Category Archives: Children

If You Make It, They Will Come

The 7th annual Westport Maker Faire is underway.

Over 12,000 people will wander all around downtown, from now through 4 p.m.

From Jesup Green to Toquet, Branson and Town Halls — plus the Baldwin parking lot and Seabury Center — they’ll watch (and participate) in hundreds of activities.

Robots, Vorpal the Hexapod, Myrmidon Dagorhir the medieval re-enactors, TecKnow smart homes, nerf guns, food trucks, gubernatorial candidates — they and much, much, much, much more are there for the gawking.

Get in touch with your inner geek. Go!

Action figure meets EMTs, as a mannequin on a gurney hangs out.

Making art at the Maker Faire. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

I went to the Maker Faire, and all I got was this photo with some medieval jousters. (Photo/Terry Brannigan)

Shadow puppets intrigue these youngsters. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

The band Verbatim — with Eamonn Brannigan, TJ Brannigan and Claire Halman — play at Bedford Square.

First Selectman Jim Marpe visits an exhibit. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

What’s a fair without a clown?

Maker Faire: Facts And Figures

This Saturday’s Maker Faire promises to be the biggest yet.

It’s also one of the biggest in the world. Last year, Westport drew 10,500 attendees. That made the top 5% of all 772 Maker Faires on the planet.

This year’s attendance could break 12,000.

A few other facts:

  • The physical footprint has tripled. Events and attractions are scheduled for the Westport Library, Jesup Green, Taylor parking lot, Bedford Square, Town Hall and Veterans Green.
  • There are nearly 200 “makers” — double the previous number.
  • 6 stages — up from only 1 in the past — will showcase talented people and organizations in the arts, sciences, music and politics.

Large attractions include:

  • Truckers Alley: a collection of large vehicles with large ideas
  • Tiny Homes Hamlet: a collection of tiny homes
  • Tiny Farmers’ Market: a taste of upcoming farmers’ markets
  • Medieval Village and Tavern: entertainment and local brews
  • PlasmaBot: the world’s largest glass and plasma marionette
  • Aviation: a half-sized model of Gustave Whitehead’s plane, plus drones and a panel
  • Air Rocket Challenge: build cardboard rockets — and launch them
  • CTNext Entrepreneurial Innovation Awards: for emerging businesses
  • Game of Drones: an exhibition of drone skills in tight spaces
  • Nerdy Derby: build, decorate and race cars
  • Musicians: an orchestra, steel band, and Israeli music
  • Artists: working in textiles, paint, recycled materials, even bones.

There’s much, much, much more, too. For details, click here.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Socially Conscious Dance Company Comes To Town

Dance can change lives. It offers young people a creative, physical way to express themselves. It teaches confidence, focus, discipline, strength and poise.

Dancers learn to work as a team, while exploring — intellectually, artistically, even actually — the wide world around them.

But it can’t happen if youngsters don’t have a chance to dance.

Several years ago, Michelle Sperry started Encore Youth Company. The non-profit offered lessons to boys and girls, ages 5 through high school, in underserved communities like Bridgeport.

She raised — and gave away — over $200,000.

Recently, Sperry — a choreographer who has written original ballets, and produced musical theater shows for schools — changed her non-profit’s name.

And its focus.

CT Theater Dance Company still offers scholarships. But Sperry has added a professional component. So — in addition to lessons — young dancers now have powerful, performing role models to look up to.

Its Ketchum Street location is perfect, Sperry says. Dancers from New York and New Haven take the train to Westport, then walk a minute or to the Saugatuck site.

Dancers from as far as Brazil come to train with resident choreographer Alejandro Ulloa.

Those dancers are attracted by CTD’s mission. Sperry — whose title is artistic director — calls this a “socially conscious dance company.”

That means CTD dancers use movement, lighting, music and emotion to bring awareness to social issues. The goal is to inspire empathy and awareness through contemporary ballet.

A CT Theater Dance rehearsal in Westport.

Each performance champions a local nonprofit organization. Special choreography highlights the cause and passion of that group. Causes include dancers with disabilities, human trafficking, world hunger and animal rights.

A few days ago, CTD debuted “Blue For Dance,” at the Westport Country Playhouse. All 3 pieces were inspired by the struggles of autism. The production highlighted the main professional company, local dancers, and students ages 4 to 14 from CTD school.

Rivera says that if the audience left the Playhouse “questioning, happy and confused,” he was successful. “My work forced you to feel.”

Sperry is proud of her new company. “I want to create a company with meaning, provide jobs to working artists, and give opportunities to younger dancers,” she says.

“We’re challenging audiences with contemporary ballet — not flowers and props.”

Tavon Dudley, a member of the CT Theater Dance company.

As part of its socially conscious mission, CTD has already reached out to West Rocks Middle School in Norwalk. Dancers showed the students how they warm up. They talked about autism. And they tantalized them with snippets of their show.

CTD will do similar outreach in other cities. And Sperry is excited to do it from Westport.

“This town is really savvy about performing arts,” she says. “I think people here will understand and appreciate the caliber of dancers, and what they do.”

“This is a town that embraces diversity,” she adds. One of her dancers is a pan girl, with a shaved head. Another is an African American with tattoos. They’re not your typical ballet dancers.

And CT Theater Dance is not your typical company.

(For more information on CT Theater Dance Company click here, or email ctdanceco@gmail.com)

[OPINION] Some Kids Need Lessons In Kindness

An alert “06880” reader — and disappointed middle school parent — writes:

I am grateful every day to raise my children in our wonderful town. They go to public schools staffed by caring, enthusiastic teachers.

Yet something happened this past Saturday at Bedford Middle School that made me ask myself, “What can we do to make our town even better?” I’m asking “06880” readers that question too.

During the 7 p.m. performance of “Alice in Wonderland,” several 6th grade students in the audience heckled the actors. They gave them the L “loser” sign, the middle finger, and booed.

Several actors were in tears. One would not get back on stage. Another missed his lines.

I hope the heckling students get more than a central detention. I would like to see them get a lesson in kindness, and make amends.

As with other school performances in town, the students and teachers of BMS spent months working on and rehearsing “Alice in Wonderland.” Teachers Karen McCormick and Lynne Karmen, assistant stage director Ryan Smith and parent volunteers spent days, nights and weekends coordinating the many aspects of the show: teaching students the fine points of acting, creating  and setting the stage.

In addition, 8th grade actors and stage crew dedicated up to 60 hours of their time, helping younger students learn about lighting and sound, memorize lines and gather the courage to get on stage.

They deserved applause and support, not heckling.

Bedford Middle School used 8 Alices, to include as many 6th graders as possible in the show. (Photo/January Stewart)

I hope there will be a truly sincere apology directed to the actors and teachers. Each heckler could write a letter to an actor, and read it on stage as actors and teachers sit in the seats.

Or perhaps those apology letters could be printed out and posted on the auditorium doors.

Hecklers could also pick up trash for a few days in the school cafeteria after lunch, or after the next school performance.

No one is looking for harsh punishment for those hecklers. Kids make mistakes. We all make mistakes.

We as a community need to build up our children when they make mistakes, not break them down. We as a community need to help each other find solutions that help our youth adopt kinder behavior, make proper amends and learn from their mistakes.

To BMS actors: You had the courage to be on stage. You did a great job at the show. Don’t let detractors get you down. We hope to see you at the next performances!

To BMS teachers, parent volunteers and 7th and 8th grade volunteers: Thank you for giving our 6th graders a chance to grow and shine, each in their own way. Thank you for your dedication!

To Westport: What can we do better to teach our kids and our friends to be kinder to one another?

Any suggestions?

Fairfield County Hunt Club: Horses — And Much More

A few weeks ago I wrote about Birchwood Country Club. I called the hidden-in-plain sight 80-acre property — just inches from the Norwalk border — “the only private country club in Westport.”

Oops!

At the opposite end of town — just inches from the Fairfield border — lies the Fairfield County Hunt Club. It’s a country club too.

And though their emphasis is on horses, not golf, the Hunt Club shares several similarities with Birchwood. Both clubs have beautiful dining rooms. They offer tennis and swimming. They’re reaching out to younger families, and welcoming kids.

Fairfield County Hunt Club’s inviting dining room.

And they’re both trying to overcome low profiles and outdated stereotypes about who they are, and what they do.

The Hunt Club traces its history back to 1923. Averill Harriman commissioned Laura Gardin Fraser — a famous sculptor living on North Avenue — to design and execute a polo medal.

As part of her research she borrowed mallets, mounted a horse and began knocking a ball around on her estate. Intrigued, other Westporters joined her.

Games grew into the idea of a club — with, in addition to polo, horse shows and hunting.

Polo was played first on the a field on Hulls Farm Road, in Fairfield. Horse shows were held on the Bedford family estate.

The historic logo hangs on a barn door.

The Long Lots Road property was purchased in 1924 by Henry Rudkin, whose family founded Pepperidge Farm.

Interest in horses flourished. But the Depression a few years later made riding seem frivolous.

Smith Richardson, Fred Bedford and Fred Sturges helped reorganize the club. They introduced sound financial controls, and things were looking up.

A fire on New Year’s Eve in 1937  gutted the clubhouse. With insurance money, the club could have paid all its obligations and closed up shop. Instead, leaders vowed to rebuild.

Then came World War II, and gas rationing. Though membership dropped to 70, the club emerged in good shape.

A swimming pool was added in 1952. Then came 6 tennis courts, a paddle court, and in 1965 an indoor ring for year-round riding.

Through the 1970s the Hunt Club built more tennis and paddle courts, another indoor ring, and other amenities.

In the 1990s a capital improvement program renovated the clubhouse, improved barns, refurbished the baby pool, and added a snack bar and irrigation.

The 40 acres now include 8 tennis courts, 4 paddle courts, 6 barns, 2 outdoor and 2 indoor rings, a casual grill room in addition to the formal dining room — and a 60 foot-by-120 foot skating rink.

Paddle courts (foreground). In the rear is the skating rink.

Notable members over the years have included Martha Stewart, Lucie McKinney, Paul Newman, Ruth Bedford, Frank Deford, Robert Ludlum, and Harry Reasoner — who lived directly across Long Lots Road from the club.

Though not as famous as some members, Emerson Burr was well known in riding circles. He was Fairfield County Hunt Club’s stable manager for over 50 years. A ring is named for him. Burr died in 2001. His portrait hangs in the dining room.

There are now approximately 200 members. One-third are not interested in riding — they join for the pool, tennis and paddle courts, dining, family fun, summer camp, whatever. They come primarily from Westport and Fairfield, with a smattering from other nearby towns.

Things have changed over the years, of course — and not just the facilities. Members used to ride horses on the roads near the club. They no longer do — except occasionally on Godfrey Lane, off nearby Bulkley.

Riding lessons, in the indoor ring.

But key events remain the same. Several horse shows are held each year. The big one is in June. This year’s — the 95th annual — benefits the Equus Foundation. The US Equestrian Federation has designated it a “heritage competition” — one of only 16, out of 2,000 shows a year in the country.

The polo field, as seen from the dining room.

The Hunt Club hosts other fundraisers, along with dances, Halloween and holiday parties, and more.

The riding program is robust. Youngsters start as young as 5 — and members continue to ride through their 70s. A summer academy (ages 6 to 11) teaches riding, as well as horse care.

A young Fairfield County Hunt Club member, and her horse.

The club owns 9 horses; some members own their own.

Polo begins as young as 10 years old.

Monthly horse shows are open to the public. The big one, in June, draws international riders.

Like its counterpart Birchwood, the Fairfield County Hunt Club honors its history — and is moving into the future. New, young members have energized both clubs.

Ride on!

BONUS HUNT CLUB FUN FACTThe Polo Ralph Lauren logo is based on a photograph of Benny Gutierrez — a Polo Hall of Fame inductee — taken on the Fairfield County Hunt Club polo field.

A whimsical part of the Fairfield County Hunt Club parking lot.

Pics Of The Day #343

Bald is beautiful.

It also raises money to fight childhood cancer.

For the 3rd year in row, the Westport Weston Family YMCA hosted a fundraiser yesterday for the St. Baldrick Foundation. Over 80 men, women and children raised pledges — and paid themselves — to have their heads shaved.

They honored Brent McCreesh, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 2004. Since then, Team Brent has raised over $4.5 million.

And they’ve done it one lock — well, many — at a time.

(Photos/Denise Hotch and Dana McCreesh)

 

Bedford Musicians, Sean O’Loughlin: An Innovative Collaboration

At a time when arts education is under siege nationally — forget the frills! teach engineering and coding! — Westport is offering its students something else.

A chance to compose music with Sean O’Loughlin.

Sean O’Loughlin

The award-winning composer/arranger/conductor — he’s got over 200 compositions to his credit, and has collaborated with Adele, Josh Groban, Itzhak Perlman, Pentatonix, Kelly Clarkson and others — is in the midst of a unique project. His collaborators: 6th, 7th and 8th orchestra students at Bedford Middle School.

A Westport Public Schools Innovation Grant funds the effort. The grants give students and staff the chance to think outside the box, using creative new ideas.

The relationship began last year, when the 6th grade orchestra Skyped with O’Loughlin during rehearsals of one of his pieces.

Last summer, BMS music teachers Michele Anderson and Anthony Granata asked the composer to continue the connection. He was happy to oblige.

This past November, string students explored the music-writing process. They looked at tempo, mood, style, even titles for future pieces.

Next — via multiple Skype sessions — they offered O’Loughlin suggestions for key and time signatures, bowing styles and advanced techniques. Afterwards, students discussed and wrote about those interactions.

Michele Anderson rehearses her Bedford students. Composer Sean O’Loughlin watches in the background, via Skype.

Based on their input, O’Laughlin then created 3 unique pieces.

In early January, he sent his original compositions to the very excited Bedford students.

Since then — again by Skype — the youngsters and O’Loughlin rehearsed together. As they did, they asked questions and shared ideas.

On Monday, the musicians met O’Loughlin in real time. He came to Bedford from California, as a composer/conductor in residence. He rehearsed the students, and gave a presentation.

After an exciting day, all orchestra students gathered for a performance conducted by O’Loughlin. Music educators were invited to watch the creative process in action.

Sean O’Loughlin conducts the Bedford orchestra.

“Because these pieces are brand new, our BMS orchestra students were the first ones to interpret the music in their very own way,” Anderson notes.

“There was no recording to listen to. The music came from them.”

The process is working well. And in May, the middle schoolers will share their work with the public.

The prestigious Carl Fischer music company will publish the compositions. They’ll be available to schools across the globe.

Bedford’s spring concerts — when they’ll debut the O’Laughlin pieces — are set for May 1 (grade 6), May 3 (grade 7) and May 14 (grade 8). They begin at 7 p.m. in the school auditorium, and are free.

College Art, Summer Arts Camp Scholarships Available

Westport has long been known as an arts community.

The Westport Arts Center is doing its best to make sure that’s true for many years to come.

The organization will award a $5,000 scholarship to a graduating high school senior who plans to attend an arts-based college program this fall.

Scholarships are also available for the WAC’s Summer Camp program. The week-long workshops are for ages 4 to 7 (mornings), and ages 8 to 12 (afternoons). Themed week topics include painting, clay and 3D art.

The high school and summer camp scholarships are made possible through the Drew Friedman Community Arts Center Foundation. The Main Street landlord and founder of the Downtown Merchants Association left $500,000 in his will to  help fund that group.

Scholarships are based on financial need. To begin the application process, call Westport’s Human Services Department (203-341-1050). Questions? Email hsyouth@westportct.gov.

Having fun with masks, at Westport Arts Center’s summer camp.

Staples, Middle Schools Observe Walkout Day; Nursery School Celebrates Friendship

This morning at 10, students across the country walked out of class. They honored the 17 slain students and teachers of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and demanded sensible gun legislation.

At Staples High School, well over 1,000 teenagers poured into the fieldhouse. Working with administrators and police, student leaders planned — and pulled off — a powerful program.

Superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer praised the high schoolers for their organization, passion and sincerity.

A portion of the large crowd in the Staples High School fieldhouse. (Photo/Charlie Colasurdo, courtesy of Inklings)

Nationwide, educators working with younger students grappled with how to handle the day in an age-appropriate manner.

Bedford and Coleytown Middle Schools held their own assemblies.

Children at Green’s Farms Nursery School are young enough to be shielded from the horrors of school murders.

But they honored the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students at the same time — 10 a.m. — with a “friendship assembly.”

They observed a moment of silence, sang a friendship song and read a special story.

Then they created a friendship mural, to send to the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Greens Farms Nursery School students create a “friendship mural.”

Local Facebook Resource Sites Are Back

In 2009 — when Cyd Hamer was considering moving from Greenwich to Westport — she met Kami Evans.

Cyd had worked in marketing and sales. Kami’s business — and hobby — was connecting businesses and non-profits with community members.

They became great friends.

Cyd moved here. She got her real estate license. And she became a huge Westport booster.

Cyd Hamer

“It’s got great schools. There’s a cosmopolitan mix. New people are welcomed. The arts are great. The river is right downtown. The beach is a real gathering place. The Levitt brings people together too. It’s a town of action. Things get done,” Cyd says.

Kami, meanwhile, started several community Facebook pages. She became an “influence marketer.”

Two of her most popular pages were Westport and Fairfield Parents, and Fairfield County Friends and Family. Both invited readers to ask about — and recommend — the best local places to shop, upcoming events, and other resources.

But when Kami decided to archive the pages, readers felt lost.

Now Cyd’s resurrected them.

Once again, the 2 pages are buzzing. Readers recently posted:

  • I need a good nanny for my 10-month-old.
  • What’s the best place to park at LaGuardia?
  • Anyone know a nail salon that comes to your home?

Feel free to respond on Cyd’s Facebook pages.

Not here!