Category Archives: People

Scott Weinstein’s Jeff

Every Westporter knows the Tonys. The award — named for Antoinette Perry — is given in a number of categories, for excellence in Broadway theater.

You may not know the Jeffs. Honoring Joseph Jefferson, they’re the Tonys’ Chicago counterpart.

Scott Weinstein knows Jeff Awards. The 2006 Staples High School graduate has already earned 2 of them. On October 21, he’s up for a third.

Like so many alums in the theater world, Weinstein gained broad experience through Staples Players. He acted in “Urintetown,” “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “Cabaret” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

He directed in the One-Act Festival, and was a master carpenter on tech.

At Northwestern University, Weinstein majored in theater and minored in political science. He acted and directed, in everything from “Noises Off” to Shakespeare.

Gradually — because “I was never a good enough actor for the director in my brain” — he focused on directing.

Scott Weinstein, at work.

It’s not an easy profession. “There’s a lot of hustle,” Weinstein notes. “You’re always working on 3 or 4 projects at once.”

He’s been fortunate to work consistently — and on shows he is passionate about.

Right out of college, he started a company called Buzz 22 with friends. It developed new work — “a very Chicago thing to do,” he notes. One of their shows was produced at Steppenwolf.

Weinstein was hired as resident director for the first national tour of “Million Dollar Quartet.” He handled the Chicago and Las Vegas productions, and one for Norwegian Cruise Lines.

He currently splits time between Chicago and New York. Right now he’s developing new plays, including a musical comedy about surviving the Dark Ages. (Hey, you never know…). He’s also working on a re-imagining of “South Pacific” for the Finger Lakes Music Festival.

Everything he does today has its roots at Staples, Weinstein says. That’s where he learned “the vocabulary for talking about theater, and telling stories.” Most fellow theater majors did not enter Northwestern with those backgrounds in acting, directing and set building, he says.

Whether he is developing new musicals or devising a modern take on a classic, Weinstein believes that “music is timeless. It connects us.”

He is excited about theater today. “Amazing new voices are pushing things in exciting new directions. Boundaries are expanding. It’s more representative of what we are, and what our country looks like.

“I get to work with great collaborators, and brilliant writers. I’m glad that theaters trust me to do bold takes.”

Last week, Weinstein returned to his alma mater. He spoke with David Roth’s theater classes about his career after Players, and life as a director.

Scott Weinstein (6th from right, back row) next to Staples Players director David Roth. They’re surrounded by current students — including future actors, directors and tech crew professionals. (Photo/Kerry Long)

“It was surreal,” he says of his visit. “I have such vivid memories of the Black Box, hearing professionals talk to us.”

Ahead for Weinstein: directing “Something Rotten” and “Grease” in Chicago, and “Million Dollar Quartet” in Phoenix.

Plus, of course, that Jeff Awards ceremony. He’s been nominated for “Noises Off,” at the Windy City Playhouse.

Encore!

Rach’s Hope Reaches Out

Rachel Doran graduated from Staples High School in 2015. The Cornell University rising senior — a National Merit Commended Scholar, talented Players costume designer, and founder of “Rachel’s Rags,” a company that makes intricate cotton and fleece pajama tops and bottoms — died 3 years later, from complications of 2 very rare diseases.

Her family honored her memory by creating Rach’s Hope, a not-for-profit foundation that helps families weather the storm of critical illness, with lodging, meals and transportation. A Westport family is among those already helped in the tri-state region.

Rachel’s sister Ellie — now a Staples senior — keeps her memory alive at school. She started Rach’s Hope Club. Over 200 students have signed up to help.

Rachel Doran (right) and her sister Ellie.

Their first fundraising event is this Sunday (October 13, 3 to 6 p.m., Rothbard Ale + Larder restaurant). It’s a “Beatles Cocktail Hour,” with music by Tim Palmieri.

The club also runs social media for Rach’s Hope, and is helping plan the 2nd annual PJ Gala on February 29.

Rach’s Hope Club is not the only group keeping Rachel’s memory alive at Staples. On Tuesday, October 15 (4 p.m.), the girls varsity volleyball team dedicates its game to Rach’s Hope.

Of course, they’ll gladly accept donation to this great cause.

Jonathan Greenfield Breathes For ALS

It’s been more than a year and a half since I profiled Jonathan Greenfield.

A lot has happened to the man I called The Most Interesting Person in Westport

A few months after that story, the NYU dropout/photojournalist/documentary filmmaker/surfer/triathlete/tea specialist was diagnosed with cancer.

And ALS.

He is battling both diseases with his trademark optimism, good humor and vigor.

Meanwhile, he continues to focus on others. He’s eagerly assumed a leadership role in a crusade to help everyone — those diagnosed with ALS, and all the rest — breathe better. We can enhance our lives — even live longer — Jonathan says, if we learn proper techniques, then take ice baths.

And — oh, yeah — Jonathan is organizing several events, to raise funds for two causes: breathing workshops, and ALS research.

Jonathan Greenfield and his wife, Iris Netzer-Greenfield.

Jonathan’s ALS diagnosis in December 2018 did not come out of the blue. His father had died not long before of what is also called Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Jonathan’s brother has it too.

Doctors said they caught it early. But the prognosis — muscle weakness, difficulty breathing, paralysis — is grim. Death, Jonathan says, eventually comes from asphyxiation.

He had already heard about the Wim Hof breathing technique. Combined with cold therapy, it’s said to affect the sympathetic nervous system, resulting in greater energy, reduced stress levels, and an augmented immune system.

When a Wim Hof video appeared on Jonathan’s YouTube feed, he took note. He was about to head to Boston to undergo radiation for the liposarcoma in his neck — a difficult procedure in which a mat would be molded to his face, shoulders and upper body. He would be fastened to a table, and lie perfectly still for 15 minutes.

Jonathan Greenfield, in his body mat.

The weekend before the treatment began, Jonathan took a Wim Hof class. He learned the breathing sequence — then took part in a guided ice bath in the snow. “I was on fire!” Jonathan marvels.

He used the breathing method to endure his first treatment. It did even more than he expected. After 2 rounds of breathing, he went into the deepest meditation state he’d ever experienced.

Over the next 5 weeks, Jonathan developed a routine. He awoke in his Cambridge hotel room. He breathed, went to the hospital for radiation, then returned to the hotel to swim, take a sauna and cold shower. Then he sat — in a towel, still wet — on his hotel deck in the freezing cold. For another 40 minutes, Jonathan would breathe and meditate. He felt great.

In the afternoon, he’d work.

Jonathan was excited. He traveled to Spain, for a Wim Hof workshop.

Working with Westporters Brooke Emery Sharfstein and Julie Blitzer, he booked Earthplace for a June breathing event. He brought 300 pounds of ice.

Jonathan Greenfield, deep in an ice bath.

That’s not all. Realizing that breathing could have helped his father’s quality of life in his final days, Jonathan vowed to share what he learned with the world.

He created Breathe4ALS. In August the organization earned 501c3 status. It’s totally volunteer-run. Sixty percent of funds raised go toward research; 30% to breathing sessions for patients, and 10% for website and operational expenses.

It’s pretty clear that neither ALS nor cancer have slowed Jonathan down. They have not dimmed his spirit either.

“Life is fine,” he says forcefully. “Yes, it’s more challenging in some ways. I’ve taken some wild spills, and thankfully haven’t broken anything yet. But this is what life is about: challenges. It’s how you meet them, harass them and overcome them. Otherwise, life is a bore.”

Not long after his diagnoses, Jonathan Greenfield hiked in Spain with Wim Hof (left).

Jonathan does not want anyone to feel sorry for him. Instead, he urges, “come breathe with me. Hike mountains with me. Celebrate all the possibilities with me.”

Jonathan is focusing on his life here, with his wife Iris — an acupuncturist, who practices in New York and Westport — and their 3 children, ages, 10, 8 and 6. His friends, he says, have “selflessly rallied around us.”

On  Thursday, October 17 (7 p.m., MoCA — formerly the Westport Arts Center — at 19 Newtown Turnpike), Breathe4ALS holds its first fundraiser. It features cocktails, bites and an exciting art raffle. Click here for tickets and more information.

Also ahead: A Breathe4ALS event at the Westport Woman’s Club on November 3. Attendees will learn about the Wim Hof Method (and can enjoy hundreds of pounds of ice).

It’s not limited to people with ALS, he emphasizes. “For anyone, this is a great tool for deep meditation and biofeedback.”

A similar Wim Hof session is set for Cherry Hill, New Jersey on January 12 (Katz JCC).

Meanwhile, Jonathan has a 19.8-cubic foot freezer in his garage. He’s adding a sauna. He hopes to invite neighbors, friends — and everyone else — over, to breathe and plunge.

Cool!

Jonathan Greenfield’s home ice bath. The temperature is 32.1 degrees.

Civil Rights Icon Andrew Young Speaks In Westport

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1964 address at Temple Israel marked a milestone in the congregation’s history. His Shabbat sermon — titled “Remaining Awake Through a Revolution” — helped energize local support for the national civil rights movement.

Long before King came to Westport — and in the remaining 4 years of his life — one of his top strategists and trusted friends was Andrew Young.

Andrew Young

Young’s 6 decades of activism are legendary. He was executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; played key roles in drafting and passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Voting Rights Act of 1965, and served in Congress as Georgia’s first black congressman since Reconstruction, ambassador to the United Nations, and mayor of Atlanta.

Young has been an advisor to world leaders, a noted lecturer, and a frequent television commentator.

On Tuesday, October 15 (7 p.m.), Temple Israel celebrates the 55th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s sermon by welcoming Andrew Young to the bima.

Admission is free; there is a suggested contribution to the Andrew J. Young Foundation and Temple Israel’s Tzedakah Fund. Click here to register for tickets.

The event is co-sponsored by Temple Israel, The Andrew J. Young Foundation, the Westport Weston Clergy Association, the Westport Historical Society, and TEAM Westport.

8 Years After Fire, Saugatuck Church Organ Is Ready To Resound

In 2011, a fire just before Thanksgiving nearly destroyed Saugatuck Congregational Church.

A spectacular effort by firefighters — and firewalls — prevented complete destruction of the historic building. But the sanctuary was ruined.

The music department was devastated too. They lost 5 pianos, choir robes, a 100-year-old music library with thousands of sheets of music, and a pipe organ.

Firefighters from several towns battled to save the Saugatuck Congregational Church.

It took years for the church to rebuild. The organ was insured; monies helped rebuild the sanctuary.

Meanwhile, a committee sought designs and quotes from top-notch organ builders around the world. The Klais Orgelbau was chosen for its warmth of tone, design of the case, and the family feel of its company.

Installation began this summer. Finally — nearly 8 years after the fire — the new organ is ready.

The Saugatuck Church organ.

On Sunday, October 13 (2 p.m.), Saugatuck Church celebrates with a special concert.

The performers were all chosen for the compassion they showed after the fire.

James Boratko and his church in West Hartford reached out immediately. They loaned hymnals, anthems and choir robes. “Having parishioners singing from hymnals together” — even at other sites — “helped mold us as a community,” says Saugatuck’s director of music Heather Hamilton.

Rev. Ed Thompson

Ed Thompson at the Unitarian Church also called quickly, offering music, support, and a place to rehearse every week for 2 years. “We felt welcome, and loved being there as a group,” says Hamilton. (She took her first organ lessons from Thompson, and considers him a mentor.)

Craig Scott Symons gave Hamilton a keyboard. That helped her work remotely, and with the choir when they worshiped in different places.

Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church — a few yards across Myrtle Avenue from Saugatuck Church — offered the use of Branson Hall for the townwide Thanksgiving feast, just a few days after the blaze. Congregants worshiped in Christ & Holy Trinity’s Seabury Center many Sundays and Christmas Eves, while their own building was rebuilt. Temple Israel opened its arms to the congregation, providing worship space for over 2 years.

Saugatuck Church invites everyone to the October 13 concert. After all, Hamilton notes, contributions for the new organ came from throughout Westport and beyond — not just parishioners.

In that spirit, the church is eager to share its organ with others. Several concerts are already planned. And the American Guild of Organists looks forward to sharing their music and master classes on it.

(The October 13 concert starts at 2 p.m., and is free. A reception follows at 3 p.m. The event is co-sponsored by the Westport Library.)

From Blight House To Bright Spot: Green Honors For Hillspoint Home

For years, only one thing marred the view from Old Mill Road and Elvira Mae’s, down Hillspoint Road. There — sandwiched between handsome beach homes and the beach itself — sat a blight house.

Unkempt and untended, it looked out of place. And dangerous.

When Robin Tauck bought the property, and an adjacent lot, she wanted to maintain the traditional beach community vibe. But she’s also an ardent environmentalist.

Her vision for the blight house was to maintain the same footprint for minimal impact, while creating a model for future homes.

Working with architect Michael Greenberg and TecKnow, the Bedford Square-based company that combines automation technology with green energy products, she built an innovative “guest cottage.” (Her own, similarly designed home, is next door.)

The new Hillspoint Road home.

227 Hillspoint Road uses sustainable building practices and innovative technology. Solar and battery storage is optimized, so the house is run almost entirely off the grid.

It meets many of the standards for a Green Building Award: rehabilitation, energy efficiency, innovation, conservation, sustainability, and modeling for the future.

So the other day — around the same time the United Nations hosted its Climate Action Summit — Governor Ned Lamont and Congressman Jim Himes were in town. So was Albert Gore III, from Tesla (one of the companies TecKnow works with), environmental leaders from groups like Sustainable Westport and Save the Sound, and all 3 selectmen.

Robin Tauck and Governor Ned Lamont, on the steps of 227 Hillspoint Road.

They presented Tauck, Greenberg and TecKnow with a Green Building Award. It recognizes this project, for its contribution to sustainability.

The honor signifies one more step on Westport’s path to being a net zero community, by 2050.

And it also shows that a small, blighted house need not be replaced by a bigger, more energy-sapping one.

Especially at such a well-known, beloved and lovely spot by the shore.

Phil Levieff of TecKnow, Albert Gore III of Tesla, and Robin Tauck. (Photos/JC Martin)

Town Invited To Big Block Party

The 3 restaurants — one Japanese-inspired, another featuring tacos, the third specializing in meatballs — could not be more different.

But OKO, Bartaco and The Meatball Shop have already joined forces with valet parking. This Sunday (October 6), they’re collaborating on a family afternoon — for a great cause.

National Hall is the site of the 1st-ever Push Against Cancer Block Party. From 2 to 5 p.m. there’ s appetizers from all 3 spots, drinks courtesy of TUCK Gin, and fun activities like Cornhole and an obstacle course for kids and adults, thanks to Upper Deck Fitness.

National Hall and Upper Deck Fitness: the site of Sunday’s block party.

It all benefits the Hole in the Wall Gang Camps — the wonderful site in Ashford, Connecticut for children with life-threatening illnesses founded by Westport’s own Paul Newman.

OKO chef/owner Brian Lewis participated in this spring’s Push Against Cancer push-up contest at Staples High School — also a Hole in the Wall Gang fundraiser. He was so moved by what he learned that he offered OKO — or his other restaurant, The Cottage — for a future event.

PAC organizers Andy Berman and Sherry Jonas were happy to oblige.

Bartaco, The Meatball Shop, Upper Deck Fitness and National Hall’s landlord were equally eager to join in.

There’s a lot going on in Westport this weekend. But if you can, block out time for this great block party.

And yes, there’s plenty of parking.

(Tickets will he sold at the “door.” The cost is $40 per adult, $10 per child under age 12.)

Billie Eilish: The “06880” Connection

You may not have heard of Billie Eilish.

But your teen or tween certainly has.

The 18-year-old is a pop sensation. In 2017 her first EP, “Don’t Smile At Me,” hit the Top 15 in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. This year’s album “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” contined Billboard Top 40 singles, including the #1 “Bad Guy.” She is the first — and so far only — artist born in the 2000s to record an American #1 single. Billie already has 8 gold and 4 platinum singles.

She lives in LA with her brother Finneas — a frequent collaborator — and her mother and father.

So why is the entertainer — whose full name is Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell “0688o”-worthy?

Because “O’Connell” comes from her father. Patrick O’Connell — who grew up at the top of Compo Hill — is a 1975 Staples High School graduate. He was an active member of Staples Players, best known for his role of John in “The Crucible.”

Billie Eilish and her father, Patrick O’Connell.

Patrick went on to Juilliard, and a career as an actor. He’s appeared in “Iron Man,” “The West Wing” and “Baskets.”

So even though you have not heard of the teen sensation until this moment, casually tell your kid, “You know Billie Eilish’s dad is from Westport, right?”

Your cool factor will rise exponentially.

(Hat tip: David Roth)

Danielle Dobin: Middle School Views Posted Today Are My Own

Today’s post on Westport’s middle schools generated plenty of comments. The author of the piece — Danielle Dobin — writes:

I wrote this opinion piece. It represents my personal views, not those of the Planning & Zoning Chairman, or any other Planning & Zoning commissioners or P&Z department staff.

The October 22 session will be a meeting of the PZC’s Plan of Conservation & Development High Level Review Subcommittee, to hear public comment regarding Chapter 14: Address Community Facility Needs. Click here to find the 2017 Plan of Conservation & Development.

Theater Lovers: Play With Your Food — And Stephen Schwartz

In the mile-a-minute, can’t-stop-for-a-second world that is Westport today, Play With Your Food stands out.

For nearly 20 years, a lunchtime program — the deliciously named Play With Your Food — has combined a gourmet lunch, professional readings of intriguing plays, and stimulating post-performance discussion.

It’s fun, low-key, under the radar.

But when the season kicks off this year, a very big Broadway name will share the bill.

Stephen Schwartz — the multi-Grammy, Oscar and Tony winning composer (“Wicked,” “Pippin,” “Godspell”) — will entertain at “A Moveable Feast of Theater 2.0.” The benefit supports the not-for-profit Play With Your Food.

Stephen Schwartz

In addition to Schwartz’s cabaret performance (for sponsor ticket holders only), 4 one-act plays will take place throughout a private Westport home. There’s also food from AMG Catering, and cocktails from Tito’s Vodka.

Schwartz does not do these things lightly. But he’s a longtime friend of Play With Your Food artistic director Carole Schweid. They met early in their carers, when she appeared in the national tour of “Pippin.”

Stacie Lewis

Later, Schweid realized that Westport-based actress Stacie Lewis — a Play With Your Food fan favorite — had starred as Glinda in the Chicago production of “Wicked.”

Lewis is part of the “Moveable Feast” cast too. She’ll be joined by 9 other Play With Your Food actors, who will perform those comic short plays in “site-specific surroundings” throughout the house.

The full Play With Your Food season opens January 7, and runs through April. Live lunchtime performances are planned for Toquet Hall, Fairfield Theatre Company, the Greenwich Arts Council and Rye Arts Center.

Lunches — catered by local restaurants — are followed by 1-act scripted plays performed by professional actors. Many are recognizable from TV, film or theater. The talkback includes the cast and director — sometimes even the playwright.

It’s a great series. Scoring Stephen Schwartz for the gala fundraiser is just icing on the cake.

(“A Moveable Feast 2.0” is set for Sunday, October 20. The location will be revealed to ticket holders only. The sponsor ticket cabaret with Stephen Schwartz begins at 3 p.m.; the main theater event starts at 4. For tickets and more information, click here or call 203-293-8729.)