Category Archives: Arts

Annie Keefe, Arthur Miller And Marilyn

Westport Country Playhouse associate artist Annie Keefe has had a legendary life in theater.

Before coming here, she spent more than 20 years at Long Wharf. In 1994 she worked on the world premiere of “Broken Glass” — a riveting story of Kristallnacht and Jewish identity. Playwright Arthur Miller was there for most rehearsals.

Annie Keefe and Arthur Miller. (Photo/T. Charles Erickson)

Annie Keefe and Arthur Miller. (Photo/T. Charles Erickson)

Keefe recalls:

The material was fascinating, dense and complex, and we were the first people to explore it. It was thrilling to watch the actors, along with Arthur, tease out the plot and build the characters. It was a complicated and difficult birthing process.  Director John Tillinger and Arthur were longtime friends, and there were post-rehearsal conversations I wish I had had the sense to focus on. But there were production notes to be sent and schedules to be made and things in the rehearsal hall to reset for the next day.

On Wednesday (October 6), the curtain goes up on the Playhouse production of “Broken Glass.” Keefe looks forward to artistic director Mark Lamos’ interpretation.

She’s also thinking about Arthur Miller. The legendary playwright’s connections with the Playhouse — and this area — are strong.

This will be the 6th Miller production at the Playhouse. “Death of a Salesman” was 1st, in 1966. “The Price,” “All My Sons” (twice) and “The Archbishop’s Ceiling” followed.

In the late 1950s, Miller lived here with his then-wife, Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller.

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller.

A few years ago, Daniel Brown wrote about the couple for the arts journal AEQAI.

One morning, when he was 12, he saw Miller and Monroe at Weston Market. She wore blue jeans and sunglasses. A babushka covered her head. Brown wanted an autograph; his mother said no, she deserved privacy. He could, however, say “Good morning, Mrs. Miller.”

She replied, “Hello, little boy.” But she looked unspeakably sad.

Brown left the store with his mother.

“Mom,” he asked, “why did Marilyn Monroe look so sad? Doesn’t she have everything she wants? And who is that old guy she’s with?”

(For more recollections from Keefe, click here for the Westport Country Playhouse blog. For information on “Broken Glass,” click here. For Daniel Brown’s full recollection of Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, click here. For Mark Lamos’ thoughts on Miller, click the YouTube video below.)

(Hat tip: Ann Sheffer)

Stephen Wilkes’ Blood Moon

Stephen Wilkes has a thing for Compo Beach.

And National Geographic has a thing for Stephen Wilkes.

In June, the magazine’s very popular Instagram feed featured the talented Westport photographer’s shot of some amazing clouds — framed by a lifeguard stand — after a storm.

In a matter of hours, it gained hundreds of thousands of likes — and admiring comments in dozens of languages.

Yesterday, the Natgeo Instagram feed included Wilkes’ lovely shot of Sunday night’s fantastic eclipse.

Copyright/Stephen Wilkes

Copyright/Stephen Wilkes

Wilkes wrote:

A view we won’t have again until 2033. In many parts of the US, clouds obstructed this incredible phenomenon. In my case, I drove a few miles from my home to a local beach and was very excited to find a clear sky, allowing me to take an unobstructed photo of the #bloodmooneclipse.

Once again, “06880” is where Westport meets the world — as well as the moon, the sky and the stars.

(Hat tip: Kathie Motes Bennewitz)

The Pope, Stephen Colbert — And Luke Rosenberg

Pope Francis owns the media this week — and Stephen Colbert is no exception. The “Late Show” host devoted last night’s entire show to the charismatic pontiff.

The final segment featured 2 choral groups: The YMCA Jerusalem Youth Chorus (with Christian, Jewish and Muslim youths) and the Choir of St. Jean Baptiste, affiliated with the Upper East Side cathedral of the same name. In the pope’s honor they sang a churchly version of “Joy to the World” (aka “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog,” the old Three Dog Night ditty).

In the back row was Luke Rosenberg. His day job is choral director at Staples, where he’s taken the program to heavenly heights. One of his side gigs is singing with St. Jean Baptiste.

Luke Rosenberg is 2nd from left in the back row -- he's the guy with the beard.

Luke Rosenberg is 2nd from left in the back row —  the guy with the beard.

English is not Pope Francis’ forte. But if he happened to watch Colbert last night in his hotel room — or perhaps on an iPad in the back seat of his Fiat — chances are he would have found Luke’s choir’s rendition very joyful indeed.

(Click here for the “Late Show” segment. It begins around the 37:00 mark. Despite Pope Francis’ critiques of capitalism, you’ll have to sit through several commercials before it runs.)

Say Goodbye To Summer

Today is the 1st day of autumn. The air is appropriately cool.

Miggs Burroughs — Westport’s artist for all seasons — celebrates with this also-cool lenticular look at Compo, then and now. The color shot of Liz Beeby is his; the black-and-white one was taken by Larry Silver.

Miggs Burroughs Compo lenticular

Dustin Lowman’s Ship Comes in

In a world filled with young Westporters who dream of business school, summer i-bank internships and Wall Street careers, Dustin Lowman stands apart.

He’s a Middlebury College graduate — not unusual in this town — but he’s forged a distinctly different path. Dustin is a guitar-playing singer-songwriter, and he’s ready to make music his career.

If that sounds a bit Bob Dylan-esque, there’s a reason. Dustin has been a Dylan disciple since his mother borrowed CDs from the Westport Library. He evokes the early-’60s Dylan in his writing, playing and voice.

Dustin Lowman

Dustin Lowman

Still, Dustin Lowman is distinctly his own man. And a very talented and confident one too.

Much of that confidence stems from his upbringing here. It began with trumpet at Kings Highway Elementary School, then continued at Coleytown Middle, and band and orchestra at Staples.

Julia McNamee — his teacher for 7th grade workshop, 9th grade English Honors and 11th grade AP English — stressed creativity every day, from class discussions to essay topics. Dustin’s junior research paper was on Woodstock.

“Indulging the farthest corners of your mind” was crucial to him as a teenager, Dustin says.

Also important: Mike Zito and Jim Honeycutt’s Media Lab at Staples. They helped him record, and as a senior in 2011 let him and Noah Weingart make a full-length film.

“They gave us a lot of rope,” Dustin recalls. “We absolutely relished indulging our creative sides.”

The Dressing Room was another important influence. Dustin sang at that now-closed restaurant with older musicians like Michael Mugrage and Tor Newcomer.

He performed Dylan and Springsteen covers, and original numbers too.

The audience nurtured him. “I really felt they were saying, ‘Music is what you’re supposed to be doing,'” Dustin notes.

Dustin Lowman 'Folk Songs'He recorded his newest album — called, simply, “Folk Songs” — in his mother’s Westport home, as she prepared to move. That provided some of the poignancy an artist needs.

He designed the front cover from beach glass he collected with his mother at Compo Beach, over the course of his childhood. That too helped ground him, and his music.

All 9 songs are originals. All are compelling — particularly if you like Dylan, channeled through someone born decades after his folk-rock years.

The album dropped on Monday. It’s on Soundcloud, and other online outlets like Spotify (which Dylan definitely did not have, back in the day).

Dustin Lowman moves to Nashville next week. He hopes to make his mark on the music world.

It’s a different path from many of his Westport and Middlebury friends. Bob Dylan would be very proud.

(To hear Dustin Lowman’s “Folk Songs,” click here. “You can pay for it if you want,” he says. PS: You should!)

Candlelight Concert Countdown Begins

Staples High School has many storied traditions. But none may be as venerable or beloved as the Candlelight Concert.

This December marks its 75th anniversary. Immediately after last year’s performances, the music department started planning this year’s celebration of that milestone.

There will be a special alumni show, with a pre-concert reception; a fantastic video; a collage wall; special appearances by noted graduates, and much more.

A Facebook page helps alums and interested others keep track of it all. It will include videos and recordings of long-ago concerts. Just search Facebook for “SHS Candlelight 75th Anniversary.”

Then start humming “Sing We Noel,” and get ready for December 18 and 19.

(The music department also seeks old photos, for publicity posters and the collage wall. Scan them at 600 dpi, and send to That’s also the general contact email for Candlelight’s 75th anniversary.)

Candlelight logo

Write Yourself Free — For Free!

It’s not just restaurants and small business that fight to survive in Westport.

Write Yourself Free — a local writing workshop — is having a tough time too.

Tucked away in Colonial Green next to Le Farm, it’s a comfy place to hone your craft, hear speakers, meet like-minded folks and feel part of a writing community.

But that doesn’t always pay the bills.

“There’s been a contraction in the economy of the creative arts, as well as of the mom-and-pops who serve the committed community of Westport,” says Tish Fried, the writing workshop’s director.

“And it’s always a fight for recognition without an advertising budget, in an increasingly busy town.”

Write Yourself FreeFried calls her center “a victim of our success. Many students who started out years ago with us have ‘graduated.’ They’re moving their projects into the marketplace.” That’s led to empty spots in seminars — which are limited to 6 students per class. (And at least 1 of those spots is always a scholarship.)

Write Yourself Free hopes to gain some attention with a free “Mini-Workshop Week.” Starting Tuesday (September 15), it’s a chance to meet some of the top teachers, and sample classes in areas like creative writing, memoirs and children’s books.

“We’re on the lookout for our next crop of star pupils,” Fried says. “I’m always trying to convince people to slow down, and give themselves a few creative hours a week.”

Feel creative? Check out the workshops here. For more information, email, or call 203-557-4614.

Back To The Future At Berklee

The other day, Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston took their daughter Emma to Berklee College of Music. The former Staples Players star is a 1st-year voice/ piano major, with a songwriting and theater minor.

As they sat in a meeting with the president for new parents, Steve noticed a familiar face: film and TV star Christopher Lloyd (“Back to the Future,” “Addams Family,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”). His stepson is studying guitar at Berklee.

Steve and Rondi introduced themselves as more than fans. They knew he’d gone to Staples High School — where, as a student in 1958, he convinced English teacher Craig Matheson to found an acting troupe. The group soon became Staples Players.

They had a lot to talk about. Steve and Rondi were proud to tell Chris that Players has evolved into a first-rate company, with productions rivaling Broadway. He was thrilled.

Perhaps the rest of Westport will see the founding student/Emmy Award winner soon too — back in the audience, watching the group he helped found.

Rondi Charleston and Chris Lloyd.

Rondi Charleston and Chris Lloyd.

Amy Oestreicher: Show Me Your HeART!

Amy Oestreicher is a 28-year-old Westport artist, actress, musician, speaker and writer.

Ten years ago, all those dreams were interrupted. A blood clot left her in a coma for months. For 3 years, she was unable to eat or drink on her own.

Almost 30 surgeries later, Amy continues to fight medical setbacks. But she still has her art.

Amy uses painting and mixed media creations to transcend 10 years of physical and emotional trauma. Her art demonstrates her journey into daylight, to a life of normalcy.

Amy Oestreicher, with some of her work.

Amy Oestreicher, with some of her work.

Amy’s work has guided and inspired her. Now, she is sharing what art has taught her with her community.

Amy is offering mixed media “Show Me Your HeART” workshops. Through eclectic materials, unique insights, messy fun and guided prompts, she helps people of all ages and abilities discover creativity as a means of personal expression.

Using mixed media art, Amy says, anyone can “discover what being in the ‘flow’ of creativity feels like, and use art as a way to navigate through life’s messy detours.”

Amy Oestreicher

Amy Oestreicher

All artists — all people, in fact — face detours. Amy will help workshop attendees learn innovative strategies for “conquering a blank page or empty canvas.” She shares tips on “silencing the ‘inner critic’ and ‘can’t’ voices that often surface as we outgrow elementary school art classes.”

Amy’s workshops include music, mingling and guidance. Her sessions are great for children’s parties, company workshops, teambuilding events, bridal showers, fundraisers, family get-togethers and more.

“All materials are provided,” she says. “Just bring your heart!”

Amy has brought her heart into her everything she does. Her journey — and her art — now inspires us all.

(For more information, email or click here.)

Frederic Chiu Does Debussy

Frederic Chiu is a pianist who has pushed boundaries in the world of classical music — from performance protocols and recording, to teaching and technology.

He’s also — with his wife Jeanine Esposito — host of the wonderfully eclectic Beechwood Arts salon series, in their warm, welcoming home. Check it out!

Chiu is in the spotlight once again. His latest recording combines state-of-the-art audio and video technology, masterpieces of the Western classical music canon, and contemporary works rooted in the East.

Frederic ChiuTitled “Distant Voices,” it’s the inaugural classical music release from Yamaha Entertainment Group of America.

The recording includes iconic Debussy, and music of the Szechuan-born, French- and Russian-influenced  Gao Ping. There’s both an audio CD and video DVD of Chiu performing a unique combination of favorites, and groundbreaking newer music from the piano repertoire, plus commentary from him about his background and music-making.

Chiu calls Debussy’s music “a test for the artist and instrument both.” The recording artist’s performance was captured on the Yamaha Disklavier, a true acoustic piano that incorporates fiber-optic sensing systems and the most modern technology to record and and reproduce every note with unpralleled precision.

Listeners with a Disklavier piano can replicate the performance on their own instruments.

Which is almost as good as hearing Chiu perform live, in his own Westport living room.