Category Archives: Arts

Emma Cataldo: Thriller Tackles Anti-Semitism

Emma Cataldo’s parents and grandparents encouraged her to get involved with photography, and other arts.

She got a camcorder, and began making short films in her backyard. With her camera, she took photos at favorite spots: Longshore, Burying Hill beach, the Saugatuck River.

Emma was just 8 years old.

As a freshman at Staples High School, she was assigned to TV Production class. She was one of only 3 girls — and hated it.

But her parents encouraged her to stick with it. She ended up loving the class so much — and Narrative Film too — that the Media Lab became her second home.

Teachers Mike Zito and Jim Honeycutt Emma encouraged her strongly. She spent several semesters doing independent studies in cinematography and screenwriting.

Zito inspired Emma to enter film competitions, beginning as a sophomore. She placed well at the state level.

Honeycutt gave her the chance to film school and community events, as well as commercials and short films for local businesses. She built a strong portfolio. Here’s a director’s reel from high school:

She also discovered a passion for post-production work. Emma hopes to pursue that as a career.

Emma’s mentors encouraged her to apply to the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts — a film school with a 5% acceptance rate.

She got in. Now — entering 2nd semester of her junior year — she is double majoring in cinema and media studies, and film and TV production.

Emma has worked on student films, and interned in post-production at NBC Universal’s Syfy and E! Networks, during school years and summers.

At USC she has established herself primarily as an editor and colorist. Recently, her friend Evan Siegel — director and co-writer of “Ivver” — pitched that film to her.

Emma Cataldo, doing what she loves.

A psychological thriller about the horrors of anti-Semitism, “Ivver” is close to Siegel’s heart: He faced prejudice and hatred growing up Jewish in Texas.

Emma grew up in a Christian family. But, she says, she learned a great deal of Jewish history in middle and high school.

At Staples she took classes like “Mythology and Bible Studies,” which included the Old and New Testaments. She was exposed to Jewish culture through talks by Holocaust survivors, and books like Elie Wiesel’s “Night.”

Many friends were Jewish too.

After the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings this fall, Emma knew this was a project she wanted to take on.

The story follows a high school history teacher who suddenly faces the aggressive prejudice of his students and colleagues, once they find out he is Jewish.

Like Emma, many of the team working on the film are not Jewish. Still, she says, it resonates with all of them.

“When it comes to social issues, we believe the most important thing we can do is start productive conversations,” Emma says.

“Anti-Semitism is still around. Yet for some reason it is often left out of the conversation about social reform.”

With a diverse crew from many backgrounds, they hope to raise awareness of the continuing threat of anti-Semitism around the globe.

She calls the film “heartbreaking. But the message needs to be heard at a time like this.”

Emma and her fellow students have assembled a strong cast and crew. They’ve scouted locations. Now all they need is funding.

This is the time of year when we’re all asked to contribute to many worthy causes. This sure is one of them. Emma hopes you’ll check out the video below — and if you can, click this link to contribute.

Joe Gelini’s Grammy Roots

Sure, Kendrick Lamar got 8 Grammy nominations this year. And Drake got 7.

But here’s the “06880” news: Joe Gelini got a Grammy nomination too!

The 1995 Staples High School graduate will be in Los Angeles this February, for the the 61st annual ceremonies. “Spyboy” — the latest release from Cha Wa, the New Orleans-based Mardi Gras street culture Indian funk/brass band Gelini founded — has been nominated for Best Regional Roots Music Album.

Gelini might not be the first person you’d expect to lead a Mardi Gras Indian band. He might not even be in your top 200 million.

Joe Gelini, having a good time.

So how does a white drummer from Westport — who after Staples went to Berklee College of Music in Boston — end up forming a Louisiana band that marches in Mardi Gras, and earns a Grammy regional roots nomination?

In January 1996, he traveled with his father to New Orleans for a convention. While his dad did business, Gelini headed to music venues like Le Bon Temps Roule, Tipitina’s and the Mermaid Lounge.

“The audience was just as much a part of the party as the band was,” he told the New Orleans Advocate. 

“The entire audience was involved, actively listening, dancing and partying. A seamless line went from the audience to the band. Playing in Connecticut, Boston and New York, I had never seen that before. I had never seen people in a city love the music and the culture that they were a part of so much. I was enthralled.”

Gelini skipped his Berklee finals, to return for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The Wild Magnolias’ music was “on another level,” he recalls. “It felt like a spiritual thing to me, and it still does.”

Back at Berklee, he studied New Orleans legends like Dr. John and the Neville Brothers. After graduation, he moved south.

At Handa Wanda’s — the Wild Magnolias’ home base — Gelini befriended Mardi Gras Indian musicians.

Mardi Gras Indian culture is a world away from Westport. Joe Gelini embraced it enthusiastically — and was welcomed in return.

According to the Advocate, Gelini wondered if his drumming tempo was correct.

The response: “Ain’t no mistakes in Mardi Gras Indian drumming.” In other words, “as long as it feels good, it’s cool.”

The Westporter slowly won over his New Orleans audiences — and musicians.

“It’s about respecting the culture and the music,” he told the Advocate. “If you’re doing it for those reasons, they’re totally accepting — I would say extraordinarily accepting. There’s no color barrier at all. If you’re there to be part of it for the right reasons, it’s all good.”

Joe Gelini has paid his dues. Soon, perhaps, the Grammy producers will give him his due.

(To stream the “Spyboy” album, click here. For Cha Wa’s website, click here. For the full New Orleans Advocate story, click here. Cha Wa’s upcoming dates include New York City’s Globalfest on January 6, and the Ridgefield Playhouse on February 27. Hat tip: Karen Romano)

 

Just In Thyme: Free Holiday Cards (And More!)

Just 5 shopping and card-sending days are left before Christmas.

Which means I’m getting some last-minute requests to post stories about gifts and cards.

One of Bonnie Marcus’ cards.

Tomorrow, Bonnie Marcus opens her private design studio to the public. She’ll be giving away — yes, free — hand-painted, Westport-designed holiday cards, as a thank-you to the town.

You won’t find these at CVS. Or anywhere else.

The “free card” idea came when Bonnie realized that she had a supply of holiday cards stored away in her office. She posted the giveaway on Facebook, and was overwhelmed.

 

The 2nd round is tomorrow (Thursday, December 20, 12 to 2 p.m., Bonnie Marcus Collection studio, 5 Riverside Avenue, next to Arezzo restaurant).

Meanwhile — thanks to Amazon — there’s still time to buy a cookbook gift, and support a great Westport group that supports a wonderful Bridgeport one.

AWARE — Assisting Women with Action, Resources and Education — is made up of local women. Each year, they pick one worthy organization. They dive into it: learning about the cause, the people behind it, and hosting a fundraiser for it.

This year, AWARE partnered with Caroline House, a center that educates and empowers immigrant women, and provides programs for their children. 

As part of their effort they published “Thyme to Share Cooking with AWARE.” It’s a collection of recipes by Caroline House clients. Dishes come from around the world.

All proceeds from the book go to AWARE. Click here to order.

PS: Got a great gift idea to promote? Click “Comments” below. 

Westport Arts Center Eyes Martha Stewart Move

The Westport Arts Center may be on the move.

To a few feet over the Norwalk border.

The gallery — which also sponsors educational outreach, talks, music concerts and films, in its Riverside Avenue home and other venues — has hired Sellars Lathrop Architects to possibly convert Martha Stewart’s former TV studio into the WAC’s new home.

The address is 19 Newtown Turnpike, Westport. But the 3-story building is in Norwalk.

Sellars Lathrop has invited neighbors to an informal meeting tomorrow (Wednesday, December 19). It’s an early step in the process.

The former Martha Stewart TV studio on Newtown Turnpike.

The Westport Arts Center has a long history. When Greens Farms Elementary School was closed, the WAC moved in. Artists and sculptors rented studios in former classrooms, and the gymnasium was used for exhibits.

The town eventually reclaimed GFS for education. After being homeless for several years, the WAC eventually landed at 51 Riverside Avenue. The long, narrow space works as a gallery, and has a killer view of the Saugatuck River.

But there is little room for other programming — and none at all for working artists.

Westport Arts Center, 51 Riverside Avenue.

The Newtown Avenue project is not a done deal. Sellars Lathrop must make an application to Norwalk’s Planning & Zoning department. Westport officials will be involved too, because the entrance to the property is here.

“It’s no secret we’ve been looking for space for the better part of 3 years,” says Amanda Innes, executive director of the WAC.

“We’ve looked at many places in Westport. Some are near downtown. But this is a great property. There are 110 parking spaces. It’s nearly 10 times the size of where we are now.”

Riverside Avenue — which is rented by the WAC, as the Martha Stewart property would be — is just 3,400 square feet.

“We’re part of the whole fabric of Westport,” Innes notes. The Martha Stewart studio “is still Westport to us. In order to grow, this is the best space for all of us — hands down.”

Sing We Noel: Staples’ Spectacular Candlelight Concert

From an achingly beautiful “Stille Nacht” to a stirring Nigerian carol “Betelehemu” — bookended of course by the haunting traditional “Sing We Noel” processional, a hilarious production number and the rousing “Hallelujah Chorus” — last night’s 78th Candlelight Concert was one of the best ever.

Staples High School’s hundreds of singers, orchestra and band members and instructors put their remarkable talents on display, in a packed auditorium. It is the music department’s gift to the town — and no amount of money could provide a finer present.

The Candlelight Concert continues this afternoon and this evening. All tickets for both performances were claimed weeks ago.

(Photo/Paul Einarsen)

Handsome decorations in the Staples High School auditorium lobby.

Chamber musicians play as concert-goers arrived.

Antonio Antonelli carries on the “Sing We Noel” tradition.

The Choralaires’ joyful rendition of “Betelehemu.” Dr. Robert Kwan is the accompanist.

Carrie Mascaro debuts as Staples’ Symphonic Orchestra conductor.

Don Rickenback’s hilarious production number includes a “Fiddler on the Roof”-style introduction about “Tradition” …

… and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’s much lesser-known daughter.

Choral director Luke Rosenberg, orchestra conductor Carrie Mascaro and band leader Nick Mariconda take well-deserved bows. (All photos/Dan Woog unless otherwise noted)

Tip O’ The Top Hat For Music

Westport schools do a great job of introducing young students to music.

Some jump all in, eager to become the next Joshua Bell, Yo-Yo Ma or Eric Clapton.

Others are somewhat interested, and want to learn more. But they — or, more accurately, their parents — are not yet ready to shell out the going rate for private lessons.

Now that niche is filled.

Top Hat Tutors is a service owned, operated and run by Staples High School students, for youngsters ages 5 to 18. The 1-to-1, peer-to-peer model has proven successful and popular.

It’s also less expensive than the professional, adult, we-have-to-make-a-living tutoring that’s so prevalent throughout town.

Nick Denton Cheng is a senior cellist at Staples. He’s also Top Hat’s music director. That’s their newest offering — their first foray into a non-science/math/ English/social studies/world languages subject.

Nick Denton Cheng

“It’s an untapped market,” Nick says. “Lessons are very expensive. This is a great great alternative.”

It’s an untapped market for tutors as well as tutees. Nick had more applicants than he could use. He’s selected 18 Staples musicians so far. Many already taught informally. Some are section leaders in orchestra or band; helping younger musicians is part of that gig.

“We all love music,” he notes.

Top Hat’s new program is aimed at youngsters ages 5 to 12 or so, who are just starting to develop their skills.

The most popular instruments so far are violin, guitar and piano. But Top Hat is already tutoring a couple of budding bass players and oboists. They’ll accommodate any instrument.

The cost is $40 an hour. Click here — then toot with your tutor away.

America’s Story. In Just 6 Words.

No matter what your political views, it can feel as if there are no words to describe America’s current situation.

But all you need are 6.

Ernest Hemingway wrote the most famous 6-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Since then, writers of all types have tried their hand at the 6-word exercise.

Karin Kessler wants to hear yours.

She’s the upbeat, indefatigable owner of Backspace, the typewriter shop/writing space on Church Street South, behind Little Barn.

Karin Kessler, in her Backspace space.

Customers always talk about the political climate, Karin says. They usually throw their hands in the air, and say they have no voice.

So this month, she invites everyone to come to Backspace and write their own 6-word story on any typewriter. There’s no charge.

(You can also write at home, and drop it off at Backspace. You can email it in too — backspacewestport@gmail.com — or post it on a special Facebook page. But if you haven’t seen the shop, you really should.)

Any and every viewpoint is welcome (except hate-mongering).

The 6 words should have something to do with the political atmosphere — and be a thought-provoking reflection of the times.

“We can show that right and left can coexist, and respectfully disagree with one another,” Karin says.

This is not a competition between parties, she notes. She’s looking for “a description, statement or feeling about politics today.”

Karin offers her own suggestion: “United we stand. Divided we fall.”

She hopes to compile the stories, to promote both thought and conversation.

December can be a stressful month. She hopes this can be a fun exercise, done during downtime on the train, while stuck in traffic, or anywhere else. (Except, I guess, watching Fox or MSNBC.)

“Let’s start a wave from Westport, using our right of freedom of speech,” Karin says. “Let’s all hear what everyone says.”

In exactly 6 words.

[UPDATE] Bedford, Music Communities Rally Around Lou Kitchner

“06880” reader Will Vail writes:

Lou Kitchner is the 6th and 7th grade band director at Bedford Middle School. He is also head of the Bedford wind ensemble and Westport’s All-City Band, and conducts the Norwalk Youth Symphony.

Two years ago, Lou was a quarterfinalist for the Grammy Music Educator Award.

That is his resume. But to all who know him, “Mr. K” is much more. He is an amazing educator who truly embraces the idea and philosophy of the love of learning music. He lives, breathes and is completely devoted to all his students. He is a much loved and respected teacher, a great person and a pillar of the community.

Lou’s eldest son, Brian Anderson, died this morning in a car accident on I-95. This devastating news shook the Westport music community Lou is so much a part of.

Lou is a single parent, working hard to raise his children in Westport. A Go Fund Me page has been set up to help ease the costs of funeral arrangements, and ensure Brian receives a proper burial (Brian Andersen).

 Click here to help the Kitchner family, in their time of need.

Brian Andersen

Playhouse “Pianist” Teaches Children About Holocaust Horrors

You can’t say the Westport Country Playhouse isn’t timely.

The most recent production — “Thousand Pines” — was a provocative look at gun violence, through its effect on 3 families.

Now comes “The Pianist of  Willesden Lane.” It’s an encore performance, thanks to raves before.

The pianist — Grammy-nominated Mona Golabek — tells the gripping, true tale of her mother. A piano prodigy herself, whose dreams were threatened in 1938 by looming war, she flees Vienna for England on the Kindertransport.

Golabek describes it all, while interweaving music of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, even a bit of Gershwin.

The elegant, beautiful show is also crucially important. It comes at a time of rising anti-Semitism worldwide, and just weeks after the murder of 11 congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

“The Pianist of Willesden Lane” should be seen by audiences of all ages. But on Sunday, December 16, the Playhouse will be filled with young people.

The 3 p.m. production will be followed by age-appropriate group discussions led by local Holocaust survivors. The goal is to educate children about that horrible time in a sensitive way, stressing the importance of standing up to bigotry and hatred, with the power of hope.

Monique Lions Greenspan’s mother survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. She knows first hand the incredible strength, optimism and gratefulness that Holocaust survivors possess.

“Their stories provide invaluable lessons,” she says. “I feel a deep sense of obligation to make our community aware of this opportunity for our children — and adults too — to bear witness to and learn from their experiences.”

(The recommended age for this show is 10 and older. Click here for tickets and more information on the December 16 performance. Click here for tickets and more information on the December 5-22 run. The program is sponsored by Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County, Jewish Federation Association for Connecticut, Holocaust Child Survivors of CT and the Anti-Defamation League Connecticut.)

Pics Of The Day #585

First, the mystery message on the Post Road Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge read “Vote.” A new message popped up a few nights ago.

Here’s a tighter view. If you still can’t see, it reads “Thanks = Giving.” (Photo/Mark Yurkiw)