Mark Cutler has been a mainstay on the local music scene for over 40 years. He’s best known as the singer/songwriter/guitarist for The Schemers, the legendary RI-based band that barnstormed around the Northeast in the late 1970s and 1980s. Considered by many to be one of the greatest rock and roll bands ever to come out of the Ocean State, they never quite made it nationally, but their sound still resonates with longtime fans. “Back then I thought we were going to be, not necessarily rock stars, but touring musicians for the rest of our lives,” said Cutler in a recent interview. “It didn’t turn out that way and that’s cool; this is where I ended up and it’s a mighty fine place to end up.”
Cutler and the band were inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame in 2015 and he still records as a solo artist. He can be found playing around the state on any given Saturday night with his current band, Men of Great Courage. So what’s a Rhody rock star like Cutler doing every Tuesday morning at the Outsider Collective in Pawtucket’s Hope Artiste Village? He’s leading The Same Thing Project, a songwriting workshop he developed several years ago. The project brings together people from all walks of life, including some with special needs, and that’s been the goal from the very beginning.
Backtrack to a few years ago: Cutler was approached to compose a soundtrack for a film about the Ladd School, a former state-run facility for youth and adults with developmental disabilities. That was the first time the musician collaborated with people with developmental challenges. That experience gave him the idea to start the songwriting workshop.
“When I was hanging out with my friends who had Down Syndrome and other developmental disabilities, I realized it was so great to be able to work with these folks, and more people need to know that we have so many similar qualities,” explains Cutler.
There’s an egalitarian spirit in the room where he works his magic. The creative process is a shared experience; everyone present has songwriting duties. It’s inspiring to watch Cutler work with his collective cast of contributors, some who are clients of Avatar Residential in Warwick, a licensed provider of residential and day services to individuals with developmental disabilities.
When The Same Thing Project released its first album Walks of Life Collaborations in 2019 on Warren label 75orLess Records, many in the room became published songwriters, and another recording is in the works, according to Cutler. His formula for success is straightforward. “You get a group of people together and come up with a chord progression,” he explains. “I’ll ask for prompts, or if somebody plays an instrument, I’ll give them the guitar and ask them to come up with a simple chord progression which we can elaborate on later. Then we have a conversation and maybe come up with a subject, or a title. Sometimes it’s just random thoughts that we string together to create a cohesive thought. It’s not necessarily about pie in the sky stuff, sometimes we can get a little dark.”
The project is designed to bring people together. “I want the banker and the bricklayer, the teacher and the firefighter, the blue-collar guy, the white-collar guy, the lefty and the righty to get into a room together and discover things that we have in common. That’s the goal,” he explains.
And he means it. On the day I visited the project, I collaborated with the group by adding a line or two to the song, “The Lonely Schoolhouse.”
“Every time I go there and do it, and I know it’s probably true for everybody there, I feel uplifted and firing on all cylinders, it’s a wonderful experience,” says Cutler.
Cutler has conducted the workshop at other sites including the Southside Community Center in Providence and the Rhode Island Folk Festival. He’s also working with the National Museum of Mental Health, a virtual museum, where he is the songwriter in residence. “I’m going to do the Same Thing Project and hopefully bring it to some college campuses locally and maybe expand to New England,” he adds.
There are no prerequisites for the Same Thing Project – you just show up on Tuesday morning and join the group. Outsider Collective, 1005 Main Street, Pawtucket.
Learn more at TheSameThingProject.com
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