Remembering Priscilla Stampa

Staples High School Class of 2010 graduate Max Stampa-Brown writes:

Priscilla Rose Stampa of Westport died on April 26. She was 60 years old, and an incredibly talented actress, seamstress, designer, friend, wife, and lover of life.

She was also my mother.

Priscilla was born in Naples, Italy.  Her father — my nonno — is a Renaissance man, and an accomplished voiceover actor. Her mother — my nonna — is a kind Irish woman and schoolteacher. My mother was the eldest of their 4 children.

Priscilla Stampa

Priscilla Stampa

My mother graduated from NYU with a BFA in acting, and pursued a successful acting career in New York City as well as regional theaters around the country.

While at NYU she met and collaborated with a young playwright named Tony Kushner. After working closely for many years, they co-founded the theater group Heat & Light Company. She played pivotal roles: producing, designing and managing. They debuted many of his plays.

My mother met my father, Michael Brown, in 1980 in New York. They were smitten with each other, and married in 1991. I was born a year later.

My parents moved me to Westport when I was a little boy. They left the bohemian streets of Greenwich Village to give me a rich life of education, and greener pastures.

Leaving the city for Westport was not easy. My parents often told me that the silence was maddening at times. Neighbors waving to them felt foreign and strange. But this washed away quickly as the multicolored leaves, falling snow and Compo Beach cannons won our hearts. Westport even made a town activist out of the hardened New Yorker that was once my mother.

Michael Brown, Priscilla Stampa, Max Stampa-Brown and Elvis.

Michael Brown, Priscilla Stampa, Max Stampa-Brown and Elvis.

During the dispute over moving the YMCA to Baron’s South my mother, along with other disgruntled Westporters, co-founded the coalition Save Barrons South. It was an uphill battle, but my mother prevailed. She continued her activism by watching Channel 78 for town board meetings (and reruns of the Candlelight Concerts).

As I became more interested in the arts, my mother proudly and quietly followed me around from project to project. She became resident costumer at Coleytown Middle School, eventually moving up to partner with Marjorie Watt as a Staples Players designer, seamstress, artists’ voice, and friend of all students.

Though all of my Halloween costumes were custom-made, it was not until I was older that I realized just how amazing her career was, and just how many gifts she had given me. My parents never forced me into theater or music, even as I found out gradually what my mother did for a living.

When I truly grasped the breadth of her work and her influence on my creative psyche, I was astonished. I was in my teens when I understood how extraordinary my mother was. I’m deeply grateful for the conversations we had. I value the words we shared. Not many sons are lucky enough to be so honest and transparent with their mothers about our world.

She created costumes for Staples Players until her last show, “Sweeney Todd,” this past March. If you saw a show at Staples from 2006 to 2015, chances are she and her partner Marjorie designed the spectacular costumes you marveled at onstage.

Priscilla Stampa (left) and Marjorie Watt (right) work on Michelle Pauker's Staples Players costume.

Priscilla Stampa (left) and Marjorie Watt (right) work on Michelle Pauker’s Staples Players costume.

My mother prompted me to be curious about culture and the changing world around me. Together we watched “Masterpiece Theatre,” “Antiques Roadshow,” and Broadway and off-Broadway shows, returning to the world she loved so much as she gently guided me into it to begin a career of my own.

When my father and I weren’t screaming at the Jets for losing another game, my mom was quoting Chauncer, Yeats, Thoreau, Shakespeare, Moliere, Pinter. She had a deep appreciation for literature, and creative minds who noticed the tiny details in life.

One of her favorite activities was waking up at 6 to watch the sunrise over Long Island Sound in front of our home on Saugatuck Island. She always had a hot cup of tea waiting for me when I finally got up.

We are so very happy to call Westport home. She was my very best friend and my champion. I will miss her very much.

There is a service for her this Saturday (May 9, 1 p.m., Unitarian Church, 10 Lyons Plains Road). There will be Sondheim and Shakespeare, for sure. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in her name to The Public Theater of New York City or Westport Arts Center.

Max Stampa-Brown and his mother, Priscilla.

Max Stampa-Brown and his mother, Priscilla.

15 responses to “Remembering Priscilla Stampa

  1. So sorry for your loss, Max. Your mother sounds like a remarkable, fascinating woman.

  2. John Dodig

    If there was need of evidence that Max is well educated, can write well, and has a heart as big as a pumpkin, this beautiful story is it. What a wonderful gift his mom left him, and how wonderful that he knows it at such a young age. I am truly sorry for Max and his dad and grateful for the years she donated to Staples Players. Thank you Priscilla.

  3. Lisa Bowman

    Max, your mother is so very missed in every way. I will always remember her beautiful smile, her passion for theatre and her brilliance. She was a private woman, but she was always open about how very proud she was of you and how much she loved you.

  4. Catherine Davis

    Beyond the obvious gifts Priscilla gave to Westport, her hidden gift was listening to our children. Being a costumer in middle school and high school is like being a hairdresser; the person being fussed over often starts thinking out loud. Priscilla was always tuned in to their musings and in her quiet, nonjudgmental, nurturing way gave the kind of sensible support and guidance we all want our children to hear.

    We shall never know how many aches she healed, decisions she helped with, ….or stopped, but I guarantee there is a little bit of Priscilla’s wisdom and kindness in at least 90% of the Westport students who were in KHS, CMS or SHS plays between 2003 and 2015. What a legacy!

  5. Kerstin Rao

    Such a beautiful tribute. My heart goes out to Max, his family, and their friends.

  6. Michele Wrubel

    As one half of our beloved Players “Costume Ladies,” Priscilla ensured the costume room was a place to laugh, cry, vent, and create (sometimes all four at once, or so legend has it). The picture of Priscilla that I will always hold in my heart is the moment she introduced me to you, Max, this past March at the reception honoring her, Marjorie, and Rhonda. The joy in her eyes, just being by your side, communicated beyond words the pride and love she felt for you. Thank you for sharing your best friend with us.

  7. Dirk Larson

    Beautiful tribute to a beautiful woman by the world’s greatest son. Your mom was a gift Max to everyone that met her….

  8. What a beautiful piece written about your mother! What an amazing woman and how lucky you were to have her influence in your life! Loved reading this and thanks for sharing Max!

  9. Laura Lasley

    I remember working with Priscilla on Coleytown shows. She shared her talents generously. Max, deepest sympathy to you and your dad. Your mom was a special lady.

    Apologies for the second posting…having technical difficulties…

  10. Courtney Barone

    Max, a beautiful tribute to your mother, our thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family.

  11. Max, amid my condolences please hear my pride in reading this eloquent requiem. I am grateful for your mother’s living gifts to Staples Players and Westport; and of her lasting gift of you as her son. May your tears be sweet and your memories precious of your awesome mom.

    Loving prayers for continued comfort,
    Rev. Raedorah aka Julius’ Mom

  12. Max, what a beautiful tribute to your mom. I wish I got to know her. I will think of her every time I walk through Baron’s South. She most certainly deserves a plaque there. Peace to your and your dad.

  13. Rhonda Paul

    Priscilla was the real deal and a class act. She was one of the smartest, funniest and most considerate people I’ve ever known, and certainly the most passionate about theatre. Her first concern ALWAYS was for the kids with whom she worked. She felt so strongly that their experiences in theatre had to be about more than just presenting a slick and impressive final product. She and her co-worker, Marjorie created for nearly 10 years an environment in the costume room that was nurturing and light-hearted. Priscilla counseled kids to stress less about the props, hard-to-maneuver sets and the challenge to hit their marks and find their light in just the right way – and at just the right moment. She knew that if throughout the process they grew and discovered something about themselves and the characters they were portraying…. the magic would happen. She always had a kind and compassionate spirit and time to listen to a kid in distress. Her depth of knowledge and experience was an incredible gift and those that took the opportunity to tap into it were fortunate. Above all she was a devoted daughter, sister, wife and mother. I’m wishing peace and love to her family at this time and looking forward to celebrating this remarkable woman this coming Saturday.

  14. Art Mattiel

    Max! Although I never met your mom, I feel I knew her through you! Knowing your dad, and as our friendship grew through the years, I saw traits of your dad in you, however the artistic, musical, friendly outgoing traits had to be from your mom. I am truly sorry for never having met her!
    I am very sorry for you and your dad’s loss.

  15. Loryn Pretorius

    Dear Max,
    You may not remember me from school, but I want you to know that I am thinking about you during this terrible time. I just lost my mother a couple of months ago, and it has been the most difficult challenge I have ever faced. I hope that you have a strong support system around you right now, as you will need to rely on others to help you cope. If I can give you any advice, it’s “treat yo self.” Seriously. Give yourself the time to process this grief and allow yourself to enjoy good things when the nice moments punctuate the terrible ones. My heart is with you, dear, and it is breaking for your significant loss. ❤️