Westport is full of interesting people. Every day since 2009, I’ve told their stories in “06880.”
But hey, this is 2021. It’s time to spread my wings. Let’s add some audio and video to those stories!
Thanks to a partnership with the Westport Library — and their state-of-the-art Verso Studios — today we launch “06880: The Podcast.”
Every other Monday, we’ll release a new casual conversation with one of the many people who make this such an intriguing town. We’ll talk about what got (and kept) them here; what they love (and don’t like) about this place; what they do, how they do it, and what it all means here and in the world.
My first guest is Tom Scarice. Nine months into his gig as superintendent of schools, he chats candidly, passionately (and with humor) about his decision to sign on in the middle of a pandemic; his goals for the district; students and staff today, and how education will change in the future.
I’ll post a new podcast every other Monday, at noon. It will be available simultaneously on the Westport Library website.
Watch or listen at your leisure. Enjoy “06880: The Podcast” — the newest way in which “Westport meets the world.”
Jamie Mann is drawing praise — and viewers — for his role in “Country Comfort,” the Netflix series about a singing family and their nanny.
But he’s not the only Staples High School student in a TV show this spring.
In fact, he’s not the only one in the same family.
Jamie’s freshman brother Cameron’s show “Mare of Easttown” debuts tonight (Sunday, April 18, 10 p.m.) on HBO. It will stream on HBO Max.
The 7-episode series stars Kate Winslet as Mare Sheehan, a detective trying to keep her life from unraveling as she investigates a murder in her small Pennsylvania town.
Cameron plays Ryan Ross, the son of Mare’s best friend. More than a whodunit, the show digs into the complex relationships of a close-knit community, with themes of suffering and redemption.
USA Today says, “Its characters are deeply real and expertly drawn, its sense of place firmly established and specific, and its clues genuinely shocking. It’s intense and satisfying to watch, going to places your average murder mystery wouldn’t aspire.’
Cameron auditioned for the role in September 2019. After sending a tape, he earned a callback with the director and writer in Philadelphia. A final callback followed in New York.
Filming began outside Philadelphia in November 2019 — when Cameron was still at Bedford Middle School — but was shut down by COVID 4 months later. It picked up again in October, and was completed in December.
“Mare” was “cross-boarded” — shot out of order — which complicated things, as the children aged during the long pandemic pause.
One of Cameron’s big scenes in episode 1 — not shot before the shutdown — was cut, probably because it would be too hard to match to the preceding, already-filmed scene when he was a year younger.
His filming took 22 days. But they were spread out, allowing him to continue at both Bedford and Staples. On the days he did work, he was required to spend 3 hours with an on-set teacher.
Cameron Mann took time off from filming to check out the Liberty Bell,
Cameron says that working with Winslet was “amazing. She is very focused and thoughtful about her work. She took the time to meet me, and talk to me about being part of such an intense project. She is super-passionate about acting, and so good.”
This is not the young actor’s first TV show. Cameron has a recurring role on ABC’s “For Life.” He’s been a guest star on “Daredevil” (Netflix) and “New Amsterdam” (NBC), and played former Westporter Melissa Joan Hart’s son in the Lifetime movie “A Very Merry Toy Store.”
And with all that, he found time this winter to play on Staples’ freshman basketball team. Just call the “Mare of Easttown” actor “Cameron of Westport.”
(Meanwhile, Netflix is calculating views, to determine if there will be a 2nd season for Jamie Mann’s “Country Comfort.” All 10 episodes are available now.)
It’s April break for the Westport schools. And “official” opening week for the Remarkable Theater.
The Imperial Avenue parking lot lineup is a great one.
Today (Tuesday, April 13, 7:30 p.m.): “Minari.” Nominated for 6 Oscars this year, including Best Picture. A Korean-American family moves to an Arkansas farm in search of its own American dream.
Prior to the movie, a documentary short featuring Westport’s Asian-American rally organizers will be shown. It’s produced by 4th Row Films, in association with the Remarkable Theater.
In it, local residents share their experiences growing up, their journey to Westport. and how they’re raising awareness of rising Asian hate by forming a group (they’re on Instagram: @AAPIWestport or email: AAPIWestport@gmail.com).
Official opening night is Friday, April 16 (7:30 p.m.): “The Goonies.” In this 1985 adventure comedy, a bunch of kids trying to save their homes from foreclosure embark on a treasure hunt adventure.
Saturday, April 17 (7:45 p.m.): “Mamma Mia!” ABBA stars in the best sing-along movie ever made.
Wednesday, April 21: “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.” One-time local residents Paul Newman and Robert Redford star in this 1969 classic.
The night includes 4 short non-fiction documentary films before the feature:
“Gatsby in Westport“: Deej Webb helps convince you that Westport is the town that inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby.”
“Paul Shows Bob the New Playhouse”: A scene from the upcoming documentary about the Westport Country Playhouse.“
“A Townie Breakfast Sandwich”: A tour of Westport’s breakfast sandwiches, including Calise’s, Village Bagels and Coffee An’.
“Westport This Used to Be”: featuring Jill Gault and Antonio Antonelli.
Click here for tickets. Not all shows may be available yet. The Imperial Avenue lot opens an hour before showtime, for tailgating.
A couple of local guys starred in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
Starting May 2, children younger than 2 years old are welcome back to the Westport Library. A press release says, “We gladly welcome them to borrow books, audiobooks, CDs, and magazines.” I’m guessing most of that borrowing will be done for them, by somewhat older people.
The Westport Library welcomes children under 2 soon. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)
Amy Oestreicher — a multi-talented artist, performer and writer, who battled unfathomable medical issues with courage, grace resilience and humor — died last week. Her second book, “Creativity and Gratitude” was published a few days earlier. She was just a few days shy of her 34th birthday.
Amy almost died 16 years ago, when she was 18. Her life since then was remarkable — and remarkably inspiring. Here is a story I wrote in 2013.
After years of acting and singing locally, and auditioning in New York, she had just been accepted into the very prestigious University of Michigan musical theater program.
Suddenly, Amy suffered a major blood clot. Her stomach exploded. She lapsed into a coma.
During the 1st week of that nightmare, she had 10 surgeries. Doctors removed her entire stomach. Her coma continued for months.
Through her long siege in ICU, “my father saved my life,” Amy says. (He’s Westport dermatologist Dr. Mark Oestreicher.) Her 3 brothers were constantly by her side. (The experience helped one decide to be a doctor. Jeff is now in his 1st year of residency — as a pediatric gastroenterologist.)
For nearly 3 years, she could not eat or drink. Not one morsel of food, or a drop of water.
The Oestreichers moved to a smaller house near Compo Beach, where they could better help Amy.
She was hungry and thirsty. But as soon as she realized what lay ahead, Amy vowed not to be a permanent patient. “I wanted to live life,” she says.
Curtain Call in Stamford had a casting call for “Oliver!” “I couldn’t eat or drink, and I was as skinny as a pole,” Amy recalls. “I had tubes and bags all over. I could hardly walk.”
But she got the female lead — Nancy — and managed to do the show. By the end of the run, she was drinking 2 ounces of water a day.
The next summer, she landed a role in Staples Players‘ production of “Cats.”
“I was still starving,” Amy says. “I just needed to be around people. Doing that show was great.”
During her long recovery, Amy Oestreicher also painted — in big, bold colors.
Surgeries continued. One took 19 hours, using 3 shifts of doctors and nurses. The outcome was not as good as expected.
Finally, though — 27 surgeries later — Amy can eat and drink.
She’s also — at 26 years old — just been accepted at Hampshire College.
Before she goes away to school, though, she’s working on another project. “Gutless & Grateful: A Musical Feast” is Amy’s 1-woman show.
First performed last October at the Triad in New York, it’s been called “a moving personal history told with grace and humor, and garnished with great songs sung from the heart.”
Amy Oestreicher onstage.
“Doing that show meant so much to me,” Amy says. “I had been so isolated. For 7 years I talked only to my parents and my doctors. Then to perform, and have people I don’t know hug me! It was so rewarding to share my story, and know it inspires people.”
Written by Amy and Jerold Goldstein — based on hundreds of pages of her journals — it returns to Bridgeport’s Bijou Theatre June 1 and 2. On June 16 and 24, Amy takes her show back to the Triad, and on July 16 to Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
“I’ve always written and performed,” Amy says. “So many things have happened to me over the years. I just wanted to tell my story.”
You and I may not call the past 8 years of Amy’s life “funny.” The fact that she does — and sings and talks about it with such intimacy, gusto and pride — is reason enough to put “Gutless & Grateful” on your calendar now.
In the years since that 2013 story was posted, Amy offered mixed media “Show Me Your HeART” workshops (click here for that story), and wrote 2 books. Her first was “My Beautiful Detour: An Unthinkable Journey from Gutless to Grateful.” Click here for those links.
Speaking of the environment: The Parks and Recreation Department sponsors “Clean Up Westport Day” on Saturday, April 24.
Over 50 local organizations and groups will help. Individuals and families can show up at the Parks Advisory Committee’s sites — Riverside and Grace Salmon Parks — or any street or public space.
Formal groups should call Parks & Rec (203-341-5091) before April 16, to let them know the time and location of their cleanup efforts. After the event, the town will collect bagged garbage and debris from each site.
Free trash bags are available outside the Parks & Rec office (opposite the Longshore golf course pro shop) between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on April 16 b8:30am and 4:30pm. Bags are limited to 6 per organization, and must be requested by April 15.
“Westport’s Suffragists — Our Neighbors, Our Crusaders: The 19th Amendment Turns 100” was the Westport Library’s best exhibit that no one visited.
Well, hardly anyone. It opened last year just days before COVID shut the town down.
But the Connecticut League of History Organizations knows about it. And they’ve awarded the Library an Award of Merit for it.
The awards committee was impressed with “how the exhibit fit nicely into a larger series of public programs and showcased the lives of local women in their fight for suffrage.”
Fortunately, the exhibit is online (click here). It explores the careers and political triumphs of suffragists who made Westport home. It also honors over 50 Westport women — many forgotten — who left their parlors for the streets, to fight for voting rights.
The Remarkable Theater drive-in is back in action. Last year , the Imperial Avenue lot also served as the stage for the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce’s Supper & Soul Series. Next month, they return there.
Dark Desert Eagles — an Eagles tribute band — have been booked for Friday and Saturday nights, May 14 and 15. The Chamber urges attendees to get takeout from local restaurants and markets, and bring it to the concert.
Tickets for each show are $150 per car (5 person maximum). They go on sale this Monday, April 12 (10 a.m.). Click here to order.
Not everyone has a mattress to get rid of. But you should still head to Earthplace that day.
Particularly if you’d like free compost. Bring a bucket, and Sustainable Westport will fill it. It’s open to all Westport residents, as a thank-you for making the food scrap recycling program such a success.
Sustainable Westport is collecting nearly 10 tons of food scraps a month from the transfer station (a free service for residents), and from the 2 licensed food scrap haulers (a paid curbside service). Over 500 Westport families are composting in some form.
Intrigued, but don’t know how to begin? Volunteers will sell food scrap recycling starter kits (with a countertop pail, compostable gags and 6-gallon transportation container) during the May 8 Earthplace event. (They’re free for income-eligible folks).
If you’re not into mattress recycling or food scraps — come anyway. It’s a family-friendly outing, with guided trail tours and animal feeding.
PS: Bring natural corks, used magic markers, mascara wands and batteries for recycling.
For more information click here, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
And finally … DMX — described by the New York Times as a “snarling yet soulful rapper … who had a string of No. 1 albums in the late 1990s and early 2000s but whose personal struggles eventually rivaled his lyrical prowess,” died yesterday in White Plains. He was 50.
In the midst of a grim pandemic, a group of Westporters had a cool (and crazy) idea: a drive-in theater.
They got permission. They got the screen. They got going.
The original permit was for 4 shows. The project was a smash. The Remarkable Theater ended the season with 51 screenings.
Beyond movies, the Imperial Avenue parking lot was the site for nearly 2 dozen special events: fundraisers for non-profits, Supper & Soul concerts, and the showing of a Staples High School boys soccer game.
The Remarkable Theater was a pop-up hit last summer.
This Thursday (April 8), the Remarkable Theater returns for its 2nd year.
That’s not really remarkable. In just a few months, the drive-in became a cherished Westport tradition.
Thursday’s movie is “Vacation.” It’s followed on Friday (April 9) by “Ratatouille,” and Saturday by “When Harry Met Sally.”
Tuesday (April 13) brings “Minari,” a new release about a Korean-American family that moves to Arkansas in search of the American dream. It’s preceded by a 5-minute video, produced by Remarkable, in which Westport Asian-Americans discuss recent hate crimes.
Those 4 films are just sneak previews –“like spring training in baseball, or a restaurant soft opening,” says Remarkable artistic director Doug Tirola.
Official opening night (Thursday, April 15) kicks off with “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” featuring beloved Westporter Paul Newman. Upcoming films will be announced April 14.
The big screen returns soon. (Drone photo/John Videler for Videler Photography)
The 2021 season runs through Halloween. It will be remarkable in many ways. Low-key — but very important — is the theater’s mission of hiring people with disabilities. In fact, they’re the only paid employees. It’s a win-win-win: for them, the theater, and Westport. (For information on employent, email email@example.com.)
Movies begin at 7:30 p.m. The lot opens for tailgating at 6:30. There is no concession stand, so Tirola suggests picking up food from local restaurants or markets.
Tickets are $50 per car. Click here to purchase (they go fast!).
Don’t forget lawn chairs, so you can sit — socially distanced and masked — at this remarkable Westport venue.
BONUS REEL 1: The Remarkable Theater needs volunteers to help with check-in and parking. Families, friend groups, organizations, sports teams — all are welcome. You can watch the movie for free — and your name is on the screen. To help, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
BONUS REEL 2: The Remarkable Theater is always looking for interns. This year they’ll help produce the short content that’s shown before every movie. Interested? email email@example.com.
BONUS REEL 3: The non-profit theater relies on ticket sales and donations. More funding is needed to make this year a reality. If you give $5,000 or more, your name will appear on the screen before every movie. To contribute, click here. Or donate via Venmo: @BeRemarkable.
BONUS REEL 4: Click below, for an actual “reel”: the trailer for the Remarkable Theater’s 2021 season. It’s a minute of pure fun!
Itzhak Perlman is a violin virtuoso. On May 13, he adds “virtual” to that list.
The 16-time Grammy Award winner — and Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree — is the Westport Library’s “Booked for the Evening” guest.
Though he won’t appear in person, up to 100 people will be safely spaced in the Trefz Forum to watch Perlman on the state-of-the-art screen. Everyone else with a ticket will watch on devices.
Those tickets — both “live” and online — are available now (click here).
“Booked for the Evening” is the Library’s signature fundraising event. Previous notables include Tom Brokaw, E.L. Doctorow, Calvin Trillin, Wendy Wasserstein, Pete Hamill, Martin Scorsese, Arthur Mitchell, Doris Kearns Goodwin, David Halberstam, Oscar Hijuelos, Adam Gopnik, Will Shortz, Patti Smith, Barry Levinson, Jon Meacham, Nile Rodgers, Lynsey Addario, Ron Chernow, Alan Alda, Justin Paul, and Frederic Chiu.
It got lost in all yesterday’s excitement over April Fool’s Day. But as of April 1, dogs are not permitted on Compo Beach.
Specifically, from now through September 30 “animals are prohibited at the beaches either in or out of vehicles, except when going to and from boats at Ned Dimes Marina (but those dogs must be leashed).
“Beaches are defined to include the water adjacent to the property, the sand areas adjacent to the water, the parking areas, grass areas, playing areas and roads. Dogs are permitted in vehicles entering into the Soundview parking lot weekdays any time, and weekends and holidays prior to 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. Dogs must be on leash.
Sorry, guys. Gotta wait till October! (Photo/Dan Johnson)
The ceremony honoring TEAM Westport’s Teen Diversity Essay Contest winners is one of the underrated highlights of each year. Three students read their own words, addressing difficult questions with wisdom, honesty and power.
This year’s event will be held via. It’s this Monday (April 5, 6 p.m.), and — as in years past — is well worth watching.
The prompt was: “The statement ‘Black Lives Matter’ has become politicized in our country. In 1,000 words or fewer, describe your own understanding of the statement. Consider why conversations about race are often so emotionally charged. Given that reality, what suggestions do you have for building both equity and equality in our schools, community and country?”
We may be inspired — or sobered — by what Westport teenagers have to say. We certainly will gain an understanding of what the next generation is thinking.
Aztec Two-Step 2.0 — featuring Westporters Rex Fowler and Dodie Pettit — performs their Simon & Garfunkel songbook show for the first time as a 5-piece band on Friday, April 23 (8 p.m., Bijou Theatre, Bridgeport, 8 p.m.).
It’s a benefit for WPKN-FM. The show will also be livestreamed in HD and 360º Virtual Reality.
Tickets start at $5. Anyone purchasing by April 19 gets a free VR headset, for the fully immersive experience. Click here for tickets to the live Bijou (masked and socially distanced) show. Click here for virtual tickets.
BONUS TRACKS: Aztec Two-Step 2.0 will follow the Simon & Garfunkel songbook with a 30-minute set of original material, starting around 10 p.m.
Click below for a video montage to “I Ain’t Dead Yet,” one of Dodie’s 3 original country-blues songs featured in a 5-song EP being releasing to radio soon.
1st Selectman Jim Marpe issued another COVID update today. It includes information about vaccines — and word that the town is planning for a Memorial Day parade, and a Levitt Pavilion season. He says:
Beginning today, all Connecticut residents and workers aged 16 and older are eligible to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment. For local vaccine scheduling instructions and locations, go to www.wwhd.org.
Health officials urge all who are able and eligible to register to get vaccinated. Those requiring special services and assistance with homebound vaccinations or transportation to vaccination appointments through Westport Transit should contact the town Department of Human Services (203-341-1050).
Fortunately, many of the most vulnerable in Westport are already vaccinated. They are enjoying the peace of mind and the realization that they are doing their part to help our community, neighbors, families and friends move into a spring and summer with less fear of infection from this horrible virus.
Although numerous people have been vaccinated, it is vital that COVID protocols remain in place until we are certain that transmission is decreasing.
Currently there is a surge in COVID-19 cases in Connecticut, and Westport remains in the red category with 28.5 positive cases per 100,000 population. We are seeing the effects of more social gatherings, travel, and a relaxation of COVID protocols.
Travel increases the chance of getting and transmitting COVID-19. The Center for Disease Control recommends that you refrain from non-essential travel and follow the travel guidelines,
The CDC also recommends continuing to follow its COVID guidelines and protocols, specifically mask wearing, social distancing and good hygiene, even as restrictions are loosened and the vaccine is further administered.
“Masked COVID Portrait” — drawn by Dereje Tarrant, age 14.
Much of the uptick in cases is occurring in younger residents, and those in their 20’s and 30’s. There have been reports of large teen and youth groups gathering at Compo Beach without masks. Parents, please remind your children to wear masks when they cannot socially distance, even at the beach and other outdoor locations.
The Governor’s Executive Orders declaring a state-of-emergency have been extended to May 20. That means that COVID protocols and restrictions remain in place unless noted otherwise.
The town continues to work towards reopening more amenities and activities with the optimism that Westport will return to the yellow or gray status on the State’s color-coded COVID map, and that more people will be fully vaccinated. These include:
The Center for Senior Activities and Toquet Hall are planning for the possibility of outdoor and limited indoor programming in late spring or early summer.
The Parks & Recreation Department and Selectman’s Office continue to plan for a Memorial Day parade.
The Parks and Recreation Department is preparing to open its facilities, and plan to offer programs that were not available last year due to COVID-19.
Longshore golf course is open for play, as are several tennis locations, Compo Beach pickleball courts, the skate park facility, platform tennis, Compo basketball courts, and playgrounds.
Compo Skate Park is back open. (Photo/ldinkinphotography)
The Board of Selectmen approved the Downtown Merchants Association’s Fitness and Health Expo for May 1,, and the Fine Arts Festival for May 29-30.
The Board of Selectmen approved the closure of Church Lane starting April 15, to allow for expanded outdoor dining.
The Board of Selectmen approved the use of the Imperial Avenue lot for the Remarkable Theater’s drive-in movie theater. and for the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Westport Library’s Supper and Soul events.
The Levitt Pavilion is planning its season, to be held in compliance with any necessary COVID considerations related to outdoor venues.
Westport is approaching the end of the Passover week, as well as this Easter weekend. Both are important symbols of renewal and new beginnings that we associate with the arrival of spring. I wish all who observe these important holidays the joy that is associated with those celebrations.
And to all Westport residents, I ask for a renewed commitment to working through the COVID pandemic together in a safe and responsible manner. In doing so, we can all enjoy the pleasures of our community that come with the spring and summer months.
As Easter approaches, the days get longer and brighter. But continued vigilance is needed. (Photo/Craig Patton)
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