Staples Players Bring “Laramie Project” To Life

When Staples Players director David Roth announced the spring Black Box Theater production — “The Laramie Project” — 80% of the actors had no idea who Matthew Shepard was.

But why would they? The oldest were 2 years old when the gay University of Wyoming student was beaten, tied to a fence and left to die in the Laramie night.

Roth and co-director Kerry Long are adept at presenting theater that educates audiences. This time, they’re educating their cast too.

“I don’t think kids in this community have any idea how tough it still is to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans in other parts of the country,” Roth says. “A lot of teenagers here don’t realize how we’ve gotten to this place of acceptance.”

Part of the reason Staples is a high school where students feel comfortable being who they are — whoever they are — is because of John Dodig. The principal has worked hard to create an environment of acceptance and inclusion. He retires this spring after 11 years at Staples — and 47 in education — so Roth and Long are proud to dedicate this year’s “Laramie Project” to him.

"The Laramie Project" probes into the lives of over 60 residents of a Wyoming college town, in the aftermath of a horrific murder. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Sophia Sherman, Keanan Pucci and Nick Ribolla, ensemble members of “The Laramie Project.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

It’s their 2nd time Roth and Long are directing this show with Players. The 1st production was 8 years ago.

This set design is completely different. So is the use of technology, showing the use of TV cameras as world media descended on Wyoming.

Different too is that “The Laramie Project” now has a companion piece. In 2008 — 10 years after Matthew Shepard’s murder — the Tectonic Theater Project returned to Laramie. They interviewed many of the same people who contributed to the first play, as well as others — like Matthew’s mother Judy, and his 2 killers. All showed what had — and had not — changed in the intervening decade.

The result was another play: “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.” It recently become available for licensing. Players will be one of the first companies anywhere to produce that show next year.

Each cast member plays multiple roles in "The Laramie Project." (Photo/Kerry Long)

Each cast member plays multiple roles in “The Laramie Project.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Roth and Long are excited about the opportunity to do their 1st-ever cycle. Some of this year’s cast will audition for the same roles a year from now. It’s a challenging way for them to look at their character’s growth — and their own.

The directors savor the chance to work with an ensemble. The cast of 18 covers over 60 roles. Each actor must understand multiple, nuanced characters. The hate crime evoked complex reactions among many Laramie residents.

It’s all part of the educational process that began when this generation of Staples students first heard the name “Matthew Shepard.”

(“The Laramie Project” will be presented in Staples’ Black Box Theater on May 28, 29, 30 and 31. Click here for times, and ticket information [available starting Saturday morning].)

“Art About Town” Floods Main Street

Once a year, downtown turns into a pedestrian mall. It’s “Art About Town” — one of Westport’s newest traditions.

Part art exhibit, part street fair — and all fun — it’s a great way to kick off a month-long exhibit of art (for sale!) by 65 artists, in 60 locations.

It started an hour ago. If you’re reading this before 8:30 p.m. on Thursday — there’s still time to go.

Just don’t think of parking on Main Street.

There were plenty of great artist demonstrations tonight. But none was more impressive than Rosiejon. She has no arms -- so she uses her feet. Amazingly, she has been painting for just a year.

There were plenty of great artist demonstrations tonight. But none was more impressive than Rosiejon. She has no arms — so she uses her feet. Amazingly, she has been painting for just a year.

Harry Moritz graduated from Staples in 2010 -- and from Pratt less than a week ago. Here's one of his creations.

Harry Moritz graduated from Staples in 2010 — and from Pratt less than a week ago. Here’s one of his creations.

Another kind of artist is performer Jared Rydelek. This was just his warmup.

Another kind of artist is performer Jared Rydelek. This was just his warmup.

This young man may be trying out for Art About Town -- the 2035 version.

This young man may be trying out for Art About Town — the 2035 version.

Joyce Landon is among 65 artists who is showing downtown, for the next month. Her works can be seen in the TD Bank lobby.

Joyce Landon is among 65 artists who is exhibiting downtown, for the next month. Her works can be seen in the TD Bank lobby.

This Open Space Is Deadly

Every spring, Westporters marvel at the “Daffodil Mile” that marks the long entrance to Willowbrook Cemetery on Main Street.

And the Saugatuck Congregational Church had made a strong commitment to the upkeep of its historic — though no-longer-accepting-bodies — cemetery on Evergreen Avenue.

But what about Westport’s smaller, lesser-known graveyards? Who is in charge of mowing the grass, raking the leaves, straightening the headstones? 

Alert “06880” reader Scott Smith would like to know. He writes:

As I’ve been driving along Wilton Road to the Y, I’ve noticed an old cemetery behind a stone wall. It’s near #280. Recently I parked on Twin Falls Lane, and ducked across the road to explore.

A hidden cemetery off Wilton Road. (Photo/Scott Smith)

A hidden cemetery off Wilton Road. (Photo/Scott Smith)

It’s pretty cool, in the way that old cemeteries are. Many headstones are in disarray, and it seems that the most recent ones are from the early 1900s. Hard to say when the older graves first came to be. The family name Fillow appears on a few markers, though many etchings are worn away beyond recognition.

But as “06880”is filled with discussions about open space and other property issues, I wonder who owns and maintains the many small cemeteries around town. Are they private? Are they treated as open space? Is there an inventory of all these plots? And what’s the policy about walking among these memorials?

On a related note, I discovered a scenic (and pollen-covered) pond just beyond the cemetery, which is located on a bluff above the water. It’s a couple of acres in size. I never knew the pond was there, though I suspected it from the hole in the tree canopy you can just glimpse from the road.

The pond near the Partrick Wetlands. (Photo/Scott Smith)

The pond near the Partrick Wetlands. (Photo/Scott Smith)

How are these ponds treated on our property rolls? Are they all privately owned? Counted as open space as well? Are they taxed differently than land? And is there a census of the freshwater ponds within our borders?

The pond below the cemetery has a small dock at the far end. Judging from a Google map, this pond is close to the Partrick Wetlands, but separate fromt it.

Scott hopes that “06880” readers can answer his questions. Fire away!

I’ll add this: Westport is filled with tiny, forgotten cemeteries — from the Battle of Compo Hill-era plots on opposite side of Gray’s Creek (Compo Beach Road and Longshore) to the hidden-in-plain-view one on Post Road West, near the Norwalk line.

If you’ve got a story about any of our small old cemeteries, click “Comments.” This should be a lively (ho ho) discussion.   

This Old House #14

The main clue to last week’s mystery house was its former location: “on the present site of the Fine Arts Theater in State Street.” That identification, of course, dates from the 1930s, when WPA photographers took shots of a number of already-very-old Westport houses.

Dan Herman, Jill Turner Odice and Morley Boyd said that its current location is 23 Jesup Road. Westport Historical Society house historian Bob Weingarten confirms the site. (Click here to see a photo of the house, and read comments about it.)

It was not easy to do. Boyd says that a 2005 renovation — illegal, because the house sits in a historic district — “drained it of its historic integrity.”

Here is this week’s unidentified home:

This Old House - May 20, 2015

All we know is that it’s somewhere in Green’s Farms.

If you know its whereabouts, click “Comments” below. The WHS is seeking info on this and other “mystery houses,” in preparation for an upcoming exhibit on the changing face of Westport.

Landon: No Staples Principal Offer Yet

Published reports to the contrary, Greenwich middle school principal Shelley Somers has not been offered the principal’s job at Staples High School.

According to superintendent of schools Elliott Landon:

“The Greenwich School District sent out a press release a week in advance of the Westport Board of Education decision, with the assumption approval would be made. If the Board did not approve the appointment, the press release would not have been sent.

“Both she and I hope her candidacy is not jeopardized by this communication error.”

Staples seal

Nailing Some Westport Employers?

For a few years now, Westport’s nail salons have been “06880”‘s version of a big piñata. They just sit there — dozens of them* — waiting for me to whack away.

But the New York Times‘ recent expose of that city’s nail salon industry — detailing near-slave working conditions, exposure to dangerous chemicals and more — is no laughing matter.

Alert “06880” reader Mary Lynn Halland took note of the Times’ stories too. Turning to Westport, she writes:

I wonder if any of our nail salons will step up and announce that they 1) only employ licensed nail technicians; 2) pay minimum wage, plus overtime; 3) don’t charge employees for a job and/or training; 4) provide adequate ventilation, especially when working with acrylic nails, etc.

No, Kaley Cuoco does not get her nails done in Westport. At least, I don't think she does.

No, Kaley Cuoco does not get her nails done in Westport. At least, I don’t think she does.

I have never had a manicure (or pedicure), so I am no expert on this. But I’m sure many “06880” readers are.

Did the Times story make you think twice about your Westport nail salon? Have you asked the owners about their practices? Would you? Should you? If so, can you share their replies with the “06880” community?

Please click “Comments” to add your thoughts.

Sure, manicures are important. But so are the lives of the women who provide them.

*See? I can’t help myself.

Remembering Herb Barrett

Herb Barrett — a member of that great generation who settled in Westport soon after World War II, raised a family here and spent decades contributing to civic life — died today. He was 93 years old, and had moved with his beloved wife Lou to Pennsylvania several years ago, to be near his children.

George Barrett — one of Herb and Lou’s 5 children — writes:

My dad liked to describe himself as unremarkable, but  he was far from that. He was a gifted therapist, possessed of a special capacity to see the unique qualities in all people – and able to help people to see those things in themselves.

Herb Barrett

Herb Barrett

He was a very talented writer, a skill very few of us had the opportunity to enjoy, but so very obvious when reading though his journals and his letters to my mom from the war.

He had a raw musical aptitude which he never fully appreciated, but which his children were encouraged to polish. He could burst into song any time, and no microphone was off limits if it were in reaching distance.

He had a wicked sense of humor and an impish grin.

He was a proud veteran of the US Army – Signal Intelligence  Company, attached to the 5th Army headquarters. He spent 2 1/2 years abroad, in North Africa, Sicily and other parts of Italy. He lived through Anzio, which he rarely discussed.

He was married to my mom Lucille for more than 73 years. He was father to 5, grandfather to 10, and great-grandfather to 3 (with another on the way).

He loved Westport, and everything and everyone associated with Westport. At Compo Beach, he taught all of us to climb the cannons. Along with my mom, he lived and breathed the public school system, which drew him there in the first place. I’m not sure that he ever missed a Staples Candlelight concert when he was healthy.

He had a deep desire to see the walls between people dissolve. That is clear through his deep commitment to civil rights, his clear messaging to his children, and this classic section from a journal I found where he discussed his war experience:

I developed some wonderful friendships with the gang of fellows who shared the same tent…Neils O. Blackburn from Moroni, Utah; Kenny Biggs from Townsend, Montana; Charlie Sheehan from Cheyenne, Wyomingl Lou Ambort of Little Rock, Arkansas and Johnny Abs from Chicago.

Herb Barrett, during World War II.

Herb Barrett, during World War II.

I recall a discussion the night we pitched camp outside Santa Maria ( near Caserta). It was a bone chilling rainy night, and we piled together for warmth inside the buffeted pyramidal. How or why I can’t say, but we discussed religion — a Mormon, a Catholic, a Jew, a Lutheran, a Methodist and a Presbyterian.

We were no scholars. We just compared experiences. And when all was said and done, we felt that what we had in common ran deeper than our specific beliefs.

(Friends are invited to attend a service for Herb Barrett this Thursday (May 21), 11 a.m. at Temple Israel. Following burial, the family will receive visitors at the home of Marvin and Joan Frimmer, 138 Imperial Avenue. Contributions in Herb Barrett’s name may be made to Congregation Kol Ami, 8201 High School Road, Elkins Park, PA 19027.)

What So Proudly We Hail!

The Jesup Road side of police headquarters sports a new look:

Police station flag

Police Chief Dale Call says it was loaned by a veteran who wishes to remain anonymous.

“He is proud to have served, and is a big supporter of the service done by our military and law enforcement every day,” the chief explains. “We’re proud to display it.”

The flag will hang — proudly — through Memorial Day.

Where In Westport Would You…?

Susan Israel is a new “06880” reader. She does not live in Westport — but over the next month, she’ll pass through here a few times a week.

Susan is sharp. She quickly grasped that “06880” readers know everything — and love to share their knowledge. (Also, their opinions.)

She wants to stop on her way through, and explore Westport. Here’s what she’s looking for: “the coolest, most eclectic shops and cafes, points of interest and interesting pit stops.”

She’s a writer, so she also wants to know “where would you feel most comfortable working on your manuscript while sipping a latte?”

SoNo Bakery has quickly become downtown's go-to cafe.

SoNo Bakery has quickly become downtown’s go-to cafe.

And: “If you were into one-of-a-kind sporty clothes — nothing too expensive — where would you want to spend hours trying on stuff?

Plus: “What is the out-of-the-ordinary attraction that you would say is a must-see?”

Finally: “Where would you park your car?”

I had an easy answer for the “coolest, most eclectic shop”: Indulge by Mersene.

A customer browses (left), while Mersene makes sure all is well. Check out the Westport pillows!

A customer browses (left), while Mersene makes sure all is well. Check out the Westport pillows!

But I promised Susan I’d crowd-source all her questions. So, guy and gals: Get to it. Click “Comments” to answer 1 (or all) of our soon-to-be-frequent-visitor’s questions.

PS: Don’t just provide a list. Tell her why you love these places!

Down By The Old Mill Fog

(Photo/Matt Murray)

(Photo/Matt Murray)

Click on or hover over this gorgeous photo to enlarge.