Category Archives: Arts

New Saugatuck Story Lab Is The “Write” Place

For nearly 10 years, a suite of offices sat empty on the top floor of 21 Charles Street — the building opposite Tarry Lodge. That’s odd. It’s just a few steps from the train station, there are great restaurants all around, and the view is spectacular.

But the space is now rented. There’s a story there. In fact, there are countless stories.

The new tenant is Fairfield County Story Lab. It’s the brainchild of Carol Dannhauser, a journalist and writing teacher who loves both the written word, and the people who write it.

Carol Dannhauser enjoys working on one of Story Lab’s inviting couches.  

After 30 years with (among others) the New Haven Register and New York Daily News — and a freelance career in books, magazines and documentaries — Dannhauser realized that although writing is a solitary act, writers need solidarity.

She had a nice home office. Yet she’d head to Panera or Starbucks to work. She liked the background buzz. But even with a cup of coffee, she could not sit there forever.

“I was looking for ‘my people,'” Dannhauser says. “There are great writing studios in Westport” — in fact, she’s co-founder of the Fairfield County Writers Studio, elsewhere in the Charles Street building — “but they’re all about teaching,  not actually writing. I wanted a place where people could write, connect and prosper.”

She knows this town is filled with real writers: novelists, playwrights, journalists, children’s book authors, poets — you name it. She figured, “If you build it, they will come.”

She did. And they did.

Working in one of the common areas …

Dannhauser, her husband, and her business partner Diane Salerno spent 5 months renovating the 2,5oo-square foot space. They worked from Dannhauser’s vision: Give writers every type of accommodation they could imagine.

And even some they couldn’t.

There are all kinds of configurations: rooms with desks. Sofas. A quiet room (NO TALKING ALLOWED!). A deadline room (for an extra $100 a week you can lock the door, and race to finish that book or TV project.)

The cafe/kitchen — a corner room with great lighting and a killer view — is stocked with cheese, cookies, coffee, tea and a microwave.

A community room is perfect for a book club meeting, or book launch party.

… and the community room.

There’s also an interview room, a phone room and storyboard room, where groups of creatives can plot ideas. Of course, free WiFi is everywhere.

An attorney offers pro bono advice once a month on issues like copyrights and royalties.

A grand opening recently drew 100 people, including best-selling authors and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce president Matthew Mandell was there too. He’s excited that Story Lab will draw folks to Saugatuck. And — because you can’t sit and write forever — they’ll get up, go outside, and patronize nearby shops and restaurants.

As well as Mystic Market. The new store in the old Blu Parrot/Arrow had opened just a few days earlier. The market welcomed their new neighbor with a huge plate of cookies.

It’s open from 4 a.m. to 1 a.m. Hey, even writers need to sleep.

(Story Lab memberships range from a day rate to every day for a year, with several options in between. For more information, click here.)

The quiet room is QUIET!

Pics Of The Day #698

“Curtains” — Staples Players’ murder mystery musical — wowed audiences this weekend. The choreography, sets, pit orchestra — all were (as usual) astonishingly professional, entertaining and fun.

The show continues next Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and this Sunday and next Saturday at 3 p.m. But when you see it, you’ll never get a view like this. Brandon Malin is a member of the lighting crew. He took these photos last night, from the catwalk.

Spot operators (from left) Maria Saravia, Michael Lederer and Charlie Norman. (Photos/Brandon Malin)

And here are a couple of shots of the cast:

Nick Rossi, as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi 

There’s plenty of dancing in “Curtains” (Photos/Kerry Long)

 

Town-wide Music Festival Wows Crowd

Westport’s Town-wide Music Festival is one of those fly-under-the-radar events.

Unless you’ve got a kid in it, chances are you won’t go. Or even hear of it.

But last week’s performance — with 5 Staples High School choral groups (including Orphenians), plus the Bedford and Coleytown Middle School 7th and 8th grade choral ensembles — deserves to be heard.

All music was written by guest conductor Jim Papoulis. At the end, all 300 students sang together. It was quite impressive.

Fortunately, former Staples Media Lab guru Jim Honeycutt taped the entire show. And uploaded it YouTube, for “06880” readers to enjoy at your leisure.

 

James Brown (And The Oxford University Choir) Come To Westport

The “06880” tagline is “Where Westport meets the world.”

We could add: “Where the world meets Westport.”

The other day, Debbie Hoult was rehearsing for a vocal concert. She’s a Westport native, but moved many years ago to England.

Her group — the Wooburn Singers — will perform there this weekend, with James Brown. (An organist from Oxford, not the Godfather of Soul.)

During tea break, he mentioned that he and the Choir of New College Oxford University will be off to Westport, Connecticut at the end of the month.

New College Choir of Oxford University

“That’s my home town!” Debbie said.

It’s quite a coincidence. But there’s more.

In Westport, the choir will sing — and James Brown will play the organ — at Christ & Holy Trinity Church.

Which is the church that Debbie attended, all those years ago.

It all made Debbie a little bit homesick.

She won’t be at her old church on March 30.* But you shouldn’t miss it.

The Oxford choir recently performed at the Sistine Chapel.

This being “06880,” I’m sure someone will quickly post in the comments section, “Hey! I was at that concert!”

And someone else will reply, “Wow! I was supposed to go. But my dinner with Pope Francis ran late.”

(For more information, and tickets to the March 30 concert at Christ & Holy Trinity Church, click here.)

*”Old” is a relative term. The New College Choir was founded in 1379.

Be AWARE: Unique Photographer Honors Special Women

International Day of the Woman was last Friday.

But you can celebrate it this coming Friday.

And you’ll not only honor some outstanding women — you’ll help young refugee girls.

Rebecca Rose is a photographer. She specializes in “classical painterly portraits” — photographs that look almost like paintings. In fact, she provides dresses, gowns, hair and makeup for her subjects.

On Friday (March 15) she’ll open an exhibit at Suzuki Music School. She’ll show some of our state’s most remarkable women: senior journalists, presidents of non-profits, Mrs. Connecticut — you name it, Rebecca has photographed her.

Two Westporters are among those honored.

Amy Saperstein and her daughter. (Photo/Rebecca Rose)

Amy Saperstein is a founder and co-director of AWARE, both in New York and Fairfield County. The acronym stands for Assisting Women with Actions, Resources and Education. Each year, members partner with a local non-profit. They volunteer with that group, organize an educational event and host a fundraiser.

AWARE CT has already aided the International Institute of Connecticut (human trafficking), Mercy Learning Center (education), Female Soldiers: Forgotten Heroes (veterans) and Malta House (pregnant and new mothers).

Previously, Amy — who earned an MBA at Columbia — was executive director of Project Sunshine. She grew the nonprofit, which serves children in hospitals, from a small community group to an international organization, with programs in the US, Mexico, Israel, Africa and China.

Nicole Gerber (Photo/Rebecca Rose)

Nicole Gerber will also have her Rebecca Ross portrait hung at Suzuki. With over 20 years experience in project management and event planning, she’s currently director of operations for AWARE CT.

Nicole also sits on the board of advisors for Unite the World with Africa, a foundation that provides opportunities for marginalized women and youth in Tanzania. She has raised over $25,000 a year for Unite, for the past 3 years.

Amy and Nicole’s connections with AWARE are not coincidences.

Soon, Rebecca will take photos of immigrant girls. They come from Eritrea, Congo, Tanzania and Sudan, and live in Fairfield and New Haven Counties. They’re sponsored by the Connecticut institute for Refugees and Immigrants — the organization that AWARE is partnering with this year.

Portraits are something tangible, Rebecca says, that they are their families and cherish for generations.

Portraits are dear to Rebecca’s heart. Her great-grandfather lived in Czechoslovakia, when World War II broke out. He prepared his family as best he could — including having a family portrait taken just before Germany seized the country.

That family portrait is all Rebecca’s mother knew of her grandparents. They were killed by the Nazis.

Rebecca’s mission is to ensure that all generations can admire their families, remembering them through portraits that bring out their true beauty and personalities.

(The portrait show opening is this Friday, March 15, 6 to 7 p.m. at Suzuki Music School, 246 Post Road East — the lower level of Colonial Green.)

It’s “Curtains” For Staples Players

When the curtain rises on  “Curtains” this Friday, audiences will enjoy another superb Staples Players production.

The show — a musical mystery comedy by Rupert Holmes, with music by Kander and Ebb (“Chicago,” “Cabaret”) — is clever. Contemporary, yet with a classic old-time, homage-to-musical-theater feel, it’s a play about putting on a play.

Nick Rossi, Chloe Manna and the “Curtains” dance ensemble. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Because a stage manager is one of the key cast members, it’s time to shine a spotlight on that often-overlooked — but crucially important — role.

Players — the professional-quality high school troupe — has earned rave reviews and national awards since its founding 61 years ago. But like any Broadway show, none of it would be possible without behind-the-scenes help.

At Staples, stage manager is an enormous responsibility. Joe Xiang — a senior who earned the post this year — coordinates multiple aspects of the show. Each day he huddles with directors David Roth and Kerry Long, producer Michele Wrubel and technical director Peter DiFranco to keep everyone — and everything – progressing well.

He works with vice president of tech Karalyn Hood to coordinate set, paints and light. He oversees all 100-plus lighting cues with lighting designer Ben Wolfe, Roth and Long.

Stage manager Joe Xiang at work. (Photo/Kerry Long)

“Curtains” includes three different scene drops. Over February, Players installed pulleys — a completely new element for Xiang, and one that he’s helping oversee too.

Next year, Xiang will take everything he’s learned with Players — people skills, task management, organization, critical thinking and more — as he studies business in college. Theater, though, will continue to be part of his life.

That’s certainly true for Michael Dodd. The 2017-18 stage manager is now a freshman at Duke University. But Roth asked him to help with this year’s set design.

Dodd took the drawing originally created by David Steltzer for Players’ first production of “Curtains” — in 2010 — and made them bigger and better. It was one more contribution from a stage manager — and one more way for Players to connect the past with the present, while providing an opportunity to learn everything possible about producing a first-rate show.

Four “generations” of Staples Players stage managers. From left: Joe Xiang (Staples High School Class of 2019), Jack Norman ’17, Michael Dodd ’18, Karalyn Hood ’20. (Photo/Kerry Long)

This weekend and next, audiences will roar for the actors. “Curtains” is a true ensemble show. It’s a whodunit filled with belly laughs, a catchy score and rousing old-Hollywood-meets-old-West dance numbers.

But none of it would be possible without Players’ stage managers. How great that that “role” will finally be noticed on stage.

(“Curtains” will be performed at Staples High School on Friday and Saturday, March 15, 16, 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m., with 3 p.m. matinees on Sunday, March 17 and Saturday, March 23. Click here for tickets. Tickets may also be available in the auditorium lobby 30 minutes prior to showtime.) 

Emma’s Opening Act

Westporters know her as Emma Ruchefsky. The world may soon know her as Emma Charles.

The daughter of Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston — hence the stage name — thrilled audiences at Staples High School with Players productions of “Avenue Q,” “Hello, Dolly!’ and “Sweeney Todd,” and as an Orphenians singer. She’s also performed at the Levitt Pavilion and Fine Arts Festival.

Now — having finished her performance and songwriting studies early at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music — her professional career is taking off. She’s in the midst of a 12-city tour, opening for Tyler Hilton and Howie Day.

This Saturday (March 15, 7:45 p.m.) Emma returns to the area. A show with Howie is set for the Fairfield Theater Company.

She’s also just released a beautiful new song, “Comfort in the Chaos.”

Emma’s base is Los Angeles. She’s working there on original music — heard only by a few people so far. She’s excited to play it for her hometown fans.

“Finding my voice as an opener is tough,” Emma notes. “But it’s the best way to start touring in as many places as possible.”

In LA, she says, she’s coming into her own sound. It’s similar to Kacey Musgraves and Maggie Rogers — but definitely her own.

Emma Charles

When she takes the FTC stage, Emma will not be far from her Westport heart — geographically, and emotionally.

She is grateful for the opportunities Staples provided, through Luke Rosenberg’s choral program and David Roth’s Players.

Emma Ruchefsky may have changed her name. But Emma Charles is still the same warm, wonderful — and very talented — performer they (and the rest of Westport) knew and loved.

(Click here for tickets and more information on Saturday’s Fairfield Theater Company show.)

Toscanini Lives!

From 1937 to 1954, Arturo Toscanini was one of the most famous men in America.

Already acclaimed for his intensity, perfectionism and ear for orchestral detail as director of La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera and New York Philharmonic, his appointment as music director of the NBC Symphony Orchestra — first on radio, then TV — brought him into nearly every household in the nation.

“He had a singular approach to music making,” says Lucy Johnson. “He was what today we would call a rock star. Thousands of people lined up for tickets to see him perform.”

Today, she says, his work and vibrant reputation remain. He may not be a rock star, but he is revered in musical circles. “People are still inspired by the man, his personality and his musicianship,” Johnson says.

She should know. The longtime Westporter’s father, Samuel Antek, played first violin with the NBC Symphony.

Arturo Toscanini (left) and Samuel Antek.

He died at 48, of a heart attack. Before his death — one year after Toscanini’s, at 89 — he wrote a series of essays about the conductor, from the point of view of an orchestra member. They were published posthumously, in a book called This Was Toscanini.

Two years ago, music historian Harvey Sachs wrote a new biography, Toscanini: Musician of Conscience. During his research, he and Johnson became friends.

She had quite a career of her own. She majored in art history, then got an entry- level job at NBC in New York. She worked in production with Harry Belafonte and David Susskind.

Lucy Johnson

Moving to Los Angeles, Johnson became senior vice president of daytime and children’s programming with both NBC and CBS. She launched The Smurfs, and worked with the legendary Fred Silverman.

She met Bill Klein. Thirteen years ago, they decided to move back East.

Her LA colleague Sonny Fox — the former “Wonderama” host, now a broadcast industry consultant — had lived in Weston. He suggested she look at Westport, and introduced her to friends he thought she and Bill would like: library director Maxine Bleiweis, and Larry and Mary-Lou Weisman.

They moved here — and have remained friends with those first contacts. “Westport is a very cultured town,” Johnson says. She has met many people who remember Toscanini — either first hand, or through his recordings.

Several years ago, Johnson took Weisman’s memoir writing course. So when Sachs was speaking with her about his Toscanini biography, he told Johnson she should reissue her father’s old memoir. She did — adding her own essays before each chapter.

Thanks to the efforts of Johnson — and others — Toscanini still lives. Tomorrow (Saturday, March 9, 3 p.m.) biographer Sachs speaks about “Toscanini: Musician of Conscience” at the Westport Woman’s Club.

When World War II began, Toscanini fled the fascism of his native Italy. After Mussolini fell, Toscanini participated in a legendary film, “Hymn of the Nations.” It honored the role of Italian-Americans who aided the Allies.

Toscanini took Verdi’s 1860’s work, including the national anthems of European nations, and added arrangements of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and “The Internationale” for the Soviet Union and Italian partisans.

Sachs will talk about all that tomorrow. He’ll also include rare film footage of the NBC Symphony.

Perhaps Lucy Johnson will see her own father on screen, playing violin under the baton of one of America’s most legendary maestros.

(Hat tip: Joel Davis)

Tyler Jent Helps “Lion King” Roar

Everyone knows “The Circle of Life” from “The Lion King.”

But the song took on new meaning recently. As Greens Farms Elementary School prepared for its first-ever musical production — of, yes, “The Lion King” — it got a big boost from a very special alum.

Tyler Jent — who graduated from GFS  in 2006, and Staples High School 7 years later — returned to his alma mater to help prepare the young actors and dancers. He spent every Monday for 2 months with them — then more intensely as showtime neared.

This was way cool. After starring in more than a dozen Staples Players productions, then graduating from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, Tyler launched his professional musical theater carer. He just finished a run in the national tour of “Kinky Boots.”

Tyler Jent — and a future Broadway star?

The Greens Farms kids were already in great shape. Westporter Laura Curley Pendergast — a former actress and dancer — had spent countless hours, along with teachers and many others, working with the cast and crew.

Tyler just gave them an extra Broadway boost.

“It was so emotional for me returning to GFS,” he said. “These kids are amazing. It’s been a blast helping Laura pull this show together.”

“The Lion King” opens tonight (March 7, 7 p.m.). It continues tomorrow (Friday, March 8, 7 p.m.), and ends Saturday (March 9, 4 p.m.). Tickets are available at the Greens Farms Elementary School door.

Remembering Micky Golomb

Micky Golomb — a tenor saxophone player who for many years was a major face of Westport jazz — died lastweekend, peacefully at home. He was 88.

When Micky was a teenager in the late 1940s, his family moved from Brookline, Massachusetts to Brooklyn. In Manhattan he heard legendary musicians like Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, Lester Young and Stan Getz. They influenced him profoundly.

He joined the military during the Korean War, hoping to fly. But when an officer found out he played sax, he was given a choice: KP duty or the band. He served the entire time as an Air Force musician — including a fondly remembered year in Iceland.

After he was discharged, Micky enjoyed a long career playing in jazz bands, ensembles, and the occasional big band (most notably Art Mooney and Jimmy Dorsey’s orchestras).

Micky Golomb

In 1987 he toured Italy with a sextet billed as “Veterans of Jazz.” The bulk of his career was spent playing in New York City, and Fairfield and Westchester Counties.

Micky’s long-term engagements included playing and singing at Dameon’s, and the Westport Inn. He also loved monthly jam sessions in Port Chester. Most recently, he sang with the Y’s Men’s Hoot Owls.

Micky ran Regency Music Studios in Rye for over 20 years. He then served as director of the Rye Arts Center’s music division.

He taught sax and clarinet to many local young musicians. Blessed with perfect pitch, Micky also tuned pianos for individuals and and businesses.

He met Katherine, a library administrator, in 1973, when a friend brought her to the club where Micky was playing. They married 5 years later, and lived on Nash’s Pond for many years. When they downsized, they moved to Harvest Commons.

Micky loved cruising and sailing on Long Island Sound. He owned a succession of boats, named Adagio, Sea Melody and Coda. His last vessel was Fine — the musical term marking the end of a composition or movement.

Micky had a song lyric for every occasion. He sang Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” just a few days before he died. He indeed lived a life that was full. He traveled each and every highway. And he did it his way.

Greg Wall — the Jazz Rabbi — lived not far from him. Micky enjoyed listening to Greg’s Thursday night jazz series. The last time was a few weeks ago, at Pearl at Longshore.

Greg saw Micky shortly before he died. “He was fully present, at peace, comfortable, and not at all hesitant about embarking on his ultimate gig,” the rabbi says.

Micky is survived by his wife Katherine, daughter Liorah, stepdaughters Diane, Rachel and Rebecca Paxton, and grandchildren Martha and Toby Stueward. he was predeceased by  his son Kenneth.

The Jazz Society of Fairfield County will present a memorial program on Thursday March 21 (6:30 p.m., Pearl at Longshore). Greg, and Chris Coogan and his trio, will play. They invite Micky’s fellow “senior statesman musicians and collaborators” to join them for the second set.

A scholarship fund has been created, to support a local student pursuing jazz at a college or conservatory. Click here to donate.

(Click here for Micky Golomb’s memorial page on the JazzFC site.)