.

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In 2010, Vineyard Arts Project (VAP) hosted a new playwriting team as part of their inaugural New Writers/New Plays residency. The musical “Witness Uganda” by Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews was among three plays to be developed here that year and presented for the first time ever to Vineyard audiences. Since then, the show has enjoyed success and critical acclaim in a variety of venues.

And now, following a sell-out run at the prestigious American Repertory Theater at Harvard University, the rousing musical based on Mr. Matthews’s experience working with a group of African orphans is coming back to VAP for one night on Saturday, August 16. The performance here will be a presentation of selected musical numbers from the show.

“I really wanted to do a concert before the show blows up and ends up being a big flash in New York,” said VAP artistic director Ashley Melone.

The musical is based on Mr. Matthews’s humanitarian work in Uganda where he spent five years building a relationship with a group of orphans. He was so inspired by the spirit of the small group of impoverished teens that he became determined to help fund their education. When his fundraising efforts stalled as the economy collapsed, he and his partner Mr. Gould decided to create a musical to help raise money, as well as awareness of their organization, the Uganda Project.

Mr. Gould has created a series of memorable, joyful songs that combine traditional African music with rock and roll. Mr. Matthews, who wrote the show’s book, weaves the tale of the plight of the children with his own successes and frustrations as someone trying to make a difference in the world.

From the seeds of the first few musical numbers — which were presented as fundraisers to audiences throughout the country — the work evolved into a full-fledged musical, having been developed in a large part during a residency at VAP that included the actors/singers/dancers.

“The most important resources that a writer can have are time and space,” Mr. Gould said. “The Vineyard Arts Project provided us with those resources and gave us the chance to explore our piece with a depth we hadn’t ever been afforded. We’re returning to see if we can find some last touches of that magic before we move to Broadway.”

New Writers/New Plays cofounder Brooke Hardman explained how the play came to the VAP: “Matt and I went to college together at B.U. I knew he had been working on a couple of different musicals. I knew how brilliant he was. At our first meeting he played me some mp3 files on his phone. It’s an amazing thing to be part of a process like this. Musicals are so epically difficult to develop. They involve so many people. It’s such an honor for us to have played a small part in the success of this show. To see it go from just a few songs on an iPhone to a full-blown great musical at a great theater is such a thrill.”

Ms. Melone, a former dancer who previously ran the compound as a summer dance school, was impressed enough by “Witness Uganda” to commit herself to the show. “I fell in love with the piece,” she said.

The show has since gone on to receive a Richard Rodgers award and was then picked up by the American Rep where it was directed by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus.

VAP continues to serve as a choreography and dance residency, hosting some of the biggest names in both the theater the dance world.

“Witness Uganda” is one of a number of success stories with roots at VAP. Since its founding in 2008, shows developed at the compound have gone on to runs at Lincoln Center, the Public Theater, ARS Nova, and other esteemed venues. This fall, the play “Disgraced,” which was also part of the 2010 New Writers/New Plays series and went on to win a Pulitzer Prize, will open on Broadway.

“I’m so thrilled that this was all part of our first year,” says Ms. Hardman. “We started with a bang. That’s what the festival is all about. It’s a great place to conceive and coax the work. We want to help give them legs so they can really run.”

“Witness Uganda,” Saturday, August 16, 6:30 pm, Vineyard Arts Project, Upper Main St., Edgartown. Pay-what-you-can admission available at and at the door; free for children. Proceeds benefit Uganda Project and VAP.

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Sally Taylor shows her mother, Carly Simon, the details of one of the exhibits at Consenses. — Michael Cummo

The Grange Hall in West Tisbury was the scene of a unique three-art event, August 18–20. Consenses, a group show of artists from all over the world, paired photography, painting, sculpture, music, dance, poetry, the written word, and even perfumery and tea blending into a multi-installation, multi-themed journey through the senses.

Consenses paired all types of art into a multi-installation, multi-themed journey through the senses.
Consenses paired all types of art into a multi-installation, multi-themed journey through the senses.

The project, begun in 2012, was the brainchild of artist and musician Sally Taylor, whose idea was to invite artists to draw inspiration from each other — translating a song into a painting, a poem into a sculpture. A total of 140 artists, selected by Ms. Taylor from among her friends and associates and through research on the web, participated. Among them were the famous, including Jimmy Buffett, Wes Craven, and Ms. Taylor’s parents, Carly Simon and James Taylor (along with other members of the Taylor clan), the locally renowned, such as Alison Shaw, Alan Whiting, and many others who have achieved success in their fields but who will be unknown to most visitors to the temporary gallery space.

A visit to the Grange Hall show was like exploring a museum with multiple installations. There were eight in all, each laid out by a different designer, and each featuring an individual theme and evoking a very specific mood. The chains – as they are called – were created by asking individual artists to execute a work in their medium inspired by the work of the previous participant. Each chain began with a photo of the Vineyard, which was used by a songwriter whose work was then interpreted by a dancer and then passed on to a painter, etc.

Artist Mark Cooper, who contributed to Consenses, watched a piece in a separate exhibit.
Artist Mark Cooper, who contributed to Consenses, watched a piece in a separate exhibit.

The installation event is called Festival of the Senses and it is a true multi-sensory experience. Visitors are invited to view artwork, listen to music through headphones, watch videotaped dance performances, read poetry and prose works, sniff scent samples, and sip specially brewed herbal teas — all part of the art experience. Each artist provided a short explanation of their creation process.

Consenses is a full-immersion experience that can best be appreciated by taking time in each space and simultaneously experiencing two or more creations at once. One can listen to a beautiful James Taylor instrumental piece while watching a set of intricately designed paper wings flap in an inspired feat of engineered sculpture. Or watch a hypnotic dance involving a large hoop while sipping a spicy tea blend. Each viewer’s experience will be different depending on how they approach the installation, and viewers were invited to add their thoughts on sheets hanging on the wall near each exhibit.

The eight complete installations are part of a 19 chain series. The others were represented in the show by interactive digital displays that allowed guests to scroll through and view or listen to the various works. The Vineyard event also included a series of performances and artist-led workshops at satellite venues.

Teacher Sara Baumrin interacted with one of the exhibits, which asked how the viewer interprets the art.
Teacher Sara Baumrin interacted with one of the exhibits, which asked how the viewer interprets the art.

The current exhibit marks the first time that the works have been displayed together. From here, the show will move to the Boston area where the entire collection will be on view in two separate locations.

This is also the first time that the artists have been able to experience the work of the other participants. Eight-six of the 140 artists were on hand for the premiere of the show here. One unfortunate note, the first of the painters who was recruited for the project — an artist named Henk Gringhuis — died of cancer just months before the installation. Ms. Taylor explained that he was one of the most enthusiastic participants and that she had developed a close telephone relationship with him. She has dedicated the exhibit to Mr. Gringhuis, whose wife and brother-in-law, visiting from Canada, stayed with Ms. Taylor.

Painter Gosia from Toronto was among those who made the trip to the Vineyard for the show. She was provided with a song by Isaac Taylor on which she based a beautiful fairytale-like painting of a woman partly submerged in the ocean, her hair becoming one with the waves, a tiny ship floating beside her. “I found it really easy,” she said. “I already use music as my inspiration.”

From left: Carly Simon, Peter Simon, and Consenses creator Sally Taylor.
From left: Carly Simon, Peter Simon, and Consenses creator Sally Taylor.

Gosia, a young woman who has enjoyed success as an illustrator, painter, and sculptor, was impressed with the exhibit. “I was a little surprised,” she said after viewing the multiple installations. “I thought there’d be more of a disconnect.”

In many cases, although each participant was only given access to one work of art, the entire chain seems to have maintained a consistency.

Ms. Taylor was thrilled to witness the culmination of her two years of work as curator. “This is better than I could have envisioned it,” she said Monday, standing outside the hall where a few works were displayed on the porch. She explained that from the beginning she had planned to launch the exhibit on the Vineyard. “All of the photos are of the Vineyard. This was my starting point — my elephant,” she said, referencing a fable that in part inspired her ambitious interpretation experiment.

Next to Ms. Taylor, her father, James, was admiring a textile piece. Asked for his reaction on the final stage of a project in which he played a part, he said, “I’m knocked out. I’d only seen little bits and pieces before. Man, it’s beautiful.”

He added, “Like any great exhibit, you want to devote some time to it. To feel the connection. To get into the chain of events.”

Hundreds of people did just that, taking time out from a string of picture-perfect beach days to experience a unique artistic collaboration.

To find out more about the project and the artists and check out future locations, visit

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Rob Karma Robinson plays Satchel Paige in the M.V. Playhouse's current production. — MJ Bruder Munafo

“Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.”

Satchel Paige, one of the most famous players in baseball’s Negro leagues, is responsible for the above quote. Often repeated, it is included in the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse’s latest production.

Soneela Nankani and Stan Strickland in "Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing."
Soneela Nankani and Stan Strickland in “Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing.”

While baseball hall-of-famer Paige has been relegated these days to a footnote in history, in his own day he was a legend and certainly more than deserving of the sort of hero worship that has been bestowed upon other baseball greats by biographers and filmmakers.

In Richardo Khan’s and Trey Ellis’s new play, “Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing,” not only is Paige’s remarkable professional story — a stellar career as a pitcher in the Negro Major League and a short stint in the major leagues — brought to life, but the man who lived his life according the above quote is seen as the highly likeable, charismatic, and complex man that he was.

“Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing” is a rich, full spectrum of a show. There’s music — both a couple of ensemble songs from the period and some saxophone interludes, dancing, simulated ball playing, a dream sequence, a dramatic fight scene, and some extremely effective use of projections and lighting.

In fact, the entire piece is a masterwork of choreography. Players mime a practice session very realistically, throwing and hitting an imaginary ball. The difficult blocking of the multi-character dramatic scenes is executed without a hitch. And everything is authentic to the period, including Paige’s old-style wind up and delivery.

The play’s action takes place shortly after Jackie Robinson was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first black player in the major leagues — in 1947, when Paige was 41. Paige was robbed of that distinction despite his reputation — among other ballplayers as well as fans — as the best player in all of baseball. Still, Paige is enjoyed great success and acclaim and, in his own way, is broke color barriers by taking part in a barnstorming tour with Cleveland Indians pitcher Bob Feller. For many years, the two men led opposing teams that travelled together and played in major league parks during the off season, introducing many baseball fans for the first time to black players.

The story starts out during this tour on a ballfield, but most of the action takes place in a black-owned rooming house in Kansas City where a few of the ballplayers, including Paige and Feller, are lodging. The audience is introduced to the proprietress and her young daughter, an aspiring singer who is following in her mother’s footsteps. The inclusion of these fictional characters lends some Tennessee Williams-style drama and a considerable bit of sexual tension to the story. The boardinghouse scenes also lead to the relating of a few very funny anecdotes, the exploration of some of the issues faced by black ballplayers, and some nice repartee between Paige and his former love, Ms. Hopkins.

Ms. Hopkins is played by the remarkable Suzzanne Douglas, who has appeared at the Playhouse previously as both an actress and as a jazz singer. She is well known for her many television and film roles having starred in the sitcom “The Parent ‘Hood” as well as in several motion pictures including “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” In the Playhouse production, she proves herself a very strong dramatic actress with a flair for comedy. It would have been nice to have been able to enjoy a bit more of Ms. Douglas’s considerable musical talents in the play.

The real revelation among the cast is the very versatile Rob Karma Robinson, a New York stage actor who has twice before appeared at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse. In his most recent outing here as a member of the ensemble cast of “Fly,” we got a taste of Mr. Robinson’s acting chops as he played the most charismatic of the play’s Tuskegee airmen. As the star of “Satchel Paige,” Mr. Robinson proves that he can run the acting gamut — alternately joking with the boys and quoting from Homer’s “The Odyssey” — a very effective recurring metaphorical device used throughout the play.

Along with a strong cast, including Playhouse regular Christopher Kann, it is a delight to watch an actor of Mr. Robinson’s strength and range. He is clearly ready to break into his own version of the major leagues, and we are very likely to see more of this extremely talented actor — hopefully on Broadway or in TV or film.

Mr. Khan’s and Mr. Ellis’s previous collaboration “Fly,”  which was a hit on the Vineyard in 2010 before taking off to the famed Ford Theater in Washington, D.C., featured an ancillary character — a tap dancer — who helped interpret the action. Similarly, the accomplished jazz saxophonist Stan Strickland provides both music, some exposition, and atmosphere in the current Playhouse production. At one point, Mr. Strickland also does a brief turn as the legendary Charlie Parker on the verge of revolutionizing the jazz music world.

All in all, the show has mass appeal beyond baseball fans. And, it’s a telling story about the history of race relations in this country. In an interview after opening night, co-writer and director Mr. Khan noted that his research for the play led him to an interesting discovery.

“In the midwest, where segregation was very much a part of life, the result was a thriving black middle class,” he said, “I was shocked that there would be so many blacks who owned their own businesses and that that community actually survived.

“The idea was to tell the story of the Negro Leagues and the Major Leagues in baseball, but I also wanted to explore the climate of an America that was just on the eve of integration. That was originally my intent. We were so separate and yet in 1947 Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, and I guess the question at that time was what was going to happen now. It was kind of representative of all of America to take a snapshot of Kansas City in the middle of the country.”

“Satchel Paige” is cleverly staged, using projections, a musical narrator, and an interesting, minimal opening scene set to good advantage. The lighting and special effects are worthy of a metropolitan production and, as previously mentioned, the choreography, including dance and movement sequences by Marla Blakey, is exceptional.

Theater: “Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing,” Wednesdays-Saturdays through Sept. 6, 7:30 pm, Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, Vineyard Haven. $50; $40 seniors; $30 students. For more information and for tickets, call 508-687-2452 or visit

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At The Moth this past Saturday, Arthur Bradford told a story about his friendship with a Camp Jabberwocky camper. — Susan Safford

This past Saturday at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs, a near capacity crowd got the opportunity to peer for a moment into the lives of five very different people and hear remarkable stories that were at times moving, sad, inspiring, and, in every case, very funny in the best possible self-deprecating way.

Bestselling author Adam Mansbach talked about the unanticipated success of his first book.
Bestselling author Adam Mansbach talked about the unanticipated success of his first book.

The event was The Moth on Martha’s Vineyard Mainstage, hosted by The Moth, which, through a series of events and Internet and radio broadcasts, offers slice of life stories that give listeners a chance to get to know people in their own words of 15 minutes or so.

The Moth is a storytelling series founded in 1997 that hosts live Mainstage events in venues throughout the U.S., offers weekly podcasts, and is featured on National Public Radio as the Moth Radio Hour. MothSLAMS — informal storytelling contests — take place in more than 50 cities worldwide. For the past three summers, The Moth has hosted Mainstage events on the Vineyard featuring both locals and national amateur storytellers.

The Moth’s real tagline is True Stories Told Live, and the Vineyard event provided a good example of what they do best — providing a truly genuine and candid alternative to the reality show phenomenon. Reality that’s not only real, but a glimpse of the human condition and lessons learned through trials and triumphs as seen through the eyes of both writers and entertainment professionals and ordinary citizens.

The Vineyard event was bookended by two humorists whose dialogues were laced with joking commentary and wry observations. First up was Arnie Reisman, a regular panelist on NPR’s syndicated comedy quiz show Says You! Mr. Reisman is an Oscar nominated writer, performer, and producer who currently writes a column for the Vineyard Gazette and, along with his wife, national consumer reporter Paula Lyons, has lent his talents to a number of local events.

Mary Lou Piland was the event's only full-time Islander.
Mary Lou Piland.

Mr. Reisman riffed on life as a Jew in a Wasp community and the trials of being an extraordinarily overprotected only child. His story detailed a comically nightmarish evening as the escort of a debutante to an exclusive country club dance. The tale centered on Mr. Reisman’s two sets of parents — both birth parents and surrogate parents — all equally obsessed with navigating a teenage Mr. Reisman safely into adulthood. At one point he cracked that the incident he was describing, “set in motion their locomotive of fear.” The story was full of laughs and set the night off to a rollicking start.

Islander Mary Lou Piland provided the most heartwarming story of the evening, although the tale traversed a rocky road before reaching its happily-ever-after-conclusion. Ms. Piland is the daughter of strict first-generation Italian-American strict Catholic parents who had a hard time coming to terms with their daughter’s black boyfriend.

In an interview after her turn on stage, Ms. Piland, who works in the emergency room at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, said that her parents and husband were in the audience hearing her version of the story for the first time. “I warned my father that he is vilified in the first half,” said Ms. Piland. However, all participants in the real life “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” scenario are now a close-knit family. In a heavy Italian accent, Ms. Piland’s father explained the lesson he gained from his daughter. “I accept people the way they are,” he said, and went on to extoll the virtues of his son-in-law, physician assistant Anthony Piland.

It was a packed house at the Tabernacle.
It was a packed house at the Tabernacle.

Ms. Piland gained an audition with The Moth on the recommendation of writer and writers’ group leader Cynthia Riggs, who has appeared at Moth Mainstage events both here and in NYC. Ms. Piland developed her story at a Moth workshop on the Vineyard last summer. “They helped me polish my story in such a way that I really wanted to tell it,” she said after the show.

Perhaps the biggest crowd pleaser of the evening was former Camp Jabberwocky counselor, co-director, and current board member Arthur Bradford. His story focused on a long-term relationship he had with a Jabberwocky camper. The story spanned Mr. Bradford’s years with the camp for disabled people through his career as an award-winning writer and Emmy-nominated filmmaker.

Mr. Bradford told the story behind the making of an MTV show and documentary with Ronnie Simonsen, a man whose obsession and ultimate friendship with television star Chad Everett helped him deal with the challenges of cerebral palsy and a diagnosis of terminal leukemia. The story was entertaining, poignant, and the most unique of the evening’s offerings, bringing a very memorable character to life.

At intermission, Mr. Bradford said that his only regret was that the Jabberwocky campers didn’t get a chance to attend. Those who might have remembered the late Mr. Simonsen were not on the Island at the moment and the current group were all at the camp that evening presenting their annual musical.

Mr. Bradford was recruited for the Mainstage through his two Moth StorySLAMs and one GrandSLAM wins. In a post performance interview he said, “I lobbied to be a part of the Vineyard event. I knew that people here would know Jabberwocky.” His mention of the camp drew a round of applause. One of his goals in making the film was to raise awareness of the Vineyard-based camp.

Moth stories tend to feature a life lesson and, in Mr. Bradford’s case, a question raised was the validity of helping someone else fulfill a dream while possibly putting your own interests on hold. After the performance, Mr. Bradford said, “This is my dream. Doing the Moth.”

The two storytellers featured in the second half of the program were both nationally recognized figures. Emmy Award-winning journalist, foreign correspondent, and writer Charlayne Hunter-Gault related her experiences interviewing Nelson Mandela multiple times, including immediately following his release from prison. Her story touched on her long career in the news business and her position as a prominent figure in the civil rights movement in the U.S.

Completing the lineup of stories, bestselling author Adam Mansbach told about the unanticipated success of his first book, “Go The Fuck to Sleep,”  which was a #1 New York Times bestseller. Mr. Mansbach proved himself as outrageously funny in person as he is in his multiple books and videos. Commenting on his surprisingly swift rise to fame, he quipped, “I now had a public persona as a fake parenting expert and I wanted to ride that gravy train as long as I could.”

The evening was hosted by Ophira Eisenberg, comedian, writer, and host of NPR’s weekly comedy trivia show “Ask Me Another,” who provided funny one-liners of her own, including a few jokes about Vineyard life. Musical interludes were provided by composer and violinist Carla Kihlstedt, a veteran of folk/pop, contemporary classical, and experimental music.

For more information on The Moth, visit