Tag Archives: Mark Groth

Mark Groth’s Amazing “Budy” Story

If you saw “Curtains” last month — or any other Staples Players production over the past 6 decades — you were awed by the acting, dancing, sets and lighting.

But back in the day, Staples Stage and Technical Staff was separate from Players’ actors. SSTS had their own director, officers, traditions — even their own t-shirts.

Mark Groth was a proud SSTS member. He was president in 1968, the culmination of a 3-year career in which he helped construct a set with moving turntables, another that jutted out into the audience, and multimedia projectors for the original show “War and Pieces,” which ended being part of a cultural exchange program with the USSR.

Staples Stage and Technical Staff member Al Frank working backstage, from the 1967 yearbook.

Groth had 2 wonderful mentors at Staples. Both were faculty directors of SSTS.

Steve Gilbert was “brilliant,” Groth says. “He led us places we’d never even thought of. He let us come up with ideas, and do lighting, sound and staging that was way beyond high school.”

When Gilbert was on sabbatical, Don Budy took over. He was a Staples art teacher — his first job after graduating from college in his native Colorado. He was quieter than Gilbert, but equally as talented and inspirational.

Groth learned well. He and fellow SSTS member Steve Katz did all the lighting for the legendary concerts — the Doors, Cream, Yardbirds, Animals — on the Staples stage.

Don Budy (1967 Staples High School yearbook photo)

Gilbert and Budy’s influences were profound. Groth headed to Rockford College in Illinois — attracted primarily by their state-of-their-art, $12 million theater.

He majored in technical theater (and in New York one Thanksgiving break, did the lights for a Hell’s Angels-sponsored Grateful Dead concert).

Groth spent 3 1/2 years with the Army’s 101st Airborne, and the next 40 at the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s department of psychiatry. Groth videotaped residents’ sessions through a one-way mirror, as part of their training. It was a fascinating career.

Meanwhile, when his son was in high school Groth attended their production of “West Side Story.”

“It was terrible,” he says. He offered to help the director.

For the next 10 years, he volunteered for 20 shows. Then, after he protested the administration’s censorship of one play, he was told the school’s drama program was “going in another direction.”

A month later, Kella Manfredi — whom Groth had worked with 10 years earlier — called. With a master’s in theater education, she was now the theater director at Bear Creek High School in Englewood. Would he be interested in helping?

Sure! So, for the past 10 years, Groth has worked with a high school theater program that sounds like “the Staples Players of Colorado.” They’ve done “Cabaret,” “26 Pebbles” (about the Sandy Hook massacre), and just closed “Be More Chill” (they got the license when it was still off-Broadway).

The great set for Bear Creek High School’s production of “Grease.”

Which brings us back to SSTS.

Thirty years ago, Groth’s grade-school daughter performed in a concert at Cherry Creek High School. As he set up his tripod to videotape, a staff member came over.

They looked at each other.

“Mark Groth?!” the man said.

“Don Budy?!” Groth replied.

They rekindled their friendship. Budy — now a professional sculptor, in addition to working with Cherry Creek — comes to as many of Groth’s shows as he can.

He was there a few days ago, at “Be More Chill.” More than 50 years after they first met, Budy still supports his old student.

Don Budy (left) and Mark Groth, after Bear Creek High School’s “Be More Chill.”

Groth enjoyed his academic job, and loves working with high school students. He started with a professional-type troupe at Staples, and he’s with a similar one now in Colorado.

There’s only one difference. At Bear Creek, his tech crew remains separate from the actors.

“We’re like Ninjas,” Groth says proudly. “I tell them: ‘Be swift. Be silent. Be invisible.'”

And — as Steve Gilbert and Don Budy taught Mark Groth all those years ago: Be great.


Happy Columbus Day!

Columbus Day is a holiday that’s fallen out of favor.

Christopher Columbus didn’t “discover” America. It was here all along, as every Native American knows.

He wasn’t even the first outsider to find the continent — not by a few centuries.

Today, Westport schools were not even closed.

Back in 1957 though, Columbus Day was a Big Deal.

In Mark Groth’s Saugatuck Elementary School 2nd grade classroom, Pat Bonardi — a 1st year teacher — had her students create a replica of the Santa Maria. They used packing crates, drawing paper and flower pots.

The Westport Town Crier immortalized their work:

Mark Groth stands proudly on the far left of the Santa Maria. Next to him are Ann Denues, Doug Golden, Paula Cairo, Sarah Waldo and Richard Fell.

Mark Groth stands proudly on the far left of the Santa Maria. Next to him are Ann Denues, Doug Golden, Paula Cairo, Sarah Waldo and Richard Fell.

Mark thanks his mother for saving that clipping, 59 years ago. He also thanks — and remembers — Miss Bonardi.

“When the time came around to pick 2 students for the Audio-Visual crew (rolling 16mm or filmstrip projectors around to classrooms), I had my hand up first,” he says.

Now he’s just retired — after 40 years as media producer at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

He worked with all kinds of fancy equipment there. And 2nd graders today — at the “new” Saugatuck El, on Riverside Avenue — probably use desktop animation software and tablet apps to create a 2016 version of the Santa Maria.

If they still teach about Christopher Columbus in school.

Memorial Day: Back In The Day

If you’ve ever been to a Memorial Day parade in Westport — and the ceremony that follows on Veterans Green, opposite Town Hall — you know it’s one of our most fun, diverse, community-minded (and small-town) events.

If you’re a newcomer — or an old-timer who always sleeps in — you really need to see it. Stand anywhere along the parade route (from Saugatuck Elementary School on Riverside Avenue, across the Post Road bridge, left on Myrtle), and enjoy the passing parade of cops, firefighters, EMTs, Y’s Men, young soccer and lacrosse and baseball and violin players, fifers and drummers, and random others having all kinds of retro fun.

It seems like it’s been this way forever (except for talking on cell phones while “marching,” and taking selfies). Now we’ve got proof.

Alert “06880” reader and indefatigable historic researcher Mary Gai unearthed a news story from 1921. It describes Westport’s plans for the upcoming Memorial Day parade. The details are a bit different — but any of us magically plopped down 95 years ago would recognize it instantly.

Participants included a color guard and bands; veterans (from the Civil and Spanish-American Wars, riding in cars); the Red Cross, American Legion, VFW, and Boy and Girl Scouts. “As usual,” the story said, “a number of autos and many marchers” were expected to follow behind.

Hotel Square -- the start of the 1921 Memorial Day parade -- was located downtown, where the YMCA later stood. Today, it's being renovated at Bedford Square.

Hotel Square — where the 1921 Memorial Day parade began — was located downtown, where the YMCA later stood. Today, it’s being renovated as Bedford Square.

The parade began at 9 a.m. sharp, at Hotel Square (near the soon-to-be-constructed YMCA, at the corner of Main Street and the Post Road — then called State Street).

The route took marchers over the bridge, then to King Street (Kings Highway North), with a halt by the Catholic cemetery. The parade then headed south to Canal Street and North Main, stopping at Willowbrook Cemetery before doubling back down Main Street to Myrtle Avenue. Everyone ended at Town Hall (now Rothbard Ale + Larder, next to Restoration Hardware), for services on the lawn. The ceremony ended with a gun salute.

Exactly 50 years later — in 1971 — Mark Groth took some Memorial Day photos. He stood on the 2nd floor of Main Street, in the Youth-Adult Council offices, as the parade passed by.

Now another 45 years have passed. How much has changed — and how much hasn’t?

Check out Mark’s shots below. You be the judge. (Click on any photo to enlarge.)

For years, E.O. Nigel Cholmeley-Jones was a fixture in the Memorial Day parade. A lieutenant in World War I, as a child he had been photographed with Walt Whitman.

For years, E.O. Nigel Cholmeley-Jones was a fixture in the Memorial Day parade. A lieutenant in World War I, as a child he had been photographed with Walt Whitman.

Staples High School band. In 1971, Main Street was open to 2-way traffic.

Staples High School band. West Lake Restaurant was located at the foot of Main Street, by the Post Road. In 1971, Main Street was open to 2-way traffic.

The Y Indian Guides make their way down Main Street (in 1971, a two-way road). Note spectators watching from 2nd-floor windows along the route.

The Y Indian Guides make their way down Main Street. Note spectators watching from 2nd and 3rd-floor windows above the Westport Food Center grocery store.

Local clergymen, including Rev. Ted Hoskins (Saugatuck Congregational Church) and Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein (Temple Israel) march in front of a banner urging peace.

Local clergymen, including Rev. Ted Hoskins (Saugatuck Congregational Church, beard) and Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein (Temple Israel, hand on head) march in front of a banner urging peace.

First Selectman John Kemish (tie) is flanked by veterans.

First Selectman John Kemish (tie) is flanked by veterans. (All photos/Mark Groth)

Mark Groth Remembers 1968’s Nightly Le Mans

It’s been a long time since Mark Groth lived in Westport. A 1968 graduate of Staples High School — where he served as president of Staples Players’ Stage and Technical Staff — he’s now media production director at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

But — like many other expats — he’s an avid “06880” reader. A recent post noting a 5-year wait for a railroad station parking sticker piqued his interest.

He recalled a different era: a time when not every family had (at least) 2 cars. So someone had to pick up Dad every night. Mark writes:

Every night, the New Haven Railroad commuter train arrived in Westport at 6:26. A hundred mostly male workers disembarked for a ride to home, hearth and dinner. Some would have napped for an hour. Some spent convivial time in the bar car. Many wives came to pick up their husbands.

New Haven RailroadLike many others, I spent time in the back seat on this nightly exercise. But in the late ’60s I took driver’s education at Staples High School. My classmates and I could handle this mundane daily task, and free up our mothers for a few minutes before dinner was on the table.

This was also a chance to exercise our planning and driving skills. I had an older brother, so I knew the importance of leaving the uninitiated proles in the dust. Many dads willingly participated in this testosterone-pumping event.

Two good friends, Lee and Paul, were my major competitors. We would arrive early, then sit with engines running in the exit lane waiting for the hard core to exit the train before it stopped.

Hitting the ground running, assured that their ride was waiting, clutch in, our fathers slalomed between parked cars. We leaned over opened the passenger door, and they slid in.

When he wasn't picking up his father, Mark Groth played guitar.

When he wasn’t picking up his father, Mark Groth played guitar.

Out the east end exit we flew. We took the 90-degree left turn (watching out for annoying late arrivals), then the 180 degrees down and under the railroad bridge, and a quick right onto Riverside.

Snowy roads and an occasional 4-wheel drift under the bridge were tricky.

But summer was swell. Paul and I had convertibles, so our fathers did not have to duck to jump into the passenger seat. That gave us a split-second lead on sedans.

There were no trophies for the evening races, just the satisfaction of a certain style for a teenage driver.

One night, I was running late. I saw the big diesel engine pull in as I zipped under the bridge. Paul and Lee were already in position. I didn’t have time to go down to the parking entrance, getting caught in the melee as I failed my father and brought shame on our family.

So as I came up under the bridge I slammed on the brakes, threw it into reverse and backed up into the exit, right in front of Paul. His mouth dropped.

Carl Groth goes for the gold.

Carl Groth goes for the gold.

I had great position. My father dodged the parked cars, and slid in. Idling in first with the clutch in, I hit it. The door slammed. We went out the exit, under the bridge and off to freedom. I have joyously relived and savored that extremely lucky night ever since.

Paul and Lee sometimes beat me. It was pretty even who got out first. But we all had a wonderful time. We turned a tedious chore into our own chariot race.

The camaraderie of that brief teenage game made it a memorable part of our adolescence. Westport had its own true Golden Age.

Strange Days

The Doors had a busy September 1967.

Just a few weeks after “Light My Fire” blazed to #1, they toured New Jersey, Texas, Utah, New York, Ontario, Ohio, Rhode Island, Iowa and Colorado.

They appeared on “Ed Sullivan.”  They released their 3rd single, “People Are Strange.”

In between, they played Staples High School.

On September 21 — nearly 43 years ago to the day — the hottest band in America came to Westport.

According to DoorsHistory.com, which seems as amazed that the group played here as today’s teenagers must be reading about it, Staples was:

a very cool place to play considering it’s a high school auditorium and the music department’s rehearsal room is used as the dressing room, which the Doors turn into a party room!

Others that will make the trip here are the Animals, Cream, the Rascals, Louis Armstrong, Phil Ochs, and Sly and the Family Stone.  It sure would of (sic) been cool to go to this high school in the sixties!

The show goes well with the Doors playing material straight off their first two albums.  This show is promoted by the school’s student council!

Mark Groth — who sent “06880” the link to the Doors history website — was a Staples student then, and he was there.  He remembers “standing backstage under the light board talking to Morrison, wearing his leather outfit and smelling a bit like a wet goat.”

I was there too — though I was only in 8th grade.  I did not get close enough to Jim Morrison to smell him, but I do recall thinking he was by far the coolest human being I had ever seen on earth.

I don’t recall being surprised that the Doors were spending a Thursday night in Westport.

But they sure set the night on fire.

More Doors/Westport trivia: The back cover of "Strange Days" -- released 4 days after their Westport show -- featured model Zazel Wilde. She had graduated from Staples a few years before.