Category Archives: Staples HS

Ryan Lester: Arts Honoree’s Career Began Here

These days, Westport is a town of hedge funds (and their managers), ginormous new houses (even as the housing market for them slows) and a TV show featuring our 2nd fattest housewife.

You may think we’ve strayed from our artists’ colony roots.

But you would be wrong.

Tomorrow (Sunday, October 23, 2 p.m., Town Hall), the Westport Arts Advisory Committee presents its 4th TEA Talk.

tea-talkThe acronym stands for Thinkers Educators Artists. The program features remarks on our town’s arts heritage, and a panel including author/lyricist Tom Greenwald, writer/radio commentator Jessica Bram, multimedia artist Sooo-Z Mastropietro, artist/photographer Miggs Burroughs, musician Frederic Chiu, and composer Ryan Lester.

Ryan epitomizes Westport’s arts past, present and future. A 2007 Staples High School grad, he receives the Horizon Award at tomorrow’s event. It’s given annually to a Westport artist under the age of 32, who shows “extraordinary accomplishment and potential.”

It’s a great honor, and Ryan is flying in from Los Angeles to receive it. That’s his home now, where he composes music for film, TV, video games and the concert stage.


Ryan Lester

For the past 6 years, Ryan has composed for “The Daily Show.” NBC Universal recently asked him to score their animated sitcom “Mystery Island.” He’s worked as an orchestrator and synth on the NBC thriller “Crossbones,” the feature film “Barely Lethal” and Discovery Channel’s “Harley and the Davidsons.” Ryan is currently scoring “Confessions of a Boxman,” for early 2017 release.

He studied at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, the Royal College of Music in London, and the Juilliard School.

But Ryan’s path to a musical career began in 4th grade, when Long Lots Elementary School teacher Betsy Tucker introduced him to the recorder and steel drums. At age 10, he began writing music.

The next year, Frank Coppola encouraged him to play trombone. Then came middle school jazz bands with James Forgey and Gregg Winters. Both teachers stoked his enthusiasm for that unique art form.

Important Staples influences also included Candi Innaco, Nick Mariconda, Adele Valovich and Alice Lipson. “Westport was a ridiculously great place to grow up, musically,” Ryan says.


Staples Players’ pit orchestra exposed him to a whole different side of music. A decade later, he says he draws on that experience for much of his work. In fact, he notes, “Westport schools were a lot more influential on what I do now than college.”

“I always knew I wanted to compose,” Ryan adds. “I just didn’t know if I could make it a career.”

He certainly has. And tomorrow — back home — Ryan Lester will be honored at what is still the start of his musical career.

His horizon is limitless.

(Tomorrow’s TEA Talk is free. A reception follows at the Westport Historical Society. For more information, click here.)

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Jeff Pegues: “Black And Blue” In America Today

As justice/homeland security correspondent for CBS News, Jeff Pegues has special insight into the police/community relations crisis that’s dominated American headlines for the past couple of years.

As an African American man, he’s got a different — but very important — perspective too.

Which is why the 1988 Staples High School graduate’s new book — Black and Blue: Inside the Divide Between the Police and Black America — is such a crucial addition to this national debate.

Earlier this week — in the midst of tracking down sources for the still-developing Russian-presidential-campaign-hacking story — Pegues talked about his project. We had not spoken for 3 decades — I was his youth soccer coach, before he became a Staples football star, earned a scholarship to Miami University in Ohio and rose through the broadcast ranks to WABC-TV news, then 3 years ago CBS national news — but he was eager to chat.

Jerff Pegues, reporting for CBS News.

Jerff Pegues, reporting for CBS News.

His parents grew up in the Deep South — Montgomery and Birmingham — during the heart of the civil rights movement. He’s related on his mother’s side to Rosa Parks.

During his 25 years in the news business, Pegues worked on many law enforcement stories. He’s developed strong relationships with police officers, commanders and federal investigators.

As he covered a string of police shootings – from Ferguson through Tulsa, Charlotte and more — he realized he was in a unique position.

“It’s important to dispel myths, and get all sides of the story in one place,” Pegues says.

“With Twitter, Facebook and other social media, people get information from sources they agree with. They reinforce their opinion. They don’t question it.”

He admits, “I’m not Shakespeare. But I know how to interview people, and get honest answers. That way everyone can see the issues, study them and start to solve problems.”

jeff-pegues-bookSpeaking with hundreds of subjects — officers, police chiefs and union leaders, community activists, even FBI director (and fellow former Westporter) James Comey — Pegues offers an unbiased view from both sides of the cop-community divide.

Police speak about the pressure to enforce laws, involve themselves in social issues and work in neighborhoods that have been neglected for years. Black citizens talk about confrontations that have happened for decades; finally, they say, there is proof that they are being singled out, harassed, even killed.

A police chief remarks that officers feel there are targets on their backs. “I thought, ‘a lot of African Americans feel the same way,'” Pegues says. “But they can’t take that ‘uniform’ off.

“I want the truth out there,” he adds. “Folks in the black community need to understand stop-and-frisk. Cops need to talk about the disrespect they feel in some communities, as they try to help. There are good people on both sides.”

However, he adds, despite similar concerns about issues, “in this politically charged atmosphere, there’s not a lot of listening.”

Pegues plays it right down the middle. “I have friends and family on both sides,” he says.

Jeff Pegues

Jeff Pegues

Writing about a subject with new headlines nearly every week — though  the book will not be published until spring — is not easy. For example, Pegues says, earlier this week the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police apologized for historic mistreatment of minorities by police. That came too late to include in Black and Blue.

But stories like those will bring readers to his book. Once there, Pegues’ clear, coherent and constructive approach to cop/community relations will draw them in.

And — whether they are police officers, black activists or any other American — Jeff Pegues’ book will get us all thinking.

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Tutors Bridge Westport/Bridgeport Gap

Chris Winkler played baseball and soccer at Staples High School. After graduating in 2003 he went on to Yale (where he majored in English), and England (where he earned a master’s degree). As soon as he finishes his dissertation, he’ll have a Ph.D. from Temple.

Winkler — who now goes by the first name Yearsley — knows his way around academia. But he hasn’t forgotten his Fairfield County roots.

Yearsley Winkler

Yearsley Winkler

From growing up here, he realizes the outsize role played by tutoring and college prep services. He also knows that — just a few miles from Westport — there are students who, by the unfortunate luck of where they live, have no access to those advantages.

Even at Bridgeport’s Fairchild Wheeler Magnet Schools, Winkler says, there’s only a once-a-week SAT Club, run by teachers with no special training in test-taking.

Winkler also knows testing. He worked for 8 years with Andover College Prep. A year ago he went out on his own.

Now he’s formed his own company. Meliora — that’s Latin for “ever better” — offers 1-on-1 SAT, ACT and AP tutoring, along with college advising (picking schools, writing essays, etc.). All his tutors are affiliated with Yale.

But here’s the business model twist: For every hour of tutoring or college prep purchased, Winkler’s company will provide an hour to students from Fairchild Wheeler.

He did not choose Fairchild randomly. Westport resident Jay Lipp is principal of one of the 3 smaller schools housed within Fairchild Wheeler. And former Westport superintendent of schools Claire Gold is a longtime consultant for Bridgeport’s education system.

“Growing up here, with all the advantages, it’s hard to even realize the systemic differences between good high school experiences and kids who don’t have the same fortune,” Winkler says.

meloria-logoOther tutoring and college prep companies offer pro bono services to less advantaged students. Winkler says Meliora is different, because its 1-to-1 model — an hour-free-for-every-hour-paid plan — is “fully devoted to this collaborative project.”

Winkler adds, “I’m realistic. I know Westport parents are not paying directly to help Bridgeport kids. But I hope they realize they’re doing some good.”

There’s an enormous gap between schools and services in our affluent suburb, and those less than 10 miles away.

Yearsley Winkler hopes to make the gap smaller, and the effort to bridge it “ever better.”

(Meliora launches in January. For more information, click here.)

76 Trombones, 5 Musicians, 2 Posters, 1 Painting

Exactly 70 years ago today — on October 19, 1946 — the Saturday Evening Post cover showed 5 high school band musicians.

As many “06880” readers know, Westport artist Stevan Dohanos used 5 Staples High School students as models. Seven decades later the painting hangs in Town Hall, right outside the first selectman’s office.

Westport illustrator Stevan Dohanos' 1946 Saturday Evening Post cover.

Westport illustrator Stevan Dohanos’ 1946 Saturday Evening Post cover.

In 2001, David Roth was in his 2nd year as director of Staples Players. To promote their production of “The Music Man,” Roth asked graphic arts teacher Alan Dodd to recreate the iconic artwork — this time using 5 actors from the upcoming show.

There’s one girl in the painting. Roth chose Samantha Marpe to pose. In “The Music Man,” Samantha played Zaneeta — River City’s mayor’s daughter. In an amazing coincidence, Samantha’s father — Jim Marpe — is now Westport’s first selectman (mayor).

The 2001 poster is also on the wall, next to Marpe’s office. Every day at work, he sees his daughter’s image.

Staples Players' 2001 poster.

Staples Players’ 2001 poster…

Fifteen years later, Players is once again staging “The Music Man.” Once again, Roth is using Dohanos’ painting as inspiration for the publicity poster.

There are some differences between the 2001 and 2016 versions, of course. Dodd has retired; this year’s photo was taken by co-director Kerry Long, and created by graphic arts instructor Carla Eichler.

A decade and a half after the first poster, she’s able to do much more with special effects. For example, in Dohanos’ original painting the football team was reflected in the sousaphone. That was tough to recreate in 2001, so the reflection showed only the 5 musicians.

This time, Eichler reflected Jacob Leaf — who plays Harold Hill, the “music man” — in the sousaphone.

...and the 2016 version.

…and the 2016 version.

Speaking of which: simply finding a brass sousaphone for Long to photograph was a herculean task. These days, they’re all fiberglass.

Roth put out a townwide call. Finally, he found one. It’s owned by Shari Levy. In another great coincidence, her son Jon was part of the quartet in the 2001 production. She lent it to Roth for the photo shoot — and the show.

Across America, people know “The Music Man” for its 76 trombones.

In Westport, it’s all about Stevan Dohanos — and David Roth’s — 5 musicians.

That’s no shipoopi.

(Staples Players present “The Music Man” on Friday and Saturday, November 11, 12, 18 and 19 at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, November 13 and Saturday, November 19 at 3 p.m. Tickets go on sale this weekend at


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Great News From World’s Greatest Scavenger Hunt

In August, “06880” reported on Tia Pogue’s summer. The Staples High School senior was competing in The Greatest Scavenger Hunt The World Has Ever Seen. Suffice it to say, she was not searching for restaurant menus.

Earlier this month, we added details about one of her quests. She and her team had to get a child to write a letter to the universe. Then launch the letter into space. And provide video proof too.

Yesterday, Tia and her diverse, around-the-world group — they call themselves Team Raised From Perdition — got the news they’d been waiting for:

They won!

Perdition beat out more than 2,000 teams — that’s over 30,000 people — to take 1st prize.

Which is: an all-expenses-paid trip to Iceland.

That makes sense. Tia’s already taken care of outer space.

Tia and David Pogue, in their Yahoo video of their outer space adventure.

Tia and David Pogue, in their Yahoo video of their outer space adventure.

Below: Tia Pogue plays a human piano:

(To see Tia’s complete team page, click here. For their spreadsheet, click here. For more information on the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen, click here.)

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[UPDATE] Mourning Noah Witke

Earlier today, the New York Daily News added details to its story on the death of Noah Witke. The Staples High School Class of 2009 graduate was a talented actor, and a beloved friend to many.

The paper said:

The 25-year-old actor who died after falling from the roof of his Harlem building had forgotten his keys at work and was trying to climb onto the fire escape to get in when he lost his balance and fell, police said on Monday.

Noah Witke had gone out to a party for the closing of the New York Film Festival with fellow actors and co-workers Saturday night, but forgot his keys and bag at Lincoln Center, where he was working for the cinematic celebration, police and friends said.

Noah Witke (Photo/Kerry Long)

Noah Witke (Photo/Kerry Long)

Witnesses told investigators Witke left a bar after having a few drinks around 4 a.m., police said.

Unable to get into his W. 134th St. apartment near Amsterdam Ave., Witke went up to his roof and apparently tried to gain access to his home via the fire escape, police said. Tragically, he lost his footing while lowering himself down from the roof and fell from the five-story building around 5:10 a.m., police said.

The Daily News story includes quotes from colleagues and directors — including Staples Players mentor David Roth. Click here for the full article.

Noah Witke and Brittany Uomoleale,, the lead roles in Staples Players' "Romeo and Juliet." (Photo/Kerry Long)

Noah Witke and Brittany Uomoleale,, the lead roles in Staples Players’ “Romeo and Juliet.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

(Hat tip: Dee Chapman)

Remembering Noah Witke

Noah Witke — the very talented Staples Players actor who thrilled audiences as Romeo in “Romeo and Juliet,” and starred in other productions including “The Laramie Project,” “The Diary of Anne Frank”  and “Twelve Angry Men” — died yesterday.

Noah Witke and Brittany Uomoleale, star-crossed lovers in "Romeo and Juliet." (Photo/Kerry Long)

Noah Witke and Brittany Uomoleale, star-crossed lovers in “Romeo and Juliet.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

A member of Staples High School’s Class of 2009, the Juilliard graduate was 25 years old. He was working with a theater company at the time of his death.

According to the New York Daily News, Noah was intoxicated when he fell off the roof of his 5-story Harlem apartment building at 5:10 a.m.

Noah Witke (Photo/Kerry Long)

Noah Witke (Photo/Kerry Long)

Staples Players director David Roth said, “(Co-director) Kerry Long and I were very close to him. Noah was not only a really good actor — he was also a kind, gentle spirit.

“He was so thoughtful of other people. He was a teaching assistant in Theatre I for 2 years, and was so great with one of our special needs kids. He partnered with him in a scene, one-on-one.

“Noah would have been a really good acting teacher. We are devastated by his loss.”

Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

Noah Witke in one of several ensemble roles in "The Laramie Project." (Photo/Kerry Long)

Noah Witke in one of several ensemble roles in “The Laramie Project.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Westport Community Theatre Welcomes Kids, Worries About Future

For nearly a century, the Westport Country Playhouse has stood proudly as one of the nation’s leading regional theaters.

For many decades too, Staples Players has pushed the boundaries of what high school actors can do.

Since 1956, the Westport Community Theatre has quietly served as our town’s “other” stage.

Low-key, little-publicized and itinerant until 1978, the WCT produces 5 mainstage shows a year, plus readings and workshops. Its productions draw small but devoted audiences to its spare, intimate auditorium in the basement of Town Hall.


Now — as town officials examine whether to reclaim that space — one woman is reaching out to a demographic the WCT has long ignored: kids.

Cindy Hartog studied film and television at NYU, then got a degree from the Neighborhood Playhouse conservatory. But she realized she preferred teaching to acting, and after earning a master’s in educational theater from NYU, Cindy organized drama workshops for children and teens.

She married Mark Hartog — best known locally as deputy director of Westport EMS, but also a community theater guy. Cindy worked in the Temple Israel nursery school for over a decade, taught cooking to kids, then a couple of years ago created the WCT Juniors program.

In less than 2 years it’s grown to encompass a 12-week program of performance skills, theater games, improv and scene work, as well as weekend master classes in improv.

A Westport Community Theatre improv class, directed by Heather DeLude.

A Westport Community Theatre improv class, directed by Heather DeLude.

Unlike other theater programs, these are not performance-based. The goal is to teach confidence, public speaking and performance skills, along with scene-writing and technical expertise.

Cindy’s Juniors classes draw youngsters from 6 to 16. On Friday afternoons they warm up together, then split into 3 age-appropriate groups for voice work and other activities. They come together at the end for improv and games.

The older kids are not involved in their own high school theater programs. One, for example, attends Hopkins; 2 are home-schooled.

Cindy notes, “They find a place here, and end up making great contributions.”

Cindy Hartog

Cindy Hartog

She believes in the power of theater to change lives — whether youngsters perform a play onstage or not.

Cindy’s program “tries to help kids become better people,” she says. “We want them to be well-rounded, confident and happy.”

Yet as she uses theater to prepare youngsters for life, she worries about the future of the Westport Community Theatre. Town officials are studying how space is used in Town Hall. When its yearly lease is up, the WCT — which before 1978 bounced between Westport, Weston and Fairfield — may be forced to find a new home.

It’s a search many Westporters are oblivious to.

“We put up lawn signs,” Cindy says of the WCT’s publicity for its mainstage shows.

“We have a banner on Main Street. We march in the Memorial Day parade. But a lot of people still don’t know about us.”

Interested in learning more? Click here. For info on the Juniors program, click here

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Rob Carlson: From Westport To Benefit Street, And Back

In a society that celebrates specialization, Rob Carlson is a generalist.

He’s a singer-songwriter. A corporate entertainer. An author. And a lot more.

Rob Carlson

Rob Carlson

For over 50 years — even before his 1966 graduation from Staples High School — Carlson has entertained generations of fans. He’s funny and fun. He’s got a wicked eye for the absurd, and a Robin Williams-like talent for picking out a wide range of targets.

Staples played a seminal role in Carlson’s musical career. As president of Orphenians, he helped organize the elite a cappella group’s 1st-ever trip (to the Virgin Islands).

He played trombone (“a useless instrument”), but discovered guitar (“you can actually play chords”). His folk band — the Triumvirate — opened for some of the famous rock bands like the Beau Brummels and Remains who played at Staples.

At Brown University — where he majored in American Civilization — Carlson was part of a burgeoning music scene. His most famous band — Benefit Street — included Staples classmate Josh Barrett. They earned New England renown.

In 1973 Carlson joined another former Staples classmate, Jon Gailmor, in a folk duo. Their Polydor debut album — “Peaceable Kingdom” — is still considered a classic by all who heard it.

But before hitting the big time, the 2 went their separate ways. Carlson headed back to the Virgin Islands, where he fell in love with Caribbean music.

Back in this area, he had a 10-year run playing local spots like  Grassroots and the Tin Whistle.

When his son was born — and Grassroots closed — Carlson got a steady gig running an independent production company. As “Ramblin’ Bob,” he wrote and produced a weekly tune in the style and voice of Bob Dylan, about whatever was happening in the news. The delivery was dead-on.

Christine Lavin heard Carlson in Portland, Maine, and gave his career a boost. He formed the Modern Man trio, which perfected send-ups of songs by the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry and many others. After 15 years, Modern Man played its last gig in October.

Carlson describes his music — reluctantly, because he dislikes categorizing it — as “folk/rock/Americana.” It includes elements of show tunes, R&B, Caribbean — you name it.

He’s “pretty much acoustic. I like the sound of wood.”

Benefit Street has now been reconstituted — with former Westporter Beth Bradley. This month they play the Grange in Greenfield Hill. On November 12, they and Beth Bradley will be at the Westport Unitarian Church’s Voices Cafe.

Palatine Ship - Rob CarlsonBefitting an American Civilization major, Carlson spent 30 years — “on and off,” he clarifies — researching and writing “Palatine Ship,” about the legend of an 18th-century vessel lost near Block Island.

But it’s music for which Carlson is best known. His audience, he says, is “mostly boomers. Every generation is fixated on the music it liked between the ages of 13 and 25. That’s pretty much what you like for the rest of your life.”

It’s a life Rob Carlson has known — and embraced — for over half a century. Westporters have long loved his distinctive voice.

It’s a good thing he gave up that useless trombone.

(For Rob Carlson’s website, click here.) 

David Pogue Really Loses It

Most of David Pogue’s Yahoo videos are short.

The tech guru has made a career — one of his many — providing bite-sized information on topics like how to open Windows 10’s secret start menu. They’re little snacks, to help you navigate your tech life.

The other day though, the Westporter posted a full-course meal. It’s 9 minutes long — and fascinating.

The SparkNotes version is that Pogue’s daughter Tia — a Staples High School senior — was deep into the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen.

One item she needed: Get a child to write a letter to the universe. Then launch the letter into space. Oh yeah: Provide video proof too.

Tia — with a little help from Dad — managed to do it. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was really, really hard — as the video shows.

Tia and David Pogue, in their Yahoo video.

Tia and David Pogue, in a screenshot from their Yahoo video.

But it’s well worth watching, for both the technology and the surprises. Pogue is a gifted storyteller.

There’s even a cameo appearance by Tia’s drone operator. He’s Brandon Malin — a very talented Westporter.

Brandon is also an 8th grader, at Coleytown Middle School.


(To watch the video — and/or read David Pogue’s story — click here.)