Category Archives: Entertainment

My True Moth Story

Jane Green is a wonderful author. She’s written 19 novels, has over 10 million books in print, and been published in more than 30 languages.

Our Westport neighbor is as gifted a storyteller in person as she is in print. For years she entertained book tour audiences with her tale of cooking dinner for Hugh Grant.

Jane Green

The Moth — the wildly successful radio show and podcast featuring real people telling true stories — heard about Green’s routine. They chatted a bit, before deciding it was not quite right for The Moth. They asked if she had another story to tell.

She did. It was about her middle-aged head being turned by the attention of a handsome younger man. First told at Cooper Union, “Greener Grass” (clever name!) was wildly successful. It’s been heard more than a million times.

Which got Green thinking: Why not bring The Moth to Westport?

A longtime supporter of the Westport Country Playhouse — and one-time board member — Green always looked for programs appealing to  young audiences. She’d helped bring a “Hamilton” singalong, David Bowie tribute and Lisa Lampanelli play to the fabled stage.

The Moth was a natural next project.

Which is why next Friday (January 25, 7:30 p.m.), 5 great storytellers will bring The Moth to the Westport Country Playhouse.

Well, 4 great storyteller. Plus me.

I can’t believe I’ll be standing up there with Green herself; Alistair Bane, a Shawnee who makes dance regalia, paints and rehabilitates feral reservation dogs; Henia Lewin, a Lithuanian instructor of Hebrew and Yiddish, and Trina Michelle Robinson of San Francisco, who explores memory through video, archival materials and text.

Not quite the Westport Country Playhouse. But close.

I tell stories every day on “06880.” I can type a tale in my sleep.

But performing as a Moth storyteller is waaaaay different.

I’ll join 4 experienced folks — including a woman who has done this before, and written 17 New York Times bestsellers.

And — oh yeah — the Moth Radio Hour is heard on more than 475 stations. The podcast is downloaded a million times each week.

But I’m ready. I might rock it — or bomb.

Either way, for the rest of my life I’ll have one more intriguing story to tell.

(For more information and tickets, click here.)

Fast Music

The recent death of Ed Baer — the Westport native, longtime resident and renowned, versatile radio DJ — got local folks thinking about the role of radio in our lives.

Inevitably, talk turned to Westport’s rich musical past.

Mike Fast has plenty of memories to share. Growing up in Bridgeport in the 1950s, he was one of many young boys fascinated by radio’s reach and power.

In 1957 he started hanging out at the WNAB studio downtown. Just 13 years old, he learned all he could about the business.

A couple of years later, at Harding High, he spent after-school hours at the station’s transmitter site. Mike had no formal training, but he learned how to build and design his own equipment.

Mike Fast, at WNAB’s Bridgeport studio.

At 17 — through his Westport friend Stuart Soroka — he discovered WMMM. The station’s studio was above Oscar’s, on Main Street. Mike’s interest in Westport was piqued.

“It seemed like everyone in town smiled, and wore new clothes,” he recalls.

In 1961 Mike, Stuart and a kid named Gordon Joseloff started a radio station at the YMCA. Their 1-watt transmitter — a couple of miles away, at Compo Beach — was hooked up to a phone line in their “studio.” It was an early “pirate” station — and it was called WWPT.

A July 1961 New York Times story on WWPT featured (from left) Gordon Joseloff, Jeff Berman and Stuart Soroka. As the caption notes, Mike Fast was missing from the photo.

Joseloff went on to become an international news correspondent with CBS — and later, first selectman of Westport. Today he runs WestportNow.com.

Mike’s Westport connection grew stronger. He, Dennis Jackson and Cliff Mills bought a turntable, and ran record hops at the new Staples High School on North Avenue.

A poster for dances at Staples High School. Perhaps Mike Fast’s shows cost a dime more than Dennis Jackson’s because they were 2 hours longer.

In 1962 Ed Baer — whom Mike had befriended back at WNAB — was working weekends at New York’s WMCA. Mike had very little experience, but when Ed set him up with an interview there, Mike talked his way into a job. (The key: Both his mother, and the mother of the engineer interviewing him, were from County Cork.)

Mike worked other jobs too: doing sound at the United Nations; at the National Radio and TV Center; at WHN. A stint at 1010 WINS lasted “about 10 minutes.” He played the wrong record, and legendary DJ Murray the K threw him out.

In 1965 the WMMM engineer retired. Mike talked his way into that job too, even though he knew little about transmitting equipment.

Around that time, Staples began bringing live bands to the auditorium. The school had no PA system, so the ever-resourceful Mike supplied groups like Cream and the Rascals with his own.

Ginger Baker, on the drums at Staples High School. (Photo copyright Jeremy Ross)

But Mike’s real love was live recording. He worked often with the Westport Country Playhouse, and the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford (which burned to the ground last Sunday).

After doing sound on the road with Edgar Winter’s White Trash, Mike produced and managed his own bands. They were booked all over New England.

But those gigs did not pay well. Mike got back into radio. He moved around: Atlanta, Los Angeles, Portland.

He returned east — and went back to WMMM. He was there when Donald J. Flamm bought the station, and turned it into WDJF (named for his own initials).

When the FCC changed rules — eliminating the need for radio stations to hire 1st-class engineers — Mike was fired. The same day, his wife told him she was pregnant with their first child.

But he always found work. Mike has spent his entire life in radio and sound.

Mike Fast

“It’s a different world today,” he notes. “Radio stations are not the creative factories they used to be. I consider myself lucky to have been there, in the golden age.”

WMCA, WINS, WMMM — none of them are the stations they once were. But Mike Fast worked at all of them.

And — thanks to Westporters like Ed Baer, Gordon Joseloff and Murray the K — he’s had a very memorable career.

(Hat tip: Dennis Jackson)

Staples Players’ Marvel-ous Pilot

In 2017, Staples Players produced “Newsies.” It was a pilot for Disney. The mammoth entertainment company wanted to see what a high school production of that long-running Broadway show would look like.

They liked what they saw. (As did night after night of sold-out audiences, of course.)

Disney executives were so pleased, in fact, that they approached Players directors David Roth and Kerry Long with another idea:

How about piloting 2 new plays? Both are part of a new collaborative series between Disney and Marvel Comics. Written by established playwrights, they use Marvel characters as teenagers dealing with typical teen problems.

Which is how this weekend, the Staples High School Black Box theater is the site of world premieres of 2 very exciting shows.

(From left): Erin Lynch, Macey Lavoie, Derrick Adelkopf, Sammy Gutharz and Tobey Patton in “Peter Parker and the Kid Who Flew.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

“Peter Parker and the Kid Who Flew” is about teenage suicide. “Hammered” — by Tony Award-winning actor Christian Borle — focuses on sibling rivalry and competition.

The plays are a stretch for Roth and Kerry — and their young actors.

The timing did not fit in with Players’ traditional schedule. So Roth is using the pilot as a project for his Theater 3 (advanced acting) class.

Disney and Marvel representatives — and possibly a playwright or two — will be on hand. They want to see what works well (and what doesn’t).

Daisy Brackett and Josh Havemann in “Hammered.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

“We usually do plays that have been produced many times,” Roth notes. “It’s interesting — for me, Kerry and the kids — to get them while they’re still going through the process of being written.”

After beginning the project, Roth received a completely revised version of the “Peter Parker” script. A number of changes had been made, on the advice of experts on teen suicide.

The 2 pilots are full productions, complete with lighting, sound and costumes. They’ll be presented this Friday (January 11, 7:30 p.m.) and Saturday (January 12, 3 and 7:30 p.m.). Click here for tickets, and more information.

(NOTE: No children under 10 will be admitted. Parental guidance is suggested; material is appropriate for middle school audiences and above.)

Remembering Mimi Levitt

Annemarie “Mimi” Gratzinger Levitt — patron of the arts and historic preservation, longtime Westporter, and the namesake (with her husband) of the pavilion and organization that has provided free summer entertainment here for over 40 years — died of natural causes earlier today, in New York. She was 97.

Mimi Levitt

The Levitt Foundation sends this obituary:

Known for her intelligence, grace and hands-on approach to philanthropy and activism, Mimi believed in the arts as a source for positive social change and left a lasting legacy of generosity and service to the causes she supported.

Born in Vienna, Austria, Mimi’s childhood was filled with opera and other musical experiences. She emigrated to the United States with her mother at the outbreak of World War II, and soon after attended Pomona College in California. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in French iterature.

Fluent in 5 languages, she was a translator at the Nuremberg trials. I

n 1947, she became senior assistant to Alfred Barr, Jr., the first director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She met rags-to-riches clothier and The Custom Shop founder Mortimer Levitt (1907-2005) at a Manhattan art gallery opening, where they had a spirited debate over a painting (Mimi favored abstraction; Mortimer preferred realism).

Following a brief courtship, they married on June 18, 1948, and together became philanthropists supporting youth music programs, performing arts organizations and educational institutions. Mimi and Mortimer were known for nurturing the careers of aspiring young musicians by hosting salons at their Manhattan brownstone.

An imaginative and meticulous hostess, Mimi threw memorable charity events and family celebrations. She often opened her home to artists and musicians.

In 1963, Mimi and her husband established the Mortimer Levitt Foundation (renamed the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation in 2012 in honor of her contributions). The main focus is to empower communities nationwide to transform underused public spaces into welcoming destinations through the power of free, live music. It now supports free outdoor concerts in 26 towns and cities.

The first Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts opened in Westport in 1974, the result of a community-driven effort to create an outdoor music venue as a community gathering place in the heart of town. As summer residents of Westport, the Levitts gave seminal support to the project and became the campaign’s largest private contributors.

Mimi served on the Levitt Pavilion board for decades, helping the nonprofit flourish and become a community treasure. Following her husband’s passing in 2005, Mimi became president of the Levitt Foundation and supported the growth of the Levitt program nationwide. In 2011, she was honored at the Westport Arts Awards as a “Champion of the Arts.”

Well into her 90s, she attended many Levitt Pavilion events.

The Levitt Pavilion is a Westport treasure. (Drone photo/Dave Curtis, HDFA Photography.com)

An active and loyal benefactor of the Bard Music Festival, Mimi served on the board of directors for 15 years (1998-2013), and for many years underwrote the Festival’s annual opening night dinner. An avid lover of opera, she supported opera workshops in the Conservatory’s Vocal Arts Program directed by Dawn Upshaw and helped commission one act operas. She also funded scholarships for Conservatory students and started the first endowment for the Bard

Music Festival in 2005.

Mimi was also passionately committed to historic preservation. In the 1970s she spearheaded the Neighborhood Association to Preserve Fifth Avenue Houses that successfully championed the creation of the Metropolitan Museum Historic District in New York City, designated in 1977. Her involvement grew from concern about protecting the distinctive character of her Upper East Side neighborhood, which in the 1970s was undergoing significant change.

She was one of the earliest supporters of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and served on its board from 1978-2014. Mimi was honored by the Conservancy in 2011 for her 30 years of service.

Mimi Levitt

In 1995, Mimi and her husband donated 564 acres of wildlife habitat near Half Moon Bay to the Peninsula Open Space Trust in Marin County, California. The second largest gift in the county’s history, it provides an invaluable boost to ecological conservation efforts.

Together with Mortimer, Mimi also supported the Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Mercy College, Museum of Television and Radio, New York City Opera, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park Conservancy, The Joyce Theater, New Victory Theater, Lincoln Center’s Film Society, Hunter College, Music Center of Los Angeles, School of American Ballet, American Red Cross, and Young Concert Artists. She was a member of the Mayor’s Commission on Drug Addiction under Mayor Koch, a former trustee of the Town School in Manhattan and the Branch Libraries of the New York Public Library, and a children’s literacy volunteer in Harlem.

A beloved mother, aunt, step-grandmother and step-great-grandmother, Mimi cherished her family and their time together. She is survived by her daughter, Elizabeth “Liz” Levitt Hirsch of Los Angeles,who now serves as board president of the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation, and her son, Peter Levitt of New York, who also serves on the Levitt Foundation board.

A private funeral will be followed by a public memorial service, to take place at a later date. For details regarding the public memorial, please email memorial@levitt.org. In lieu of flowers, donations in honor of Mimi may be made to the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation.

Levitt Pavilion, before the crowds (Photo/Katherine Bruan)

“Sing Daily!” Again — All Year Long

A year ago New Year’s Day, Suzanne Sherman Propp embarked on an ambitious project.

The Greens Farms Elementary School music teacher started “Sing Daily!” Each morning she posted a song on her website — and emailed it to subscribers.

Every genre was represented. Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Pete Townshend, the Indigo Girls, Billy Joel, Joan Baez — and a few of Suzanne’s original tunes too.

It was a labor of love for the 1981 Staples graduate and former Orphenian who went on to earn an MBA at Columbia University, then worked in the music industry for more than a decade before beginning her second career in education.

But “Sing Daily!” is a labor. Suzanne spends 3 to 4 hours every Sunday picking songs for the coming week. She strives for a blend of styles. She wants to set just the right mood. And of course she celebrates holidays, birthdays, anniversaries — you know, the soundtrack of our lives.

Suzanne Sherman Propp

(Because she also posts lyrics to each song, she’s meticulous about finding them online without typos. “I was an English major,” she explains.)

Suzanne ended the year with over 1,600 subscribers (and many more who are entertained on social media without subscribing.)

Which has motivated her to keep “Sing Daily!” going for Year Two.

When she began a year ago, Suzanne’s goal was to have “enough positivity and feedback to make a few people happy.”

Some days, no one comments.

But most days at least one person reacts. Just one “thank you” or email saying “my dad sang that song all the time!” makes her work “totally worth it,” Suzanne says.

The clever “Sing Daily!” logo was created by Nan Richards.

She also hears nearly every morning from her mother. The indefatigable 79-year-old Ruth Sherman will text “I love Doris Day!” or say something pithy about a lyric.

A BBC producer in London sends frequent comments too. With the time difference, they’re the first things Suzanne wakes up to.

Once, a friend of hers and a friend of her husband Peter Propp randomly met in South Carolina. A song came up in conversation. Both realized they heard it through “Sing Daily!”

That feedback keeps Suzanne going. So do notes from former Staples teachers Dave Harrison and Gerry Kuroghlian, and principal Kaye May — all of whom were instrumental in helping her switch careers.

“Sing Daily!” has succeeded without any kind of business plan. Suzanne does not sign anyone up. They find her organically — often through word (or song) of mouth.

Speaking of no business plan: Suzanne not only does not make money from her project, she actually loses it. She pays web hosting fees and subscriber software herself.

As 2018 ended, Suzanne was not sure whether to continue the project. The 3 to 4 hours she spends every Sunday are precious time away from her family.

Suzanne Sherman Propp and Peter Propp, ukeleles in hand.

But her husband encouraged her to keep going. “You love it!” he pointed out.

So “Sing Daily!” will entertain subscribers — and other music-lovers — for another year.

It will surprise them too.

As it did me.

On my birthday, Suzanne chose a song with a soccer theme. It was a wonderful, amazing gift.

The same one she delivers to all of us every morning, 365 more days this year.

Click here for the “Sing Daily!” website. You can also follow on Facebook, Instagram (@singdailydotcom) and Twitter (@singdailydotcom). 

(“Waka Waka” by Shakira was the official song of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. This was Suzanne Sherman Propp’s Song of the Day on my birthday.)

Remembering Ed Baer

Ed Baer was one of the real good guys.

That’s not an opinion. It’s a fact.

Ed Baer

The VERY long-time Westporter was one of WMCA’s “Good Guys” — the name the station gave to its 1960s-era disc jockeys. At a time when AM radio ruled the world — or at least dictated teenagers’ musical tastes, which was basically the same thing — the New York station and its rival, WABC, wielded tremendous power.

But Ed Baer’s voice was warm, intimate and very, very real.

Ed — a Staples High School graduate who lived nearly all the rest of his life in Westport — had a long and varied broadcasting career. He worked at radio giants like WCBS-FM and WHN — and on Sirius Satellite Radio, where he hosted a weekday morning show featuring 1950s and ’60s music, and a weekend one with country songs.

Ed Baer died yesterday, from complications of pneumonia. He was 82 years old.

In June of 2016, I profiled Ed for “06880.” Here is that story.

————————————————–

If you grew up in the tri-state area in the 1960s, you remember the name. Ed Baer was a WMCA disc jockey. He and his colleagues — Joe O’Brien, Harry Harrison, Dan Daniel, B. Mitchel Reid, Gary Stevens and the rest — were the Good Guys.

They battled WABC (the All-Americans: Dan Ingram, Cousin Brucie…) for radio supremacy. It was a legendary time in music history, and Ed Baer was part of some of its most exciting moments.

WMCA was a New York station, but he grew up in Westport — and lived there when he was a Good Guy.

Ed lived here after WMCA went all-talk too. He then worked at WHN, WHUD, WYNY, WCBS-FM. He broadcast 2 shows — 7 days a week — from his home studio, for Sirius.

He’s still here. Still as sharp and smooth-talking as ever. And still active.

Ed’s latest project takes shape in that home studio. With his 3 teenage grandsons — Kyle, Ryan and Trevor Baer — he’s selling his entire record collection. There are astonishing LPs, 45s and 78s, with amazing stories.

Trevor, Kyle and Ryan Baer with their grandparents, Ed and Pearl Baer.

Trevor, Ryan and Kyle Baer with their grandparents, Ed and Pearl Baer. A photo of Ed — from his WMCA days — hangs on the wall.

But before you hear them, here’s the back story.

Ed’s parents moved here in 1945, when he was 9. His dad opened a candy store and soda fountain at Desi’s Corner, across from the train station. Ed worked there before graduating from Staples High School in 1954. CBS newsman Douglas Edwards — a Weston resident — was a regular customer.

Ed wandered into radio broadcasting at the University of Connecticut. When his father had a heart attack, Ed transferred to the University of Bridgeport. Westporter Win Elliot — the New York Rangers announcer — helped him grow.

When he served at Ft. Dix, his radio background helped. A sergeant who liked music allowed Ed to travel home Thursdays through Sundays. He brought the latest records back to base, thanks to a friend who worked at Columbia Records’ pressing plant in Bridgeport.

After discharge, Ed worked at 50,000-watt KRAK in Sacramento. He returned home after his father died. Dan Ingram — his former WICC colleague now at WABC — helped “Running Bear” land a job at rival WMCA.

The rest is history. Ed was there as the station moved from Paul Anka and Bobby Darin to the Beatles, Stones, Supremes and Doors.

They were wonderful years. When the Beatles played Shea Stadium, Ed sat in the broadcast booth and played the same records the Fab Four were singing. It sounded better than the concert. He’s got the only existing reel-to-reel (now CD) copy of that night.

Ed Baer still has this 78 from 1952. It's the Staples Band -- directed by John Ohanian -- playing "American Folk Rhapsody."

Ed Baer still has this 78 from 1952. It’s the Staples Band — directed by John Ohanian — playing “American Folk Rhapsody.”

One day, he saw John Ohanian at Oscar’s. Westport’s legendary music director had taught Ed clarinet in 4th grade (he later switched to tenor sax).

“I hear you’re playing all that rock ‘n’ roll,” Ohanian said. “I thought I taught you better than that.”

He paused. “But I hear the money’s great.”

There’s so much more to Ed’s career: The concerts he hosted. Calling OTB races, and picking horses (very well) for the New York Post. Those Sirius shows (5 days of ’50s and ’60s music; weekends were country).

Which brings us back to Ed Baer’s vinyl collection.

He has no idea how many records he’s amassed, in his long career. His grandson Kyle — a civil engineering major at Duke University — estimates 10,000.

They line the walls of the studio. There are never-opened LPs by Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. Bing Crosby singing Stephen Foster. Show tunes. Comedy. Many are rare DJ promotional editions, or have never been opened.

And so many come from the WMCA days.

Ryan — who graduated the other day from Staples, and heads to the University of Southern California this fall — casually picks up a Beatles record.

Ed Baer's unpeeled copy of "Yesterday and Today." The letters "PROM" -- for "promotional copy" -- can be seen in the upper right corner.

Ed Baer’s unpeeled copy of “Yesterday and Today.” The letters “PROM” — for “promotional copy” — can be seen in the upper right corner.

It’s “Yesterday and Today.” The original cover showed the band dressed in butcher smocks, surrounded by decapitated baby dolls and pieces of meat. After protests, it was quickly recalled. A simpler photo — the Beatles in steamer trunks — was pasted over it.

Most owners peeled off the top, ruining both covers. Ed has not 1, but 2, of the very rare, unpeeled versions.

Kyle, Ryan and Trevor (a rising junior at Hamden Hall) are hearing stories like this as they help their grandfather sell his collection. They’re learning music history (who was Harry Belafonte? the Four Seasons? What was Motown?) and radio history too (what was the deal with transistor radios?).

The teenagers always knew their grandfather was a good guy.

Now they understand exactly how much of a Good Guy he really was.

Ed Baer, relaxing in his home studio. A WMCA poster hangs on the wall. A few of his many records line the shelves.

Ed Baer, relaxing in his home studio. A WMCA poster hangs on the wall. A few of his many records line the shelves.

For The Tashian Family, The Hits Just Keep On Comin’

Barry Tashian is a legendary name in Westport music history.

One of the founders of the Remains — who, with fellow Staples grad Bill Briggs, toured with the Beatles in 1966, starred on “Ed Sullivan” and “Hullabaloo,” and were, in the words of Jon Landau, “how you told a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll” — he went on to play guitar with the Flying Burrito Brothers and Emmy Lou Harris.

A longtime resident of Nashville, he carved out a rewarding performing, recording and songwriting career alongside his wife, former Staples classmate Holly Kimball. She’s got a beautiful voice. Together, they’ve performed all over the world.

Now their son Daniel continues the Tashian tradition.

Daniel Tashian

In 2018 he produced “Golden Hour” for Kacey Musgraves. Daniel also wrote 7 of the tracks, played multiple instruments and provided background vocals. Both the Country Music Association and Apple Music named it Album of the Year.

It’s been nominated for 4 Grammy Awards. Winners will be announced next month.

But one thing is certain: Like his dad and mom, no matter what genre, Daniel Tashian rocks.

First Night Dims — But First Light Shines On New Year’s Eve

Last month, First Night organizers announced the cancellation of this year’s New Year’s Eve festivities. Economics, changing entertainment options and an aging board all contributed to the demise of the 20+-year tradition.

But not everyone got the word.

On Saturday, December 15, the  Westport Historical Society held its final “Holly Day” celebration. As kids lined up for horse-drawn carriage rides and Santa’s lap, parents asked if they could buy First Night buttons. For years, the WHS had sold them there.

Horse-drawn sleighs were a feature of First Night. They’ll be back at First Light.

Giving the news that First Night was over saddened WHS executive director Ramin Ganeshram and her staff. “It was a beloved event,” she says. “Organizers made sure there was something for everything.”

That night, she asked WHS employees whether the Avery Place institution should offer a New Year’s Eve celebration for the town.

“NO! ” replied the staff, exhausted after weeks of their own holiday events.

But on Monday morning, director of operations Alicia D’Anna told Ganeshram she had a change of heart. She and her husband had talked. They wanted the WHS to do something after all.

In a local version of a Christmas miracle, the Historical Society took just a few days to develop Westport’s newest tradition: First Light.

It includes many favorite First Night activities, including performances, horse-drawn carriage rides, face painting, a digital caricaturist, a henna artist, and food trucks.

Plus a big bonfire right next door to WHS, on Veterans Green.

The WHS crew worked like Santa’s elves to get everything in place. They had help from many folks at Town Hall. Ganeshram singled out First Selectman Jim Marpe, for going “above and beyond” to make things happen.

TD Bank stepped up big time too, offering a venue for events that don’t fit in the cute but cramped WHS Wheeler House headquarters.

So First Night is gone. But First Light — at first just a flicker — has now grown into a full New Year’s Eve flame.

(First Light is set for 4 to 9 p.m. on Monday, December 31. Buttons are $10 online, $15 at the door; children under 2 go free. Click here to purchase buttons, and for more information.)

Plastic Fantastic Concert

From a young age, Andrew Colabella hated plastic straws. He couldn’t understand how something that was used for just a few seconds could be so quickly tossed aside, then lie around on land or in our oceans for centuries.

He never used a straw. As much as possible, he tried to avoid all forms of plastic. He used metal forks and ate off porcelain plates. But we live in a plastic, throwaway society. The number of plastic cups used and discarded at bars floored him. He thought he was the only one who noticed.

Colabella is now an RTM member. At last he can do something about plastic that goes beyond changing his own habits.

The District 4 representative has already convinced 38 local restaurants and franchises to find biodegradable alternatives to single-uise products.

Now he’s introduced an ordinance to ban plastic straws in Westport. (There are exemptions for disabled people, who need them because other alternatives are not strong enough.) The proposal is making its way through the RTM Environment Committee.

But this is not some quixotic quest. Colabella has partnered with 4 other longtime Westporters, in what they call the Plastic Pollution Project.

Wendy Goldwyn Batteau was inspired by her first boss — the editor of Silent Spring — to co-found Sierra Club Books. She’s worked for decades as an award-winning editor/executive at major publishers, collaborating with Rolling Stone, the New Yorker, Audubon and the Ocean Alliance.

Liz Milwe — in “real life,” a choreographer and dance filmmaker — has a long history of environmental activism. Ten years ago as an RTM member, she helped Westport become the first town east of the Mississippi to ban plastic bags. She’s won awards from the US Environmental Agency and Westport’s Green Task Force.

Ashley Moran is a Saugatuck Elementary School teacher. A founding member of Nurturing Minds in Africa — a non-profit helping educate poor and at-risk girls in Tanzania — she believe that education leads to meaningful change.

Greg Naughton — a filmmaker and producer — grew up in Westport and Weston, in a family of performers. His 9-year-old son is in Moran’s class. Excited by what he learned about plastic straws, composting and the environment, the boy got his dad involved in the cause.

Naughton is also a founding member of the Sweet Remains. The indie folk-rock band has over 35 million Spotify streams.

Which is why and how the Sweet Remains are playing a benefit concert, to raise funds for the Plastic Pollution Project.

The event is Friday, January 4 (Fairfield Theatre Company, 7 p.m.). It starts with a reception in the lobby/art gallery, featuring presentations about plastic problems from P3 members, Westport students and others. The Sweet Remains and P3 founders will be on hand to chat.

It should be a “sweet” concert. And one that helps ensure — in a small but meaningful way — that plastic no longer “remains” on our land and in our seas, centuries after all the rest of us are gone.

(For tickets and more information on the concert, click here.) 

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.