Category Archives: Arts

Remembering Arpi Ermoyan

Arpi Ermoyan — a longtime Westporter, and a major name in the world of commercial illustration — died last week. She was 99 years old.

Arpi Ermoyan

Ermoyan was an illustrator, editor at Cosmopolitan in the 1950s and ’60s, worked at Doyle Dane Bernbach ad agency, wrote an important book called “Famous American Illustrators,” curated gallery exhibitions of illustration art, and for many years directed the Society of Illustrators. She was one of very few women to break through in that male-dominated field.

In 1953, she and her husband Suren — also a noted illustrator, who served as art director at Good Housekeeping — moved to Tanglewood Lane, off Stony Brook.

She became part of the vaunted Westport Illustrators group — again, one of the few female members.

According to the Illustration Art website:

Illustrators in Westport during this era used each other for models all the time, and Arpi was a favorite….Neighboring illustrators would stop by the house on Tanglewood Lane and before you know it, Arpi had to “put aside her drawing board and start modeling.” Several great illustrators of the era were inspired by her striking good looks and painted her into their illustrations.

In 1961, the Ermoyans moved from Westport. They sold their house to another, younger illustrator.

Perhaps you’ve heard of him: Bernie Fuchs.

Arpi Ermoyan, by Bernie Fuchs

(Hat tip: Kevin McConnell)

2 For The Weekend

Looking for something to do this weekend?

A couple of great ideas just crossed my desk popped up in my inbox.

The first is a world premiere. Westport-based Connecticut Theater Dance kicks off its 2018-19 season with the original ballet “Drosselmeyer: The Toymaker’s Story” at Fairfield University’s Quick Center on Saturday (7 p.m.).

Artistic director Michelle Sperry wrote the fictional story of how the legendary toymaker created the magical nutcracker. Renowned choreographer Rodney Rivera — with 13 professional dancers, and supporting roles from CTD students (including young Westporters) — brings the ballet to life.

Writing and producing a totally new ballet is never easy. It’s especially tough when you’re a true non-profit, with a 100% volunteer board.

Sperry did it in just 2 months. But it could not have happened without plenty of help from Westporters.

Local businesses contributed funds. The company raised money by organizing a Halloween costumefest, renting a movie theater for a private showing, creating and selling calendars, and (of course) running a bake sale. Sperry even secured a private bank loan to make up the shortfall.

The young dancers augmenting the professionals in “Drosselmeyer” include Westporters.

The CTD’s mission of promoting diversity produced housing challenges. Sperry opened her home to a dancer from El Salvador for 5 weeks. Resident choreographer Alejandro Ulloa hosted a Nicaraguan dancer. Choreographer Rodney Rivera –from Puerto Rico — was welcomed in by another CTD family.

Most sets were made in Sperry’s garage — including a train big enough for cast members to ride on. Local residents offered rocking horses, dolls and beer steins.

CTD families donated food, helped sew (staying up until 3 a.m.!), and done much, much more. They’re honored to support dancers who commute up to 2 hours each way.

This is a labor of love for everyone. It should be an inspiring evening. And hey — how often do you get to see a world premiere?

Click here for tickets, or call 203-254-4010.

Meanwhile, Joan Nevin raves about the Westport Country Playhouse’s production of “Thousand Pines.”

The longtime Westporter — who has no connection with the theater, other than as a patron — calls the current play “groundbreaking and heartbreaking.”

It was developed in the Playhouse’s New Works Circle last year — the first to come out of the program with a full production. 

Playwright Matthew Greene explores how families and communities try to cope after a school shooting, in “an incredibly moving, intelligent way.”

Five characters — playing roles in different families affected by the tragedy — are “brilliantly nuanced.” Nevin won’t give away the ending, but calls it “brilliant. The play comes full circle with a powerful, heart-wrenching understanding among members of the community.”

She says it connects to devastating current events “without political implications or easy answers, but with  emotional depth and power.”

“Thousand Pines” runs through this Saturday (November 17). For more information and tickets, click here.

 

Unsung Hero #74

Pamela Einarsen moved to Westport 26 years ago. She was pregnant with her first child. She and her husband Paul raised 2 boys here.

A former oncology nurse, Pam switched careers in 1998. She started a photography business in her home. With Paul by her side, and sons Connor and Carson as assistants, it’s grown to 2 studios. Clients adore her wonderful eye and attention to detail, and return year after year.

Pamela Einarsen loves photographing children and families. 

As she did in her oncology work, Pam connects with people. She learns their stories, then tells them through photographs. She is creative, warm and loving.

Pam Einarsen is also giving. Every year, she donates her time and talents to worthy organizations and causes: A Better Chance of Westport. Staples Tuition Grants. Al’s Angels. The Westport Library. Near & Far Aid. Westport Animal Shelter Advocates.

Pam has photographed many local favorites, like Paul Newman, Michel Nischan, Maxine Bleiweis and Bill Derry. Her A-list of celebrities includes Alan Alda, Salman Rushdie and Deepak Chopra.

For the Westport Library’s “I Geek…” series, Pamela Einarsen photographed Miggs Burroughs wearing a t-shirt with the Westport flag he designed. 

Fellow photographer Katherine Bruan — who nominated Pam as this week’s Unsung Hero — says, “I’ve never met anyone who enjoys her work more. Every new client brings a new experience and a new story. Pam comes back from her shoots exhilarated, every single time. She appreciates life, and loves connecting with people so she can document their stories.

“Pam uses her photography to help people chronicle their lives and experiences. She captures the moments that matter, and sees everyone as beautiful and necesssary. Her photographs are priceless. It’s a gift to love your work as much as she does.”

For her 20 years photographing Westporters — and giving back to us all, through so much superb pro bono work — Pam Einarsen is this week’s Unsung Hero.

Picture that!

Pamela Einarsen

Candlelight Concert Tickets Available Next Monday

The weather may be cold.

But it’s the hottest ticket in town.

The 78th annual Staples High School Candlelight Concert will pack the auditorium for 3 performances next month: Friday, December 14 (8 p.m.), and Saturday, December 15 (3 p.m. and 8 p.m.).

This annual gift to the Westport community showcases the diverse talents of Staples musicians (and their teachers). There’s music from around the world, and of course the opening processional, inspiring “Hallelujah Chorus” and creative production number.  

Groups performing include Bella Voce, Choralaires, Anima Cantorum, bands and Symphonic Orchestra. 

Because it’s a gift from the Staples music department, tickets are free. But they go very fast. They’re available to the public starting at 9 a.m. this Monday (November 19). Click here then to get yours! 

The always-evocative “Sing We Noel” processional. (Photo by Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Remembering Daryl Libow

Bruce Nemirow writes:

Staples High School lost one of its most prominent alums this week, with the passing of Daryl Libow (Class of 1977) at age 59 after a battle with cancer.

Daryl was captain of Staples’ tennis team. He was also a highly accomplished debater, which no doubt led to his success as a litigator. He headed the prestigious law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell’s Washington D.C. office, as managing partner.

After Staples, Daryl graduated from Harvard University, the London School of Economics, and Cornell Law School. .

Daryl Libow

Beyond the law and fighting for human rights wherever they were challenged, Daryl was an avid lover of jazz. He particularly appreciated its inspirational value for young people.

His love of jazz can be traced to Westport’s long-gone Players Tavern — where he saw his first live performances in the mid-1970s — along with constant visits to Sally’s Place with his dad, Sanford.

Daryl’s passion led to action. He served on the board of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, and The Ellington Fund of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

Daryl was a wonderful son, husband, father, brother, colleague and friend. He will be missed by all those whose lives he touched.

Unsung Heroes #73

It’s a stretch to call the cast of Staples Players “unsung.” They’ve won tons of awards, and the hearts of every audience that’s seen any show.

Besides, you can’t call a troupe that puts on musicals “unsung.”

The Players’ fall mainstage — “Legally Blonde,” this week and next — will be one more smash in a 60-year history of successes. Ticket sales were so brisk, they’ve already added another performance. (Click here for available seats.)

But shows like this are true team efforts. Players could not do what they do without the help of their technical crew — sets, lighting, costumes — as well as pit musicians, publicity, and everyone else who makes a production go.

Plus parent volunteers.

And of course, directors David Roth and Kerry Long.

Some of the Staples Players cast and crew get plenty of praise. Others toil unnoticed backstage, in the wings, on the catwalks or elsewhere.

All are our Unsung — and Sung — Heroes of the Week.

Georgia Wright, Justin Dusenbury, Kelley Schutte and Tomaso Scotti could not do what they do in “Legally Blonde” without the help of hundreds of others. (Photo/Kerry Long)

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Larry Silver Goes To Harvard

Larry Silver has been taking photos since he was a teenager.

Finally — at 83 years old — he’s gotten into Harvard.

The prestigious university’s Fogg Museum of Art has acquired 20 of the world-renowned photographer’s images, for their permanent collection.

Westport is prominently featured in Silver’s work. That’s no surprise: He’s lived here for 45 years.

Among the photos headed to Harvard is “Jogger” (1979).

Larry Silver’s famous 1979 photo is headed to Harvard.

Another is “Shower at the Beach.”

Silver continues to photograph scenes all around Westport — except for his shower series.

A complaint by someone concerned that he had his camera at Westport’s iconic outdoor public shower led town officials to tell Silver: no more photography there.

“Shower at Compo Beach” (Photo/Larry Silver)

Mid-Strut: Eric Burns’ Novel Story

You may know Eric Burns from his television work, as an award-winning media analyst. You may know him as a noted author on topics like American journalism, the history of alcohol and tobacco, and the year 1920. You may know him as a longtime former neighbor (he now lives right over the border, in Norwalk).

Burns’ latest project is “Mid-Strut.” At 73, it’s his first novel. And the story has a back story. Eric tells “06880”:

I had written a dozen books, all non-fiction, all well-reviewed to one degree or another. But I wanted to do something different. Long ago, I had gotten the germ of an idea for a novel, my first work of fiction. But I hesitated. Could I do it? I was a historian. Could I also be a novelist?

I let some time pass to think things over. Actually, I let 50 years pass! No sense rushing into things. Then I wrote, and published, a tale set in 1965, Joe Namath’s first year as a professional quarterback.

The first appraisal of my book came from the prestigious publication Kirkus Reviews. It was a dagger to my heart, a switchblade to my ego. It was by far the worst review I had received in my 21 years of authorship.

At first I just skimmed it. But there were phrases that caught my eye.

My protagonist was a racist. No! No, he wasn’t. In fact, one of the two main plot lines of the book was Arnie “Stats” Castig’s refusal to be a bigot despite extreme provocation. It was obvious.

Arnie’s relationship with the majorette was degenerate. No! No, it wasn’t. That’s the other main plot line. “Statsy” didn’t really have a relationship with the majorette; she was simply — and complicatedly — a symbol of times gone by, when Arnie’s life was happier than it had been during the week when Mid-Strut took place. It was obvious.

But wait. There were more mistakes here, and of a different kind. The review said that Arnie is a steelworker. He isn’t; he’s a security guard. It said that he works in Arbridge, Ohio.  He doesn’t; he works in my hometown of Ambridge, Pennsylvania.

How could the critic have made 3 mistakes of so basic a nature, in 2 sentences?  In addition to the 2 major mistakes, and others. One paragraph, 7 errors. Not errors of judgment, errors of fact. How could that happen?

Eric Burns

My conclusion, which took me a while to arrive at and startled me when I got there, was that the person who reviewed my book hadn’t read it! I can’t prove this of course, but how else to account for so many gaffes?

Had the reviewer dipped into the book here and there? Probably. Had he or she looked at the notes on the inside flap of the dust jacket? Probably. But actually read the book …    sober? I was puzzled.

I wrote a letter to Kirkus, explaining my grievances, expecting to be ignored. But I wasn’t. Kirkus replied admirably. It was embarrassed, apologetic and sincere.  The review would be promptly pulled off the website, and a new one would take its place. Kirkus could not have been more nobly responsible.

Last week, its new, and official, review of “Mid-Strut” was emailed to me. “Burns’s . . . first foray into fiction,” this new assessment read,

tells the story of a man driven mad by the changing fortunes of his Pennsylvania steel town. . . .  Overall, it’s an idiosyncratic novel that follows an idiosyncratic protagonist, and Burns does not shy away from the parochial fixations of his and other characters; indeed, he leans into them.  Even so, he manages to capture not only their quirkiness, but their universal humanity.  Any readers who live in a place that feels overlooked—or who’ve seen the world of their youth slip away—will relate to the people who populate this tale.  An absorbing novel of aging and postindustrialization.

Apparently, I am a novelist after all.  At least once.

(Eric Burns will discuss “Mid-Strut” at the Saugatuck Congregational Church at 7 p.m., this Thursday, November 8.)

Staples Players’ “Legally Blonde” Goes To The Dogs

In the mid-1970s, Bill Berloni was an acting intern at Goodspeed Opera House. The director offered him an Equity card — if Berloni could find and train a rescue dog for the upcoming show.

Berloni came through. He got his card.

The musical — “Annie” — went on to legendary success. And Berloni had a new gig.

He trained Sandys for every revival of the show — plus the movie.

Since then — using only rescue dogs — he’s trained animals for dozens of shows, including “Camelot,” “Oliver!,” “Nick and Nora” and “The Wiz.”

He’s done the same for hundreds of Off-Broadway and regional productions, TV and movies. He’s a Tony honoree for Excellence in Theatre, among other awards.

His credits also include “Legally Blonde.” That’s the show that Staples Players premiere next week.

And Berloni is right there backstage in  Westport, training a chihuahua and a bulldog.

Bill Berloni (rear, center) with Staples Players cast members of “Legally Blonde.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

He’s no stranger to high school musicals. They’re where he got his start, as an actor. He loves working with teenagers. He teaches them how to interact with animals, instructing the actors in exactly how dogs think.

For the Broadway version of “Legally Blonde,” Berloni had to get his chihuahua to “speak” on cue.

He’s done the same at Staples.

One of the many stars of “Legally Blonde.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Berloni is spending 2 weeks at the high school. He’s shown the cast how to bond with their dogs. For example, a few actors will scratch an animal’s belly backstage. The dog associates that with love — and will only go to those actors on stage.

“Legally Blonde” is an inspired choice for the November production. In addition to being the first Players show with trained animals, it’s both funny and timely.

The play “empowers women,” says director David Roth. “They stand up for each other. There’s an important #MeToo message. Audiences see that you can’t assume someone is who they are just by the way they look.”

Roth and co-director Kerry Long are excited about the show. They enjoy working with Berloni.

And, Roth notes, this is not the animal trainer’s first connection with Staples Players.

He’s worked with dogs on the film “The Greatest Showman,” and Broadway’s “A Christmas Story: The Musical.” The music for both was co-written by Justin Paul — a 2003 graduate, and former Player.

Most recently, Berloni trained animals for “Land of Steady Habits,” the Netflix version of Staples ’01 grad Ted Thompson’s debut novel.

“Legally Blonde” opens next Friday (November 9), and continues November 10, 16 and 17, all at 7:30 p.m. There are 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday matinees on November 11 and 17. Just added — due to popular demand — is a Thursday, November 15 show (7:30 p.m.).

To fetch tickets (and for more information), click here.

Staples High School principal James D’Amico has a role in “Legally Blonde.” He has a musical theatre background, but this is his debut with Staples Players. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Unitarians Say: “Let’s Put On A Show”

Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney — and countless generations of kids in basements, attics and garages before and after them — have had the same creative, what-have-we-got-to-lose idea: “Hey, let’s put on a show!”

Jim Luongo is no kid. But 10 years ago the veteran  English and theater teacher had the same idea.

He was a longtime member of Westport’s Unitarian Church. So he contacted fellow congregants, found a cast and crew, and produced Doubt right there on Lyons Plains Road.

It was a hit. The next year, Luongo put on another show.

Jim Luongo, at the Westport Unitarian Church.

He’s been doing it ever since. Among his credits: Proof, The Curious Savage, Rabbit Hole, Dancing at Lughnasa, The (Female) Odd Couple, and American Daughter.

There’s no budget. Sets and costumes come from actors and techies’ homes and closets.

But the UU Players’ plays are now the church’s second biggest annual fundraiser. (The August tag sale is first.)

“We’re better than we have any right to be,” says actor Sarah Bell. The 14-year Coleytown Middle School educator and self-described “wannabe actor” calls Luongo “a great director.”

But, she adds, “no one else is in charge. We figure things out ourselves, together.”

The still-ad hoc troupe does not, she admits, advertise well. They’re happy just to have fun, performing in front of friends, family and church members.

Now, however, they want everyone to know about this weekend’s show.

Bakersfield Mist is based on a true story. Bell plays a bartender living in a trailer park who buys the ugliest picture she can find, for a friend’s birthday. It’s relegated to a tag sale, where an art teacher identifies it as a possible Pollack.

A snooty art authenticator comes to the trailer to inspect it. The play is stinging, funny and challenging.

Sarah Bell and Tom Croarkin examine a “Jackson Pollack” painting in “Bakersfield Mist.”

One reason the UU Players want broader audiences to know about Bakersfield is because it’s Luongo’s last play.

After a decade, the director is stepping down.

“He’s given us so much,” Bell says. “It’s time people heard about him.”

And about the UU Players, who really do put on a show.

(“Bakersfield Mist” will be performed at the Westport Unitarian Church, 10 Lyons Plains Road, on Friday and Saturday, November 2 and 3, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, November 4, at 3 p.m. Tickets are available at the door. The suggested donation is $20.)