Category Archives: Arts

Calling All Candlelight Connoisseurs

Next year, Staples’ Candlelight Concert celebrates its 75th anniversary. Hallelujah!

To mark the occasion, the music department — in conjunction with Class of 1961 grad John Brandt — plans a spectacular video.

In 1979, the annual concert was already 39 years old.

In 1979, the annual concert was already 39 years old.

Candlelight originator John Ohanian was known for his meticulous attention to detail. The organizers of next year’s celebration have learned his lessons well.

Thirteen months ahead of time, they’re already searching for archival material. They need programs from before 1961 (the 1st one — 1940 — would be golden).

They’d like still photos, and of course recordings — either vinyl, old Beta videos, even reel-to-reel tapes.

Please send in jpeg or .wav format — or simply in its original form. All material will be copied and returned. Send to: Adele Valovich c/o Staples High School, 70 North Avenue, Westport, CT 06880. You can email her at  avalovich@westport.k12.ct.us, or call 203-341-5128. The deadline is December 12.

Now let hosannas ring…

Choir member Michael Sixsmith was part of the always-evocative "Sing We Noel" processional. (Photo by Lynn U. Miller)

A recent Candlelight processional. (Photo by Lynn U. Miller)

Paul, Pasek — And Jackman

Staples graduate Justin Paul ’03 and songwriting partner Benj Pasek are well known on Broadway (“A Christmas Story” was nominated for a Tony Award).

They’re known off-Broadway, and overseas (“Dogfight” was just nominated for an Evening Standard Award for Best Musical in London).

They’re known on TV (NBC’s “Smash”).

Now the talented duo heads to the big screen.

They’ll contribute most of the songs to the new Hugh Jackman film musical, “The Greatest Showman on Earth.” Filming begins this summer in New York.

The movie showcases P.T. Barnum’s life. He was a circus creator and the promoter of Tom Thumb, of course. But Barnum was also the mayor of Bridgeport.

So as far from Westport as Justin Paul’s career has taken him, he hasn’t really left at all.

Justin Paul

Justin Paul

 

Hello, Laramie!

High school theater — at least in Fairfield County — is a special art form. It’s entertaining, provocative, and exceptionally high quality.

This weekend, local audiences can enjoy 2 very different shows. Both are well worth going far out of your way to see.

Staples Players presents “Hello, Dolly!” Directors David Roth and Kerry Long have pulled out all the stops. The classic farce — featuring memorable music and great choreography — promises to continue Players’ long tradition of Broadway-worthy productions.

Meanwhile, Weston High School’s Company presents “The Laramie Project.” The fascinating play draws on hundreds of interviews, conducted in Wyoming in the aftermath of the kidnapping and murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard.

Cast in some of their many ensemble "Laramie" roles are (from left) Jack Seigenthaler, Kevin MacWilliams, Sam Rosenthal and Preston Troxell. (Photo/Peter Friedman)

Cast in some of their many ensemble “Laramie” roles are (from left) Jack Seigenthaler, Kevin MacWilliams, Sam Rosenthal and Preston Troxell. (Photo/Peter Friedman)

Twenty-six students play the parts of 68 Laramie residents, in this complex, well-crafted and many-faceted exploration of life and death in a Western town.

Director Kevin Slater is familiar to many Westporters, for his work with drama troupes in schools here. Cast member Jack Seigenthaler is also well known, for his portrayal of Conrad in Staples Players’ 2013 summer production of “Bye Bye Birdie.”

“The Laramie Project” is presented this Friday and Saturday, November 14 and 15. The Sunday, November 16 matinee will be followed by an on-stage talk-back with Andy Paris. A member of the original cast, he’s Skyped with cast members — providing powerful insights into what is already a stunning show.

(“Hello, Dolly!” is performed on Friday and Saturday, November 14, 15, 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m., with 3 p.m. matinees on Sunday, November 16 and Saturday, November 22. For tickets — including the pre-show gala on opening night — click www.StaplesPlayers.com.

“The Laramie Project” is performed on Friday and Saturday, November 14 and 15 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, November 16 at 3 p.m.  For tickets, click whscompany.com.)

 

 

Remembering Vivien Testa

Vivien Testa died 2 months ago. Until today, there has been no public notice of her death.

That’s astonishing. Vivien Testa was 102 years old. For decades, she was a legend in Westport. She was a superb art teacher, townwide director of art, and a mentor to countless students and teachers.

In 1936 she began teaching art at Bedford Junior High School (now King’s Highway Elementary).

She moved to Staples (now Saugatuck Elementary) in 1948.

Vivien Testa

Ten years after that, she was part of the new high school campus on North Avenue.  (In fact — having minored in architecture — she helped design the place. She has an enormous slide collection from that time, which she donated to the Westport Library.)

Vivien Testa chaired the art department through the 1970s.

Several years ago, while writing my book Staples High School: 120 Years of A+ Education, I found an interview she recorded for the Westport Historical Society oral history project. Here is an excerpt:

—————————————————–

My family spent summers in Westport, so I knew the town in 1936 when I came to teach art at Bedford Junior High School. It was the Depression, and my father said I was taking a job away from a man who needed one.

In 1936 the school had a place in the life of the community. Teachers knew what they were expected to do and not do. For example, teachers were not supposed to smoke. But the faculty played basketball against the youngsters, and put on plays for them. There was a feeling we were all growing and learning together.

When Mrs. Holden, the arts supervisor, left in 1948, I took over. We had a lovely art room in the building on Riverside Avenue. It was good size, and well lit.  There were 15 to 20 students in a class, and I taught 4 or 5 classes a day. Westport was growing as an arts colony.

The original Staples High School on Riverside Avenue.

The original Staples High School on Riverside Avenue.

I still carried nearly a full teaching load, but I was given one or two afternoons a week to supervise. There were three townwide directors in art, music and physical education. Those were considered special subjects, and the principals were not trained in them. But the Board of Education members and superintendent really knew teachers. They came into the classroom all the time.

Pop Amundsen was the custodian, and his wife ran the cafeteria. They set the tone for Staples. If they saw youngsters doing anything out of line, they let them know. Students respected them just as much as the principal.

Everything was in apple pie order. No one dared mark a desk. We were a small family. Education at that time was a family business. Teachers and students and parents all felt responsible for what was happening. There was no closing eyes to what was going on. Everyone respected what was happening.

We got help from a lot of places. The Westport Women’s Club had a $350 art competition, and when Famous Artists School came in they gave scholarships. Al Dorne [a founder of Famous Schools] always helped. He’d produce booklets for new teachers or students.He underwrote hundreds of dollars.

I was involved in the plans for the North Avenue building. I worked with the architects, Sherwood, Mills and Smith. I minored in architecture, so I was able to lay out my ideas about what I wanted to have. It worked nicely for me, except when they cut this, that and the other thing, and we ended up with just a mishmash. That was kind of too bad. But it was still better than you would find in many places.

The 1st version of the North Avenue campus: 6 separate buildings.

The 1st version of the North Avenue campus: 6 separate buildings.

There were many bugs in the building that had to be taken care of. A 3rd art room was cut out of the original plan, and a wing in the auditorium was cut. We had to put all the crafts stuff – kilns, etc. – in 2 rooms designed for 2-D stuff. Then when they added Building 9 a few years later, they added a 3-D room, and extended the stage.

Before they did that, a ballet company came to use the stage. The stage had only been planned for lectures and assemblies, not theater – there was no room for stage sets. As you face the stage, there was a brick wall on the right, and a passageway and electric panel on the left. A handsome male dancer ran right into the brick wall. Performers had to dress in the art rooms, too. It was quite a mess.

There was one boys’ and one girls’ bathroom – none for the faculty. I learned a great deal about youth by using that bathroom. But we always took an interest in keeping our building beautiful, because art is beauty.

Staples’ “Dolly” Lookin’ Swell

Fifty years ago, Hello, Dolly! debuted on Broadway. It danced and sang its memorable way to become — for a while — the longest-running show in history.

In 1985, Al Pia directed Dolly! with Staples Players. David Roth — who as an 8th grader in Illinois played Cornelius — reprised it in 2002, his 3rd year as Players director.

Now, the show is back. Hello, Dolly! opens on the Staples High School stage next Friday (November 14). It runs that weekend and next.

A small part of the large cast sings "It Takes a Woman." (Photo/Kerry Long)

A small part of the large cast sings “It Takes a Woman.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Like many Players productions, this one melds elements of old and new. Dorian Kail — Dolly in 1985 — will sit proudly in the auditorium. Her son, Jacob Leaf, plays Rudolph this time around.

The cast and crew learned a lot about the Broadway versions from 2 fantastic sources. Sondra Lee (who originated the role of Minnie Fay) and Lee Roy Reams (Cornelius in the 1st Broadway revival, and the director of subsequent revivals) — both visited the set last month.

“We wanted to go back to a classic, and do something accessible to families,” Roth says of his selection.

“I love the comedy. This show is truly a farce — one of my favorite types of show to direct. “

Roth — who grew up listening to the soundtrack — loves the music, the script, even the pacing.

He, co-director Kerry Long, set designer Peter DiFranco and costume designers Marjorie Watt and Priscilla Stampa, have pulled out all the stops.

Costumes and sets complement Jack Bowman, Claire Smith and Jack Baylis as they sing "Dancing." (Photo/Kerry Long)

Costumes and sets complement Jack Bowman, Claire Smith and Jack Baylis as they sing “Dancing.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

“The sets and costumes are really outstanding,” Roth says. “Every scene is beautiful. This is a candy-colored storybook — a fantasy version of a time gone by.”

The director also appreciates the choreography — which is dazzlingly complex.

In 2002, Roth did not have enough male dancers. So a number of girls dressed as male waiters.

This year, they’re all guys.

It’s so nice to have them back where they belong.

(“Hello, Dolly!” is performed on Friday and Saturday, November 14, 15, 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, November 16 at 3 p.m. An extra matinee has been added for Saturday, November 22 at 3 p.m. For tickets — including the pre-show gala on opening night — click www.StaplesPlayers.com.) 

Orphenians Invited To Elite San Francisco Stage

Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco.

Staples’ Orphenians will bring their voices there.

The elite ensemble is 1 of only 10 high school choirs invited to participate in the Chanticleer National Youth Choral Festival in March. The 4-day immersion program features coaching by members of Chanticleer, the internationally known choral performers and educators.

The climactic event, on March 30, is a gala concert at Davies Symphony Hall.  Orphenians, the other 9 high school choirs, Chanticleer and guest artists will share the fabled stage.

The 2014-15 Orphenians.

The 2014-15 Orphenians.

This is not Orphenians’ 1st big trip. In the 1960s and ’70s, under George Weigle, the group traveled to the Virgin Islands, Austria and Poland. In the ’90s, Alice Lipson took them to Italy and the Czech Republic.

Now, with director Luke Rosenberg, Orphenians embark on a new adventure.

A steering committee wants to help all Orphenians — including those with financial constraints — make the trip. They’d like to defray the cost of meals and additional activities, too. To help contribute or offer ideas, click here, email lrosenberg@westport.k12.ct.us, or call 203-341-1309.

Want to hear Orphenians? Here’s their version of the intricate Haitian piece, “Tap Tap,” from the 2014 Spring Concert:

And here’s Rockin’ Jerusalem”:

 

Staples’ “A Chorus Line”: Book It!

In the midst of preparing for their fall musical – Hello, Dolly! —  Staples Players still bask in well-deserved applause from  A Chorus Line.

Their 2013 production will be included in A Chorus Line FAQ. The 400-page book is part of a new “everything you could possibly want to know” series on popular Broadway musicals.

Author Tom Rowan is including a chapter on notable productions around the nation over the past 30 years. What he calls the “remarkable” Staples Players staging is one of only 4 high school versions in the book.

Staples Players: one singular sensation. (Photo by Kerry Long)

Staples Players: one singular sensation. (Photo by Kerry Long)

Directors David Roth and Kerry Long figured that Rowan heard of Staples’ production from Terre Blair Hamlisch. The composer’s widow saw the show in Westport, was enthralled, and invited them to perform a selection at a major New York fundraiser honoring Hamlisch, with Bernadette Peters, Joel Grey and Robert Klein.

Nope.

Rowan said he spent a lot of time watching YouTube clips of various Chorus Line productions from around the world. He stumbled upon Staples, and was amazed by the quality — particularly the dancing. He could hardly believe it was a high school show.

(He loved learning about the Terre Hamlisch connection. That story will be in Rowan’s book too.)

A Chorus Line is one of many Staples Players productions uploaded to their YouTube channel. Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, Little Shop of Horrors — those and many more are just a mouse click away.

Of course, you should see Hello, Dolly! live, when it opens a couple of weeks from now.

Then relive the Staples Player magic — over and over — thanks to the miracle of YouTube.

(Staples Players is always looking for more archival material. If you’ve got some, contact director David Roth: droth@westport.k12.ct.us)

TEA Talk Time

You’ve heard of TED Talks. The 18-minute, internet-addictive presentations cover a broad range of topics. Originally, TED stood for Technology, Entertainment and Design.

Get ready for Westport’s version: TEA Talk. This Sunday (October 26, 2 p.m., Town Hall auditorium) the Westport Arts Advisory Committee is sponsoring 3 20-minute conversations. Because this is Westport, the focus is on Thinkers, Educators and Artists.

Gina Rattan

Gina Rattan

And because this is Westport, the TEA Talk features a combination of rising young talent, and well-established thinkers, educators and artists.

Gina Rattan — a Staples grad who’s working now on the live broadcast of NBC’s “Peter Pan,” and is the resident director of the Broadway musical “Matilda The Musical” — will discuss the impact of technology on Broadway with Carole Schweid.

She directs the “Play With Your Food” series, and was an original Broadway cast member of “A Chorus Line.” This segment will include video clips of some wizardry behind Broadway shows.

Nick DeBerardino — another Staples grad and Rhodes Scholar pursuing a master’s in music at Yale, and the co-founder of Princeton’s Undergraduate Composers Collective — will explore the integration of recent technology into music composition and performance.

Nick DeBerardino

Nick DeBerardino

He’ll chat with Richard Epstein, professional bassoonist and host for 38 years of WPKN’s “Sometimes Classical.”

The program kicks off with Bill Derry — head of innovation at the Westport Library — discussing and demonstrating 3D printing’s application to the visual arts. Joining him is Thomas Bernstein, a photographer and sculptor best known for his “Dancing Leaves” series.

Both Gina and Nick will be presented with “Horizon Awards,” as up-and-coming artists (and movers and shakers).

The TEA Talk is followed by a reception, across the street at the Westport Historical Society. They’ll serve hors d’oeuvres — and tea.

(Both events are free, and open to the public. For more information, click on www.westportarts.org)

 

Happy Friday!

And what better way to welcome the weekend than with Stacy Waldman Bass’ photo of this morning’s sunrise over the Sherwood Mill Pond?

Sunrise over Mill Pond - Stacy Waldman Bass

Enjoy the day!

Tyler Paul: Art For All

It was the mid-1990s. Tyler Paul is not sure of the year, or his grade. But 2 decades later, he vividly recalls a day at Long Lots Elementary School.

A group of actors and puppeteers arrived for a “very special school assembly.” The troupe used original skits and puppets to talk about bullying.

Tyler remembers other special assemblies over the years, too: an original presentation of Maya Angelou’s works. A presentation on Chinese traditions. And many more.

Tyler Paul

Tyler Paul

Those events were only part of Westport’s long history of fostering and encouraging an arts environment. Between the Westport Country Playhouse, the PTA’s Cultural Arts Committee and the superb drama departments at Staples and the 2 middle schools, arts have been integrated into the curriculum at nearly every level.

Today, Tyler is executive director of the Northeast Children’s Theatre Company. Earlier this year he was contacted by a member of the Cultural Arts Committee. They wanted to bring his professional theatrical programming for young audiences into the elementary schools.

Coincidentally, NCTC had just commissioned and premiered a new musical. They were looking for a partner to pilot it in schools. With Julia Gannon and Diana Sussman, they brought “Jack and the Giant” to all 5 Westport elementary schools in March.

The musical teaches youngsters about perseverance, heroism, courage a self-identity. It fits in well with the curriculum core standards. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

Looking back on his own in-school and after-school theater arts enrichment here, Tyler calls it a “full circle moment.” No other town that he knows of boasts the in-school enrichment program that Westport does. That early exposure to the arts, he believes, is a large reason he now works full-time in that field.

Benj Pasek (left) and Justin Paul.

Benj Pasek (left) and Justin Paul.

Of course, every organization needs funds. On Saturday, October 25 (8 p.m., StageOne Theater in Fairfield), NCTC sponsors its 2nd annual “Broadway in Connecticut” gala. The evening of music is hosted by the Tony Award-nominated songwriting team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

Yes, Justin is Tyler’s brother. He too has benefited greatly from Westport’s arts environment.

The concert includes performances by Broadway stars from “Wicked,” “Godspell,” “Bridges of Madison County” and “Next to Normal,” too. A live auction includes house seats to “If/Then,” followed by a backstage tour.

Proceeds from the gala benefit artistic programming for school audiences — and educational initiatives for underserved children in disadvantaged communities.

So that youngsters everywhere in the region — not just in Westport — can have the same awe-inspiring experience Tyler Paul had, back when he sat in his own very special school assembly.

(For tickets — which are limited — and more information, visit www.nctcompany.org/gala.)

A young girl in Bridgeport is inspired by NCTE's outreach program. Tyler Paul was inspired by the arts too, 20 years ago.

A young girl in Bridgeport is inspired by NCTC’s outreach program. Tyler Paul was inspired by the arts too, 20 years ago.