Tag Archives: Rob Simmelkjaer

Roundup: Operation Varsity Blues, Christopher Lloyd, Women’s Voices …

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Operation Varsity Blues” — the Netflix movie about the rich-and-famous college admissions scandal — has taken America by storm.

There’s a Westport angle. Thankfully, it has nothing to do with a parent pretending his or her child was a star water polo player, even if he or she cannot swim.

“Operation Varsity Blues” was written and edited by Jon Karmen. He’s the 2008 Staples High School graduate who made a huge name for himself there as half of “Rubydog” — a moviemaking duo who, working with media instructor Jim Honeycutt, made a number of way-beyond-high school videos back in the day. (Click here to see some of their pioneering work.)

Karmen is known too as the writer/director of “Fyre” (2019), a behind-the-scenes look at that infamous music festival.

“Varsity Blues” was #3 on Netflix’s Top 10 Most Watched Movies & TV Shows yesterday. But it wasn’t the only one with an “06880” connection. Jamie Mann’s “Country Comfort” checked in at #7. (Hat tip: Kerry Long)

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Speaking of Staples: More than 60 years after helping found Staples Players, Christopher Lloyd is still acting.

In 1958 he was a Staples High School student who wanted to do more than just act in a class play. He found a mentor in English teacher Craig Matheson. The rest, as they say, is history.

Lloyd went on to a career that includes “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the “Back to the Future” trilogy, “Star Trek III,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and 2 “Addams Family” films.

At 82 years old, he’s got a new movie: “Senior Moment.” He stars with Jean Smart and William Shatner, who play a pair of older star-crossed lovers in an old-school romcom.

Lloyd talks about that project; his 5 wives — and growing up in Westport — in a wide-ranging Guardian interview. He was the youngest of 8 children, though the closest in age was 7 years older. Click here for the full interview. (Hat tip: Jeff Mitchell)’

Christopher Lloyd in “Senior Moment.”

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Speaking again of Staples: Staples history classes absolutely crushed the National History Day regional competition.

Their papers, documentaries and exhibits examined everything from the Daughters of the Confederacy and Queer Communications in the Age of Oppression to Crypto-Analysis in World War I, Cigarette Advertising and the Freedom Riders.

How dominant was Staples? 32 students placed. There were only 5 other winners in the entire region, from just 2 other schools.

Placing first were Ishan Prasad, Sabrina Paris, Maya Hruskar, Lilly Weisz, Srushti Karve, William Jin, Michael Nealon, Zachary Brody, Jeffrey Pogue, Jack Ginsburg, Preston Norris, Tyler Clark and Matthew Gatto.

Finishing second were Nikos Ninios, Franca Strandell, Camille Vynerib, Julet Tracey, Lily Klau, Olivia Stubbs, Hannah Fiarman, Franky Lockenour, James Dobin-Smith, Coco Laska, Karlie Saed and Sarp Gurdogan.

Taking third were Sebastian Miller, Analise Vega, Emma Porzio, Arda Ernamli, Hannah Conn, Samantha Paris and Ethan Cukier.

Their (superb) teachers are Drew Coyne, Nell-Ann Lynch, Cathy Schager and Kelly Zrenda.

Up next: state and (hopefully) national competition.

A US championship? That would be historic.

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Speaking once again of the arts: On Tuesday (March 30, 7 p.m.), the Westport Country Playhouse presents a world premiere of “New Works/New Voices.” These 4 new pieces — all written by community members — honor women who inspired them: Constance Baker Motley, Anne Bogart, Mary Freeman, Mary McLeod Bethune and Gloria Steinem.

Local storytellers and actors will bring to life these very personal, beautiful stories recorded on the WCP stage.

Viewers are invited to pay what they can. 50% of ticket sales and donations during the broadcast go to the Playhouse’s community partner, Women’s Mentoring Network, providing career, educational and personal resources for the economic empowerment of low-income women and their families.

Click here to register for “New Works/New Voices.”

The artists and storytellers who will bring 5 women’s stories to life.

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Westporter Rob Simmelkjaer was confirmed yesterday, by a bipartisan State Senate vote, as chair of the Connecticut Lottery.

It’s a volunteer — but quite active — role he’s served in since May. Area senators Will Haskell and Bob Duff spoke warmly on the media executive’s behalf.

Rob Simmelkjaer

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Update from Parks & Rec: The concession stand at Compo Beach will open in mid-April. Last year, during COVID, it opened late, and ran only from a trailer adjacent to the brick building.

The concession stand at Compo Beach will be open next month.

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MoCA Westport has added 5 members to its board of directors. Two are from Westport.

Jennifer Kanfer has served on the board of The Conservative Synagogue, including co-chair of the Social Action, Membership and Fundraising Committees. and with the Coleytown Elementary School PTA. She previously worked in healthcare communications for 14 years. She holds a BA in political science from the University of Michigan, an MPA in healthcare policy and administration from NYU, and an MBA in Finance from NYU’s Stern School.

Samantha Yanks is an award-winning editor with over 20 years experience in luxury fashion and lifestyle publishing. In 2018 she launched a social, digital and branding agency, Samantha Yanks Creative. She was most recently editor-in- chief of Gotham and Hamptons magazines. As senior accessories editor at O, she collaborated closely with Oprah Winfrey. Yanks has discussed fashion, beauty and lifestyle on “The Today Show” and “NBC Nightly News,” “New York Live,” “Good Day New York,” E!, the Martha Stewart and Howard Stern shows, and more. She graduated from Tulane University.

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‘Tis the season — for both holiday lights and daffodils.

(Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

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And finally … the great — and greatly underrated — Billy Stewart was born today, in 1937. He died in 1970, only 32 years old.

If you only have time to listen to one song, it’s “Summertime.” But everything he touched was a classic.

 

Persona Interview: Police Chief Foti Koskinas

What 4 Minneapolis police officers did to George Floyd was “horrifying and embarrasing.”

97% of what the Westport police do is “serve.” Only about 3% is “protect.”

And even though he is white, when Foti Koskinas came to the US as a 7th grader from Greece — speaking not a word of English — he felt like a minority.

He made those remarks yesterday, in an interview with Rob Simmelkjaer. They’re significant because Koskinas is now Westport’s chief of police.

The wide-ranging interview includes topics like why, at a Jesup Green rally, Koskinas apologized to Floyd’s family (he felt the Minnesota police had dishonored the uniform and badge Koskinas is so proud of), and current calls to de-fund police departments (he talks about the effects of government cuts to mental health services, which force the police to now do more than ever).

The interview was done in partnership with Westport Lifestylemagazine, which will post excerpts from this and other interviews with Westporters about recent protests.

The interview is available on the Persona app — and on YouTube. Click below for the full discussion.

He’s A Winner! Simmelkjaer Named CT Lottery Chair

It’s a good bet that Westporters know the new chair of the Connecticut Lottery Corporation’s board of directors.

The other day, Governor Ned Lamont named Rob Simmelkjaer to fill the vacant position.

A former member of the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Democratic Town Committee, he was 1st selectman candidate Melissa Kane’s running mate 3 years ago.

Rob Simmelkjaer

He’s now founder and CEO of Persona Media, the interview and conversation-focused social media startup.

His face is also familiar to many beyond Westport. Simmelkjaer was an on-air contributor for NBC Sports, where he also served as vice president of NBC Sports Ventures. He previously worked at ESPN and ABC News.

So how does that prepare the Dartmouth College and Harvard University Law School graduate to head up the Connecticut Lottery, which since it began in 1972 has contributed more than $10 billion to the state’s general fund?

Simmelkjaer says that at NBC, he learned about the impact of sports betting — and the effect of all legal gaming on state economies. He spent time with CT Lottery CEO Greg Smith, and learned about its opportunities and challenges.

Lotteries are well established in every segment of American society, the new chair says.

Many Westporters buy tickets, especially when the jackpot is high. Simmelkjaer did too. (Iin his new position, he’s prohibited from winning.)

“I’ve always seen it as a relatively inexpensive form of entertainment,” he says. In the 1960s and ’70s his grandmother played the underground numbers in Harlem for $5 a week. When lotteries became legal, his father played the big jackpots.

Of course, Simmelkjaer says, with any form of gaming there is a potential for a small percentage of people to become addicted. Any expansion — such as online lottery sales, online casino games or sports betting — must provide help for anyone in trouble.

Lamont said his appointee’s “sharp eye and keen management style will provide the agency with a greatly-needed refresh.”

That’s a reference to the fact that although the lottery sold $1.3 billion worth of tickets last year, and contributed $370 million to the general fund, the agency has been rocked by a retailer fraud scandal, and a mistake-filled New Year’s Day promotion.

As chair — an unpaid position — Simmelkjaer will help set strategies and priorities. He’s a conduit between the governor and legislators.

“Responsible gaming can play an important role in the fiscal recovery of Connecticut from the current crisis,” the new chair says. “I look forward to working with the CEO and other key stakeholders to ensure that we grow the state’s gaming revenue, while ensuring the highest standards of compliance and oversight.”

Persona Of The Day: Candice Savin

For a while, Rob Simmelkjaer and I have been talking about a “Persona of the Week” interview for “06880.” Persona — his new mobile app — makes it easy and fun to conduct interviews and create podcasts.

These days, staying connected is more important than ever. So Rob and I are using Persona’s “06880 Dan Woog” channel to help.

Once a day — usually in my COVID-19 Roundup story — we’ll share your stories. Some will be family interviews; others will be questions of special guests.

We start with Board of Education chair Candice Savin. She answered a few questions from Rob Simmelkjaer about when schools will likely reopen, the impact of this crisis on the education budget, and whether the shutdown will impact the schedule for Coleytown Middle School’s reopening.

Here’s a clip from her CMS answer. You can download the app (iPhone or Android for the full Q&A, and to ask her your own questions. Then follow “06880 Dan Woog” — and stay connected. (To share your own interviews, tag “06880 Dan Woog” in the interviewee field.

Board of Education chair Candice Savin

Persona Of The Week: Nancy Wyman

The Westport Library’s Forum is quickly becoming the place to be seen — and see some very intriguing folks.

CBS correspondent/podcaster/author Mo Rocca was there the other night. This evening, Titanic discover/undersea explorer Dr. Robert Ballard comes to town.

On Monday evening, Nancy Wyman was the featured guest. In the midst of a chaotic political week, the head of the state Democratic Party spoke to Westporter Rob Simmelkjaer about national and Connecticut issues.

It was the first in a series of live interviews at the Library. On Monday, February 24 (6 p.m.), former ESPN anchor Lindsay Czarniak and fellow Westporter Marysol Castro, the in-stadium voice of the New York Mets, talk about their careers in journalism.

Click below for the Nancy Wyman interview:

Nancy Wyman Inaugurates Library “Persona” Series

This fall, Persona introduced Westporters to local political candidates.

Now it will connect leaders from around the state with the world. But there’s still a Westport hook.

Starting Monday (February 10, 6 p.m.), the social media/interview platform — founded right here, by Westporter Rob Simmelkjaer — will host a new, free series at the Library forum. The public can watch Connecticut leaders in business, politics, journalism, sports and more talk abut their lives and careers.

Nancy Wyman

The first interview is with Nancy Wyman. The chair of the Connecticut Democratic Party and former lieutenant governor will discuss state and national elections.

Simmelkjaer is a former ESPN, ABC News and NBC Sports executive and journalist.

In other words: the perfect “persona” to introduce the new library series, and interview this statewide figure.

Persona Of The Week: Westport’s Human Services Department

With the holiday season in full swing, Westporters frantically shuttle between shopping and holiday parties.

Yet despite our perceived affluence, many families here struggle to buy gifts for their kids, or pay heating bills as the weather gets colder.

In this week’s “Persona” 06880 interview, Rob Simmelkjaer sits with Susan Stefenson and Annette D’Augelli of Westport’s Department of Human Services. They discuss how Westporters can lend a hand to neighbors in need this holiday season.

Persona Of The Week: WTF’s Liz Milwe And Christy Colasurdo

If you can’t — or won’t — trek to New York for tonight’s Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center: no problem!

Wakeman Town Farm’s annual tree lighting is this Friday (December 6, 4:30 to 6 p.m.).

That’s just one of the many events taking place regularly at community farm/sustainability center/gathering spot.

This week, Persona’s Rob Simmelkjaer interviews Liz Milwe and Christy Colasurdo. They chat about all the great things happening all year long at WTF.

(Friday’s tree lighting at Wakeman Town Farm is free, and open to all. There’s music, marshmallows, cocoa, cookies — and a collection box for unwrapped toys, courtesy of Al’s Angels.)

“Persona” Of The Week: “Mamma Mia” Cast And Crew

Staples Players‘ “Mamma Mia” opens tomorrow. It’s another fantastic show, from the nationally known high school troupe.

If you’re like me, you go to Players’ musical every year and wonder, “Who are these kids? And how do they put on such an amazing show?”

Persona’s Rob Simmelkjaer went backstage to speak to some actors and crew members, as they get ready for opening night.

Persona Of The Week: Lauren Bromberg

Each year, Craft Westport brings over 175 artisans from a variety  of genres  to town.

The 44th annual event is set for this weekend at Staples High School. It kicks off the holiday shopping season — and all funds raised by the sponsoring Westport Young Woman’s League go to local charities.

The other day, WYWL president Lauren Bromberg sat with Persona’s Rob Simmelkjaer to preview the event. They talk about WYWL’s mission, and its work in and around Westport.

(Craft Westport will be held tomorrow — Saturday, November 9 — from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, including tickets, click here.)