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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

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.

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.

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.

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