The Westport Country Playhouse has a historic stage. The Remarkable Theater has a big screen.
Stage and screen meet on Saturday, October 17. “Playhouse at the Drive-in” celebrates the WCP’s 90-season history with a benefit event, and a screening of special filmed performances and a documentary.
It’s also available to view online, at home.
The Westport Country Playhouse honors its history … (Photo/Wells Studio)
The short-form documentary salutes the Playhouse’s history, and many of the artists who have appeared onstage. It was created specially for this event, by Playhouse artistic director Mark Lamos and Westport filmmaker Douglas Tirola. He’s the brains behind the Remarkable Theater. In his teens, he worked as a Playhouse “beautifier.”
The evening includes filmed performances by Playhouse alumni Kate Baldwin, Britney Coleman, Tina Fabrique, the Naughton family (James, Greg, Keira and Kelli O’Hara), Brenda Pressley, Amanda Robles, with a special performance by André De Shields.
Also appearing on film: Jane Alexander, Lissy Newman, Christopher Plummer, Stephen Sondheim, Richard Thomas, and more.
“Playhouse at the Drive-In” takes the place of the annual fall gala fundraiser. On-site benefit tickets start at $500 per car (maximum 5 people). Online film screening from home is just $25.
Gates open at the Remarkable Theater (Imperial Avenue parkin lot) at 5 p.m., for a cocktail hour and picnic dinner. The live and online screening begins at 6:30.
We lost the Levitt Pavilion this summer. The Westport Country Playhouse is dark. The movie theaters moved out before the millennium.
But — in the midst of a pandemic that caused the removal of even barbecue grills and picnic tables from Compo Beach — there’s still a bit of fun to be had.
The Remarkable Theater has ridden to Westport’s entertainment rescue. For the past few weeks — and continuing through August — the low-key organization has provided a passel of pop-up fun.
With a screen at the Imperial Avenue parking lot, and a great selection of movies — “Caddyshack,” “Scream,” Do the Right Thing” — they’ve salvaged our summer.
Drive-in movies, courtesy of the Remarkable Theater.
They’ve lent their expertise to others. This Friday’s cabaret — organized by recent Staples High School graduates — is a great example of how, in just a few weeks, they’ve embedded themselves into our community.
And here’s the best part: The Remarkable Theater offers plenty of employment opportunities for people with disabilities. It’s a win-win for everyone.
The website says: “The ‘Remarkable’ name honors the Remarkable Book Shop, a beloved landmark that once sat at the end of Westport’s Main Street. The name also pays tribute to the abilities and potential of our Remarkable workforce.”
It’s a remarkable success story. Thank you to leaders like Doug Tirola, Marina Derman, Sharuna Mahesh, Stacie Curran, Marjorie Jacobson, and everyone else involved who brings life to downtown, and hope to us all.
You are our Oscar-worthy Unsung Heroes of the Week.
In their 4 years at Staples High School, Sam Laskin and Sammy Guthartz made their marks on Players’ remarkable theater troupe.
In less than a month of drive-in movies at the Imperial Avenue parking lot, the Remarkable Theater has made its mark on Westport.
Now the young, go-getting recent grads and the driving forces behind the theater are joining forces. The result will be a remarkable concert — benefiting a remarkable organization. A portion of the proceeds from the “Westport is Back!” drive-in musical cabaret” go to 4-CT, which aids state residents impacted by COVID-19.
Laskin and Guthartz have assembled a cast of superb young performers for this Friday’s event (July 17, 6:30 p.m.). Doug Tirola and Marina Derman of the Theater have ensured it will be a memorable one.
Georgia Wright will perform … (Photo/Dawn Shmaruk)
Thirteen performers were at Staples this past year. Six others graduated between 2015 and ’19.
Their selections span many genres, from “Grease” and “Falsettos” to “Wicked” — plus Amy Winehouse, Dolly Parton, Elton John and Adele.
The opening act — local band Could Be Jesus — includes Staples and King School students.
Laskin is familiar with the importance of entertainment like this — and the difficulties of producing it. He was president of Players, an actor in many shows, and served 2 years as student chair of the Westport Youth Commission. A high honors graduate, he’ll study government, theater and film/media at Dartmouth.
Guthartz is another talented actor. He’s worked behind the scenes as Players’ manager of fundraising and outreach. He’s headed to the University of Michigan’s BFA program.
… as will Tomaso Scotti (Photo/Dawn Shmaruk)
Both praise the Remarkable Theater’s Tirola and Derman for helping them produce Friday’s show. Former Players stage manager Karalyn Hood co-produces the event.
The “Westport is Back!” drive-in musical cabaret is not officially affiliated with Staples Players. “Sammy, Karalyn and I just see this as an awesome way for Staples students and alumni to produce musical entertainment and raise money for a great cause,” Laskin says.
(Tickets are $65 per car. “Doors” open at 5:30 p.m. Click here for reservations.
(Performers include Georgia Wright, Claire Baylis, Sammy Guthartz, Tobey Patton, Kelley Schutte, Annabel Kavetas, AJ Konstanty, Derrick Adelkopf, Krish Shah-Nathwani, Avery Mendillo, Christian Melhuish, Tomaso Scotti, Owen Keaveney, Maizy Boosin, Camille Foisie, Jack Baylis, Madelyn Spera, Max Herman and Riley Wells.)
The Westport Public Schools do a wonderful job providing opportunities to students with disabilities.
But at age 21, they age out. Meanwhile, the state has cut funding for day programs for adults with disabilities.
A group of parents has a goal: increase employment for area men and women with physical and intellectual disabilities.
The result: a remarkable idea.
The parents were inspired by the Prospector Theater in Ridgefield. It shows first-run films; 65% of employees are people with disabilities.
Meanwhile, a different group of Westporters worked for years, trying to open a theater downtown. They had a name — Westport Cinema Initiative — but no building and little funding.
Stacie Curran and Marina Derman — longtime Westporters with sons with disabilities — met with Doug Tirola. As a Staples High School graduate, current resident and president of documentary producer 4th Row Films, he was perfectly positioned to help.
The 2 groups merged. Now they’re poised to bring a theater to Westport. It will train and employ people with disabilities.
And — in a brilliant homage to Westport’s history and arts heritage — it will be called the Remarkable Theater.
The name — as Tirola, Curran, Derman and thousands of others know — honors the Remarkable Book Shop. That’s the longtime, beloved and still-mourned store at the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza (now the still-closed Talbots).
Curran came up with the brilliant name. Mark Kramer and Wendy Kramer Posner — whose mother Esther owned the shop — are “thrilled, honored and completely supportive,” says Derman.
“It’s a reminder of a time when downtown was homey, friendly, warm and fun,” Curran adds. “And people with disabilities are remarkable.”
Tirola calls it a “state-of-the-art, independent arthouse theater.” It will show independent and older films. Think of New York’s Film Forum, he says.
You’ll still go to a multiplex for the latest “Star Wars” sequel. But the Remarkable will be the place to go for many intriguing films. On Veterans Day, for example, it might screen a series of historical movies. If a famous director dies, it’s flexible enough to quickly mount a tribute.
Among the Westporters working on the Remarkable Theater project: Front (from left): Joanna Borner, Marina Derman, Deirdre Teed, Stacie Curran. Rear: Doug Tirola, Kristin Ehrlich, Angie Wormser, State Representative Jonathan Steinberg, Diane Johnson.
The theater will be a venue for talkbacks too. Other groups — particularly schools — will be invited to use the space.
Tirola, Curran, Derman and others have already secured a $50,000 grant from the state Department of Developmental Services. Funds will pay for equipment and movie screenings.
Pop-up screenings could begin before the theater opens. Organizers hope to break ground 2 years from now.
As for where it will be: They’d love a downtown site. They’ve begun talking with landlords, looking for options.
After several years, there’s real movement for a movie theater in Westport. The curtain is rising on this remarkable story.
(For more information — or to help — click here, or email email@example.com).
Staples Tuition Grants turns 75 years old this year.
To celebrate, the organization — which last year provided over $300,000 in scholarships to 115 Staples High School seniors and graduates with financial need — threw a fundraising party this month.
The event met its goal: over $75,000 in donations. (For 75 years — get it?).
One of the night’s highlights was a video. Produced by talented Westport filmmaker (and Staples grad) Doug Tirola, it featured well-known residents and SHS alums like Christopher Jones, Justin Paul, Ned Batlin, Linda Bruce, Jessica Branson, Miggs Burroughs, Anne Hardy, Dan Donovan and Maggie Mudd. They offered insights into their own scholarships and those named for loved ones, plus thoughts on the importance of college and life.
The video — filled joy and heartache, humor and love — is well worth the 8 minutes. Enjoy!
(For more information on Staples Tuition Grants, or to donate, click here.)
That’s the documentary chronicling the amazing period in the 1960s when bands like the Doors, Cream, Yardbirds and Rascals played at Staples High School.
Ginger Baker, Cream’s drummer, at Staples. (Photo copyright Jeremy Ross)
So the WCI and WHS are doing what any good promoters should: They’ve added another showing.
The film will be screened again on Saturday, August 26 (5 p.m., Westport Historical Society). A talkback follows, with the movie’s producer Fred Cantor, and filmmaker Doug Tirola. Both are Westport residents.
There’s limited space, so tickets must be ordered in advance (click here for the direct link). The cost is $10 — and includes free popcorn.
That’s a great bargain — even if it is $7.50 more than it cost to see those great concerts, back when Staples High School really rocked.
In the summer of 1978, Doug Tirola’s parents took him to see “Animal House” at the Fine Arts Theater (now Restoration Hardware).
He was not yet a teenager, but he loved it. When the film ended, he and his father got right back in line for the next show. It remains one of the funniest movies he’s ever seen.
Soon, Doug sought out National Lampoon — the magazine that spawned the movie — at the Merritt Superette, Westport Smoke Shop and Christie’s Country Store. He was swept up by its boundary-breaking irreverence.
A few summers later, Doug was working at the Westport Country Playhouse. He earned 25 cents for every business that put an “upcoming show” poster in its window. With his hard-earned savings, he went to Remarkable Book Shop and bought “National Lampoon’s 10th Anniversary Anthology.” Even today, he says, that collection of art and articles seems outrageous.
Many years passed. Living back in Westport, Doug — now a filmmaker himself — and his wife were invited to a dinner party. With the economic downturn underway, the man seated next to Douglas lectured him about all the rules needed to get things going again — which applied to everyone except the man himself.
Doug made a poor, not-Lampoon-worthy joke about German profiteers in World War II. It ruined the dinner party, and a woman told him “Doug, you always go too far. You always have to say the thing everyone might be thinking, but you’re not allowed to say.”
He’d never heard anything like that. It got him thinking about that National Lampoon 10th Anniversary Anthology. He’d kept it with him, during moves all over the country. He realized that one book had influenced his entire life.
He had just finished his 2nd movie, for his company 4th Row Films (where he teams with fellow Staples grad Susan Bedusa). The 1st was acquired by HBO. The 2nd was about to be released in theaters, and on Showtime. It was time to make a film about National Lampoon.
The National Lampoon crowd, in the 1970s.
The result was “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead.” It premiered at Sundance earlier this year, and after playing at Tribeca was picked up by Magnolia Pictures.
The Fine Arts Theater is now just a memory. So is National Lampoon.
But tonight, Doug
sfilm will be show at the Avon in Stamford (7:30 p.m.). Friends and family — and Lampoon’s many fans — will enjoy the film.
A film that would never have been made, if not for Doug’s laugh-out-loud experiences decades ago in Westport.
And, of course, that dinner party a few years back.
From the 1920s “lost generation” expats in Paris to the beat poets of 1950s’ Greenwich Village, cultural history resonates with moments in time when great, creative people came together unexpectedly. Without planning to, they created movements of outsize influence.
Perhaps the most famous National Lampoon cover of all time.
That’s what happened at the National Lampoon in the 1970s. A wildly outrageous, semi-demented group of men and women joined forces to whack social taboos, from politics and race to sex and religion. Nothing was sacred.
Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase and like-minded talents used an irreverent magazine to launch records and movies (“Animal House,” “National Lampoon’s Vacation”) that changed the face of comedy, culture — perhaps even America itself.
For years, filmmakers — including an Oscar-winner — tried to capture that special moment. All those projects imploded.
Now Westporter Doug Tirola and Susan Bedusa have done it.
Their company — 4th Row Films — is in the final, frantic post-production days of “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon.” The 93-minute documentary weaves never-before-seen archival footage with the magazine’s beautiful and often shocking art, in a film that is already drawing praise and attention.
The National Lampoon crowd, in the 1970s.
There’s much more to come. It premieres this Sunday (January 25) at the very prestigious, make-or-break-a-movie Sundance Film Festival.
As a kid in Westport, Tirola saw “Animal House” twice at the Fine Arts Theater. He scavenged for new issues of National Lampoon at Bill’s Smoke Shop. He hauled the now-legendary Lampoon 10th Anniversary Anthology from grad school to his 1st apartment to his home here, when he moved back.
Susan Bedusa and Doug Tirola.
After batting around the idea of a Lampoon history film, Susan Bedusa — a fellow Staples graduate, and Tirola’s longtime producing partner — convinced him to contact the Lampoon‘s owners. At a meeting in Los Angeles, they said they’d cooperate — if the original magazine owners signed off on the concept.
Coincidentally, at the height of its popularity, Lampoon publisher and “Animal House” producer Matty Simmons owned a summer home on Lamplight Lane. Belushi, Radner and other stars came here for parties.
Tirola got the rights to the story — including the artwork that was an important part of the magazine. National Lampoon launched the careers of artists who went on to work at the New Yorker, and for “The Simpsons” and “Home Alone.”
Now it’s a race to finish the sound mixing and color correction. Then it’s on to Sundance, and the Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead premiere.
The groundbreaking 1970 film — like its predecessor, a 1968 Broadway play, it brought gay characters and situations to a mainstream audience — may not have been completely understood by young Doug.
But he loved it. Over the years he saw it several more times. The friendships and relationships between the men stayed with him; the writing was funny, intelligent and memorable.
Fast forward (ho ho) to today. Doug and fellow Staples graduate Susan Bedusa head up a New York company — 4th Row Films — producing documentaries and TV series.
A few years ago at the Tribeca Film Festival, they met Crayton Robey. He was pitching something to be included with the 40th anniversary DVD release of “Boys in the Band.”
Susan knew very little about “Boys in the Band.” However, she understood the challenges and struggles involved in making a movie. Crayton’s passion for the project sold her.
The next day, Susan and Doug called Crayton. They said they’d help him get the movie made — but as its own film, not a DVD extra. The result — “Making The Boys” — opened in New York last Friday.
Tomorrow Wednesday (March 16, 7:30 p.m.), there’s a special showing at Stamford’s Avon Theatre.
Though gay issues — same-sex marriage, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” California’s Prop 8 — are all over the news, Doug and Susan were not trying to seize the political moment. They saw an important movie to be made, and they made it.
In between its 1968 stage debut and its 1970 release as a film, the world underwent seismic change. Smack in the middle, in 1969, came the Stonewall riots — the 1st roar of the gay rights revolution.
Some of the same people who praised the play picketed the movie. They said it reinforced stereotypes of gay men.
“Making the Boys” meets that controversy head on. It’s rich with interviews with gay culture icons like Larry Kramer, Terence McNally and Tony Kushner. (Edward Albee is also interviewed. He hated the film from the start.)
The film also explores the impact — a few years later — of AIDS. Several “Boys in the Band” cast members succumbed to the disease.
It could sound like “Making the Boys” has a niche audience. But the producers don’t think so.
Besides gays and lesbians, and Broadway and film buffs, Doug and Susan say they’ve made a film for anyone interested in American history.
“The surprise of our film is how much it’s about the struggle to get out there and pursue a dream,” Susan says.
More than 4 decades ago Mart Crowley — a kid from Mississippi, with no connections to anyone in the entertainment business — wrote a play that still commands attention.
Crowley himself — along with Doug, Susan and Crayton — will be in Stamford for Wednesday’s showing. Afterward they’ll host a Q-and-A with audience members.
“The love that dare not speak its name” will be spoken about, loud and clear.
(Tickets for Wednesday’s “Making the Boys” showing and post-film discussion are $10 general admission, $8 for seniors and students. To purchase tickets, call 203-661-0321. For more information, click here.)
Sometimes a big event changes someone’s life. For 2 Bridgeport teenagers it was attending Sundance last year, meeting directors and actors, and returning home with confidence that they too can make films.
Sometimes a little event is life-changing. Another group of Bridgeport students needed a police officer and his car for their PSA on graffiti. One morning spent with a real cop opened their eyes to a whole different world.
None of those experiences — and many more — would be possible without the help of Sandy Lefkowitz, and a committed group of Westporters.
Sandy worked with Sarah Litty — an art teacher at Bridgeport charter school Bridge Academy — to develop a 35-week, seniors-only Art of Filmmaking course. An after-school club for all students soon followed.
Now armed with Macs, cameras and other equipment, the Bridgeport students leaped in. They studied scriptwriting, storyboard creation, film shooting and editing.
They learned well. The more they accomplished, the more opportunities they earned. After Sundance, Sandy took students to the Berkshire International Film Festival. Two were chosen for a prestigious Wesleyan program.
They walked through every door that opened. Perhaps not confidently at first — but by the time walked back out they felt independent, and aware of all they can do.
Their filmmaking has impacted all of Bridge Academy. Their peers see them as successful, while teachers in other subjects incorporate their talents into lesson plans.
An English class, for example, used film in a project on the civil rights movement. Before beginning, students learned how to conduct an interview.
Junior girls in another class made a film on nutrition. Sandy took them to an organic meat farm, and a hospital to meet a nutritionist. “They’re using resources outside their community, to bring something back to their community,” she notes.
Another resource is Westporter Anita Schorr. The Holocaust survivor met Bridge students at a Westport Country Playhouse production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” They invited her to their school, and filmed her presentation. Now they’re creating a documentary on her experiences, with hopes of distributing it to classrooms nationwide.
The Academy’s film program has been a true bridge — between students and the rest of the school and city, and between Bridgeport and Westport. Two Bridge students now sit on the WYFF board. Others are collaborating with WYFF (and Westport writer/director Doug Tirola) on a promotional film about the arts.
“They see themselves as colleagues,” Sandy says proudly.
And — one day — they may be back at Sundance, debuting a film to an international audience.
(The Art of Filmmaking and Westport Youth Film Festival are programs of the Westport Arts Center, and receive funding from WAC’s fundraising efforts.)
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