Tag Archives: PBS

Westport Playhouse Takes National Stage

Andrew Wilk could have lived many places.

One reason he chose to move here in 2006 was the Westport Country Playhouse.

The beautiful theater — and the part it plays in our town’s artistic heritage — appealed to the arts and entertainment executive, who helped found the National Geographic Channel, then worked for Sony. (The great school system, and proximity to water, were other draws.)

The 90-year-old Westport Country Playhouse.

Wilk went on to earn 5 Emmys for his work as executive producer of PBS’ “Live at Lincoln Center.”

But the 4-hour-a-day commute got to be a bit much. When a man died on a Metro-North train near Wilk, he took it as an omen. He quit his Lincoln Center gig, while maintaining his ties with PBS (and his extensive Rolodex).

During morning coffee conversations with Westport friends, the Playhouse often came up. They noted how underutilized it was — and wondered how, besides dramas and musicals, its historic stage could be used for other forms of art.

Early in the pandemic, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe asked Wilk for entertainment ideas. Always thinking outside the box, Wilk wondered: Why not move Lincoln Center’s “Stars in Concert” here?

“Stars on Stage” was born.

Andrew Wilk and one of his Emmys, in his Lincoln Center office.

Playhouse managing director Michael Barker was on board. They donated the  theater itself, plus staff and crew support

But talent does not come cheap. Wilk worked his Rolodex to find available and willing entertainers — and generous donors.

He landed Gavin Creel (Tony Winner in “Hello, Dolly!”; “The Book of Mormon”), , Brandon Victor Dixon (Aaron Burr in “Hamilton,” Emmy nominee in “Jesus Christ Superstar”) and Shoanan Bean (Billboard artist; “Wicked,” “Waitress”).

Led by Bud and Roz Seigel, Westport donors came through too.

Wilk was determined to do this right. In early September, a control truck rolled into the Playhouse parking lot. A New York production crew with 8 cameras — including an 18-foot jib and a Steadicam — and first-class sound equipment went to work.

It was not easy. COVID made the daily rehearsal and production ritual with the stars, their bands and the entire technical and production staff arduous.

Everyone had to test 72 hours, then 48 hours and finally 24 hours before contact with anyone in the show could be made.

Wilk had to hire a COVID compliance officer to check everyone in, take everyone’s temperature, and send an online questionnaire every morning at 6. There was on-site testing too, if needed.

Performer had to rehearse in masks, up till the final performance. Everyone wore lanyards, showing where they were allowed to be (stage and wings only; audience and lobby only, etc.)

Those were the same procedures mandated for every television and movie set in the country, by theatrical unions.

Finally they filmed 2 shows a night, for 3 days. The intimate setting worked wonderfully. Creel, Bean and Dixon performed show-stoppers, classic and contemporary songs, and told stories.

Audience members were thrilled. For many, it was the first live, in-person entertainment since the pandemic began.

Yet Wilk’s work had just begun. He spent the last 3 months editing, and finalizing contracts with PBS.

Today, the network announces the shows. “Stars on Stage From Westport Country Playhouse” premieres on 3 consecutive Fridays — January 7, 14 and 21, 9 p.m.) on PBS, PBS.org and the PBS Video app.

PBS calls itself “America’s largest stage.” Now — thanks to a collaboration with a much smaller, but more historic — stage, audiences across the country can enjoy a theater we sometimes take too much for granted.

Starring On TV: The Post Road

Alert “06880” reader David Meth sent along info about an interesting show airing tomorrow night on PBS.

“10 Streets That Changed America” looks at some very different roads, from coast to coast, and from colonial days to 2018. It “explores the ways real estate, technology, and travel alter ways we get around, and in turn, shape modern life.”

Right there — among Broadway and Wilshire Boulevard — is the Post Road.

Opened in 1673, the New York to Boston route dramatically cut the time of moving people, goods and information. 100 years later, Ben Franklin helped it become “an even more efficient, economical means of transporting ideas and publications, just in time to ferment the debate and dialogue that fed the American Revolution.”

That was then …

The show’s website promises to highlight “the importance of infrastructure, and how today’s planners are, in many ways, coming full circle in their efforts to return many of the country’s great roads to walkable, pedestrian thoroughfares.”

I guess the key word in that sentence is “many.”

Not “all.”

(“10 Streets That Changed America” airs tomorrow — Tuesday, July 10 — at 8 p.m. on Channel 13. Click here for more information.)

… this is now.


Channeling Westport Teachers

Last fall, Teaching Channel — an initiative to videotape inspiring teachers giving challenging lessons, then put the results on TV and the web — came to Westport.

Over a dozen Staples and middle school teachers — in math, science and English — were taped. The 1st lesson has been posted, and is drawing rave reviews.

Ali Krubski — a young Staples biology instructor — is shown teaching 9th graders how to design and conduct a lab that examines carbon cycling.

Pretty standard stuff — unless you’re a biologist — but Krubski makes it sing. Rather than “teaching” the lab, she encourages students to think about science, think critically, collaborate and communicate.

It’s exactly what Teaching Channel — whose tagline is “Inspired Teaching. Inspiring Classrooms” — hopes to highlight. The idea is for educators across America — the world, even — to click on the 5-minute video, get ideas and resources, adapt lesson plans, and maybe even chat online with Krubski and other biology teachers.

That’s already happening. And, according to Dr. A.J. Scheetz, it’s exactly where education should be headed.

“Getting students to think about science as an active process — not just a series of steps in a textbook or worksheet — is really important,” says Westport’s science department chair, grades 6-12.

“Students need to develop their own procedures and questions, then use the information they get from their labs to support their ideas. That’s a change in emphasis from a lot of science classes.”

It’s a change Ali Krubski embraces. And a change that — thanks to modern technology — teachers everywhere can see, and emulate.

(Click here to see Ali Krubski’s Teaching Channel video.)