“Hey kids, let’s put on a show!” Mickey Rooney said that so often to Judy Garland in Depression-era films, it became a cliché.
Kids today still put on shows. But — this being Westport, and the year being 2022 — they are, well, different.
“Lux Freer” is the latest movie to be made here. The plot: A middle-class non-binary teen feels like an outcast in their new town of rich jocks and beauty queens — until a wishing well and the most popular guy in school offer a view from the top of the social ladder.
See what I mean?
Cast and crew take a break, with a Joe’s Pizza lunch.
“Lux Freer” is a production of Triple Threat Academy. Each summer the Westport-based school for teen and adult actors, singers and dancers (“triple threats”), founded by “Fame” star/1981 Staples High School graduate) Cynthia Gibb, runs an independent film project.
Students learn acting in front of a camera, along with directing, shooting and producing.
With a professional crew, a cast of 23, and a heap of help from Westport residents and businesses, this is the biggest Triple Threat production yet.
Westporter Andrew Wilk (multi-Emmy-winning producer/director of “Live from Lincoln Center, former Sony Music COO), screenwriter Michael Jamin (“Beavis and Butthead”), makeup artist Kathleen Fillion and filmmaker Allie O’Brien all spoke with students.
Jamie Mann’s makeup is done professionally by Kathleen Fillion.
The non-binary star is Echo Bodell, Other cast members include professional actors Jean Louisa Kelly (“Top Gun Maverick”), Jamie Mann (“Country Comfort”), Cameron Mann (“Mare of Easttown”) and Natalie Mann (“A California Christmas”). All except Kelly are, were or soon will be Staples High School students.
“Lux Freer” star Echo Bodell (black clothes) and Jasmita Mani Lorenzato prepare for a shot.
Shooting took place at Bedford Middle School. Principal Adam Rosen welcomed the cast (many of whom attended BMS).
The Porch @ Christie’s — whose mission of inclusion aligns with the film’s theme — was another location. They catered one lunch. Comped and/or discounted food was also courtesy of Joe’s Pizza and Gaetano’s. Planet Pizza provided a uniform, pizzas and catering.
The iconic Buick station wagon came courtesy of longtime Westporter Anne Westlake.
Many Westporters joined the filming as extras. You’ll see some familiar faces (including, ahem, my own.)
Cast members and extras wait for “Action!” in the Bedford Middle School auditorium.
Later this year – after editing and post-production — “Lux Freer” will hit the film festival circuit.
The entire cast and crew — I mean, we — can’t wait.
(For more information on Triple Threat’s fall acting and improv classes, and more, click here.)
If you drove on I-95 or the Merritt Parkway yesterday, you noticed electronic signs warning against distracted driving: “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.”
They’re part of a state Department of Transportation campaign for April — it’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month. The Westport Police have joined the effort too.
Connecticut law prohibits the use of any hand-held electronic device while operating a motor vehicle. Drivers 16 or 17 years of age are prohibited from using a cell phone or mobile device any time, even a hands-free one.
Drivers who are ticketed pay $200 for the first offense, $375 for the next, and $625 for the third and subsequent offenses.
If you never saw “The Breakfast Club”: You missed a classic.
If you missed Triple Threat Academy’s staged workshop production of it at Toquet Hall: You missed another classic.
But you’re in luck! Excerpts have just been posted on YouTube.
The performance grew out of TripleThreat’s Zoom production, directed by founder and “Fame” star Cynthia Gibb during the pandemic.
The cast brought such energy and power to their Zoom sessions that Gibb vowed to bring it to the stage as soon as it was safe.
Despite only 10 hours of rehearsal, the show earned a standing ovation. Triple Threat plans more productions like it. Their spring session begins April 12, with acting and improv classes for youth, teens and adults at Toquet Hall.
Click here for details. As for video below: Hey, it’s “The Breakfast Club.” Beware of f-bombs.
Aspetuck Land Trust’s popular “Lunch & Learn” series returns this Friday (April 8, noon to 1:15 p.m., Zoom).
“Invasives to Natives: A Backyard Restoration” features super-gardener Pam Roman. She’ll talk about her COVID-time project that transformed her garden — and also healed her heart and soul. Click here to register.
Fortunately, NASA has a deflection plan. Just as fortuitously, the Westport Astronomical Society’s next online lecture is with Dr. Nancy Chabot. She’s the planetary chief scientist at Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory. She’ll talk about DART — the “Double Asteroid Redirection Test” defense mission.Here’s one more: an asteroid smashing into earth.
The event is April 19 (8 p.m.). Click here for the Zoom link. Click here for the YouTube livestream.
It should be fascinating. If nothing has happened to the world in the meantime.
Former Westporter Barbara Webster died in February at her Oklahoma City home, from complications of dementia. She was 85.
She retired in 2016 after a storied career as a teacher, counselor, professional dancer, choreographer and arts administrator. Her last appointments were as a career counselor at Bunnell High School in Stratford, and executive director of the Connecticut Dance School in Fairfield.
Webster taught dance and fitness for decades through the Westport adult education and summer school programs, and in studios across Fairfield County (including with former Broadway star Bambi Lynn).
She helped choreograph productions and enhanced costumes for Staples Players and at Coleytown Junior High School in the 1970s and ’80s, including shows like “Oklahoma!”, “My Fair Lady,” “Carousel” and “Dromio, Dromio!.” She served as a substitute teacher and guidance counselor too.
She performed with the Dancers of Faith and with Heritage Productions throughout the tri-state region, and presented her original work at the Unitarian Church in Westport. She held additional arts administration roles at the Levitt Pavilion, executive director of the Stamford Community Arts Council, and director of ARTSPACE in New Haven.
An accomplished seamstress and costume designer, Webster was one of 12 needlewomen working on Westport’s Bicentennial Quilt. She also created an original ornament for the Westport Heritage Christmas Tree.
In 1977 Webster co-founded Giftbags, Ltd. She helped develop a customized line of reusable felt bags and puppets for gifts, wine and treats that were featured at the Metropolitan Opera, and local boutiques. Later, she co-created puppets for sale at Blue Man Group performances.A native of New Jersey, Webster graduated first in her class from Barringer High School (Newark) in 1953 and received her BA degree from Douglass College, Rutgers University, in 1957. She earned a Master of Education degree from Rutgers in 1965.
Webster was predeceased by her husband Russell and brother, Dr. Edward C. Sheppard. Survivors include her children Russell Todd Webster of Anchorage, and Catherine Sheppard Webster of Oklahoma City, and grandchildren Haven Barnett, Teddy Webster, and Meredith and Thayer Dycus.
A memorial service will be held August 7 (2 p.m., Unitarian Church in Westport).
The family has requested that contributions in her memory be sent to a scholarship established in her name at the University of Central Oklahoma.
Many “06880” readers sent photos of yesterday’s gorgeous rainbow over Compo Beach. Jeanine Esposito’s made the cut as today’s “Westport … Naturally” image.
For several years, a Birthday Bash in honor of Leah Rondon raised money for several scholarships. It honored the 6-year-old daughter of Bedford Middle School teacher Colleen Rondon, who was killed when struck by a car while playing at a friend’s house.
COVID canceled the most recent event. But the show goes on — literally.
This Saturday (March 6, 6 p.m.), a cabaret with young performers from around the globe will be livestreamed on Triple Threat Academy‘s Facebook and YouTube pages. Triple Threat founder/noted “Fame” actress/Staples High School grad Cynthia Gibb co-hosts, with Leah’s mom Colleen.
Performers – most of whom train with Triple Threat in Westport and Hollywood — include Makayla Joy Connolly of Broadway’s “Harry Potter,” and Westport’s own Jamie Mann, of Netflix’s new show “Country Comfort.”
Leah’s brother Sam joins on sax, Cooper Sadler tears it up at the Levitt Pavilion, and Sophie Walther sings her heart out from the UK.
The family-friendly benefit relies on donations from viewers and supporters. Click here for the link; click for the livestream via Triple Threat’s Facebook Live and YouTube pages.
It’s been a tough year for non-profits. In-person fundraising has suffered, while demands for their services has spiked.
But thanks to one organization, another can continue its work.
Westport Rotary Club recently donated $1,075 to Homes with Hope. The funds will provide transportation for children living in supportive housing to HwH’s After School Academic Program, where they receive food, tutoring and mentoring. It’s especially important with the rise in online learning, and the widening academic gap for children without a parent to assist them.
Westport Rotary will distribute all of the funds donated by the community to its 2020 LobsterFest Charitable Giving fundraiser. More grant recipients will be announced soon.
Rotary meetings now held virtually 3 Tuesdays a month (12:30 to 1:30 p.m.). For more information, click here.
Earlier this summer, Savvy + Grace sponsored a great afternoon of sidewalk music.
Some of the entertainers were current Westporters. Getting to the Main Street gifts-and-more shop was easy.
Rachel Rose’s route to the Main Street gig was a bit more circuitous.
The Long Lots Elementary, Bedford Middle and Staples High School (Class of 2014) grad was fortunate that her grandmother, Sylvia Wachtel, lived in Westport too. A huge Turner Classic Movies fan, Sylvia shared her love of jazz films — and the music of Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Etta James — with Rachel.
Rachel’s parents were also music fans. They played Bryan Adams and John Mayer CDs in the car. Her dad liked the Dead, Steve Miller and Dave Matthews.
After graduation, Rachel — who sang with Staples’ Orphenians, and took private lessons with Cynthia Gibb — headed to the University of Texas. She calls Austin “the live music capital of the world,” and figured it was the perfect place to get a general degree (she majored in psychology) while also performing.
She joined an elite UT vocal group, Ensemble 109, and formed a band. Austin’s 6th Street bar-and-music scene was indeed hopping. She played everywhere, met plenty of people, and got an A&R job with a music streamer.
Rachel calls her musical style “Jewish soul., contemporary soul and R&B.” She identified with Amy Winehouse, whose “Back to Black” album was particularly influential.
Jazz remained important to Rachel. New York had a more robust jazz and sould scene than Austin, Rachel says, so in 2018 she reluctantly left Austin, and relocated to Brooklyn.
As soon as she arrived she began writing songs. “It was a leap of faith,” she says. “I tried to find my image, my music.”
What emerged was “a melding of Austin and Brooklyn.” This past February she quit her job with a music distribution company, and concentrated full time on her career.
She finished writing songs for her EP this spring. In mid-August she released her first single, “You.” It’s available on every major platform.
The second single followed. The full EP is available September 7.
Her Savvy + Grace gig represented a great “homecoming” for Rachel Rose. There could not have been a more appropriate venue, for this savvy, graceful — and quite talented — rising star.
If you’ve been downtown lately you know that most stores are open, and life is returning to Main Street and environs.
If you haven’t been downtown: Here’s your chance.
This Saturday (July 25, 12:30 p.m.), there’s live entertainment. The area around 146 Main Street will be filled with cool and talented musicians.
(Busking will take place near Savvy + Grace on Main Street. Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
The busking is the brainchild of 2 dynamos: Savvy + Grace owner Annette Norton, and actor/singer/educator Cynthia Gibb.
Annette — whose gifts-and-more shop is another great reason to head downtown — firmly believes that interesting events draw people to the Main Street she loves.
Cynthia — a Staples High School graduate, star of “Fame” and founder of Triple Threat Academy for young actors, singers and dancers — has enlisted nearly a dozen entertainers. Some have already recorded professional; others have appeared on TV.
Some of Saturday’s entertainers.
The cast includes “Billy Elliot” dancer/”County Comfort” TV star/Staples player Jamie Mann; Westporter Rob (Slosberg) Morton, whose “Just One More Day With You” has over 100,000 YouTube views; Momo Burns-Min, a recent Weston High graduate who performed with Kelli O’Hara in the Westport Country Playhouse’s April livestream; soulful indie singer/songwriter Rachel Rose of Brooklyn, and Wilton High’s Olivia Vitterelli.
Each singer will perform a couple of songs. It’s fast-paced and fun. Of course, masks and social distancing are required.
Let the busking begin!
Westport’s own Jamie Mann also performs this Saturday.
As Westport teens and tweens settle down to life in a pandemic, they’re learning how to learn online.
Academics and extracurriculars are all done virtually now. But it’s one thing to learn math or history that way, or do your judo or piano lessons.
What about all those theater kids? When Mickey Rooney said “let’s put on a show!” he wasn’t talking to himself.
Cynthia Gibb rides to the rescue.
The 1981 Staples High School graduate sure has the credentials. She’s starred in “Search for Tomorrow” and “Fame”; played Karen Carpenter in her biopic; starred with Shirley Jones, Dick Van Dyke, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze and Burt Reynolds, and been on “Law and Order/SVU” and “Criminal Minds” too.
Cynthia Gibb earned a Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of Gypsy Rose Lee in “Gypsy,” with Bette Midler.
Cynthia worked with Oliver Stone, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robbins. Her credits include 13 features, 3 network series, 24 TV movies, countless TV pilots, commercials, voiceovers and print work.
A decade ago she returned to Westport, and opened Triple Threat Academy. It’s nurtured and inspired hundreds of young and adult actors, singers and dancers. Many have gone on to schools like Tisch and Carnegie Mellon, and careers on Broadway and in Hollywood.
Cynthia Gibb, at the “Fame” reunion in Italy.
When the coronavirus pandemic turned “Contagion” into reality, acting teacher Nick Sadler (“True Grit,” “Scent of a Woman”) brainstormed how to keep youngsters — so many of whose shows were canceled just days before opening night — engaged. It had to be more than a watching-and-waiting scene study class.
Cynthia had an idea: a pandemic monologue play.
Students could journal about their experiences during this crazy time, and craft a monologue. At the end of 6 weeks, it will be performed via Zoom. With Triple Threat’s help, actors might take the resulting play to a real stage or screen — even on tour — once people can congregate again.
Westport native Jamie Mann (right) and Josie Todd (middle), last summer in “Because of Winn Dixie” at the Goodspeed Opera House. The pair will perform together again — this time virtually — in Triple Threat Academy’s upcoming online plays. (Photo/Diane Sobolewski)
Cynthia’s “Monologue and Play Development Class” meets for 6 weeks, starting next week (high schoolers on Wednesdays, middle schoolers on Tuesdays, from 5 to 6 p.m.).
Monologues will be good, bad, fearful funny. (Remember, “A Chorus Line” started out as monologues too.) Enrollment already includes teenagers with extensive — even professional — experience.
“Art always reflects what is going on in life,” Cynthia says. “Just think about ‘Rent’ and the AIDS crisis. We now have an opportunity to find the light in dark times, the humanity behind the grim news, and the positivity to push forward — all through the powers of creativity, collaboration and storytelling.”
Meanwhile, Nick has organized a hybrid of traditional radio theater and today’s podcasts. (Remember when Americans huddled around the radio, listening to plays? Hey — we’re back huddling together.)
Nick Sadler (center) with Phillip Seymour Hoffman in “Scent of a Woman,” starring Al Pacino. Sadler landed this supporting role shortly after graduating from Juilliard.
His “Virtual Play Series” will teach students how to stage a fast-paced play (or two). Each week the cast will meet via Zoom to read, rehearse and ultimately “release” the play to an online audience.
Students will take on multiple roles, challenging them to invent a variety of characters. It’s a collaborative effort — just like all great theater. (An adult version is in the works too.)
It runs for 7 Sundays, from 3 to 4 p.m. for high schoolers, and 5 to 6 p.m. for middle schoolers. The first session is this Sunday (March 29).
Meanwhile, the third part of Triple Threat — dance — heads online too. Kim Porio offers a class this Sunday (10:45 to 11:45 a.m.) for young actors and singers. It’s “Bring a Friend Day,” so even those not enrolled can try it out.
It all should be quite a show.
(For more information about Triple Threat Academy’s offerings, including registration, click here, email TripleThreatAcademyCT@gmail.com, search on Facebook, or follow @TripleThreatAcademy on Instagram.)
This month’s devastating hurricanes got Cynthia Gibb thinking.
The 1981 Staples High School graduate — a noted actress (“Fame,” “Search for Tomorrow”), now a vocal coach back in her hometown — is concerned about the worldwide impact of climate change.
But she’s a firm believer in the adage “think globally, act locally.” She writes:
America has just experienced 2 historic storms back-to-back, and I am feeling frustratingly helpless. Climate change is here.
I have known this was coming for a long time. I learned about global warming back in the mid-80’s when I joined a group called Earth Communications Office, a Hollywood group with the mission of educating Americans about the changes in our climate.
Everything I learned back then has unfortunately been coming to fruition. That means that still ahead are horrific droughts, fires, floods, the extinction of many animals and insect species, the movement of our tree line north (affecting farming and quality of life for all who live in the south) — among other catastrophic events.
Last spring, at the Staples High School science awards ceremony, a scientist told the audience that we could expect to see Miami underwater in the foreseeable future. I wonder if he knew it would happen so soon?
I get overwhelmed by this knowledge. Climate change deniers sit in the White House, and run the EPA. Trump has said he will pull us from the Paris agreement. Pruitt wants to roll back environmental laws. It’s terrifying and infuriating.
Yet one thing that gives me hope is that there are forward-thinking folks, making a difference. Some of them are right here in Westport.
Our RTM recently passed the Net Zero in 2050 Initiative. We’ve joined the governors of Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, California, Colorado and Washington in pledging to exceed the goals of the Paris Climate Accord. In fact, the northeastern states have already reduced their carbon emissions by 37% since 2008.
Earthplace has screened the documentary “Idle Threat.” These are great starts.
Wakeman Town Farm is evidence of Westport’s strong environmental concerns.
But the solution has to come from citizens, as well as government.
I’ve been asking myself, “What can I do?” Cash donations to flood victims won’t stop future disasters.
In his new book Climate of Hope, Michael Bloomberg encourages everyone to do their part. I have finally figured out what mine is: I am making a conscious choice to obey Connecticut’s Do Not Idle Law.
I recently learned it is illegal for all vehicles — including buses, trucks and passenger vehicles — to idle for more than 3 minutes in our state. After just 10 seconds of idling, we waste more fuel than stopping and restarting our cars. Even in cold weather, engines need only 30 seconds to warm up.
The law is clear.
So I no longer idle in the school pick-up line, or the Starbucks or bank drive-through. If I want to continue a phone call or listen to the radio, I turn off my engine and turn on my battery.
If it’s hot, I roll the windows down. If it’s cold, I leave them up! It’s really easy and simple, now that I’m in the habit — like remembering to bring my reusable bag to the grocery store!
I feel better now that I am doing my part and setting an example for my kids that we can change our behavior, even if it’s inconvenient. It’s a small gesture, I know. But if 26,000 of us do it in Westport, we can set an example to the rest of the nation — where every day we waste 17 million gallons of fuel due to idling.
This is also important for children in our town, who can suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases due to car emissions.
This is a call to action, fellow Westporters! I invite anyone reading this to join me in turning off your engines whenever you can. After all, there is only one ozone layer.
It was the worst audition of Cynthia Gibb’s career.
Just a few years after graduating with Staples High School’s Class of 1981, the actress — already known for her “Search for Tomorrow” and “Fame” TV roles — was searching for a movie project.
Her agent found a part in “Salvador.” Written by Oliver Stone — who would direct it too, as his 1st major film — the story was based on real-life political struggles in El Salvador.
The casting director gave Gibb the wrong material. She and star James Woods were, she says, “literally not on the same page.” She went home sobbing, horrified at having done so badly.
Her agent convinced her to go back. She got the role — and learned a great lesson about recovering from bad experiences. Gibb uses that incident today, back home in Westport. A voice and dance coach, she tells students not to be flustered by a bad performance (or audition).
But there’s much more about Westport to this story.
Gibb’s “Salvador” role was based on the real-life Jean Donovan. She was one of 4 lay missionaries beaten, raped, and murdered in 1980 by Salvadoran military men.
Donovan was also a Westporter. She attended Westport schools, and graduated from Staples in 1971 — exactly 10 years before Gibb.
Gibb did plenty of research — in leftist publications, because there was little in the mainstream press — to understand Donovan’s character. But she had no idea they shared the same hometown until midway through filming in Mexico, when Stone learned that Gibb was from Westport.
That spurred her even more. She became fascinated with the woman whose story — unknown to many, even here — she was telling.
Gibb — who is not Catholic — dove into the kind of work the missionaries did. She learned Spanish, which Donovan had done before heading to El Salvador.
And Gibb read even more political writing. “I wanted to be as informed about US policy in Central America as Jean was,” Gibb says. “And I wanted to be as passionate about Third World countries.”
The film was released in 1986. In Los Angeles, Gibb honored Donovan and her fellow nuns, by volunteering for Central American organizations.
She was invited to El Salvador for 5 days. She met the handsome and charming right-wing military man in charge of death squads. She also saw dirt huts, and the church where an archbishop was gunned down.
“That film changed my life,” Gibb says. “I’d never been politically active before.”
Her career continued, mostly on TV. She married, had 3 children and divorced. Gradually, “Salvador” faded from her mind.
After she moved back to Westport, however, she met John Suggs. The RTM member has dedicated years to keeping Donovan’s memory alive. He says that in progressive Catholic social justice networks, “Jean Donovan is considered a saint.”
Suggs is particularly active this time of year. The anniversary of Donovan’s death is December 2.
Gibb will be thinking of Donovan too. Years after the movie was released, the actress spotted a small story in the New York Times. It described the declassification of documents relating Central America during the Reagan years. Sure enough, the US provided financial assistance to death squads that were responsible for the rape and murder of the 4 women, and others, during the Carter and Reagan administrations.
“There were horrific people doing horrific things, with our backing,” Gibb says.
“Jean Donovan and those women were there to help people. Her death was so useless.”
Perhaps now is the time for Donovan to be remembered in Westport. Suggs is raising $3,600 for a plaque honoring her, to be hung either at Staples or Town Hall. Click here to donate.
Gibb is helping.
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