Thursday, May 21, 2015

Help us honor our WWII heroes & heroines

Gloria & Harry Brinton (grandparents of Peter Chenot,
WCP's Marketing Director) as newlyweds. With Harry
due to ship out, they were married on the same day as
Gloria's college graduation. Harry served in the US
Coast Guard, Merchant Marine & Navy. 
By Don Rebar
Community Engagement & Digital Content Manager

As cities around the world celebrate the 70th anniversary of V-E Day, rehearsals have begun for C.P. Taylor's WWII romance, "And a Nightingale Sang." This play, set on the British home-front, tells one family's story of perseverance during uncertain times.

While this dramatic work draws attention to the difficulties of life 'across the pond,' there are many tales of humor, romance & sacrifice from our own community which also deserve to be recognized.

If your life - or a friend or family member's - was impacted by the events surrounding WWII, we encourage you to help us honor "The Greatest Generation" by submitting photos or stories of those who participated in our wartime efforts. The Playhouse will turn these submissions into a video tribute to our local heroes & heroines that will be played in the lobby during "And a Nightingale Sang."

Please email your photos & stories to with the subject line "WWII Salute." If you do not have digital copies but would still like to participate, please call (203) 571-1140.

Meet Don Rebar, Our New Community Engagement & Digital Content Manager

By Chad Kinsman
Artistic & Management Coordinator

Our 2015 Season is off to a great start! The work you see on stage wouldn't be possible without our great staff supporting it (quite literally too, as the staff offices are underneath the building)! Joining us for our 85th Season of producing live theater is Don Rebar, our new Community Engagement & Digital Content Manager.

If you “like” us on Facebook, attend a pre-show event, or see our table at a community event, chances are you’ll be interacting with Don, so Artistic & Management Coordinator Chad Kinsman recently sat down with him to introduce him to our community.

Where were you before starting at the Playhouse? 

I worked as the marketing director at The Gateway, the oldest professional theatre on Long Island. In addition to my marketing duties, I helped to build arts education programs with local school districts.

What interested you about working at the Playhouse?

Many things!

I first learned a bit about the Playhouse’s rich history while researching actress Eva LeGallienne for a project on Long Island and was fascinated to discover that our green room is named in her honor. It’s a wonderful feeling to help carry on the Playhouse’s legacy, first forged by so many great artists throughout the years.

The Playhouse also has many community programs & events – such as our Sunday Symposium discussions & Together at the Table family dinners – which are intended to give our audiences in-depth access to live theater. In my experience, it’s rare to see an organization that is so focused on building personalized relationships with its guests.

What is your favorite thing about working at the Playhouse so far?

While our staff has been so wonderful and supportive in welcoming someone new to the team, it’s also been a blast getting to know members of our community via our live events and social media channels.  Say hello to the Playhouse on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram and I’ll say hello back!

What are you most looking forward to at the Playhouse in 2015? What are your goals for the year?

I’m very excited to be working on this year’s Playhouse Initiative. As in years past, we’re planning a multitude of educational events and activities around our final production of the season: Arthur Miller’s “Broken Glass.” In addition to the themes discussed in the play, 2015 marks Miller’s centennial year. Since Miller was a Connecticut resident, we have a chance to reflect on the late playwright’s life and work on a large scale.

I bring up the initiative because, to me, the project is a great example of my goals.  I wish to play a role in helping our guests discover the world around us through the art of theater. I’m looking forward to finding moments which could lead to a greater curiosity or insight about the work that lives on the Playhouse stage.

If you could rename your position based on your first few month’s experience, what would you call it?

Resident Twit(ter)!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

1941: Hollywood’s Brightest Star, the R.A.F., and the Playhouse

by Pat Blaufuss
Public Relations Manager

Tyrone Power, a mega-movie star during the 1930s to the 1950s, came to the Playhouse in 1941 to do a production of Ferenc Molnár’s Liliom.  Power was a film actor who loved to get back on the stage whenever he could.  As his movie career prevented him from undertaking  extended runs, he looked to shorter summer stock opportunities because, Power said, “ It’s relaxing and it gives you a new perspective.  Everyone has fun doing his work in stock.  Here there’s nothing of the huge, inhuman machine atmosphere that dominates Hollywood.”

Power had just completed a film for Twentieth Century Fox called A Yank in the R.A.F., about an American pilot who joins the Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) during a period when the U.S. was still neutral on World War II.  It was also a time when American-built training aircraft were flown to just outside Canada, where they were towed across the border (to avoid violating the Neutrality Acts) for use by Britain.

American pilot Tim Baker, played by Power, ferries a bomber from Canada to Britain.  In London, he runs into his on-again, off-again girlfriend Carol Brown, portrayed by Betty Grable, who works in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force by day and stars in a club by night.  To pursue her, he decides to stay in England and enlists in the Royal Air Force.

According to An American Theater: The Story of Westport Country Playhouse by Richard Somerset-Ward:

“The weekend before the Monday opening [of Liliom at the Playhouse], Power had received a cable from Twentieth Century Fox.  They wanted him to pull out of the play and fly back to Hollywood at once for urgent reshoots on the film he had recently made with Betty Grable, A Yank in the R.A.F.  It seemed that he had no option---his contract with [Darryl] Zanuck made it clear that the studio owned him body and soul. 

Tyrone Power and his wife Annabella,
his co-star in Liliom, take a lunch break
during rehearsals.
“Nevertheless, [Lawrence] Langner [Playhouse founder and artistic director] consulted the theatre’s lawyer in Bridgeport, Ken Bradley (husband of Ina Bradley, who would become one of the most important forces in the Playhouse’s affairs for the next fifty years).  Bradley came up with a 300-year-old Connecticut Blue Law, which enabled the local authorities to prevent a man leaving the state if he tried to do so before fulfilling a contract.  Langner asked the local sheriff to come to the Playhouse to make sure Power (who had no intention of leaving) stayed exactly where he was."

“Mr. Zanuck was thereupon informed by telephone that the forces of law and order in the great State of Connecticut stood ready to enforce the law.  Zanuck caved."

“In the end, of course, a compromise was crafted, but one that distinctly favored Westport.  It was agreed that Liliom would be performed on the Monday and Tuesday, then Power would fly to Hollywood and back, causing performances for the remainder of the week to be cancelled---but he would return in time to reopen the production at the beginning of the next week and would then perform uninterrupted for two weeks.  Despite the inconvenience to its box office and patrons who had booked tickets for later in the first week, the Playhouse gained two extra performances of a show that was sold out from start to finish.”

In 1941, the film A Yank in the R.A.F. was the 4th most popular movie at the U.S. box office.

In 1942, Tyrone Power enlisted in the Marine Corps.  For his service in the Pacific War, he received multiple awards, including the WW II Victory Medal. 

In 1945, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel opened on Broadway, a musical adaptation of the play Liliom

The Playhouse and World War II

by Pat Blaufuss
Public Relations Manager

Westport Country Playhouse was closed during World War II – from 1942 through 1945.  Blackouts; rationing; actors, staff, patrons in the armed forces; the population’s concern and apprehension – all contributed to mothballing the theater for four seasons. 

Lawrence Langner, who founded the Playhouse in 1931, was artistic director during the war.  Born in South Wales, he lived his young years in London. A toy Victorian theater with red and gold décor that he had as a child later became his inspiration for the Playhouse’s interior design.
Langner was also a successful patent attorney.  His British heritage and his law practice were factors leading to his close involvement in the war effort.

The first meeting of the National Inventors Council,
 1940.  Dr. Charles F. Kettering sits at the head of the
table with Lawrence Langner standing to his left.
“Though he neither sought nor received much credit for it, in 1940-41, Langner was already playing a crucial role in the United States’ secret preparation for war.  He had watched in agony---but with great pride---as his native country stood alone in the hot summer of 1940, and fought, and won, the Battle of Britain.  Because he had traveled extensively in Germany throughout the inter-war years, he knew about some of the terrible things that were happening to his fellow Jews in Germany---and he had written passionate and angry letters to people (like George Bernard Shaw) who seemed to be misrepresenting them.  He knew better than most that the United States could not, in the long run, remain neutral about Nazism, and he found a lot of people in Washington who agreed with him.  That is why, in July 1940, President Roosevelt endorsed a plan to create a National Inventors Council, and why Langner was immediately asked to become its (unpaid) secretary. 

“The National Inventors Council’s contribution to victory is one of those intangibles of the war years, something that is impossible to calculate or measure.  Writing of it much later in a brief fragment of autobiography, Langner dismissed it in two sentences:  ‘My efforts resulted in the formation of the National Inventors Council, under the chairmanship of Dr. Charles F. Kettering, which performed the job of examining inventions for the Army and Navy during World War II.  During the period of the war, this council evaluated of 210,000 inventions and submitted over 11,000 files as including worthwhile suggestions to the war agencies.’

“This makes it sound a much more bureaucratic organization than it was.  In many vital fields, reflecting the characters of its chairman and its secretary, it was proactive.  It was largely responsible for introducing dry batteries that proved invaluable in tropical climes, gyroscopic stabilizers for tank turrets that made cannon fire from tanks more effective and more deadly than ever before, and the Stiles-Hedden land mine detector that saved untold numbers of lives in every theatre of the war and contributed most greatly to the defeat of Rommel in the North African desert. 

“A much bigger example, which ultimately, of course, was given its own very secret organization, was brought to Langner’s notice in 1940 when Dr. Vannevar Bush, head of the National Research Council, showed him a letter President Roosevelt had sent him on June 14 of that year. ‘I noted in it,’ Langner later wrote, ‘the instruction to continue research in the field of fissionable uranium, indicating that from the very beginning Roosevelt was fully conscious of the importance of this research.  This information, which I kept locked in my bosom, was a source of constant apprehension to me during the war, for I knew that the Germans were working on this fissionable material.’”  

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Behind the Curtain Interview with THE LIAR's Rusty Ross

Full Given Name: Rusty Ross. Was I given this name? Yes. At birth? Yes! Oh, you mean, is it printed on my birth certificate? Funny, I don't have that document in my pocket just now...

Hometown: Houston, Texas (There are several fellow Texans working on The Liar).

What do you love about The Liar: Beyond the fact that this is simply a delightful, terrific play, I think the marriage of elevated language with comedy that's tuned for a contemporary ear is particularly delicious here. Sometimes when one works on classical comedy, there are contextual references in the jokes (a recent public shaming, a popular song lyric, something the King was known to have done) that would have been instantly recognizable to an audience at the time, but, several hundred years later, act instead as a bit of an abstraction layer between the audience and the comedy. Here, that doesn't happen. The audience can revel in Ives' wonderful "classical" verse right alongside the comedy, and it's a joy. (Incidentally, what is also clear is that fart jokes apparently do survive across the ages and, wisely, Ives has, just maybe, included one or two here...).

First time on stage: First time standing on a stage was at the age of three. Shortly thereafter, I publicly declared that I wanted to be a stage manager when I grew up.

Rusty as Max in How the Grinch Stole Christmas on Broadway.
Favorite moment on stage: Wow, more than a few blood-pumping moments spring to mind: an amazing orchestra playing that stunning entr'acte right beneath our toes in South Pacific, the absolute destruction of the junk shop in American Buffalo, peering out from atop Mt. Crumpit in Grinch... 

But maybe one of my favorite moments was simply a particular student matinee of Midsummer Night's Dream in Utah several years ago. That young audience was astonishingly knowledgeable about the play and about Shakespeare, and couldn't have been more attentive and engaged. Performing that morning felt like magic.

Dream role you’ve not performed yet: It may seem like a pat answer, but I really believe this: The role I always most want to perform next is the one that hasn't been written yet. While I love (and am humbled) to work on great material which stands on the shoulders of great past productions and performances, there is nothing quite like bringing text to life for the first time, to being a part of creating something brand-spanking new amongst a group of fellow artists.

Book on your nightstand: Books? You mean those things on printed pages? Well, there is an iPad on my nightstand, which contains thousands of "books," several of which I am currently reading, and none of which I am currently finishing. A few are: Lynda Barry's Cruddy, Thomas Pynchon's V, and the recent Becoming Steve Jobs. Actually, I lie. There is one set of printed pages on my nightstand, too, that I am reading and reading and reading right now: David Ives' The Liar. Heard of it? It's pretty good!

Last great movie you saw: Man on Wire, the documentary about Philippe Petit's exhilarating and astonishing tightrope walk between the Trade Center towers. I saw this gem of a movie when first released, and just re-watched it in the context of working on style in this play. Petit's exuberance and buoyancy (both figurative and literal) is quite apt to The Liar, I think.

Guilty pleasure: Cakes, pies, cookies, you name it! Mention just about any American city to me, and I'll tell you a great place to find dessert there. I once worked at a West Coast theatre that was down the road from a really great restaurant. Occasionally, the chef made a special chocolate pudding. Before long, on the nights he had made it, he would leave me a message at the theatre to let me know! Not long after that, he just added it to the regular menu. It remains on the regular menu to this day.

Best piece of advice you’ve received: Well, I wasn't around to hear this from him personally, but wasn't it William Goldman who said, "nobody knows anything?" I'm being a bit facetious, of course, but I do think there is value in not forgetting that everyone is ultimately on their own individual journey, in their own time, and in their own unique way. There are so many great teachers and mentors out there, but it's the soup made from picking and choosing ingredients from all of them that can ultimately be the most potent. Oh, scratch that. Best piece of advice I have received is: "Don't mix metaphors."

Online Dating - The Truth Behind the Liars

by Kelly McInnis
Box Office Manager

"All the world's a lie, and all the men and women merely liars."
- Dorante in David Ives' The Liar

Who knew that 38-year-old, 6’0”, athletic and toned man could be code for a 43-year-old man with a perfectly average body and stands at 5’9”?  Anyone who has ventured into the world of online dating, that’s who.

With millions searching for love daily on websites such as Match, OkCupid, and eHarmony – or in more recent years through mobile apps like Tinder, Hinge, or Coffee Meets Bagel – chances are you know someone who has (or even you yourself have) tried to find their mate online.  Propelled by tales of success stories, singles trudge through profile after profile and – if they are lucky – date after date trying to find their soulmate.  It’s not easy – especially when approximately 81% lie about their height, weight, or age in their profiles, according to the study conducted by Catalina L. Toma from the University of Wisconsin-Madison to learn about self-presentation and the judging of misrepresentation online.

Women tend to lie more about their weight, while men tend to lie more about their height.  These lies, however, are relatively small as there is the potential to meet in real life where such truths will be immediately evident.

Paul Oyer, a labor economist at Stanford University and author of Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Economics I Learned From Online Dating, reviewed a public radio producer’s OKCupid profile with him during a Freakonomics podcast.  He had the following insight:

“What you want to remember in your profile is that you want to be very upfront and forthcoming in anything that is what an economist would call a coordination game. It’s where our interests are aligned and as long as we have the right information we’re going to make the right decision. So in my case I was very upfront and forthcoming in my profile about the fact that I had a large and badly behaved golden retriever, and the fact that I have two teenaged children. Because if somebody was against those things, then those were deal breakers. And in your case, you want to be honest about the fact that you’re a public radio producer because on the one hand that’s very attractive to some people, but it also indicates that you’re not going to be rich, at least in the short term. You don’t want anybody who wants you just for your money, either because you don’t like those types of people or because even if you do you’re not going to get them once they have the information anyway.”

A local single who has tried a variety of online dating sites says, “there are some profiles in which it is obvious the person has lied, yet not so apparent in others.  It’s frustrating because I know I’m being honest and I don’t want to be with someone who would lie to me from the beginning!” 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Meet Charlie Nork, Our New Individual Giving Manager

by Chad Kinsman
Artistic & Management Coordinator

If you attended a special event during the 2010 Season, there's a good chance you met our  development intern Charlie Nork. And if you attend a special event this Season, you'll likely meet him again! He's just joined us as our newest staff member, our Individual Giving Manager, and we couldn't be more excited to have him back!

Where were you before starting at the Playhouse? 

My previous job was at New York Restoration Project, an NYC-based environmental conservancy founded by Bette Midler.

What interested you about working at the Playhouse?

I was actually a Playhouse intern in 2010, so this is a homecoming of sorts for me. The Woodward Internship Program gave me my first development job and jump-started my career, and the experience stayed with me for all these years. I’m thrilled to be back!

What is your favorite thing about working at the Playhouse so far?

The incredible WCP staff is one of my favorite things about working here. There’s just such a positive culture here that you can’t help looking forward to coming in to work. And of course, the wonderful art that will be appearing on stage very shortly!

What are most looking forward to at the Playhouse in 2015? What are your goals for the year?

I’m most looking forward to our new Insights program, which is an offshoot of the Tech Talks we’ve had recently. The program is designed to give our Premiere Circle donors an even more in-depth look at how we bring plays to life by hosting intimate discussions with artists from each production – directors, actors, designers, and playwrights. It will be a great way for our patrons to connect with each production on a much deeper level. My goal is to make Insights a huge success!

If you could rename your position based on your first few month’s experience, what would you call it?

It's a long one: Party-thrower, Letter-writter, RSVP-taker, Database-wrangler, Donor-outreacher, and Meeting-manager.