Features

Staff members share, reflect on their experiences

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, April 8, 2010

Rock-solid guardian

He has shoulder-length dirty-blonde hair and a welcoming smile — and no, he won’t let you bring in food.

He is Library Clerk Stephen Gervais,  and even if you don’t frequent the Rockefeller Library, where he guards the entrance three days a week, you might recognize him from a recent cameo in “SciLi State of Mind” — a student-produced music video that Gervais found to be “a delight.”

A regular fixture at the Rock, Gervais sees his job as more than just guarding. “In a way, I’m a welcomer,” he said.

Gervais began working as a shelver at the Rock 12 years ago, but moved to his current position within two years.

You may have noticed him sketching intricate, realistic drawings of Bernini statues and Hieronymous Bosch paintings while he sits at his desk.

“I love drawing statues because of the way the light hits them,” he said.

But for Gervais, art isn’t just a hobby — he is a professional.  Gervais has illustrated the covers and interiors of over 15 books, including novels by best-selling authors like Stephen King and Clive Barker. Some of his work was recently featured in the book “Knowing Darkness,” a compilation of art inspired by Stephen King, and Gervais even has his own chapter.

Gervais also plays lead electric guitar for a band called Pancake. On the subject of his group’s name, he is apologetic: “Sorry to say it wasn’t my choice.”

Recently, he gained another title: actor. A friend cast Gervais as the lead in a documentary on Gilbert Stuart, the artist who painted the George Washington portrait that is on one-dollar bills. Gervais “already had the long hair” necessary for the role, he said.

Throughout his years at the Rock, Gervais has turned away “weirdos,” witnessed student breakdowns and overheard relationship drama. Contrary to the usual Brown stereotype, he said he has only once smelled the scent of marijuana coming from an incoming student. “I’m amazed at that,” he added.

But he won’t be welcoming studious Brunonians forever. Last week, Gervais was told that his University job is being terminated even though he is a union member. He said he will work at the library until July 1, but does not know what will happen to his job after that.

Gervais said he will miss working at Brown, but he looks forward to the chance to pursue new opportunities. He is joining the Providence Art Club, working on a personal Web site to feature his art and hopes to soon teach an art class at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Gervais finds his hip-hop celebrity status from “SciLi State of Mind”— which has almost 6,000 YouTube views — to be a fitting end to his Brown career.

Come July, Gervais said, he will walk away with a positive memory of his time at Brown.
“It’s been a real pleasure sitting out here.”

Enduring at the eatery

Brown Dining Services Production Manager Steven Monast has worked in the Sharpe Refectory for 30 years. He has seen many modifications during his time there — for example, all four Ratty lines used to serve the exact same entrees. But some things — such as the popularity of chicken fingers — haven’t changed.

As production manager, Monast oversees the catering department, creating menus and organizing catered functions. He also oversees operations at the Ratty, researches new recipes and coordinates programs with staff at Brown’s satellite eateries.

Monast is the man behind many special Ratty events, such as last semester’s Texas BBQ Ratty dinner, a night complete with chili, corn bread and polyester-clad “fancy dancers.”

Monast’s recipes can be adventurous. Last year, for a special luau night, he created Spam Sushi. Students were skeptical, but after trying it, “they came back,” he said. That opportunity to be creative is what he loves most about his job, he added.

Monast started cooking at an early age, preparing dinner for his mom when he got home from school. Soon he got a job as a dietary aide in a hospital in New Bedford, Mass. “By the time I was 18,” he said, “I was the weekend cook.”

In 1975, Monast moved to Providence where he catered at the Marriott and later worked at a nursing home. He began work at Brown in 1980 as a cook’s helper and moved up to the position of lead cook for breakfast and lunch within six years. He held that union position for 22 years, and though he enjoyed it, by the end, he was ready to leave. “My plan was to sell my house and move to California,” he said.

Realizing that plan wasn’t economically feasible, he applied and was accepted to his current management role, which he has held for two years.

Today, Dining Services has a database of over 4,000 recipes its employees have tasted and vetted. Monast has created many of those — either by modifying existing recipes, or starting from scratch. One of his favorites is a salmon dish served with a reduction of balsamic vinaigrette, pear liqueur and fennel seeds that he created for the catering menu. 

Monast is currently working to plan the new Blue Room menu. Lately he has been busy planning Thursday’s special visiting chef dinner at the Ratty.

When he first worked at the Ratty, lunch was “a single entree item with a vegetable, a starch and a vegetarian option,” he said. “It was a totally different menu.”

An example of culinary change during Monast’s tenure is the process of making chicken fingers. Currently, Dining Services buys the chicken fingers pre-breaded, but back in the day, workers breaded them by hand. It was a job that took five workers five hours, Monast said.

These chicken fingers — popular enough that the Ratty goes through 800 pounds of them in one meal — are one of very few pre-prepared Ratty menu items, according to Monast.  Dining Services grinds its own hamburgers, bakes its own brownies and even makes its own buffalo wing sauce.

That is something many students don’t understand, Monast said. Ratty workers prepare 5,000 to 6,000 meals from scratch each day. He dislikes it when students complain about the food and asks them to be specific in their critiques. Students could ask, “Is the chicken too dry?” he said, instead of voicing their general unhappiness.

But while complaints are inevitable, student reactions to Dining Services cover the entire spectrum, according to Monast.

During a recent trip to Montreal, he ran into an alum wearing a Brown T-shirt. Monast told the alum that he worked for BDS, he said.

“The Ratty rocks,” the alum said, before he and his friends broke into chanting: “Ratty! Ratty!”

Costuming chic

Located on the Main Green, hidden amid familiar academic buildings is a world of bobbins, sequined fabric and tape measures. It is the Brown costume shop, found in Stuart Theater.

This is Costume Coordinator Fran Romasco’s world. The shop is where she, alongside other staff and student costumers, creates varied costumes — from period vests to flouncy skirts — for Brown’s mainstage productions.

Romasco is a draper and cutter, which means she constructs costumes rather than designs them.

“It’s like the architect comes with the design, and the head carpenter builds it,” she said. “I’m the carpenter.” To create a costume, she will either come up with a completely original dress pattern, or modify an existing pattern. To put together the actual costume, she sometimes drapes fabric on a mannequin and often makes several sample pieces before arriving at the finished product.

Romasco learned her construction skills at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, where she studied fashion construction before moving into the regional theater world in Washington, D.C.

After D.C., she went to New York where she made costumes for “the biggest flops of the 70s.” One memorable show she worked on was a Bob Fosse musical about the Dauphin of France. “It closed in two days,” she said.

While in New Yor
k, Romasco also created dance costumes for the American Ballet Theater and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, among others.

After moving to Providence with her husband years later, where all eight of her children were born, Ramasco ran her own clothing business for two years. During that time she sold clothes to Ann Taylor, Bergdorf Goodman and smaller boutiques. For a short time, she also sold antiques and did some kitchen design.

But, “I like dresses better,” she said.

She returned to costuming, briefly working at Providence College and Rhode Island College before coming to Brown in May 2004, and by the following January, she was a full-time employee.

The pace of costume construction is quick — the shop usually has about four to six weeks to build a show, she said. Costumes vary from altered T-shirts to a roller girl super hero costume she created several years ago.

Wednesday afternoon, Romasco’s attention was occupied with the creation of a romper pattern for the Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies’ spring Festival of Dance. If the costume resembled the one-piece outfits worn by students lounging on the Main Green in the afternoon’s 90-degree weather, it was no coincidence, according to Romasco. Dance show styles are often influenced by current trends, she said. “If it’s a fashionable look, it finds its way into dance.”

Brown’s isn’t Romasco’s first costume shop, but what she didn’t expect to find was the level of student involvement in the shop. Six students are employed by the University to work in the shop, and there are more who volunteer. The students are often encouraged to take a role in designing, she said.

“There’s a lot of teaching involved, even though it’s not a teaching position,” she said. “And I find that very satisfying.”