Tag Archives: Christopher Lloyd

Christopher Lloyd: Back To The Future — And To Staples Players’ Past

Westporters love Staples Players.

Since 1958, the high school drama troupe has produced hundreds of musicals, dramas, Shakespeare plays, even an original anti-war show that won national awards and ended up at the UN.

Some people know the back story: In the ’50s, Staples student Christopher Lloyd asked his English teacher, Craig Matheson, for help starting a drama club.

Yes, that Christopher Lloyd. The rest is theatrical history.

Ten years later, Mark Groth served as president of Players’ Stage and Technical Staff. Now — nearly 6 decades after that — he has a story to tell.

And it involves Christopher Lloyd.

“Great Scott!”

You hear that voice, and you know immediately who it is.

I was watching the “Mandalorian” (I know, I’m slow), and I heard it.

Holy %#*!! That’s Christopher Lloyd, as a bad guy.

He is now is 84 years old. Back at the Players’ 50th anniversary alumni celebration, Peter Hirst and I had a chance to talk to Craig Matheson about Players’ history.

He told us stories about Christopher Lloyd, and some “interesting” tales about what he was like back then.

Craig was incredibly supportive of him, and made sure he graduated. Chris really was the first Staples Player alum.

1958 yearbook photo and writeup. (Courtesy of Jack Backiel)

Back to now. I am not a big fan of “fan expos,” with their stable of “celebrities,” and all manner of costumes, merchandise and true believers in full array.

But I saw that Christopher Lloyd would be at the Denver Convention Center, not far from my home.

The ticket was mostly affordable attendance, with a stunning cost for the live autograph session.

As Doc Brown would say, “well, what the hell.”

The room is about 1 1/2 football fields. It held over 200 exhibitors. There were 40 signing tables for autographs of stars.

I got there at 3 p.m. for a 4 p.m. signing time. Thirty serious fans were already in line — including a full-dress Doc Brown (white coat, white wig, carrying an RC car controller with antenna).

They were selling posters, model DeLoreans (at about the price of a real one), key chains, etc.

Chris showed up at 4:20, and started signing. He took a break just as I got to the front.

I was up first when he came back. I introduced myself as a 1967 Staples Player from Westport. I told him that Craig Matheson, who he might remember, spoke of him as being there at the beginning.

I said Craig has told us some stories about him. He smiled said, “let’s not get into that.”

I explained it was apparent he was the very first Players alumnus. I wanted his autograph to put in the Players archives, so folks could see it and celebrate his history.

I told him Craig was very proud of his trifecta resume of cinema, television and live theater.

He was very pleased, and signed the sheet I brought. I told him it was only 6 decades, but if he would accept, I would like to finally give him his own Players t-shirt.

I had my 50th anniversary t-shirt that I had only worn once, newly washed and ironed. He was very moved.

I handed it to him, and asked if I could get a photo. He smiled, held it up and thanked me.

I thanked him for a lifetime of enjoyment of his work. He reached out and shook my hand.

It was an honor to meet and talk with him. He is a charming man — and still working.

And — speaking of the future: “Back to the Future: The Musical” is in previews right now. The official opening date is August 3.

(“o6880” covers Westport’s past, present and future. Please click here to support our work, with a tax-deductible contribution. Thank you!)

Colorado Governor Jared Polis takes a selfie with Christopher Lloyd. (All photos/Mark Groth)

Roundup: The Tender Bar, Stop & Shop …


“Tender Bar” is a new movie, which recently began streaming on Amazon Prime.

Directed by George Clooney, starring Ben Affleck, and based on the best-selling memoir by J.R. Moehringer, it includes a Westport scene. The Hollywood Reporter says:

“During a visit to Sydney’s home in the la-di-da suburbia of Westport, Connecticut, J.R.’s tense breakfast with her parents (Mark Boyett and Quincy Tyler Bernstine) tips into the absurd, recalling the memorably uncomfortable meet-the-parents meal in Goodbye, Columbus, and giving Clooney a chance to express his taste for edgier, satiric terrain.”

Fred Cantor — who sent along that tidbit — adds: “Even though the author’s sometime girlfriend at Yale was from Westport, the scenes at the train station and her home were filmed in a Boston suburb.”

One more local connection: The cast includes Christopher Lloyd. As a Staples High School student in 1958, he helped found what is now the nationally known Players drama troupe.

Click here for the full Hollywood Reporter review.

“The Tender Bar” (Photo courtesy of Amazon)


Omicron may be rampant, but Stop & Shop has eliminated its special 6 a.m. opening time — instituted early in the pandemic, to give older shoppers special access to a supposedly emptier store. The new opening hour for everyone is 7 a.m. (Hat tip: John Karrel)


Friday’s snowstorm has moved on. But scenes like these remain. This one was captured for “Westport … Naturally” by June Rose Whittaker.

(Photo/June Rose Whittaker)


And finally … Happy 109th birthday, Mr. President!


Roundup: Firefighters, Swans, Geese …


Earlier his week, Westport firefighters assisted the Westport Weston Health District and Department of Human Services by providing COVID vaccinations to homebound residents.

And … while delivering the vaccines, Fire Department members performed home safety inspections, including inspecting flammable substance storage, and checking and installing smoke and CO2 alarms.

Then yesterday morning, our firefighters helped Human Services by loading and unloading food boxes from the Connecticut Food Bank. 60 will be distributed to food-insecure households in Westport. Two more pick-ups are scheduled next month.

For more information on food resources, email humansrv@westportct.gov or call 203-341-1050.

Kudos to all involved. It takes a village — and ours is a great one. (Hat tip: Jennifer Gallini Petrosinelli)

Firefighter Liz Ferguson helps with food distribution.


At the same time, Fire Department members were training downtown:

(Photo/Lauri Weiser)


Audrey Hertzel posted a COVID vaccine comment. It’s so good, I’m repeating it here. Every “06880” reader needs to see this — and follow through.

Audrey wrote: “I had my first shot at the Stamford Lord & Taylor parking lot last week. Everyone was so wonderful.

“Someone on a local neighborhood group suggested bringing cookies, coffee, etc. to the the workers.

“I brought 100 Dunkin’ Munchkins and a Box of Joe for them to share. They couldn’t have been more appreciative. I’m hoping more people do the same — and spread the word to others!”

Thank-you donuts. (Photo/Audrey Hertzel)


Interested in the future of downtown?

Tomorrow (Friday, March 26, 1:30 p.m., Zoom), the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Senior Center offer an interesting online panel.

Topics include:

  • How is downtown doing?
  • Where is downtown headed, post-COVID?
  • Can people live downtown?
  • What is there for seniors?

The high-powered panelists include:

  • Randy Herbertson: President, Westport Downtown Merchants Association
  • David Waldman: Owner, David Adam Realty
  • Kim Harizman: Realtor, KMS Partners @ Compass
  • Annette Norton: Owner, Savvy + Grace

Chamber of Commerce director Matthew Mandell will moderate.

Click here for the Zoom link. The meeting code is 889 0588 3613. The passcode is wcsa.

What’s up downtown? (Photo/Lauri Weiser)


Yesterday, the Board of Selectman unanimously adopted this resolution:

WHEREAS, Asian-Pacific American communities are suffering acts of discrimination, hate crimes, and microaggressions, which have been exposed and heightened due to COVID-19; and

WHEREAS, anti-Asian rhetoric and sentiment is stigmatizing, tends to incite fear and xenophobia, and numerous Asian-Pacific Americans are experiencing increased racial profiling, hate incidents, and, in some cases, hate violence; and

WHEREAS, in an effort to bring attention to baseless and xenophobic actions, hate speech, and bias, and most particularly, those against the Asian American and Pacific Island community, the Town of Westport must demonstrate its support for neighbors, families and friends who are adversely affected and traumatized by these acts.

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Westport Board of Selectmen emphatically denounces xenophobia and anti-Asian sentiment. The Town of Westport joins municipalities, counties, and states across the country in affirming its commitment to the safety and well-being of Asian-Pacific Americans and in combating hate crimes targeting Asian-Pacific Americans; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that Westport remains committed to condemning all manner of racism, stigmatization, hate speech, hate crimes, xenophobia, discrimination and violence.  Protecting residents, business owners, workforce members, and victims of hate through supportive programs and policies that embrace inclusivity, diversity, civil discourse, and acceptance for all, remains at the forefront of our intentions as a community to combat hate and racial injustices.


Yesterday’s “06880” Roundup mention of Christopher Lloyd prompted Jack Backiel to dig out his Staples High School 1958 yearbook.

Here’s what he found for his now-famous classmate:

Football? Party of the year? Lawrence (sp) Olivier? But hey — he still looks (almost) the same.


Whitney Raith spotted this scene on Monday, just a few steps from busy Parker Harding Plaza. The swans were protecting their nest.

(Photo/Whitney Raith)

But, she notes: “When I walked by, one of the parents got very upset. I know swans can get nasty. I hope people are aware, and keep their distance.”


On the same day, Daniel Hoffman spotted this guy at Compo:

(Photo/Daniel Hoffman)

“Spring is officially here,” Daniel says.


After 38 years as founder and chair of the Susan Fund — where she oversaw raising and distributing nearly $2 million in scholarships to 285 Fairfield County students diagnosed with cancer — Ann Lloyd has stepped down from her role.

Incoming chair Jeff Booth’s first official act was to name Ann chairman emeritus.

That’s her second recent honor. Last month, the indefatigable Westporter was an “06880” Unsung Hero of the Week.

Ann Lloyd


And still another sign of spring — and the (hopeful) end of the pandemic:

(Photo/Bill Ryan)

Bill Ryan says that the Longshore golf course sand traps are raked — and rakes are in place, ready to be used.

Last year, COVID restrictions included the removal of all rakes. Fore!


And speaking of sports: Dave Briggs is a great interviewer. (He should be: He spent more than 2 decades at Fox News, NBC Sports and CNN.) His Instagram Live sessions have become must-see viewing for ever-larger audiences.

It helps that he snags great guests.

Today’s is Jay Williams. The NBA analyst and ESPN radio host is — like Dave — a a Westport resident.

It’s live at 2 p.m. today (Thursday, March 25; @WestportMagazine). The 2 guys welcome your questions. Shoot!


In January 2020, “06880” reported that Little Beet was coming to the Fresh Market shopping center.

The chain offers “wholesome, healthy food that not only tastes great, but makes you feel great.” Food is “carefully sourced … from farmers and purveyors we trust, guaranteeing all of our food is gluten-free and better for you.”

The menu includes make-your-own rice and quinoa-based meals, poké and other bowls, vegetable sides, and breakfast sandwiches, parfaits and oatmeal.

Little Beet would open that summer, I confidently said.

COVID and (perhaps) other issues intervened. The storefront sat empty. But now, work has begun.

Perhaps a summer 2021 opening is on the table?

(Photo/Dan Woog)


Last month, “06880” paid tribute to Bob Comstock. After a legendary career in New Jersey journalism, he spent nearly 20 years in Westport. He was active in the Unitarian Church and Y’s Men.

Yesterday, at his daily COVID press briefing, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy added his own tribute to Bob. Click below to watch:


And finally … we celebrate 2 big musical birthdays today: Aretha Franklin and Elton John. What a duo they would have made!

Roundup: Operation Varsity Blues, Christopher Lloyd, Women’s Voices …


Operation Varsity Blues” — the Netflix movie about the rich-and-famous college admissions scandal — has taken America by storm.

There’s a Westport angle. Thankfully, it has nothing to do with a parent pretending his or her child was a star water polo player, even if he or she cannot swim.

“Operation Varsity Blues” was written and edited by Jon Karmen. He’s the 2008 Staples High School graduate who made a huge name for himself there as half of “Rubydog” — a moviemaking duo who, working with media instructor Jim Honeycutt, made a number of way-beyond-high school videos back in the day. (Click here to see some of their pioneering work.)

Karmen is known too as the writer/director of “Fyre” (2019), a behind-the-scenes look at that infamous music festival.

“Varsity Blues” was #3 on Netflix’s Top 10 Most Watched Movies & TV Shows yesterday. But it wasn’t the only one with an “06880” connection. Jamie Mann’s “Country Comfort” checked in at #7. (Hat tip: Kerry Long)


Speaking of Staples: More than 60 years after helping found Staples Players, Christopher Lloyd is still acting.

In 1958 he was a Staples High School student who wanted to do more than just act in a class play. He found a mentor in English teacher Craig Matheson. The rest, as they say, is history.

Lloyd went on to a career that includes “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the “Back to the Future” trilogy, “Star Trek III,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and 2 “Addams Family” films.

At 82 years old, he’s got a new movie: “Senior Moment.” He stars with Jean Smart and William Shatner, who play a pair of older star-crossed lovers in an old-school romcom.

Lloyd talks about that project; his 5 wives — and growing up in Westport — in a wide-ranging Guardian interview. He was the youngest of 8 children, though the closest in age was 7 years older. Click here for the full interview. (Hat tip: Jeff Mitchell)’

Christopher Lloyd in “Senior Moment.”


Speaking again of Staples: Staples history classes absolutely crushed the National History Day regional competition.

Their papers, documentaries and exhibits examined everything from the Daughters of the Confederacy and Queer Communications in the Age of Oppression to Crypto-Analysis in World War I, Cigarette Advertising and the Freedom Riders.

How dominant was Staples? 32 students placed. There were only 5 other winners in the entire region, from just 2 other schools.

Placing first were Ishan Prasad, Sabrina Paris, Maya Hruskar, Lilly Weisz, Srushti Karve, William Jin, Michael Nealon, Zachary Brody, Jeffrey Pogue, Jack Ginsburg, Preston Norris, Tyler Clark and Matthew Gatto.

Finishing second were Nikos Ninios, Franca Strandell, Camille Vynerib, Julet Tracey, Lily Klau, Olivia Stubbs, Hannah Fiarman, Franky Lockenour, James Dobin-Smith, Coco Laska, Karlie Saed and Sarp Gurdogan.

Taking third were Sebastian Miller, Analise Vega, Emma Porzio, Arda Ernamli, Hannah Conn, Samantha Paris and Ethan Cukier.

Their (superb) teachers are Drew Coyne, Nell-Ann Lynch, Cathy Schager and Kelly Zrenda.

Up next: state and (hopefully) national competition.

A US championship? That would be historic.


Speaking once again of the arts: On Tuesday (March 30, 7 p.m.), the Westport Country Playhouse presents a world premiere of “New Works/New Voices.” These 4 new pieces — all written by community members — honor women who inspired them: Constance Baker Motley, Anne Bogart, Mary Freeman, Mary McLeod Bethune and Gloria Steinem.

Local storytellers and actors will bring to life these very personal, beautiful stories recorded on the WCP stage.

Viewers are invited to pay what they can. 50% of ticket sales and donations during the broadcast go to the Playhouse’s community partner, Women’s Mentoring Network, providing career, educational and personal resources for the economic empowerment of low-income women and their families.

Click here to register for “New Works/New Voices.”

The artists and storytellers who will bring 5 women’s stories to life.


Westporter Rob Simmelkjaer was confirmed yesterday, by a bipartisan State Senate vote, as chair of the Connecticut Lottery.

It’s a volunteer — but quite active — role he’s served in since May. Area senators Will Haskell and Bob Duff spoke warmly on the media executive’s behalf.

Rob Simmelkjaer


Update from Parks & Rec: The concession stand at Compo Beach will open in mid-April. Last year, during COVID, it opened late, and ran only from a trailer adjacent to the brick building.

The concession stand at Compo Beach will be open next month.


MoCA Westport has added 5 members to its board of directors. Two are from Westport.

Jennifer Kanfer has served on the board of The Conservative Synagogue, including co-chair of the Social Action, Membership and Fundraising Committees. and with the Coleytown Elementary School PTA. She previously worked in healthcare communications for 14 years. She holds a BA in political science from the University of Michigan, an MPA in healthcare policy and administration from NYU, and an MBA in Finance from NYU’s Stern School.

Samantha Yanks is an award-winning editor with over 20 years experience in luxury fashion and lifestyle publishing. In 2018 she launched a social, digital and branding agency, Samantha Yanks Creative. She was most recently editor-in- chief of Gotham and Hamptons magazines. As senior accessories editor at O, she collaborated closely with Oprah Winfrey. Yanks has discussed fashion, beauty and lifestyle on “The Today Show” and “NBC Nightly News,” “New York Live,” “Good Day New York,” E!, the Martha Stewart and Howard Stern shows, and more. She graduated from Tulane University.


‘Tis the season — for both holiday lights and daffodils.

(Photo/Tracy Porosoff)


And finally … the great — and greatly underrated — Billy Stewart was born today, in 1937. He died in 1970, only 32 years old.

If you only have time to listen to one song, it’s “Summertime.” But everything he touched was a classic.


Friday Flashback #63

2017-18 marks the 60th anniversary of the last classes to attend Staples High School for the full year.

In January 1959, students and staff moved from Riverside Avenue — Staples’ home since 1884 — to a sparkling new campus on North Avenue. Bedford Junior High relocated a few yards east into the now-“old” Staples; the former BJHS became Kings Highway Elementary School.

Staples High School on Riverside Avenue, as seen in the 1958 yearbook.

Alert “06880” reader Fred Cantor was fascinated by a 1958 yearbook, from Staples’ final school year on the river. He sent along several interesting photos from it. Taken together, they prove how much Staples has changed in the past 6 decades.

And how much it hasn’t.

In the fall of 1957, coach Albie Loeffler fielded the 1st-ever Staples soccer club. The following year, it became an official sport. And what a sport: over the past 59 years, the Wreckers have qualified for the state tournament 58 times. In the photo below — with just 13 players –Loeffler stands at the far right. Per Haarr — a Norwegian exchange student who became a legendary track star, and may have been an Olympic decathlon champion had he not died in a tragic accident at 22 — stands 3rd from left.

Staples still has a soccer team, of course. But the rifle team — which by 1958 had become a club — is long gone. There were still plenty of members though (including at least 2 girls). The yearbook noted that the Rifle Club was part of the NRA.

The yearbook itself had a huge staff. With several cheerleaders, it looks like a very popular activity. (And check out the skirts!)

The yearbook featured writeups of every senior. Some still live here, like Mike Calise:

Some remain connected to Westport through frequent comments on “06880.” Here’s Mary Louise Cookman (now Schmerker):

Others went on to other kinds of fame. Here’s actor Christopher Lloyd — who also played a major role in creating Staples Players:

The yearbook also showed the results of the Class of 1958’s “favorites” poll. A few were serious. Many sound like inside jokes. But there was little doubt about their favorite actor;

Near the end of the yearbook, local businesses took out ads. (Today those yearbook pages are filled with parents’ ads, congratulating and praising their own children).

In 1958, Ike was nearing the end of his 2 terms in the White House. When JFK replaced him, America — and the world — suddenly changed.

The same thing happened with Staples. The move to North Avenue brought the school into the modern era.

Soon — like the rest of Westport education — those no-frills yearbooks grew more creative, fancy and high-tech.

You can’t stop progress. But it sure doesn’t hurt to slow down every once in a while and remember what life was like, 60 long/short years ago.

Back To The Future At Berklee

The other day, Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston took their daughter Emma to Berklee College of Music. The former Staples Players star is a 1st-year voice/ piano major, with a songwriting and theater minor.

As they sat in a meeting with the president for new parents, Steve noticed a familiar face: film and TV star Christopher Lloyd (“Back to the Future,” “Addams Family,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”). His stepson is studying guitar at Berklee.

Steve and Rondi introduced themselves as more than fans. They knew he’d gone to Staples High School — where, as a student in 1958, he convinced English teacher Craig Matheson to found an acting troupe. The group soon became Staples Players.

They had a lot to talk about. Steve and Rondi were proud to tell Chris that Players has evolved into a first-rate company, with productions rivaling Broadway. He was thrilled.

Perhaps the rest of Westport will see the founding student/Emmy Award winner soon too — back in the audience, watching the group he helped found.

Rondi Charleston and Chris Lloyd.

Rondi Charleston and Chris Lloyd.

Remembering Craig Matheson

Craig Matheson — founder of the legendary Staples Players’ drama organization; a former teacher and administrator at Staples High School, and a beloved educator, director, and wonderful, ever-smiling human being — died peacefully yesterday morning, surrounded by his family. He was 81.

He remained a Staples Players friend throughout his life. The last show he saw was “You Can’t Take It With You,” in May. Fittingly, that was the 1st Players production he ever directed, more than 5 decades ago.

A service is tentatively planned for Sunday, August 11, 2 p.m. at Green’s Farms Congregational Church.

Craig Matheson was known as the founder of Staples Players. But he was very involved in the Saugatuck Congregational Church too. In 2010 -- for the church's 175th anniversary celebration -- he played the role of founding father Daniel Nash.

Craig Matheson was known as the founder of Staples Players. But he was very involved in local affairs too. In 2010 — for the 175th anniversary of the chartering of the town of Westport — he played the role of founding father Daniel Nash.

In 2004 I interviewed Craig for my book, Staples High School: 120 Years of A+ History. Here is that chapter.


In 1957 I had a been a public school English teacher for 4 years, in Southington and Woodbury. I had just finished my master’s degree in theater at Wesleyan, when I met [Staples English teacher] Gladys Mansir and [principal] Stan Lorenzen at a conference. She said Staples was building a new high school, and would I be interested in doing theater there? I said yes. Then she told me I wouldn’t have a stage for another year.

I came, and taught on Riverside Avenue for one year. I helped with the plans for the new building, but there wasn’t much I could do. It was more of an auditorium than a theater. The emphasis was on concerts, not plays, because the music program was so strong. I couldn’t change much, because it was already close to completion.

When I came to Staples there was no drama program – just the senior class play. Gladys and Edna Kearns had done them. They were trained in English and Latin, and were anxious to find someone to do the plays. The kids wanted drama, but they didn’t know anything about it.

The first year Stan wanted something, anything, so I did a production number – “The Night Before Christmas” – for the Candlelight Concert, which in those days was at Long Lots Junior High. We ended up alternating that and “Amahl and the Night Visitor” every year, for years. I also taught five English classes.

Christopher Lloyd, in Staples High School.

Christopher Lloyd, in Staples High School.

I found Christopher Lloyd. He was a marginal student, but he was interested in theater. He came to my small apartment on Turkey Hill Road, and we had a long conversation about theater. He helped me get started with our first production later that year. It was also at Long Lots, on the stage in the gym. It was more of a theater revue – not really a play.

The move to North Avenue changed everything. There was no high school in the state that I knew of with a theater program. Most were like Staples – they had a senior class play, with a faculty advisor who got dragooned into it. They were awful plays, but the kids loved them.

I told the kids we’d start a theater program, and they chose You Can’t Take it With You from play books. It was an intimate comedy. I had no production director, so I did that too. I had no idea how to mount it, how to bring it down on a stage that large. I did very well from an acting point of view, but as a production director I stunk. The set was much too large, so the play lost its intimacy. And it was pink, so it looked even bigger. We put it on for one weekend, and were very glad to get an audience both nights. But people thought the show was fine.

Lu Villalon was the editor of the Town Crier, and his son Andy happened to star in that production. His sister Ann was in plays too. Lu reviewed the shows for the Town Crier under the name “Robin Goodfellow,” and that stirred a lot of interest in theater at Staples.

The next year we did two major productions. The Teahouse of the August Moon was very successful. It ran for two weekends. People from the New England Theatre contest came, and it won a New England award. It also won the Connecticut Drama Festival award, so we started with a bang. That created lots of interest and excitement in the theater program too. And the local papers were great . They gave us full pages of coverage, with photos for every show.

We had a lot of support from Stan, from superintendent Gerry Rast and the Board of Education. Gerry was a musician – he played the organ – and his wife was too. They were very arts-oriented people. He wanted a theater program comparable to the music program that was already established, and I was his man to do that.

All the administrators I worked for supported what I was doing. Stan, Jim Calkins, Gerry, Gordon Peterkin – without their support, I would have been dead. They all saw the value in what we were doing, and they were all there at our performances. They were very loyal supporters – and it was not just lip service. The community and the Board of Education really made a difference too.

Anything I asked for, I got – including release time from the classroom. That was almost unheard of. By my third year my teaching load had been reduced by half. I had two English classes, and one Play Production. The next year I had only theater classes. They got so big, Floren Harper was hired to help teach them too. She came from Andrew Warde High School in Fairfield, and she worked so well with movement and dance.

Craig Matheson (right) and technical director Steven Gilbert.

Craig Matheson (right) and technical director Steven Gilbert.

At that time, I don’t think any Connecticut high school had play production classes. I team-taught with Stephen Gilbert. He was an art teacher with a great interest in theater – a very talented guy. He taught stage design, costuming and makeup.

Steve was so important to the high school. He was a young man with a great sense of color and lighting and costumes. He got kids so excited about projects. He was like a magnet. He had more kids on his technical staff than I had on stage. They always worked so hard. He was a godsend to the program.

Steve and Floren and I were such a team. There was no intrigue. We all had a sense of humor, and we loved the kids.

We also had help from Liza Chapman Heath, a skilled actress who did workshops with us. And Ian Martin, a theater writer and actor, would come speak to the kids about theater opportunities.

Hal James, the Broadway producer, was wonderful. His daughter Melody was in our program – so were his sons Beau and Mike, but she was the most talented of the three. He saw the potential of our program, and what needed to be done. He saw the stage needed work, and through his influence we got Ralph Alswang – a Broadway theater designer – to cut holes in the side panel to mount stage lights. Originally, we could only light the tops of heads.

Ralph became the consultant for redoing that monstrous auditorium building. We’ve had three renovations since, and now it’s what I envisioned 40 years ago – it’s got a green room, a dressing room, a large stagecraft area, and a new lighting board.

The program grew because of the reputation it began to get for excellence. We won five consecutive first-place awards in the Connecticut Drama Festival, and two New England Theatre awards. Audiences grew – from 400 that first weekend in 1958, to over 5,000 for War and Pieces. We toured 14 high schools and six colleges with that show.

At Staples Players' 50th anniversary celebration in 2008, Craig Matheson (right) reunited with Peter Hirst (left), who played Everyman in the 1967 production of "War and Pieces." They worked with then-current Player Adam Bangser, who reprised that role.  (Photo by Kerry Long)

At Staples Players’ 50th anniversary celebration in 2008, Craig Matheson (right) reunited with Peter Hirst (left), who played Everyman in the 1967 production of “War and Pieces.” They worked with then-current Player Adam Bangser, who reprised that role. (Photo by Kerry Long)

Kids saw that theater was fun. They got recognition from audiences. Sports had always been big at Staples, and I wanted athletes to be in theater too. [Choreographer] Joanne De Bergh was wonderful working with the guys. So was Bambi Lynn, who played Alice on Broadway and did our choreography for Alice in Wonderland.

We had a number of significant plays. Peter Pan was an absolutely delightful show. It was the first year we got Saugatuck families involved. Antoinette Sarno – the barber’s daughter — was Peter. She was marvelous. She’s now a theater teacher.

The Foys of New York, who did the flying for the original show, came to help us with the staging. The town turned out in force to see it. They were so excited to see Antoinette fly around the stage. But that flying required a lot of sophistication. Five kids flew, and no one hit anyone else. After the fifth show, I was so thankful no one got hurt. It was high risk. The Foys showed us how to do it, but the football players backstage did all the pulling. It was aerial ballet, comparable to Broadway.

We didn’t enter the Connecticut Drama Festival that year. We were too far beyond the other schools. So we hosted it, and while the judges were deciding the winners the final night, we performed it for the rest of the audience.

We had a few flops. The Madwoman of Chaillot was much too difficult. That was a bad decision on my part.

Today they do musicals. The cooperation between drama, music and art is wonderful. Some of the people I worked with were more guarded about their areas. I always had to fight to get time on stage.

When I moved into administration, it was at the request of [principal] Jim Calkins. I didn’t want to, but with three kids the money was attractive. I’ve regretted it the rest of my life.

Then I got an offer from Darien to head the drama department. And then when they asked me to be an administrator there, I did the same thing again. I made the same mistake twice!

But it was so nice a few years ago to be asked to go to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh with Judy Luster, Dave Roth and Joanne Kahn. I absolutely loved it. It was so nice to be asked, and to sort of tie things back to the beginning of Staples Players.

At Staples Players' 50th anniversary celebration in 2008, director David Roth (right) announced that the Black Box Theater would be named in honor of Players' founder, Craig Matheson (left).  (Photo by Kerry Long)

At Staples Players’ 50th anniversary celebration in 2008, director David Roth (right) announced that the Black Box Theater would be named in honor of Players’ founder, Craig Matheson (left). (Photo by Kerry Long)

Al Pia was a great find as a director, and of course [current director] David Roth was Al’s student. It’s almost incestuous. All of us, including [former director] Judy Luster, have influenced each other for almost 50 years.

The theater program is the lifeblood of that high school. I never miss a performance. It’s made such a difference in people’s lives. One night I was watching TV, and I saw seven kids who have come through the program. Being able to instill love for an art form has been inspirational – that’s what it’s all about for me.