[OPINION] A Players’ Parent Perspective

David and Amy Mandelbaum moved to Westport 14 years ago. This fall their daughter Julia enters her senior year at The Westminster School of the Arts at Rider University, earning a BFA in musical theater. Their son Sam will attend Chapman University, Dodge School of Film, studying screenwriting, TV writing and production.

Both thrived at Staples High School, particularly in the Staples Players drama program. Sam graduated last month, then starred in his final production: the summer show “Back to the ’80s.” When it was over, David reflected on the experience of being a “Players parent.” His letter to fellow parents is worth sharing. He writes:

Having just attended my final show as a Staples Players parent, I’m still processing what this all means. If you will indulge me, I’d like to share a few thoughts that have been percolating. I know many others are going through the same experience, have gone through it before us, or eventually will go through it.

Sam and Julia Mandelbaum.

It’s been an amazing 7 years for Amy and me, starting with Julia’s first ensemble role in “Oklahoma!” and concluding with Sam rocking the stage (in a tubular mullet) one last time. In between there have been countless moments of joy, frustration, pride, anxiety – in short, a microcosm of what it is to be parent.

But seeing our kids grow in so many ways over these past 7 years has been a gift. We have seen them learn to persevere, work hard, sacrifice, collaborate, take direction, deal with and move beyond setbacks and inevitable social conflicts, lead, communicate, create, multitask, plan, manage very full calendars, and of course express themselves with increasing confidence through their art and talents for all the world to see.

It’s been quite a journey seeing that growth, and we attribute much of it to their Players experience and the uniquely special community that Players is.

Too many people to mention have contributed mightily to the organization that is the pride of Westport. David Roth, Kerry Long, Luke Rosenberg, Don Rickenback, Chris Stanger, Rachel MacIsaac, Rhonda Paul and Michele Wrubel, most especially, have lent their great talents and time to create an environment that is nurturing, while also demanding the very best from the kids.

Director David Roth with (from left) Georgia Wright and Sophie Rossman. They’re 2 of the many actors he’s worked with over his Staples career. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Because of them, our kids have had the opportunity to be a part of consistently outstanding productions year in and year out. We are further privileged to live in a broader Westport community that fully supports and embraces the arts.

The Players community would not be what it is, however, without the deep involvement of parents who have volunteered a considerable amount of their time and resources, while also being there when needed for rides and generously opening their homes to the kids for cast parties, field days and the like.

Players is so much more than the exceptional product on stage. It is a community of wonderful families and kids who gravitate to it. And we feel blessed to have gotten to know so many of them over the years.

Julia Mandelbaum (center) in “The Drowsy Chaperone.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Now the somewhat sad part as we end our journey as Players parents. I know all of our kids will go off to do great things in or outside of the arts. We will be there to support them as best we can through their many successes (and a fair share of inevitable setbacks, from which the most growth ultimately arises). Still, I recognize that we are unlikely to ever replicate the unique experience we have had as Players parents.

Over these past 7 years, the immense pride we have felt has not been limited to just our own kids, but also to their friends, who we have come to love.

Throughout these years we have shared the many joys and frustrations with other Players parents, who have become dear friends. Even if we are fortunate enough to see our kids shine in their next chapters, it won’t quite be the same as the bond of community in which those future experiences occur will not be nearly as strong.

Sam Mandelbaum in “Legally Blonde.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

In other words, it is not seeing our kids and their best friends on stage that we will miss most. But rather, we will miss being part of this incredible Players community that has become so important to and intertwined in our lives.

On that note, Amy and I will soon have to adapt to an entirely new schedule that does not revolve around fall, winter and Black Box shows and one-acts, and Orphenians and choral performances. I know that could open up some fun new possibilities for how we will spend our time. At this point, however, it’s a daunting prospect that we will need to come to grips with in a few short months.

Nonetheless, as I look back on these past 7 wonderful years, I also look forward. I am excited to see what college and life beyond has in store for our two kids and all the other Players grads. We also intend to continue to be supportive of Staples Players, albeit in a different capacity. You may not see us at 4 or 6 (or more) performances per show, but we will absolutely continue to be excited audience members of future Players productions.

So, at the risk of being too presumptuous, even though we are as of today no longer Players parents, we will still forever view ourselves as part of the Players family.

16 responses to “[OPINION] A Players’ Parent Perspective

  1. Very well said by David. Congratulations to Sam and Julia!

    For any Westport parent looking for a great experience for a daughter or son, whether in acting, tech (there are over a dozen activities) and / or as part of the pit, I highly recommend Staples Players.

    • David Mandelbaum

      Thanks Tim, and looking forward to coming to watch Camille continue to star over the next two years.

  2. Congrats on Chapman. That’s an excellent film program.

    • David Mandelbaum

      Thanks Fred. We are very excited for him. By the way, we all loved “The High School that Rocked!” Best, David

  3. Pam Marino Gau

    Well said Mandelbaums! The education the kids received from Staples Players will serve them well in all their future endeavors. And look at the memories you will treasure! Congrats to you and your kids!

  4. So well said, David. The future is so bright for not only Sam and Julia but also for you and Amy as you (and we!) enter this exciting next stage with an empty nest!!

  5. Something must be mentioned: that the Players early director, Al Pia,
    was privately called “god” by the students who were with him in the years from l978 to 1982. If the names of all the students who were Players back them were listed, many would stand out as exceptional in their later careers, even if they did not become involved in theatre. Somehow, the Players experience changed and still changes their lives for the better.; Im so happy to have read this article, and know that the wonder of it all continues…..

  6. Sorry for the typo, it should read “then” not “them”

    • David Mandelbaum

      Thank you Ann. Players has a long storied history indeed. And the positive impact it’s had on the many students who have participated in it over the years, whether they ultimately pursued careers in the arts or not, is undeniable.

  7. David Mandelbaum

    Thanks for sharing this Dan. And thanks even more for all you do for our community. Best, David

  8. I agree with everything said by David and Amy Mandelbaum. In fact, as the Interim Principal of Staples way back in 2004, I fully imagined that all I would have to do for the one year was make sure the school didn’t fall apart. I never intended to in-retire and spend eleven years there. Since I had always been involved in performance, either theater or choral singing, I decided to attend the Staples production of Cabaret. Upon leaving the theater I remember saying to my now husband Rodger that what we just saw cannot be the production of a public school theater department. Perhaps it was a theater for performing arts that needed to rent a theater. I had never witnessed anything of that quality with people so young in my entire life. Of course, later in the year we won several FCIAC and state titles (if I am not mistaken, this year our teams win at least six state titles) and I also got to discover the overall brilliance of Staples.

    What I have come to know is that the Westport education system culminating with Staples High School is outstanding in EVERY way. Throughout my career, I have visited or worked in high schools all over the country. Most are known for one or two things (strong football team, award winning choral department, etc) but very few are known for outstanding everything. Once I learned about things like the science research program, the quality of the Math, English, Social Studies, World Languages, and Science departments, I began to appreciate what I had become involved with. I then learned about the Culinary program, the Art Department, the Physical Education Department, the Music Department, and of course, the award winning Radio and Television Production programs. As time went on I realized that Westport is serious about addressing the needs of its outstanding students. Some high schools assign 350 to 450 to each guidance counselor. Not at Staples. Our counselors address the needs of about 190 students. Some schools have one nurse for 1,000 to 2,000 students. They have one psychologist and/or social worker for that many students. Many schools have only enough administrators to handle the most pressing problems that occur each day. At Staples, there are enough staff and administrators to handle whatever comes their way. They do not have to resort to triage.

    This is going on longer than I though it would. What I want to get across is that Westport is an extraordinary place to live and raise children. To find a similar community and similar housing somewhere in Westchester County would mean paying double or triple in taxes. We get a lot for our money. I avoided most of my career living in the community where I worked. I moved to Westport and still live here for the quality of life and the quality of the people who live here. Our town is run well, excellence in everything is valued and supported, and the Staples High School experience provides our young people with skills that will help them succeed for a lifetime.

    Thank you David and Amy for entrusting Sam and Julia to the professionals of the Westport Education System. I’m sure you could have moved anywhere and/or sent them to private schools. Whether or not we see either or both of your children on Broadway, I am certain that what they took away from the Staples experience will be a part of who they are for the rest of their lives.

    • David Mandelbaum

      John, thank you so much for that. Yes, while Players especially has meant so much to our kids and our family, we have found Staples in it’s entirely to be outstanding in every way.

      And we are so thankful that you led the school for 11 years, and helped to ensure that Players, the equally outstanding choral department, and the other critically important arts, sports and academic programs received the support and nourishment they need to thrive.

      You are missed by all, though we are thrilled that you and Rodger have chosen to stay here and remain a vibrant part of the Westport community.

      Best,
      David

  9. Arline Gertzoff

    The Staples Players were started by the late Craig Matheson who was asked by then Principal Stan Lorenzen to start a theater group.The experience changed my life forever.Even more than 50 years ago the accolades were numerous Tech Head Steven Gilbert along with Craig Matheson were true visionaries.What a journey the Staples Players have had

  10. Audrey Wauchope

    My husband and I are Players alums and professional TV writers in LA … who talk weekly about moving back home so our kids can be Players. (though there weren’t Players Parents when we were there… ahhhh the 80s and 90s)

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