Category Archives: Teenagers

Ghost Light

For as long as anyone can remember, “ghost lights” have lit otherwise darkened theaters. Some say the lamps or bulbs are there to ward off ghosts. Others think the tradition began as a way to prevent accidents.

Whatever the reason, the “ghost light” tradition has inspired a new action. This Thursday (January 19, 5:30 p.m.), at over 300 theaters nationwide, actors and arts groups join in a collective, simultaneous action to create light.

That light is a way to make or renew a pledge to stand for and protect the values of inclusion, participation and compassion for all — regardless of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, (dis)ability, gender identity or sexual orientation.

ghost-lightSome of those theaters are on Broadway. Others are regional houses or high school auditoriums.

Here, the Ghost Light Project is planned for the Westport Country Playhouse.

The public is invited to attend. Attendees should bring a clear white electric light source of any kind. Flashlights, cell phone lights, flameless candles and lanterns are ideal.

Meanwhile, Staples Players is hosting their own, private event.

“Players has always strived to be an inclusive and supportive community,” says co-president and current senior Brooke Wrubel.

“Our participation in the Ghost Light Project reaffirms these long-held values.”

On Thursday evening, Staples students will be in the midst of exams.

“This is a traditionally stressful week,” co-president and senior Remy Laifer notes. “But the Ghost Light Project is a timely reminder that we’re here for each other, and never alone.”

(For a full list of participating theaters nationwide, click here.)

 

Daphne Baker Gets Chopped!

Daphne Baker is an 8th grader at Bedford Middle School. A typical 13-year-old, she loves hanging with friends, shopping, playing field hockey — and cooking.

That latter activity makes her a bit atypical. Tomorrow (Tuesday, January 10, 8 pm EST), she appears on Food Network’s “Chopped Junior.”

Daphne Baker on the set of "Chopped Junior" ...

Daphne Baker on the set of “Chopped Junior” …

Her episode is called “Pinwheel Meals.” According to the website:

In the appetizer round, the young cooks get to find out if bok choy tastes better with bacon. An old-fashioned “pinwheel” protein stirs things up in the entree round. And cottage cheese for dessert? The junior chefs attempt to find a place for it in their final plates. Actress Maia Mitchell and chefs Marc Murphy and Luke Thomas serve as judges.

Yum!

A longtime fan of the show, Daphne went through an arduous audition process. She sent in photos and videos of her cooking, then went through a series of phone and Skype interviews.

Four months later, she was selected for taping at The Chelsea Market.

The experience was “tons of fun,” Daphne says. And though the show is a contest, she became good friends with her 3 competitors.

... and opening her box of ingredients.

… and opening her box of ingredients.

The show was also a great exercise in making quick decisions, and executing with focus under pressure. “The process was probably more stressful for me than for Daphne,” admits her mother, Roma Tretiak.

“But she went in there with a positive attitude, and left with it too — enriched by the experience.”

Of course, confidentiality agreements prevent Daphne from telling us how she did. You’ll just have to see for yourself.

Perhaps curled up in front of the TV, with some bok choy and cottage cheese.

Gary Perelberg Cops Easy Sneakers

You know how hard it is to go online and buy a limited edition pair of sneakers?

Actually, I don’t.

But Gary Perelberg describes the frustration: You hear about a cool pair. You go to the site — say, Foot Locker. You keep clicking “Add to Cart.” Nothing happens — and then it crashes. No sneakers.

Actually, that’s what used to happen.

Gary — a Staples High School junior — has solved that First World problem. He developed a software program, with a bot that scrapes web pages. You put in the shoe you want, your size and shipping information — and bam! You’re in!

You can even purchase in bulk, in case you want to (ahem) resell.

easycop-logoGary’s program is called EasyCop (as in, “I copped these great sneakers on the web!”). It works with Foot Locker, Nike, East Bay and many more online stores.

Gary recently added many Shopify e-commerce sites, branching out into other apparel. You can now buy limited edition lipstick too!

Yet sneakers remain his love.

Gary’s not alone. Over 3,000 people have bought his software. He has more than 15,000 Twitter followers. Some are teenagers, like Gary. Others are adult collectors. Some are retailers.

Gary describes a recent success story: Kanye West introduced a very limited line of sneakers. They retail for $200, but command aftermarket prices of up to $4,000 (!).

“One guy bought 50 pairs,” Gary says proudly. They were promptly resold.

You’re wondering the same thing I am: Is this legal?

“Stores say they can cancel bot orders,” Gary explains. But they don’t, because such buying “drives hype. When a few people get tons of sneakers, the price stays high.”

Gary Perelberg at work, surrounded by the tools of his trade.

Gary Perelberg at work, surrounded by the tools of his trade.

Lest you think Gary is all about the money: He’s not. He could use his own program to buy and resell, but he doesn’t. He’s content just selling his software licenses.

Of course, he makes good money — enough to buy (at 16) his own car.

But he also has a social conscience. Each month, Gary gives a percentage of his income to Bridgeport public schools, so they can buy laptops and tablets. He’s already donated more than $5,000.

“They don’t have the same opportunity to learn technology,” he says. “I’m grateful for what I’ve learned. I want other people to have that chance too.”

Gary's Yeezy 350 Boost sneakers.

Gary’s Yeezy 350 Boost sneakers.

Of course, Gary has fun with his business. He used it recently to cop a pair of Kanye’s Yeezy 350 Boost sneakers (in pirate black).

Yet selling sneaker software is no walk in the park. Gary spends a good chunk of each day answering customer service questions. “Some people are just not tech-savvy,” he notes. Others have “legitimate questions.”

EasyCop has taught Gary a lot about dealing with the public. He’s also learned about programming, and how the web works.

He’s largely self-taught. But he gives shout-outs to Staples teachers like Dr. Nick Morgan, Dave Scrofani and Nate Dewey. “They’re not really into sneakers,” he says. “I talk to them a lot about programming though.”

He may expand EasyCop even beyond Shopify. “People request strange limited edition markets,” Gary says. “Like karate robes. And baby carriers.”

Soon though, he’ll start looking at colleges. His dream school is MIT.

One day, Gary says, “I want my own company.”

Sounds as if  he already does.

Want to know more about EasyCop? Click the video below.

SlamJam Helps Teens Be Kind, Fight Bullies

For a few months now, the Westport Arts Center’s “MORE Than Words” exhibit has highlighted the importance of courage, resilience and empowerment in the face of bullying.

It’s emboldened a variety of voices to speak out about the positive effects of empathy and kindness, and the negative results of exclusion.

No one knows that subject better than teenagers. On January 29, their voices will be heard — loud and clear.

SlamJam (5 p.m., Westport Country Playhouse) is an evening of performances by Fairfield County teens. They’ll express how they feel about their stressful social world, and promote a kinder, more inclusive community.

Songs, spoken word, rap, dance, music and film are some of the performance art genres on tap. Performers will come from Westport and area towns — including students from Bridgeport’s All-Star Project and Neighborhood Studios.

The emcee is Ceez Liive. The very cool poetry slam-winning artist from the Bronx performed at Staples a few years ago to great acclaim. Check her out below:

The event is produced by SKATEmovement. The acronym stands for Spreading Kindness and Teaching Empathy — an anti-bullying organization that teaches teens to be role models for younger children. All proceeds go to the Southern Connecticut branch of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

These are our teenagers. They have plenty to say.

And very creative, powerful ways of saying it.

(SlamJam is appropriate for middle schoolers and up. Tickets are $40 for adults, $20 for students and seniors. Click here to order. For $150 VIP seating, including pre- and post-show events, call 203-227-4177.)

slamjam

Young Animator Draws On Her Talent

For as long as Olivia Porretta can remember, she’s loved animation.

“You can make a character very simple, but still get a powerful emotional response,” the Staples High School junior explains. “People can connect to just 2 eyes and 1 mouth — it’s a universal face.”

She also likes the fact that animation is done completely by hand. Every frame is created by a real person.

In 5th grade at Saugatuck Elementary School, Olivia designed storyboards for a made-up character — without even knowing what storyboards were. Her younger brother liked them, so she did more.

Olivia Porretta

Olivia Porretta

At Staples, Olivia honed her illustrating and writing skills in the Animation Club. Using Cintiq — an interactive pen device similar to a big iPad — and programs like Photoshop and TVPaint — her passion grew.

Except for a summer session at New York’s School of Visual Arts, Olivia is self-taught. She’s also a self-starter.

When she met Kimson Albert — a noted animator — she showed him her work. Last year, he invited her to join the Amaze Project. That’s a fun, engaging video series teaching tweens and teens about health and safety, including sexuality, gender identity, relationships, friendships and puberty.

Each short film is written, designed, animated and produced by different people. Olivia was hired — and paid — for a video about online safety.

“I wanted kids to be empowered, not scared, by information,” she says. So her animation delivers its message in the voice of a child. Staples students Chloe Adda and Jake Watzman provided 2 of the voices. Olivia also added her own.

It took several hours each night — for many weeks — for Olivia to complete her 4-minute film. It was released last month. Reaction has been great. Click on the video below, to see for yourself:

Soon, Olivia will be back at work, creating new animations. Meanwhile, she’s enjoying Staples — especially (of course) her English elective class.

It’s called Visual Literacy.

(Hat tip: Sean McGee)

Boy Scouts’ Next Good Turn: Hauling Away Your Christmas Tree

Sure, Christmas was nice. Presents, family, eggnog and fruitcake.

But now it’s on to the next thing: Getting rid of the tree.

Like so many other tasks in Westport — leaf-raking, pool-cleaning, airport-driving — this task too can be outsourced.

Boy Scout Troop 39 of Westport will happily pick up your Christmas tree. That once beautiful, soon-to-be dying and needle-dropping symbol of recent holiday cheer can be disposed of with one simple mouse click.

The big day is Saturday, January 7. This is the 7th year in a row the Scouts are providing the service, so they’ve got the drill down pat. (And it’s a green drill: The trees are recycled as mulch.)

Boy Scout Troop 39 to the rescue!

Boy Scout Troop 39 to the rescue!

To register for this service, click here. Reservations are limited so — unlike Christmas shopping — don’t delay.

Place your tree by your mailbox by 6:30 a.m. that morning — yeah, you do have to move it that far yourself — and tape an envelope with your donation to your front door.

The suggested donation is $20 per tree (cash or checks made out to “Boy Scout Troop 39” are fine). I’m sure the scouts would not refuse higher amounts. Funds go toward troop activities like food drives, community service projects and high adventure backpacking trips.

The Boy Scouts are well known for “good turns” like helping little old ladies across streets. Bush league. In Westport, they help little old ladies — and strapping young men — dispose of big old Christmas trees.

It’s A Wonderful Life, Indeed!

Take out your earbuds. Move over, Spotify. You’re so old school, iTunes.

Staples students are embracing a cutting-edge new technology: radio.

But not just any radio: a 1940s-style radio drama.

WWPT_logoTomorrow (Thursday, December 22, 1 p..m.), Geno Heiter’s Audio Production class and David Roth’s Theater 3 Acting class collaborate on a radio broadcast of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

They’ll use the original 1946 script — including Lux toilet soap advertisements from that long-ago time.

Similar WWPT-FM productions have won top awards in the John Drury national high school radio competition. Check it out:

It’s a phenomenal event — and a great undertaking. High school students incorporate live drama skills, sound effects and radio production into an entertaining, uplifting performance.

You can hear it locally on 90.3 FM, or by clicking here for the livestream.

It is indeed a wonderful life!

PS: The 2016 Candlelight Concert is also available on WWPT-FM (and via livestream). It’s broadcast at random times — so keep listening!

4 Stony Brook, 5 Golden Rings

It was always a tense moment.

We gathered in the cozy living room of the Bacharachs’ house on Stony Brook Road. We’d caught up on each other’s lives, had a bit of food, sung a few warm-up Christmas carols.

Now it was time for “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Slips of paper would be passed out. Which “day” would you get?

There were a few dozen of us — old and young, relatives and friends, from near and far — but 12 days is a lot. Each of us would have only 3 or 4 other singers to help out.

All ages gathered at the Bacharachs' house for the annual carol sing. This photo is from the early 1970s.

All ages gathered at the Bacharachs’ house for the annual carol sing. This photo is from the 1970s.

If you were a good singer — and many of the Bacharachs and their guests were — you were happy to get the 1st day: “a partridge in a pear tree.” Another prize was “5 golden rings.” You could draw that one out like Enrico Caruso.

I love music. Unfortunately, my voice does not. I always hoped for “12 drummers drumming.” Inevitably, I got “2 turtle doves.”

I thought of all that recently, when a group of former Bacharach carol singers got together. I was with some storied Westport names — Anne Leonard Hardy, Suzanne Sherman Propp — and the more we chatted, the more we realized those holiday gatherings were more than just a fond memory.

They were transformative moments in our lives.

The Bacharachs' library, where generations gathered to sing. (Photo/Robert Colameco)

The Bacharachs’ library, where generations gathered to sing. (Photo/Robert Colameco)

It wasn’t just the warmth of the Bacharachs’ home — a 1796 farmhouse with a 3-sided fireplace in one of the oldest sections of town, that could have come right out of colonial New England central casting.

It wasn’t the warmth of the annual holiday party either, with its cherished traditions: the smiling patriarch Jim Bacharach leading everyone in song; his wife, the equally delightful DoDo, carving up ham and ladling out egg nog; the tree in the same spot every year, unchanging amid the turbulence of the world around.

And it wasn’t the guest list: the Bacharachs’ friends and neighbors; their 5 kids’ friends; girlfriends, boyfriends, college friends — the more the merrier. Jim and DoDo embraced them all.

DoDo Bacharach

DoDo Bacharach

All those memories came flooding back, as Anne and Suzanne and a few others talked. But it was something else that made those particular carol sings such a powerful piece of our past.

Among the folks always in the Bacharachs’ home were adults we knew from Staples High School: teachers we admired and respected. Phil Woodruff, the next door neighbor. Dick Leonard. Dave and Marianne Harrison. All were there, year after year.

At first we were a little intimidated by them. Singing “The 12 Days of Christmas” with the same people who handed out homework and gave us grades was — different. But socializing with those adults in that way made us feel a bit like adults too.

As we grew up, we grew in other ways. We graduated from Staples, and entered college. Returning to the Bacharachs’ for the carol sing, we had new things to talk about. We told them what we were studying. We offered our opinions. We were probably a bit pretentious, but our former teachers listened.

Relating with them on that level validated us. Those adult-type conversations — respectful, honest, about real issues — were some of the first times I felt like an adult myself.

At the same time, as I looked around at the many “kids” there, I saw younger versions of myself. I realized I had once been like them. For the first time I understood what it meant to grow up. I recognized with clarity that at that point, my life was poised between my past and my future.

As we moved on into the “real world” — with real jobs — we kept returning to that carol sing. Now we were the adults. The Bacharachs, Leonards, Shermans and others got married, and started families. And every year, they brought their own children to the annual Christmas party.

The Bacharachs' next door neighbor John Woodruff, with his young daughter Emily.

The Bacharachs’ next door neighbor John Woodruff, with his young daughter Emily at the carol sing.

The Bacharach carol sing is no more. Sadly, the house was torn down, replaced by something far less warm and much less meaningful.

But the memories remain, as strong as ever. It was a joy to share those memories the other day, with good friends who remember those great days.

Something else is strong too: My sense of self, nurtured so lovingly by those adults years ago, when I was a teenager trying to figure the world out.

Over ham, over egg nog — and yes, over the dreaded “12 Days of Christmas” — I tasted Westport at its best.

Staples Students Buck Centuries Of Tradition

Harriet Tubman notwithstanding — in 2020 — US paper currency has long been filled with old white guys.

You or I can’t do anything about that. But Carla Eichler’s Advanced Design and Technology students can.

Every year, the Staples High School art class creates posters for events like the Candlelight concert, library programs and more. They also study packaging and marketing concepts.

But the most creative part of the course is a major project, which changes each time. This year, Eichler asked her class to redesign the dollar bill.

Gabe Holm (foreground) and Ben Matteson, hard at work in Carla Eichler's class.

Gabe Holm (foreground) and Ben Matteson, hard at work in Carla Eichler’s class.

It was not easy. First the students studied the history of American currency. Then they looked at other countries’ money.

They realized that, by comparison, ours is dull — in both color and content. While some nations celebrate their cultures and values, ours honors (it bears repeating) old white guys.

Eichler’s assignment had certain requirements. New designs must incorporate traditional elements, like the Federal reserve seal. But other than that, the sky — literally — was the limit.

Some students kept familiar characteristics: the flag, the eagle, even the green and gray color palette.

Others changed colors, iconography and themes.

Senior Gabe Holm took the “sky’s the limit” charge seriously. The front side of his design — which cleverly rises vertically — shows an astronaut floating in space. The reverse side includes the Apollo 11 rocket blasting off for the moon, and Neil Armstrong’s famous “one small step…” speech.

“My philosophy was to honor achievements, rather than people,” Gabe says. “That avoids any controversy over gender or race. And the moon landing is one of America’s greatest achievements.”

gabe-holm-dollar-redesign-space

Sophomore Ben Matteson wanted a person of color on his bill. He chose Martin Luther King — “a man who changed America. He made a big impact on what our country is today.”

Ben chose one of King’s lesser-known quotes for the front. The back shows the Lincoln Memorial. It was the site of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech — while also honoring a president who had an enormous impact on equal rights.

ben-matteson-dollar-redesign-mlk

Jacob Stanford selected a white guy for his bill — but one of far more recent vintage, to “modernize” our currency. John F. Kennedy is “iconic,” the sophomore says. He then found an iconic color photo of the president, his finger jabbing at a press conference, but made it black-and-white.

Jacob juxtaposed JFK in front of the New York City skyline — a city he calls “the most iconic place in America.” But on the back of his design — in place of the usual Washington buildings and monuments — he offers a nod to traditionalism: a soaring eagle.

jacob-stanford-dollar-redesign-jfk

Perhaps the most intriguing departure from the same-old same-old came from Alyssa Domenico. The senior — born in China, adopted by American parents — wanted to portray this nation’s diversity and multiculturalism.

She researched Ellis Island, and studied the languages we speak here today. The result: a beautiful design incorporating the storied immigration center, the Statue of Liberty, American flags on the front and back — and “one dollar,” rendered in over a dozen languages.

alyssa-domenico-dollar-redesign-immigration

As part of the assignment students wrote artist statements, reflecting why and how they chose their designs. They also critiqued each other’s work, and used that feedback in their revisions.

This is Eichler’s 12th year teaching Advanced Design and Technology. Many of her students have gone on to careers in graphic arts, marketing, art education and animation.

Perhaps others will one day actually redesign our U.S. currency.

We sure need it.

Candlelight: A Concert For The Ages

For 76 years, the Staples High School music department has offered the Candlelight Concert as a gift to the town.

Last night’s present was well received, by a full house. Candlelight continues this afternoon and tonight.

No tickets remain. But here’s a chance to enjoy some of what the hundreds of young musicians — and their very talented teachers — gave to us last night.

The lobby display got concert-goers in the holiday spirit.

A lobby display got concert-goers in the holiday spirit.

Alice Addicks retired from Staples in June. But she returned last night to her long-time post as head usher.

Alice Addicks retired from Staples in June. But she returned last night to her long-time post as head usher.

Candida Innaco's chamber orchestra played outside the auditorium before the concert.

Candi Innaco’s chamber orchestra played outside the auditorium before the concert.

The stage was set...

Dozens of poinsettias set the mood.

The orchestra began with Elgar's "Enigma Variations."

The orchestra began with Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.”

Choir member Colin McKechnie, in the famous "Sing We Noel" processional.

Choir member Colin McKechnie, in the famous “Sing We Noel” processional.

Dr. Robert Kwan accompanies the chorus and chorale.

Dr. Robert Kwan accompanied the chorus and chorale.

Luke Rosenberg led the choir in 4 beautiful songs.

Luke Rosenberg led the choir in 4 beautiful songs.

The orchestra, reflected in the piano.

Orchestra members, reflected in the piano.

The production number included several intriguing characters.

The “Hail to the Chief” production number included several intriguing “holiday” characters…

...including Secret Service agents. They flanked Don Rickenback, who wrote the entire piece.

…including Secret Service agents. They flanked Don Rickenback, who wrote the entire piece.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer joined in the rousing "Hallelujah Chorus" finale.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer joined in the rousing “Hallelujah Chorus” finale.

Orchestra director Adele Cutralo=Valovich and band director Nick Mariconda take their bows.

Orchestra director Adele Cutrali-Valovich and band director Nick Mariconda take bows.

candlelight-2016-program-cover