Tag Archives: Staples Players

Madelyn Spera Plays The Bitter End

When the world closed down during the pandemic, some people ate. Others grew anxious, or bored.

Madelyn Spera wrote songs.

The rising Staples High School senior was always drawn to music. She took classes beginning in preschool; sang at Sweet Frog at age 10;  joined Music Theatre of Connecticut for shows like “James and the Giant Peach,” “Charlotte’s Web” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” then performed with Bedford Middle School and Staples Players in “Mamma Mia!,” “Grease” “The Descendants” and “Into the Woods.”

Madelyn Spera

COVID slammed the curtain shut. Isolated at home starting in March 2020 — Staples Players’ “Seussical: The Musical” was canceled 2 days before opening night — Madelyn studied songwriters like Taylor Swift.

She figured out her own process. She thinks of a title or creative first line; plays with it on piano or guitar, then crafts the rest of her lyrics.

Madelyn calls her all-acoustic style “indie-ish. It’s mellow pop, relaxed.” She is not into techno.

She writes about what she knows: family, friends, growing up in Westport, experiences she’s going through.

She recorded 6 original songs at Bridgeport’s Tarquin Studios. Working with a member of the Alternate Roots band, she learned the ins and outs of recording. Right now she’s editing those songs, and figuring out the best marketing strategy.

Earlier this month, Madelyn performed at New York’s Bitter End. The famed Greenwich Village club has hosted Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Roger McGuinn, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Joan Baez, T-Bone Burnett, James Taylor and Neil Young, among many others.

More recent performers include Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga. “I was playing on their piano!” Madelyn says.

Madelyn Spera, at The Bitter End.

Like Gaga, Madelyn sang about loving yourself, and “embracing who you are.” Audience members told Madelyn that her lyrics resonated.

This summer, she’s interning at MTC. She’s teaching music choreographing children’s shows, and giving back some of what she got growing up there.

Soon, she’ll audition for Staples Players’ fall production: “Guys and Dolls.”

She hopes too to return to The Bitter End. Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga’s piano is waiting.

Roundup: Donuts, Swans, Missoula …

In honor of National Donut Day last week, the Senior Center ran a contest.

The results are in:

  • Chocolate: Coffee An’ (“by far,” I’m told)
  • Glazed: Coffee An’ and Dunkin’ Donuts (a tie!)
  • Plain: Dunkin

Sweet!

A Westport favorite for generations. (Photo/Katherine Bruan)

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Staples Players’ first Studio Theater production in over 2 years takes center stage on Thursday. Studios are directed, designed and run entirely run by students.

“At the Bottom of Missoula” portrays loss and grief in such an impactful way. Co-directors Chloe Manna and Chloe Nevas — both seniors — say, “It was a challenging piece but one we were excited to take on with our amazing cast and crew. The show takes the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions within its 35 minute run. The lighting design and sound is unique too, and creates  really beautiful moments we hope the audience will be touched by.”

The plot: After losing her family in a fatal tornado, college student Pan embarks on an unimaginable journey. She transfers schools and isolates herself, but cannot escape feeling sad and guilty. Finally, a classmate helps Pam realize that healing need not be a solitary endeavor.

Performances are Thursday and Saturday, June 9 and 11 at 7:30 p.m., in Staples’ Black Box Theater. Click here for tickets.

The cast of “At the Bottom of Lake Missoula.” (Photo/Chloe Nevas)

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Speaking of Staples:

The rugby team defeated Trumbull last night 41-21 in the state tournament semifinals.

The Wreckers advance to the state championship. The match is home (Paul Lane Stadium) this Thursday (June 9, 5:30 p.m.) against perennial powerhouse Greenwich — winner of 11 state titles. The Westporters shoot for their first.

Staples and the Cardinals have a great history. The Wreckers won their league match this spring; 3 weeks later, Greenwich got revenge at nationals.

Get ready to rumble!

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Award winning singer-songwriter Diana Jones headlines this Saturday’s Voices Café at the Unitarian Church. Her 8 p.m. concert is both in-person and livestreamed.

The concert is dedicated to the efforts of 6 area faith communities. All help settle refugees in Fairfield County, through the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants.

Volunteers come from Westport’s Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church,  Unitarian Church and United Methodist Church; Weston’s Norfield Congregational Church, the Greenfield Hill Congregational, and First Church Congregational of Fairfield.

Jones has performed at the Cambridge Folk Festival, Galway Arts Festival, Levon Helm’s Ramble in Woodstock, New York, and Bimhuis in Amsterdam, and shared stages with Richard Thompson, Janis Ian and Mary Gauthier. Joan Baez has recorded her songs.

Voices Café offers café-style and individual seating. Click here for tickets, and more information.

Diana Jones

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It took 3 years of planning (and COVID), but Staples’ Class of 1980 will celebrate their 40th reunion — okay their42nd — at LaKota Oaks in Norwalk. It’s also a giant 60th birthday party for all. LaKota Oaks’ 65 acres includes a pool, basketball and volleyball courts, horseshoes and more.

The event begins Thursday, August 11 at Viva Zapata; continues Friday at the Black Duck, and concludes Saturday at LaKota Oaks. There’s jazz music in the afternoon, and a DJ at night.

As always, the Class of ’80 will raise money for the Susan Fund, in honor of classmate Susan Lloyd. For tickets and more information, click here. Questions? Email amy@aapk.com or szrobins84@gmail.com.

The Susan Fund — in honor of Susan Lloyd, Staples ’80 — provides scholarships for students with cancer, and survivors.

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Several readers have noticed that the swan’s nest near Gorham Island seems abandoned.

Amy Schneider took this photo, which may show the reason why: cracked eggs.

If so, it’s a sad — but natural — “Westport … Naturally” photo.

(Photo/Amy Schneider)

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And finally … if you’ve never heard of Diana Jones (story above) — or if you have, and enjoy her music — take a listen:

Roundup: Junior Prom, Caitlin Parton, Michael Bolton …

Last November, the cast of Staples Players’ “Grease” sang “It’s Raining on Prom Night.”

Last night, many of those actors gathered for parties, then the junior prom.

And guess what?

It was raining.

Staples Players and dates (from left): Sebastian Gikas, Raia Badurina, Tess Feldman, James Dobin-Smith, Zoe Schwartz, Charlie Watson. (Photo/Danielle Dobin)

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In 1988, Caitlin Parton became the youngest person ever to receive a cochlear implant.

After graduating in 2003, she headed to the University of Chicago. She interned for Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, worked at the Department of Justice and spent 2 years as a paralegal for a Washington civil rights firm, before earning a law degree from City University of New York.

Caitlin — the daughter of longtime Westporters Steve Parton and Melody James – is now general counsel for the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

On May 24 (4 p.m., Zoom), she’ll receive the Center for Hearing and Communication’s Sheldon Williams Leadership Award. Click here for details and registration.

Caitlin Parton

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Award-winning singer-songwriter– and Westporter — Michael Bolton gets asked to support many causes.

He’s said yes to the Domestic Violence Crisis Center.

This Thursday (May 19, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tokeneke Club, Darien), he’ll  be a guest speaker at the 20th annual Voices of Courage Spring Luncheon.

Westport Police Lieutenant Jillian Cabana is head of the Westport chapter.

Click here for tickets and more information.

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Marie Gross spotted these little guys in her garden. It’s amazing what pops up in “Westport … Naturally.”

(Photos/Marie Gross)

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And finally … happy birthday to Brian Eno, The English singer-songwriter, keyboard player, producer — and favorite of crossword constructors everywhere — turns 74.

209 Brothers Grimm Stories, In 60-Odd Minutes

The last time Staples Players performed in the Black Box Theater was 2019. When COVID hit, the intimate space near the large auditorium closed.

The seats have been cleaned. A set has been built. This Thursday and Friday (May 12 and 13, 7:30 p.m.), audience will laugh out loud at “The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon.”

David Roth and Kerry Long direct the Black Box show. Traditional fairy tales are turned on their heads in fast-paced fashion: an acting troupe tries to combine all 209 stories in a little over an hour.

Familiar tales like Snow White, Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel are here. So are more bizarre, obscure ones like The Devil’s Grandmother and The Girl Without Hands.

There’s plenty of audience participation — and the audience is PG. Click here for tickets.

Drew Andrade and Mel Stanger as Hansel and Gretel, in “The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

But wait! There’s more!

Playrers’ 20th annual One-Act Play Festival is set for May 28 (5 p.m., 8 p.m.) and May 29 (5 p.m.). Roth’s directing class students stage their own shows — including casting, costumes and set design — and young actors to show their stuff, in a series of 10-minute plays. Comedy, drama and more come in rat-a-tat fashion, in the Black Box theater.

This is the first One-Act Festival in 2 years.

Players’ Black Box season concludes with “At the Bottom of Lake Missoula” (June 9 and 11, 7:30 p.m.).

This Studio Theatre production, directed by seniors Chloe Manna and Chloe Nevas, is completely student-designed,

After losing her entire family in a fatal tornado, a college sophomore embarks on an unimaginable journey. To separate herself from her grief, she transfers schools and isolates herself, but her sadness and guilt over their deaths linger.

When a classmate makes an attempt at conciliation, Pam finally realizes that healing need not be a solitary endeavor.

Tickets for the One-Act Play Festival and “”Lake Missoula” will be available soon, at StaplesPlayers.com.

Roundup: Shorebirds, Costumes, Paul & Joanne …

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Shorebirds are nesting at Compo Beach.

As usual, Parks & Rec is on the case.

Department staff has staked out an area near the site, keeping people away from the fragile birds and their eggs. A sign offers information about the threatened wildlife.

Stay away! It’s their beach too.

In fact, they were here first.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

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Speaking of shorebirds: A week from tomorrow is Earth Day. But the big events at Sherwood Island State Park are Saturday, April 23.

Friends of Sherwood Island offer several events. They include:

Friends’ Garden Team Activities (9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., at the Friends’ table on East Beach across from the Nature Center).

🌱Bring a reusable water bottle; get a “Protect Our Wildlife” sticker (while supplies last).

🌱Tour the Dunes Restoration project site; plant a stem of American Beach Grass.

🌱Learn about native plant species planted for wildlife at the park; get a list for planting at home.

“Why Reducing Food Waste is Critical to a Sustainable Future” (9:30 to 11 a.m.).Host: Pippa Bell Ader, Sustainable Westport Zero Food Waste Challenge. Ongoing at the Friends’ table outside the Main Pavilion.

“Walk Through Sherwood Island’s History (From 12,000 Years Ago)” (noon to 1:30 p.m.). Host: Cece Saunders, owner of Historical Perspectives in Westport. Guided walk. Meet at the Friends’ table outside the Main Pavilion.

“Salt Marshes and Marsh Migration at Sherwood Island” (12:30 to 2 p.m.) Host: Michele Sorensen, environmental educator, captain of the Friends’ garden team. Guided walk; also pick up plastic waste on the marsh. Gloves and bags provided. Meet at the Friends’ table on East Beach across from the Nature Center.

“Environmental Role of Trees at the Park” (2 to 3:30 p.m.) Host: Louis Pietig, Friends’ of Sherwood Island Advisory Council member. Guided walk. Meet at the Friends’ table outside the Main Pavilion.

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Did you miss VersoFest? Or do you just want to relive last weekend’s Westport Library first-in-any-library-anywhere music and media festival?

Click below for a short highlight video. Jerri Graham and Verso Studios’ vivid photos will bring it to life. And get you psyched for the 2023 show, already in the planning stages.

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The curtain came down on “The Descendants” last weekend. But the final act came later.

Staples Players’ talented costume crew — the behind-the-scenes students and parents led by Christie Stanger, who designed and created so many wonderful outfits — had a great idea:  bling out a young audience member’s own clothes to look just like the costume of one of the Descendants!

This lucky, randomly chosen winner had her jean jacket and leggings made to look just like Evie’s. She also got a bunch of cool Evie-like accessories. She even got to meet Evie after the show.

Thanks for spreading joy, Costume Crew!

Lucky winner holds her Evie costume.

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Speaking of entertainment: Not much gets by Fred Cantor.

The other night he watched “The Drowning Pool.” The 1975 noir film starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward streamed on TCM.

At the end — yes, Fred watched the credits — he saw that it was “A Coleytown Production.”

Digging further, he found that “Coleytown Productions Inc.” is a California corporation formed in 1969. It dissolved in 2014. Joanne Woodward was the CEO.

Other copyrights held by Coleytown Productions included 2 other Paul Newman films: “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” and “Pocket Money.”

Screenshot from “The Drowning Pool.” (Photo/Fred Cantor)

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The other day, “06880” noted that Drew Coyne was named Connecticut’s Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year.

Now the highly lauded and popular Staples High School social studies instructor is vying for national Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year honors.

Every nominee for the $10,000 demonstrates “a commitment to engaging students in historical  learning through the innovative use of primary sources,  implementation of active learning strategies to foster historical  thinking skills, and participation in the National History Day Contest.” The winner will be announced in June.

Drew Coyne

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After 7 years of providing a dedicated gluten-free, organic, non-GMO-certified commercial kitchen, C&K Community Kitchen no longer maintains its gluten-free status. It still “enthusiastically stands on its  devout organic, non-GMO foundation.”

Questions? Contact Sarah Kerstin Gross (candkcommunitykitchen@gmail.com), or call 203-226-0531.

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Dale Najarian is the Westport Book Shop’s latest guest exhibitor.

The Westport artist is showing several abstract landscapes on wood panels. She  works in several mediums, including watercolor, acrylics, mixed media and oils.  She also has a passion for photography.

Najarian earned a BFA from Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia. She worked for over 15 years as a graphic designer and art director at design firms and advertising agencies in New York, Philadelphia and Washington.

She serves on the advisory board for the Norwalk Art Space, the executive board of the Artists Collective of Westport, and is a board member and project manager for #UNLOADusa.org, a nonprofit organization using arts to talk about gun violence in America. She is also an active member of the Greenwich Arts Council and the Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County.

Dale Najarian at the Westport Book Shop.

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Longtime Saugatuck Co-op resident Johanna Straczek died peacefully last month, at 96. Her family says she “lived a full and vibrant life.”

She started her own accounting firm and worked daily at a front desk, even after selling the company years ago.

“Always dressed with taste and seldom without a signature chapeau, her slight but powerful presence graced our town with a genuine air of European culture,” her obituary says.

Born in Austria in 1925, Johanna learned multiple languages and studied opera in  Vienna before coming to the US. She attended Sacred Heart University, sharpening her business acumen.

She became a fellow of the National Tax Institute, was a longtime Rotarian, and member of several tax associations.

As treasurer of the Saugatuck Co-Op on Bridge Street, where she lived, she is remembered for her dedication volunteer work, and her soprano voice that she gifted at holiday parties (especially “Stille Nacht/Silent Night”).

Johanna is survived by her sister, Vera Romatko and brother Carlo Romatko.  She was predeceased by her husband John and sister, Nadia Romatko Krower.

A celebration of her life is set for April 20 (Unitarian Church, 11 a.m.).

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The other day, David Ader searched for wild mushrooms at the Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum.

Instead he found this tree. He writes: “What you see are fresh scratches from a claw. Given where they were on the tree, I assume it was a small bear. The claw marks are very different from, say, a deer rubbing antlers, which would be higher up.”

He has not seen the bear this year. He is, however, “hopeful.”

(Photo/David Ader)

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And finally … Bridgeport’s Sound on Sound Festival features some big names September 24 and 25. Among them: Dave Matthews, the Lumineers, Stevie Nicks and Brandi Carlile,

The biggest might be Ringo Starr. He kicks things off September 23.

That’s quite a coup. You know he don’t come easy. (Hat tip: Mark Yurkiw)

Roundup: Affordable Housing, Gilbertie’s, I-95 Noise …

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Last night’s meeting on a 5-year plan for affordable housing — co-sponsored by the Democratic, Republican, Save Westport Now and Coalition for Westport political parties — drew some interesting comments.

Among them: a proposal to install metered parking downtown. The proceeds — estimated to be $1 million or so annually — could be used to create a substantial affordable housing fund.

With Westport’s credit rating, the town could borrow $20 million.

1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Planning & Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin at last night’s Town Hall meeting on affordable housing. (Photo/Jimmy Izzo)

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A couple of months ago, “06880” gave a shout-out to Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center. This year, Westport’s 2nd-oldest family business celebrates its 100th anniversary.*

At the time, they were beginning to plan a huge celebration. Now they’re ready to announce details.

The free bash is set for June 4, from noon to 5 p.m. at the garden center on Sylvan Lane South.

The very popular Mystic Bowie’s Talking Dreads will headline the bash. Reggae artists Kale Wale will warm up the crowd.

There’s a petting zoo for kids, and artisans and craft vendors for older folks.

Also on tap: a town-wide scavenger hunt too, with prizes. It will focus on the town’s most historic business, ending (of course) at Gilbertie’s.

Plus 3 food trucks, an ice cream truck and beer vendors.

Antonio Gilbertie — who arrived in Saugatuck in 1919 from Italy, and started out selling flowers from a Sylvan greenhouse — probably listened to opera, not reggae. But he’ll probably be looking down from above, with a proud smile.

*Who’s #1? Gault — by a long shot. The energy company was founded in 1863 — nearly 60 years before Gilberties!

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“06880” reader Jim McKay* wants to raise a ruckus.

His subject: noise.

Jim writes: “In 1958, I-95 sliced through Saugatuck, and other areas of Westport.

“A lot has changed since then. There’s more people, more traffic, more trucks. And more noise.

“The Connecticut Department of Transportation has a number of redesign plans for sections of 95. They include Greenwich, and Westport/Norwalk.

“A few days ago, under pressure from Greenwich town leaders and citizens, Governor Lamont asked CT DOT to revisit the Greenwich project and include possible noise mitigation plans.

“Now is the time for our Westport town leaders and citizens to demand equal revisions to the existing plans, to make sure it include noise mitigation.

“Noise has gotten worse. It will continue to do so. We have a unique opportunity to include noise mitigation before the project goes forward. It must be an incremental cost now — not a massive capital project 20 years in the future.”

*Not the sportscaster. He died in 2008.

Traffic — and noise — have increased since I-95 (then called the Connecticut Turnpike) neared completion in 1957,

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Staples Players’ production of “The Descendants” drew raves. Audiences old and (particularly) young delighted in a never-bef0re-seen production of Disney’s tale.

It’s a tradition for the high school troupe to raise awareness of important causes — and funds — at their shows. This year was especially important.

Costumed actors were on hand as audiences left the theater. It turned into a great photo opportunity for children, and their new high school heroes.

Their parents gave generously. Over 2 weekends, Players collected $8,400 for Save the Children’s Ukraine relief efforts.

Quinn Mulvey (Mal), and a new friend. (Photo/Kerry Long)

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On Saturday, a Westporter was out for a run. A few yards over the Fairfield line, where Old Road becomes Wakeman Lane, he spotted a car balanced on a stone wall, halfway into the woods.

That was bad enough. But the kicker is the bumper sticker.

It reads: “Please Be Patient. Student Driver.”

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There are matching grants. And then there are amazing matching grants.

Two anonymous donors have told Westport Country Playhouse they’ll match every dollar raised — up to $150,000 (!) — between now and June 30.

That’s great news, as the historic theater enters its 91st season. They’ve got an ambitious set of plays planned, and will leverage the funds for greatest artistic and educational impact.

Tax deductible contributions can be made online, by mail (Development Department, 25 Powers Court, Westport CT 06880), or by texting DONATE to 475-453-3553. To learn more about the perks of donating at various levels, click here. For more on this matching drive, click here.

A historic theater has a historic opportunity to raise funds. (Photo/Robert Benson)

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There are runners. And then there are amazing runners.

Monday’s New York Times included a story on Oz Pearlman. He’d just run 19 loops of Central Park — 116 miles — in a single day.

Because “06880”‘s tagline is “Where Westport meets the world,” there is (of course) a local connection.

The main photo showed Oz with a group of runners. Just to his right — wearing a blue-and-yellow hat, to match Oz’s Ukrainian-color outfit — was Alex Freedman.

Alex Freedman (blue and yellow cap) next to Oz Pearlman. (Photo/Hilary Swift for the New York Times)

Freedman — the 1996 Staples High School salutatorian — is now back in town, and running with the local Joggers Club. He is also a founding member of the Central Park Running Club. Both are led by another Westporter, Dave Menoni.

Freedman runs with a third group, the Henwood Hounds. That’s where he met Oz. Freedman joined in for “a small part” of Oz’s Central Park (and record-breaking) journey. (It was also a fundraiser for Save the Children’s Ukrainian relief. Oz busted well past his goal of $100,000.)

When he’s not outside, Freedman is the director of Advantage Testing of Westport,

Notice I resisted the impulse to say he “runs” the highly regarded educational counseling and private tutoring organization.

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Savvy + Grace’s new sign has brought color to that stretch of Main Street, and smiles to passersby.

Most probably don’t know that it’s the work of a noted artist.

Jana Ireijo is famous for her “vanishing murals.” Created with charcoal from wildfires, they are meant to disappear — just as the coral reefs, manta rays and other living things she portrays are, unfortunately, dying out.

Ireijo — a member of the Artists Collective of Westport — has created vanishing murals here. She drew a koala bear opposite Design Within Reach, and a sperm whale on a Winslow Park fallen tree trunk.

She’s worked far from Westport too — in Santa Fe and Maui, among other places.

The peonies on Jana’s Savvy + Grace sign is not meant to disappear. It’s just a colorful addition to a bright downtown spot.

PS: Savvy + Grace offers great custom and pre-made Easter baskets. Click here to see.

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Among his many civic efforts — all of them volunteer, pro bono — attorney Ken Bernhard is a state Department of Agriculture animal (victim’s) advocate. He appears in court proceedings involving animal cruelty cases.

At yesterday’s Westport Rotary Club meeting, he talked about his work. He connected animal abuse with spousal abuse and other crimes.

Bernhard noted:

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.

“When humans act with cruelty, we characterize them as ‘animals.’ Yet the only animal that displays cruelty is humanity.

“Animals are the real victims on this earth. They didn’t declare war, they don’t have weapons, and they don’t want to destroy humans or impose religion. Their only crime is they exist.”

Ken Bernhard, at yesterday’s Westport Rotary Club meeting.

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The Fresh Market ospreys get most of Westport’s love.

But they’re not the only ones in town.

Today’s “Westport … Naturally” feature is a two-fer. Here’s one of the Longshore ospreys:

(Photo/Patricia McMahon)

And a pair at Burying Hill:

(Photo/Alan Phillips)

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And finally … all his life, Julian Lennon refused to sing “Imagine.”

The only time he could consider singing his father’s signature song, he said, would be “the end of the world.”

The war in Ukraine is not that (yet). But it spurred John Lennon’s 59-year-old son to reconsider.

It is “an unimaginable tragedy,” he said. “As a human, and as an artist, I felt compelled to respond in the most significant way I could.”

He performed at a #StandUpForUkraine funddraiser in Prague on Saturday. The event raised $10 billion in pledges for Ukrainian refugees.

Imagine!

 

 

 

Roundup: Y & Ukraine, Descendants, myTeamTriumph …

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The world knows Lindsay Czarniak as a Fox Sports anchor and reporter.

Westporters know her as our neighbor.

Westport Weston Family YMCA members know her as a fellow cardio fitness class member. Instructor Ashlee Grieb is a longtime friend.

The other day, Lindsay posted a story to her 180,000 Instagram followers. She described how Ashlee introduced a song requested by Jane Laska, a fellow group member.

Jane came to the US from Ukraine years ago, as an exchange student. She fell in love with a man from Alabama, and married him. They live here now, where she’s raising a family.

But her own family, and many friends, remain in Ukraine.

Ashlee then played a song — “Good Evening, We Are From Ukraine” — as a way to support Jane. And she added her own choreography.

It was a special moment, for Ashlee and Jane.

It was special enough for Lindsay to post about it. It already has over 10,000 likes. Click below to see for yourself. (Hat tip: Julie Maciejewski)

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Didn’t get a chance to see “Descendants: The Musical”?

Staples Players’ lively musical has 3 more dates: tomorrow (Friday, April 8, 7:30 p.m.) and Saturday (April 9, 3 and 7:30 p.m.). Click here for tickets, and more information.

Not sure about it? Need a little push?

Disney executives came to Westport during rehearsals. Staples is piloting the show, and they wanted to see it in action.

They brought a camera crew. The teenage actors and tech crew were eager to talk about the show’s message — and its energy.

The result is a sizzling sizzle reel. Click below to see:

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Speaking of live theater, here’s a message to the woman sitting next to me at last night’s powerful Westport Country Playhouse performance of “Next to Normal”:

Unless you’re waiting for a kidney, there’s no need to check email messages on your phone in the middle of a show.

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It was Staples Day yesterday, when Middlebury and Union faced each other in a college baseball game.

Both starting pitchers were former Wrecker teammates: Justin Lessing for the Panthers, Harry Azadian for the Dutchmen. George Goldstein also pitched, for Middlebury.

George got the victory, 7-5. But the real winner was Staples baseball.

George Goldstein (Photo/David Goldstein)

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In a town filled with volunteer opportunities, myTeamTriumph stands out.

The program pairs children, teens and adults with disabilities (“captains”) with volunteers (“angels”) who help them participate in triathlons and road races. In those events, everyone truly is a winner.

The next big event is the Westport Young Woman’s League’s Minute Man 10K and 5K Runs, and 5K Walk, on April 30.

MyTeamTriumph always looks for more captains (special needs athletes). They’re also short of angels (volunteer runners). This is their first time participating in the Minute Man.

They’re excited to provide an opportunity for people with special needs (and their families) to have increased visibility, and be involved in a great community event.

There is no cost. Angels can be any ability of runner or jogger.

Captains and angels can click here to sign up. MyTeamTriumph will take care of race registration.

Questions? Email kziebell@myteamtriumph-ct.org. For more information on myTeamTriumph, click here.

Sami Leskin, racing with myTeamTriumph in the 2018 Westport Triathlon.

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The Westport Library’s Spring Book Sale returns soon.

From April 29 through May 2, thousands of “gently used” books, in over 40 categories of fiction and non-fiction, for children and adults, plus antiquarian volumes, CDs and DVDs, will be on sale (and cheap!) in the Library.

Of special interest this year:

  • Vintage matchbooks from around the country
  • Antique photographs and daguerreotypes
  • Psychology texts for the practitioner
  • Large selection of books in German and Czechoslovakian
  • Many “Great Courses” DVDs.

Vinyl records (and of course more books) are available across Jesup Green, at the Westport Book Shop.

Admission is free, though there’s a special “early bird” admission on Friday, April 29 (8 to 9 a.m.; click here for tickets, beginning April 18 at 9 a.m.).

For exact times and more information, click here. To volunteer to help, click here or email volunteers@westportbooksales.org.

Can’t make it? Shop 24/7 on the book sale’s online store, or at their new eBay store.

Westport LIbrary Book Sale.

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In June, 22 Staples High School students will graduate with high honors. The distinction goes to those with a GPA in the top 4% of the graduating class.

Principal Stafford Thomas says, “This class is extremely talented. The most
astonishing aspect is that these students were involved in a number of
extracurricular activities and various aspects of school life which took a great deal of time, focus and concentration outside of the classroom as well.

We were lucky to have had them for 4 years, and we will no doubt hear about their next great achievements in the years to come.”

High honor graduates include: Emma Alcyone, Natalie Bandura, Gregory Beal, Zachary Bishop, Michael Brody, Oliver Clachko, Sabrina Didner, Erin Durkin, Matthew Genser, Alexandra Maskoff, Aidan Mermagen, Gabriella Messenger,
Tessa Moore, Luke Morelli, Chloe Nevas, Emma Nordberg, Talia Perkins, Finn Popken, Ishan Prasad, Jessica Qi, Allison Schwartz and Julian Weng.

Staples High School principal Stafford Thomas (back row, far left) and assistant principal Chase Dunlap (back row, far right), with Class of 2022 high honors graduates.

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Though dogs are banned for the spring and summer at Compo Beach, they’re still welcome at Sherwood Island — but only through April 14.

Today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo shows a bit of canine joy at Connecticut’s first state park.

(Photo/Cathy Malkin)

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And finally … people of a certain age knew him as a smooth-voiced, good-looking pop singer in the pre-Beatles days. He had 19 Billboard Top 40 hits,.

People of a younger age knew his name only because it was a fictional high school in “Grease.”

He was Bobby Rydell. He died Tuesday near Philadelphia, his longtime home, from complications of pneumonia. He was 79. Click here for a full obituary.

Unsung Heroes #233

Staples Players’ first-ever production of “The Descendants” thrilled audiences with energetic hip hop dancing and fantastic sets.

Also earning kudos: stunning costumes.

Though often overlooked, Players’ costume crew works long hours during and after rehearsals — often right until opening night — to make sure actors look their best.

Some costumes are pulled from stock, or ordered and embellished. But one in “Descendants” is extra special.

Maleficent’s daughter Mal’s coronation gown was designed and built from scratch by senior Eliza Bowens.

Eliza Bowens, in her studio.

Her path to designer stardom began in 7th grade, at the New England Fashion and Design Association. Over the years she designed clothes for herself and friends.

As a Players actor she performed onstage in “Legally Blonde” and “Back to the 80s.” But Eliza’s true love is “The Costume Shoppe.” There, she lent her excellent eye and skills to help create looks for characters in shows like “Mamma Mia!,”  “Seussical” and “Grease.”

When costume designer Christie Stanger was pulling together ideas for “Descendants,” she knew Mal’s dress for the big coronation scene needed to be extra special. She also knew Eliza could make it happen.

The young designer repaid the trust Christie, and directors David Roth and Kerry Long, showed in her.

She submitted 3 designs. When one was chosen, Eliza created a pattern, built a dress from muslin, chose fabric and sewed the actual dress.

It took a month. With minor tweaks, it was show-ready for Mal (Quinn Mulvey).

Quinn Mulvey as Mal in a dress designed and built by Staples senior Eliza Bowens. Sebastian Gikas as Prince Ben wears a costume embellished by student designers Rosie Kauppinen and Alexis Mahon. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Eliza did not stop there. Using leftover fabric, she covered shoes to complete the look.

This fall, Eliza heads to Polimoda in Florence, Italy. She’ll continue studying fashion design there.

Two examples of Eliza Bowens’ designs.

Kerry Long says Eliza’s stunning design “reflects Mal’s ‘funky’ side, but also her softening in Auradon. She grows throughout the show, falls in love and learns to care for others, but also stays true to herself. The dress reflects both the ‘edgy’ and the ‘sweet.’”

She and her fellow Costume Shoppe artists never get the spotlight. At the final curtain, actors point down to the pit orchestra, and up at the lights (stage crew), for well deserved applause. Who thanks the costumers?

“06880,” for one. Congratulations and thanks, Eliza and your fellow designers and tailors. We are “sew” grateful for all your work!

(“The Descendants” will be performed again this weekend: Friday, April 8 at 7;30 p.m., and Saturday, April 9 at 3 and 7:30 p.m. Click here for tickets and more information. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net.)

“Disney’s Descendants” Rises On Staples Stage

As Staples Players directors David Roth and Kerry Long searched for a spring show that would feature plenty of actors, and engage young audiences — more important than ever, as the troupe emerges from many COVID-imposed restrictions — they did not have to look far.

Caley Beretta — a 2010 graduate and former Players president — now works as manager of creative development for Disney Theatrical Group. She worked with writer Nick Blaemire on “Disney’s Descendants: The Musical.”

The comedy features songs from the Disney Channel original “Descendants” fantasy adventure film, and its sequels. (If you don’t have a young kid: The plot lines involve the teenage children of Disney characters Maleficent, the Evil Queen, Jafar and Cruella de Vil,)

“Descendants: The Musical” came out near the beginning of the pandemic. So it did not go through the usual pilot process, in which school drama troupes try it out, then offer feedback for producers to tweak. (Staples Players has done that before, most notably with “Newsies.”)

Beretta offered the untested show to her alma mater. Players will be the first group to use live orchestrations.

It will also be the first to host a production team from Disney. They’ll see the show, complete with an audience.

Staples Players ensemble in “Did I Mention?” (Photo/Kerry Long)

But that’s not the only connection between Disney, “Descendants” and Staples.

Last week Blaemire and Beretta came to Westport. They described the creative process to Players, answered questions, watched the actors perform 2 numbers, then worked with the cast on specific scenes.

In addition, a camera crew interviewed several Players, for Disney to use in marketing.

Caley Beretta and Nick Blaemire, on the Staples stage. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Blaemire described his parallels between the fairytale storyline, and serious social themes like belonging, heritage, citizenship, and the complexities of good and evil.

Blaemire and Baretta inspired the young cast and crew, as they prepared for the opening curtain April 1. The show runs for 7 performances, the first 2 weekends in April.

“Descendants” has been fun — and challenging — for Roth, Long, choreographer Rachel MacIsaac and technical director Jeff Hauser.

“So many times, we do plays that have been done so many times before,” Roth explains. “The chance to do one that no one has seen is rare, and exciting. We are staging scenes completely on our own. That’s very energizing.”

“The Evils.” From left: Chloe Manna, Ben Herrera, Quinn Mulvey, Jayden Saenz).(Photo: Kerry Long)

Sets, dancing and stage movements are not the only things they’re figuring out. The song “Goal” takes place during a sports event — but it’s a sport that does not exist.

Roth and Long created it entirely from scratch. Then they choreographed, and fit it on the stage.

“The kids and adults are very excited,” Roth says. “We like the story line, the music, and taking iconic villains to a new level.”

Roth praises the set too, designed by professional Jordan Janota. The show moves between 2 worlds, offering a different set of challenges to the tech crew and lighting designers.

Roth and Long’s goal was to find a show that appealed to their actors, and young audiences — both of whom have missed the rhythm of regular Players shows during COVID.

Beretta delivered, big time. Walt Disney would have loved this story.

(“Disney’s Descendants: The Musical” will be performed on April 1, 2, 8 and 9 at 7:30 p.m., and April 2, 3 and 9 at 3 p.m. Click here for tickets. Proof of vaccination and/or testing is not required. For the protection of the cast and crew, masks are encouraged in the auditorium.)

Staples Players ensemble in “Rotten to the Core.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

 

Roundup: Winter Lights Festival, Grace Power, Olympics …

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The days are getting lighter. But it’s still mid-February.

This Saturday (February 12, noon to 9 p.m.), you can help make things brighter. Westport’s 2nd annual Winter Lights Festival takes place on Jesup Green.

The event — co-sponsored by Next Teens, Toquet Hall and MoCA Teens –is a fundraiser to fight food insecurity.

Eveyone attending the event will help create an immersive winter-themed experience, including a walk-through light path. The festival includes a fully stocked craft-makin space for families to create fun decorations, which will be included in the path.

The walkway will be lit at 5 p.m. At that time, Up Next will announce a new community initiative.

The festivities continue afterward at Toquet Hall, with Game Night and free  hot chocolate.

Click here for tickets, and more information.

Last year’s Winter Lights Festival.

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When “Life & Beth” debuts on Hulu next month, most eyes will be on star Amy Schumer.

But Westporters will look for Grace Power. The Staples High School sophomore — who was part of last year’s Players radio shows — can be seen in 7 episodes, as “Young Liz.”

Click below for the show’s trailer:

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Employees and customers at People’s Bank North Compo Road branch are mourning the sudden death of Peter Harrington, the popular and very caring manager there. He spent 38 years with People’s.

Other mourners include members of the Westport Rotary Club, where he was an active and gregarious member.

The Brooklyn native grew up in New Jersey and Connecticut. He was a graduate of Fairfield Prep and Notre Dame University, where he majored in economics.

Peter is survived by his wife of 41 years, Pamela, and their children Matthew and Lauren.

Peter Harrington

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Some Westporters love the Olympics. Some loathe them. Others care only because our neighbor Julia Marino earned a silver medla.

But no one driving on Pumpkin Hill near Colony Road can ignore these signs of support. Go USA! indeed.

(Photo/Ed Simek)

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Today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo includes a somewhat unnatural — but closely related — subject.

Paul Delano writes: “I was strolling along the Riverwalk around Levitt Pavilion Tuesday, and saw some mallards swimming in Deadman Brook. Lo and behold, a colorful wood duck was hanging out with them.”

(Photo/Paul Delano)=======================================================

And finally … Roberta Flack turns 85 years old today! Hard to believe — and hard to believe this achingly beautiful song is almost 50 years old.