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.”
Remarkably too, today is National Arthouse Theater Day. That’s exactly the type of theater the Remarkable will be.
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.
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