Category Archives: Arts

Monica Lewinsky In Westport: More Than Just Words

When I heard that Monica Lewinsky will speak in Westport on October 6 — as part of the Westport Arts Center’s bullying exhibition — my first thought was: “Huh?”

But that’s the whole idea. For nearly 20 years, she’s been defined by what happened between her and the President of the United States.

Lewinsky is no longer a 24-year-old intern. She’s a 42-year-old woman who spent 10 years in self-imposed silence (several of them outside the country).

Now she’s speaking out. She talks about a subject she knows too well: internet shaming.

Lewinsky has tried to move beyond her image as the young woman in a stained dress. She’s now a social activist, contributing editor to Vanity Fair — and ambassador to BystanderRevolution.com.

Lewinsky has first-hand knowledge of the “culture of humiliation.” She is an expert at the effects of cyberbullies.  Anyone — and everyone — can become, like her, a target of the digital playground.

Her 2015 TED Talk — “The Price of Shame” — has been viewed millions of times. In it, she describes losing her reputation instantly — and globally — via the internet. “Public humiliation as a blood sport has to stop,” she says.

In Westport, Lewinsky will build on themes underlying the Arts Center’s exhibit. It examines the topic of bullying within a broad cultural context that considers how perceived imbalances of social, physical — or political — power can be abused to marginalize others.

Sadly, it seems just as relevant in 2016 as it was in 1998.

(Monica Lewinsky’s talk at the Westport Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 6 includes a panel discussion. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here or call 203-222-7070.)

 

Remembering Gene Bayliss

Since the 1960s, Staples Players has earned renown for its Broadway-style productions.

The directors and technical advisors deserve plenty of credit. But so do the choreographers.

Beginning in the 1960s, Players have been blessed with choreographers with actual Broadway experience. One of those was Gene Bayliss.

Gene Bayliss

Gene Bayliss

Bayliss — who died last week at 89 — had a storied life. A Birmingham, Alabama native, he starred in many shows at Northwestern University. He was head cheerleader there too, and when the football team traveled to California for the 1949 Rose Bowl, Gene made national headlines by cartwheeling off the train in a raccoon coat and straw hat.

In 1996 — for the school’s 2nd Rose Bowl appearance — he provided an encore at the alumni dinner.

In New York City, Gene — who combined “graceful, creative movement with articulate, expressive speech and leadership” — earned praise as a director and choreographer. He danced in commercials and on live TV, and worked with Dinah Shore, Dave Garroway, and pageants like Miss USA and Miss Universe.

Gene created the staging for the show-stopping “Telephone Hour” and “Lot of Livin” numbers in “Bye Bye Birdie.” He served as associate choreographer for “Carnival,” and recreated those shows (and many others) for over 150 regional and international tours.

He also produced product launches and corporate meetings for Fortune 500 companies.

Gene Bayliss choreographed the Miss Universe pageant in 1977. Here he acts as a stand-in for the winner during rehearsal.. He's crowned by the reigning Miss Universe Rina Messinger, as host Bob Barker looks on.

Gene Bayliss choreographed the Miss Universe pageant in 1977. Here he acts as a stand-in for the winner during rehearsal.. He’s crowned by the reigning Miss Universe Rina Messinger, as host Bob Barker looks on.

But it was Gene’s work with Staples High School that brought him his most local renown. Working with Players directors Craig Matheson and Al Pia, he brought Broadway to the high school stage (including a few signature acts from “Carnival”).

Every Christmas for years, Staples’ Candlelight Concert featured a new production number that he created and choreographed specially for the choir.

Those were his ways of giving something back to the worlds of theater and music he loved so much. (He was also happy to do something for the school his 6 children attended.)

Former Players and choir members recall his avid interest in their careers — and his care and concern for them as teenagers too.

Gene was vice president of the Connecticut Ballet School, and an active parishioner at both the Church of the Assumption and St. John’s in Weston.

A funeral mass is set for tomorrow (Monday, September 19, 11 a.m.) at Assumption Church. Interment with military honors follows in Assumption Cemetery.

Donations in Gene’s memory may be made to the Lambs Foundation, which supports America’s theater legacy. For Gene Bayliss’ full obituary, click here.

Arts Lovers: You May Not Want Wells Fargo As Your Bank

Wells Fargo thought they were being cute. A new series of ads — promoting “teen financial education day” — showed (of course) happy young people.

One headline read: “A ballerina yesterday. An engineer today.”

Another: “An actor yesterday. A botanist today.”

The idea — that to become successful one should jettison the arts, and focus on something much more STEM-related — was not cute. It was idiotic.

Josh Groban, Anthony Rapp, and tons more folks — famous and not — pounced, on social media.

Almost as quickly, Wells Fargo apologized. The company said they were “deeply committed to the arts,” admitting that ads intended to “celebrate all the aspirations of young people…fell short of that goal.”

No word on whether the Post Road branch plans to make a nice contribution to the Westport Arts Center.

The Wells Fargo Westport branch.

The Wells Fargo Westport branch.

FUN FACT: There’s another area connection to this story. Remember the “Wells Fargo Wagon” song in “The Music Man”? That show is Staples Players’ fall production. Enjoy!

(Hat tip: Lee Scharfstein)

Remembering Fred Hellerman

Fred Hellerman — an often unnoticed but hugely influential folk singer, guitarist, songwriter and producer — died yesterday at his Weston home. He was 89, and had been in failing health for several months.

In 1948, Hellerman joined with Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert and Lee Hays to form the Weavers. Their renditions of songs  like “Rock Island Line,” “Midnight Special,” “On Top of Old Smokey,” “If I Had a Hammer,” “Kisses Sweeter than Wine” and “Wimoweh” were key to a national folk revival — and directly influenced many who followed, including Bob Dylan. the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary.

In 1950, “Goodnight Irene” was #1 for an astonishing 13 weeks.

That same year — in part because of Hellerman and Seeger’s involvement with left-wing groups during the 1930s and ’40s — the Weavers were swept up in the McCarthy era Red Scare.

Weavers at Carnegie Hall

From right: Fred Hellerman, Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Pete Seeger.

Blacklisted, they were unable to perform in concerts, or on radio or TV. They broke up in 1952, but in December 1955 reunited for a legendary (and sold out) Carnegie Hall concert.

The Weavers continued (with a few personnel changes) through 1964. They released more than 25 albums during their time together.

Their Thanksgiving reunion concert in 1980, and a 2nd appearance 7 months later at Seeger’s Clearwater Festival, brought them back into the public eye. A 1982 documentary, “Wasn’t That a Time!” secured their place in music history. (It also inspired the 2003 parody, “A Mighty Wind.”)

The Weavers in 1980. Fred Hellerman is at right.

The Weavers in 1980. Fred Hellerman is at right.

Hellerman’s roots in the folk world ran deep. He performed with Woody Guthrie — and produced his son Arlo’s classic (and very long) epic “Alice’s Restaurant.”

Hellerman produced many more songs, working on some in his home studio on Goodhill Road.

I first met Fred when he was an Oscar’s regular. (He earned a spot on that legendary back-wall mural.) We continued our coffee conversations years later at Great Cakes.

Fred Hellerman

Fred Hellerman

I knew instantly he was one of the truly good guys. But it took many years before I realized what a huge name he was, and what he’d accomplished on the music scene. He would not offer too many stories — yet when I asked, he had some great ones. (Particularly about Dylan.)

Fred and I were of different generations. We shared many of the same political sentiments, though. I learned a lot from him.

I’m honored to have known this talented and genuine man, who shared his music with the world.

And I’m proud to have called him a friend.

(Fred Hellerman is survived by his wife, Susan Lardner, and his sons Simeon and Caleb. A memorial service — with music — will be held at a date to be determined.)

 

Joshua Bell Plays Westport

It’s one of the little things that make Westport special.

Frederic Chiu has known Joshua Bell since they were kids in Indiana. So when Chiu — an internationally renowned pianist — asked the universally acclaimed violinist to help celebrate the 5th anniversary of Beechwood Arts & Innovation, Chiu’s innovative, immersive arts-and-culinary salon, Bell’s answer was “of course!”

Which is how last night, Saugatuck Congregational Church hosted an intimate concert of world-class music.

Joshua Bell, on the Saugatuck Church stage.

Joshua Bell, on the Saugatuck Church stage.

Chiu and  his wife Jeanine Esposito hold most Beechwood events in their handsome 1806 Weston Road home (highlighted by a spectacular 300-year-old copper beach beech tree). But the Bell venue needed a somewhat bigger venue, and Saugatuck Church was happy to help.

Chiu and Bell (on his 1713 Stradivarius) performed Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” sonata and the rousing “Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs)” by Sarasate. They were joined by soprano Larisa Martinez for numbers by Gounod and Puccini. The appreciative audience roared its approval after every piece.

Before they played, WQXR’s Elliott Forrest led a conversation with Bell and Chiu. They talked about their long friendship, the rigors of touring — and the importance of arts education for all.

Bell pointed to the balcony, where a number of young musicians sat. Their seats were sponsored by area residents, whom the violinist praised for their generosity.

Westporters sometimes wonder whether we’ve lost a bit of our arts heritage.

Chiu’s appearance last night with his friend — and their stunning performance — proved we’re still at the top of our game.

Stacy Bass Shoots 365 Flowers

Years ago, alert “06880” reader/nature-and-lifestyle photographer Stacy Bass had an idea: For the next year, she’d take and share an image of whatever she happened to be doing at noon that day.

It was, she admits, “crazy and stupid.” The project lasted exactly 2 days.

Now, Stacy’s back. Her new idea is much more workable — and beautiful.

She was inspired by Kerry Long. Stacy’s friend and fellow photographer worked on her own 365-day project, shooting images of her young daughter Lucy. Kerry’s photos were “outstanding, stunning and wonderfully composed,” Stacy says.

Lucy Roth (Photo/Kerry Long)

Lucy Roth (Photo/Kerry Long)

Her own children — much older than Lucy — “would not be nearly as cooperative,” Stacy notes. Nor are portraits her specialty.

Stacy wondered what subject matter would keep her interested and motivated every single day, for a year.

Suddenly she knew.

Flowers.

Though she photographs flowers regularly,  as part of garden shoots for magazines and private clients — check out her great Gardens at First Light book — Stacy knew she’d have to stay focused (ho ho) for a long time to find, take and share an image each day.

Stacy Bass. (Photo/Julie Bidwell for Wall Street Journal)

Stacy Bass. (Photo/Julie Bidwell for Wall Street Journal)

But she wanted to try.

Vacationing on Nantucket with her family last summer, she began.

Stacy Bass's 1st flower.

Stacy Bass’s 1st flower.

Nantucket bloomed with flowers of all kinds. When Stacy returned to Westport, she found many more.

The daily challenge proved invigorating. The positive reactions her photos drew on social media kept her going. Friends and strangers thanked her for providing a daily dose of “beauty and positivity.” (Hydrangeas are the crowd favorites.)

Some days were easier than others. About 2 months in, Stacy hit a figurative wall. She wondered if anyone would notice if she stopped.

But the feeling passed. Now that she’s finished, Stacy is proud of her consistency. She’s also thrilled to have tangible proof of 365 flowers, with a beginning, middle and end.

(Photo/Stacy Bass)

(Photo/Stacy Bass)

She’s not quite sure what to do with all those images, though. Fans have inquired about buying a print of their favorite “day,” or of a special date as a birthday or anniversary gift.

Perhaps figuring out how to do that is Stacy’s next project.

(For more information on Stacy’s flower photos, email swbass@optonline.net.)

A collage of Stacy Bass' flower photos.

A collage of Stacy Bass’ flower photos…

...and a collage of all 365 images.

…and a collage of all 365 images.

Westport Arts Center Offers A Bully Pulpit

Whether you’ve got a school-age kid or not, these days it’s tough to avoid hearing about bullying. Its causes, its effects, how to change it (or whether we’re overreacting) — bullying everywhere, from our schools and the media to the presidential campaign.

Soon, even the Westport Arts Center will tackle the topic.

WAC - More than WordsAn exhibition called “MORE Than Words” opens September 9. Utilizing artists, speakers, panels and films, it examines bullying within a broad cultural context. The exhibit focuses on courage, resilience and empowerment in the face of bullying, and considers how imbalances of social, physical and political power can marginalize others.

The WAC show includes artistic expressions of gender, racial, religious, geopolitical and age inequality, and includes cyber-bullying. The goal is to inspire dialogue and change.

Recognizing that the best responses to bullying are community-wide, the WAC has enlisted the help of important local organizations. They include the Westport Country Playhouse, Westport Library, SKATE/K2BK, Neighborhood Studios of Bridgeport, Anti-Defamation League and Norwalk’s LGBT Triangle Community Center.

Also involved: Athlete Ally and the National Charity League.

WAC exhibition - Jenny Holzer

Jenny Holzer’s piece in the “MORE Than Words” exhibition.

The exhibit was conceived by board member — and father of 2 young girls — Derek Goodman.

“We’ve all dealt with bullies,” he says. “At the same time, a number of well-known, influential artists have used their work to address it. We hope we’ve put together a platform to open dialogue, so that people in Westport feel comfortable discussing it.”

As the WAC partners with a variety of local organizations, he says, the town has an opportunity to take a leadership role in the battle against bullying.

“We’re not the experts,” he notes of the Westport Arts Center. “But we’re honored to put together a show for experts to help lead the conversation.”

(An opening reception is set for September 9, from 6-8 p.m. The exhibit runs through October 29. For more information on “MORE Than Words,” click here.)

Longshore Lighthouse: The Back Story

For decades, no one thought about the Longshore lighthouse.

Yesterday, I published a photo of it as part of “06880’s” Friday Flashback series.

I had no idea that Westporters Dick Stein and Tracy Hinson had just offered an oil painting of that same scene to the town, as a gift.

Dick told official curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz that he found the painting behind an upstairs desk at last year’s Red Barn tag sale. Owner Tommy Nistico asked Dick if he knew where the lighthouse had been located. Dick remembered it instantly from  his youth.

The painting — by artist Harriet Horowitz, who moved from Westport in 1972 — was dusty and dirty. But Dick bought it, hoping it would one day hang in the Parks and Recreation Department office — at Longshore.

He had it cleaned and lightly repaired. Now he’s given it to the town.

Longshore lighthouse painting by Harriet Horowitz

That’s a great story. But there’s one more part.

According to alert “06880” reader Peter Barlow — who sent the lighthouse photo along for the “Friday Flashback” — in the late 1960s a popular Parks and Recreation Commission official ordered the demolition of the lighthouse.

Years later, he admitted it had been a mistake.

The commission member’s name?

Lou Nistico — father uncle of Red Barn owner Tom Nistico, who sold the lighthouse painting to Dick Stein.

Farmers’ Photos Fan Favorites

Two of our town’s most creative institutions — the Westport Farmers’ Market and Westport Arts Center — have teamed up to showcase the creativity of one of our town’s most important assets: our kids.

The Young Shoots Digital Photography Competition highlights images taken all summer long at the Farmers’ Market.

The remarkable shots — from every angle imaginable — pulse with life. Fruits, vegetables, flowers, people — they’re all there, showing off the vitality of the Thursday market in colorful, imaginative ways.

If you like what you see (and you will) you can vote for your favorite. There are 3 age groups: 8-11, 12-14, 15-18. But hurry: voting closes at midnight tomorrow, Tuesday, August 24.

Winners will have their work shown in a gallery-like setting at Sugar & Olives (a favorite Farmers’ Market vendor), and will receive a membership to the Arts Center. Really though, virtually every image is a winner.

Click here for the photos, and to vote. Warning: Don’t do it on an empty stomach.

One of the many entries in the Westport Farmers' Market photo contest.

One of the many entries in the Westport Farmers’ Market photo contest.

Library Geeks Get Ready To Party

As a noted family and portrait photographer, Pam Einarsen knew that a key to great shots is asking subjects to bring objects they like.

So when the Westport Library asked the longtime resident to photograph its “What do you geek?” project, she figured folks would bring their favorite things: dogs, games, sports equipment.

Pam had no idea of the incredible range of things Westporters love.

We “geek” human biology, burgundy, Harry Potter, Greek Islands, Toquet Hall, astronomy, break dancing, coffee, archery, knitting, astronomy, the Green Bay Packers, folk music, dragons, baking, and sleeping.

And that’s only the relatively normal stuff.

Geek - sleeping

Pam’s long project is over. And now — 500+ photos later — the library is ready to celebrate.

On Tuesday, August 30 (5-6:30 p.m.), there’s a free, public “Geek Party.” Everyone who posed for Pam — and everyone who has seen her photos, or wants to — is invited to the Great Hall.

In addition to the geek photos, the event includes improv artists, interactive games and puzzles, and refreshments.

The geek project — designed to highlight the breadth of our community, and showcase the library’s many services — was an eye-opener for Pam too.

Her subjects ranged from babies to 90-somethings, and included every ethnicity. Pam was impressed with their diversity of interests — and their smiles as they posed with their favorite objects.

This word cloud shows some of the many different things that Westporters geek. The size of the word indicates its relative popularity.

This word cloud shows some of the many different things that Westporters geek. The size of the word indicates its relative popularity.

The Wakeman Town Farm folks brought a chicken. Someone from Earthplace came with an owl. A girl arrived with a beautiful chameleon.

“People looked so happy and proud,” Pam reports. “They were surrounded with things that were meaningful — not just their ‘work.'”

New York Times crossword puzzle editor, for example, did not geek word games. His passion is ping pong.

Some youngsters geeked dinosaurs — no surprise. But so did a 70-year-old man.

Geek - dinosaurs

Some of the portraits were poignant. A woman in her 80s brought teddy bears — including one her husband gave her more than 40 years ago.

Geek - teddy bears

Some were funny. Library communications director Marcia Logan geeks her dog — and her dog geeks tennis balls.

Geek - tennis balls

Pam enjoyed serving as project photographer. She was also the informal host. As subjects waiting for their shots, Pam noticed something interesting.

“Kids and people who could have been their grandparents started talking,” she says. “They showed each other what they’d brought, and shared stories. The interaction was fabulous.”

Westporters geek a lot of things. On August 30, we can all geek the same thing together: a party.

Library geek photo

(For more information on the August 30 geek party, click here.)


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