Category Archives: Arts

The Gift Of John Dodig

What do you give a principal who has given everything to his school?

How about a photo of him in his best “giving” mode?

But not just any photo. This is John Dodig.

And as the wildly popular principal prepares to retire after 11 years at Staples High — and 47 in the field of education — the school’s PTA turned to one of Westport’s best and most creative photographers: Miggs Burroughs.

Dodig received the unique gift this morning, in a special ceremony in the sun-splashed courtyard. First Selectman Jim Marpe, administrators and colleagues spoke — and so, very eloquently, did current students Jaime Bairaktaris and Nick Massoud, and graduate Michael Sixsmith.

Each speaker had stories. But all circled back to a common theme: Dodig’s greatest gifts were his passion, compassion, empathy, vision, willingness to listen, ability to be bold, and deep love for every single teenager and adult in his building.

Which leads to the gift he got today. Burroughs — a 1963 Staples grad — is well known for his lenticular images. They’re 2 separate shots; they change, depending on the angle you’re viewing from. (You can see 16 of them in the tunnel connecting Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza.)

One view of John Dodig's lenticular photo...

One view of John Dodig’s lenticular photo…

Burroughs took the photos last month. (Dodig did not know why he was being photographed.) One shot shows a crowd of students streaming around the principal, as he stands in the school’s foyer. That’s a typical spot for him; for over a decade he has greeted thousands of students every morning and between classes — asking how their latest game or performance went, complimenting them on an achievement, answering their questions or merely saying hello.

It’s a diverse mix of students — just as Dodig is fond of noting the diversity that really is a hallmark of Staples High. In the middle of it all, the principal wears his trademark smile.

...and the other.

…and the other.

The 2nd shot shows a lone student casually studying. She sits on the school seal that frames the foyer. The school motto — which Dodig has embraced and personified — stands out: “Respsect for Life.”

Burroughs produced 2 copies of the lenticular photo. One will hang at Staples. The other is Dodig’s to keep — and cherish — forever.


Broadway Salutes Kevin Gray

Kevin Gray — a very talented member of Staples Players in the 1970s, who became the youngest actor to play the lead role in “Phantom of the Opera,” and acted in or directed more than 150 productions — died in February 2013, of a massive heart attack. He was 55.

Kevin Gray and Dodie Pettit.

Kevin Gray and Dodie Pettit.

Kevin met his wife, Dodie Pettit, in “Phantom.” She starred in “Cats” on Broadway, and worked with Staples Players in a summer production of that show.

For the past 15 months, she has been recording a tribute CD for Kevin. She gathered over 170 Broadway singers, including 10 from the “Phantom” cast, 3 Tony Award winners, and cast members from “Miss Saigon,” “The King and I,” “Titanic,” “Jekyll and Hyde” and more. Each had a personal connection to Kevin and Dodie. All donated their talent.

Westport is well represented, by Terry Eldh, Adam Riegler, Paul McKibbins, and of course Dodie.

Westport was an integral part of Kevin’s life. He was born and raised here. He attended Westport schools. Dodie still lives in the town he loved.

So she is particularly proud that the CD will be showcased for the 1st time on WWPT-FM (90.3). This Saturday (May 30, 4-5 p.m.), the Staples High School radio station will play songs during the “Adam and George” show.

Dodie will chat about the CD, and performers will call in to share their stories.

Kevin Gray CDAll proceeds go to scholarships in Kevin’s name, at his alma mater Duke University, and the University of Hartford’s Hartt School, where he taught (and where the Kevin Gray Foundation was organized by Westporters Peter Byrne and Jamie Wisser).

(Don’t live in the WWPT-FM listening area? No problem! Click here to listen to the livestream. The CD is available for sale on iTunes, Amazon and by clicking here).

Be Part Of Westport’s Photographic History!

In 1981, Max Kaplan had already owned his art supply store for 24 years.

Shirley Mellor had worked there for over a decade. She and Max had been married for 5.

That July, Westport photographer Nancy Wayman assembled Max, Shirley, the staff at Max’s Art Supplies, and 100 or so artists who made the store their own personal hangout.

The result was a photo that captured Westport: its arts colony sensibility, its mom-and-pop shops, its downtown funkitude.

The famous 1981 photo. Max Kaplan and Shirley Mellor are in the center of the front row.

The famous 1981 photo. Max wears a tie in the front row; Shirley Mellor is next to him, on the left.

A lot has changed in 34 years. Max and Nancy Wayman died. Max’s closed in August.

In a few days, the sign comes down for the final time.

But before it does, there’s time for one last group photo.

All Westporters — artists, loyal customers, friends, and folks with no artistic talent whatsoever — are invited to gather in front of Max’s this Saturday (May 30), at 5 p.m. There will be one last photo — and Shirley wants as many people as possible to squeeze in. (If you want in, be there by 4:30 — the shutter clicks at 5 sharp, and it will take a while to organize.)

If you don’t know where Max’s was: It stood directly across from the old Y.

And if that sentence doesn’t say something about the changing face of downtown Westport, I don’t know what does.

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.

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

It’s the 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 the town. 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

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.

Third Time’s The Charm

A certain artist — painting en plein air — has graced “06880” twice before.

In 2013, alert reader Dawn Matera photographed him at work on the corner of Riverside Avenue and the Post Road.

Last week, Fred Cantor snapped him at Parker Harding Plaza.

But no one knew who he was.

Now we do.

Lynn U. Miller saw him a few days ago, and stopped to chat.

Jim Chillington at work, near Gorham Island. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Jim Chillington at work, near Gorham Island. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

He’s Jim Chillington. He lives in Newtown, but loves Westport’s many scenic views.

His work is currently on exhibit (and for sale) at Rockwell Art and Framing on the Post Road — not far from the scenes he loves to paint.

It Won’t Be Long…

…until the Levitt Pavilion opens for another season.

This guy at the Westport Arts Center — across the river — can hardly wait.

WAC with Levitt in distance

Party On Main Street!

A lot has happened downtown in one year.

“Tunnel Vision” — Miggs Burroughs’ spectacular 16-image transformation of the long-dingy pedestrian tunnel between Main Street and Parker Harder Plaza — was unveiled last May. Today it’s a destination — not a nightmare.

The Westport Downtown Merchants Association‘s big sidewalk-and-lamps project is nearing completion.

So let’s party!

Tall, older dancers and shorter, younger ones performed at last year's Art About Town party. They'll be back this Thursday for more fun.

Tall, older dancers and shorter, younger ones performed at last year’s Art About Town party. They’ll be back this Thursday for more fun.

The WDMA’s annual “Art About Town” opening night street celebration is set for Thursday (May 21, 5:30-8:30 p.m.). It’s a unique, family-friendly combination of original works, interactive art demonstrations, funky live music, dancing, street performances, food and drinks at pop-up cafes — all in the middle of traffic-free Main Street.

Westport Arts Center educators will help everyone create small wall signs using crazy colors, funky patterns, buttons and beads.

Artists give impromptu demonstrations in the middle of Main Street.

Artists give impromptu demonstrations in the middle of Main Street.

And — going back to that “Tunnel Vision” anniversary — Miggs gives “tours” of his work at 6:30 and 7:30 p.m.

The party kicks off a 4-week art event. Hundreds of original works by local artists will fill more than 60 shops and restaurants. Downtown becomes one big gallery. All works are juried, for sale, and on display until June 21.

Of course, plenty of art is sold long before then. Some even goes during the opening party.

Hey — this is Westport. We move fast.

Except through Miggs’ tunnel.


Miggs Burroughs, in his "Tunnel Vision" creation.

Miggs Burroughs, in his “Tunnel Vision” creation.

Westport: Still An Artists’ Colony…

…or at least, still a place that artists love to paint.

Alert reader/photographer Fred Cantor snapped this shot the other day:

Artist downtown - Fred Cantor

I bet the artist has no idea that this spot is directly across the river from the old Famous Artists School.

WAC Flags Wave

Downtown Westport’s most iconic symbol is the Post Road bridge. For years, residents and visitors have admired dozens of flags flying proudly on both sides.

For much of the year, they’re the Stars and Stripes. On jUNe Day and UN Day, those are replaced by countries around the globe.

This week, the flags are from the Westport Arts Center. They support the upcoming “Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil” fundraiser, set for Saturday at Vespa and National Hall — the handsome building anchoring the west end of the bridge.

(Photo/Helen Klisser During)

(Photo/Helen Klisser During)