thereabouts: greater boston has a thriving cultural arts scene

Even though a friend of mine who worked at the Tasty knew her—back before the Tasty, that little Harvard Square heaven, was swallowed up whole—Ani DiFranco’s music somehow didn’t cross my path until days ago, at her Wilbur Theater show. I’m not sure why I never found out about her. Maybe it was because I was preoccupied with late-night diner discussions of bends in the time/space continuum, long enough for me and the cook’s eyes to meet questioningly during the debate. Don’t know, but however it happened, I never got a true earful of Ani before the Wilbur, and even then, obligations kept me from showing up until only the last four songs.

But that was enough to be blown away. The show was somehow spare and lush at the same time, that perfect combination that gives you goose bumps. I’ve been to concerts where I was unfamiliar with the artist and their catalog; it can be a drag, and a sad commentary on big-name bands and the process that makes them so. But Ani’s music is immediate, infectious, hypnotic, and recognizably borne of real, simple, creative expression. She closed with “Overlap,” which has beguiled me completely. A saving grace to having made this discovery so late is that there are twenty albums of material to lose myself in. Here’s hoping Ms. DiFranco does a New England New Year’s gig.

The Theater Offensive’s November 15 inaugural fundraiser, Beyond the Stage, at the Lenox Hotel in Boston, was like a group of 150 friends getting together to tell jokes and pull money out of the air like magic. The aim, to benefit True Colors OUT Youth Theater, raised an impressive $45,000 to fund programming for LGBT youth ages 14-22. One of the speakers of the evening, Joey Baron, whose daughter Nina is a True Colors member, diffidently called himself “just a dad” and proceeded to prove otherwise as he charmed everyone present with his perception of Nina’s high school experience as a suburban lesbian: “so much drama, with such a small cast.” The mood of the room was warm, the laughs were natural, and the personal anecdotes were genuinely poignant. The evening was the best kind of theater, where you laugh and cry and a great time is had by all. The work is necessary and urgent, too: close to 50 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT, and they often become homeless and a target for violence due to that identification.

I thought I was going to a book reading, but (serendipitously) found myself at a punk rock show at Lorem Ipsum Bookstore—host of a nonpareil library and a kickass benefit for the Girls Rock Boston, a nonprofit of the worldwide Girls Rock Alliance. The aim was to raise funds for their 2013 summer camp, where girls ages eight to seventeen can learn an instrument, write a song, rehearse, and give a performance, all over the course of a week. A feast of homemade chocolate crumble and pizza pies donated by City Girl Café made sure no one went hungry. Sara Marcus, author of “Girls to the Front: the True Story of the RIOT GRRL Revolution,” had listeners rapt as she spoke about how the camp builds girls’ confidence and collaborative skills through music instruction and social justice training.

When she read from her (sold out early) book, she slipped seamlessly into rock show mode with full- on sung lyrics, as quoted in the text to illustrate the work of the bands that propelled the Riot Grrrl music happening. Going punk solo, with no backup, is not easy—this could have been awkward—but Sara owned it easily, closing with the line, “Honey, if you want it that badly, it’s yours.” Ms. Marcus rocks, on page and stage alike.

The 15th annual MIT Fat Chain Reaction held the Saturday after Thanksgiving was like a life-size game of Mousetrap, magnified to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang proportions, multiplied to an exponent of World of Warcraft. Individual kinetic tableaus utilizing gravity, propulsion dynamics, and other laws of science were laid out in an allied, rectangular placement around the Rockland Cage Gymnasium. Before the ball was dropped, visitors could offer their predictions of the future for the next fifteen years to be read to the audience, as well as enter guesses as to how long the chain reaction would take to complete. Happily preoccupied children abounded. Some were making their own see-sawing table hockey games with materials and instruction supplied by KinetiCreations. Other children were entranced with the creation of elaborate geometric sculptures of gumdrops and toothpicks, and still more were splayed about setting up mini reactions by way of towers of Dixie cups, or VHS tape boxes and domino snakes. Everywhere, the action was unfolding. My favorite link in the chain used opposable magnetism to send toy creations scuttling through a maze. When one determined-looking spasmodic toy made it up the last incline to trigger the next reaction, the crowd went wild with appreciative wonder. MIT could change the “f” to a “ph”.





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