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Editors' Pick
Best Editors' picks: Arts and entertainment

Hope Gallery, Astor's Beechwood Mansion, Equusarts, Reading Across Rhode Island, and more.

AN OPULENT SHOWPLACE: Executive director Kathy Levesque at the Stadium Theatre. 

Best peek at the other half
It’s easy enough to imagine being a Vanderbilt or a Carnegie or some other robber baron or baroness enjoying the spoils of unfettered capitalism in one of the Newport mansions. More edifying is how the folks downstairs lived, in the servant quarters. The Victorian Servant Tours at the ASTORS’ BEECHWOOD MANSION are conducted February 1 through May 25 with the premise that you are applying for a position, as the staff prepares for Mrs. Astor’s spring arrival. Members of the Beechwood Theatre Company portray both the domestics and the family members, but you’ll probably get better gossip from the housemaids and footmen than from those in fancy dress. The Beechwood is the only one of the Newport mansions that allows photography during tours, which are $18 for adults, $8 for ages 17 and under.

Astor's Beechwood Mansion, 580 Bellevue Avenue, Newport | 401.846.3772 |

Best perspective on Pookie
You try to enhance their self-images, but neither slobbering Mr. Pitt nor couch-shredding Miss Jennifer are exactly exemplars of their species. So keep them away from the 15TH ANNUAL RHODE ISLAND PET SHOW & INTERNATIONAL CAT ASSOCIATION SHOW that takes place in March 2008 at the Rhode Island Convention Center. Well-bred dogs will strut their American Kennel Club-certified stuff. More than 100 breeds of exotic cats will be on their best behavior as they compete and stifle urges concerning the exotic bird show taking place, and the Talons Birds of Prey Show entrants will return the favor. Costumed pets and their owners will parade on a runway. Tickets are $8 general admission, $4 for ages 12 and under. Bring a can or a bag of pet food for a local animal shelter and get a buck off the adult admission.

Rhode Island Pet Show & International Cat Association Show, 800.955.7469 |

Best marathon my mouth
Next year marks the 13TH ANNUAL LANGSTON HUGHES COMMUNITY POETRY READING in which 50-plus readers from all corners of Rhode Island will read (or perform) the poems and writings of Langston Hughes (1902-1967). A seminal member of the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes wove strains of blues cadences and jazz rhythms through his work, speaking eloquently of his city and his culture, his heritage and his people. This community reading was organized as a program of the Langston Hughes Center for the Arts and Education in 1995; it has been hosted by the RISD Museum of Art since that first year. The range of readers spans generations (high schoolers to retirees); positions (political figures to professors, storytellers to singers); and life experience (arts administrators to social workers). It’s a marathon afternoon of hearing poetry out loud, the way it’s intended to be appreciated.

RISD Museum, 224 Benefit Street, Providence | 401.454.6500 |

Best browsing by the Bay
Owners Chris and Shari Alvanas just kicked off a new season at their HOPE GALLERY in the historic Thomas Building in downtown Bristol, a sleek setup featuring resident-based artists in all facets. The spring schedule will host a different artist each month, along with visits from 3D artists from across the region, and monthly crafters featured on weekends. The gallery also has a commercial digital photography studio on-site. Unique blown glass, jewelry, and live demos make for an interesting (and economical) afternoon stop in Bristol. Open Thursdays and Sundays 12 to 4 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 12 to 6p m.

Hope Gallery, 435 Hope Street, Bristol |

Best variations on a graceful theme
It’s not only preadolescent girls and race track touts that find horses beautiful. Photographers do as well, and the work of several of them is on view at EQUUSARTS, a gallery that specializes in equestrian art. Adam Jahiel’s series “The Last Cowboy” is a brooding black-and-white exploration of a dying occupation under wide Western skies. Some of Donna DeMari’s images underscore the latent power of the animals, such as the sinuous curves of their muscular backs. Jim Dratfield’s photographs range from an acrobatic stunt to a study merging horses into a landscape. Robin Shields has not only captured the wild ponies of Chincoteague Island in Virginia, but also the action of polo ponies and their riders blurring across a playing field. The gallery will also arrange commissioned work with the artists.

Equusarts, 150 Chestnut Street, Providence | 401.954.4234 |

Best return to the ’20s
When the STADIUM THEATRE was built in 1926 by Arthur Darman and decorated by Maurice Compris, it was considered one of the most beautiful theaters in the country. Darman, who had been on the vaudeville circuit as a child, was determined to keep live performance a part of the three-a-day movie showings, even after talkies had eliminated the need for musical accompaniment. Indeed, in the 1950s, the Stadium was one of the last places in the country to still book vaudeville acts, but it went into steep decline in the ’70s and, in 1990, it officially closed. Woonsocket residents breathed life back into the old room in the late ’90s and reopened in 2001 to celebrate the theater’s 75th anniversary. Darman would be pleased to see a hometown theatre troupe (Encore Repertory Company), local and out-of-town musical acts, a comedy festival, puppet shows, and dance recitals shakin’ up the place once again.

Stadium Theatre, 28 Monument Square, Woonsocket | 401.762.4545 |

Best group for the singing-challenged
There are no auditions and people who never thought they could sing are encouraged to come sing with the RHODE ISLAND SACRED HARP SINGING group. Begun in Colonial America, this is also called shape-note singing, because the tones of fa, so, la, and mi are written with triangular, oval, square, and diamond-shaped notes. You do not have to read music, and you do not have to have a great voice, because the singing is so loud no one else will notice. Chairs are set in a square with basses, tenors, altos, and sopranos on separate sides of the square. There are no rehearsals and no formal commitment — people just show up on the fourth Sunday of the month from 3 to 6 pm and sing together. And though many of the songs come from early hymn books, those who do shape-note singing are as touched by the poetry and the sound as by any religious message in them.

Beneficent Congregational Church, Weybosset and Chestnut streets, Providence | 401.467.4799 |

Best A&E among the bears and bees
They might have called themselves Artists Huddling for Warmth Out Here In the Woods, but instead they are FOSTERINGARTS.COM. With the purpose of “Linking Artists and Communities” throughout the northwest corner of the state, they offer such cultural activities as art exhibitions and classes, a summer concert series, and a Rhode Island Folk Festival — April 21 and 22 this year, featuring the Atwater-Donnelly Band, Bamboo Breeze, and storyteller Len Cabral. Every November they present Artist Studios Day, when the work spaces of more than a dozen artists are open to the public. Last year the various participants included painters, potters, and woodworkers, a photographer, a glass sculptor, and a stone carver. Darkest Foster-Gloucester may be thought by many city types to be mainly a place of deep snows and Sasquatch legends, but its denizens are actually quite a colorful and creative folk.

401. 392.1322 |

Best hyperlinks to a book
Sure, you can rent the DVD, but sometimes you feel like watching the television broadcast of that movie instead, just because it’s fun knowing that others are sharing the experience. Once a year, winter to spring, it can be like that about a book too. READING ACROSS RHODE ISLAND is a project of the Rhode Island Center for the Book at the Providence Public Library. Starting in 2003 with David Baldacci’s Wish You Well and continuing through this year with Ron McLarty’s The Memory of Running, the project has found books that appeal to both genders and a wide age range. Various programs are scheduled at libraries around the state, such as discussion groups, video conferences with the author, an all-day conference, and even a May breakfast. The deadline is June 1 for you to nominate a book for next year at their website.

401.455.8000 |

Best hometown fiesta
Close down one block of Main Street, set up a stage and cue the band (preferably Chiva Bus), and you have the lively and heartwarming community event of a WAKEFIELD BLOCK PARTY. At least three times a year, these block parties give residents and tourists alike a chance to dance in the middle of the street, munch on sandwiches and snacks from food tables set up by local vendors, and chat with friends and acquaintances whom they haven’t seen during the confining months of winter. Other entertainment might include an apolitical (and quite hilarious) parade of citizens dressed as fruits or vegetables; hard-pumping karate demos; face painting; storytelling; or musical chairs. This year’s block parties will be June 24 from 4 to 8 pm, on August 19 from 5 to 9 pm, and on October 27 from 5 to 9 pm. Boogie on down!

Wakefield Block Party, 401.783.6110

Best frogs with your music
Make all the jokes you want about Foster. It can be as quiet as . . . well, the peeptoad that lent its name to the great folk music venue out there: PEEPTOAD COFFEEHOUSE. Founded by musicians Aubrey Atwater and Elwood Donnelly to give folks in northwestern Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut a place to hear and play music, Peeptoad has hosted an impressive array of local and national acts, including Patty Larkin, Tom Paxton, Cheryl Wheeler and, John Gorka. Now in its eighth season, Peeptoad has survived despite tricky directions to get to it and despite overnight foot-deep snowstorms (only in that corner of Rhode Island, of course). Following on the heels of the 4th Annual Rhode Island Folk Festival at Peeptoad this weekend (April 21 and 22), the coffeehouse will host the premier New England bluegrass band, Back Eddy Bluegrass, on May 18 at 8 pm.

North Foster Baptist Church, 81 East Killingly Road, Foster | 401.392.1322 |

Best place to expound
In the day when Bishop George Berkeley lived in Rhode Island (1729-1731), that’s what he was known for. Walking in his garden, philosophizing, preaching, and putting together his theories of radical empiricism — that we know only that which we directly perceive. The house were he lived has become the WHITEHALL MUSEUM HOUSE, under the aegis of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America. Berkeley hoped to set up a seminary/college in Bermuda to educate colonists and native Americans and he intended to use the 96 acres of farmland around his house to store supplies for the college. When he failed to receive the money he’d been promised from England, he returned to Ireland and gave up his holdings. The colonial furnishings and the lovely herb garden at Whitehall were designed and are maintained by the Newport Garden Club, in keeping with the early 18th century.

Whitehall Museum House, 311 Berkeley Avenue, Middletown | 401.846.3116 | 401.847.7951 |

Best home-grown hip-hop
One of the key elements in Everett Dance Theatre’s Home Movies is Sokeo Ros’s story of his Cambodian family’s flight from their homeland to a refugee camp in Thailand and of the turbulent relationship between him and his parents once they came to this country. Ros found his calling in dance, through his participation with the Carriage House Performers and with Everett. In February 2004, he formed his own seven-piece troupe, CASE CLOSED, which combines hip-hop, break dance, capoiera, spoken word, and video for performances that are non-stop, high-energy, hard-hitting impressions of urban life. In the role of director, choreographer, and lead dancer, Ros collaborates with other company members — Kelvin Fabian, Joey Palmer, Anisha Gibbs, Min Gibbs, Rinda Ros, and Edgar Viloria — to develop the dances. The dance-theater piece which they are currently touring to schools, festivals, and other venues is titled Hood Addiction and should not be missed.

Everett Dance Theatre, 9 Duncan Avenue, Providence | 401.831.9479 |

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