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Children's book review: "Simon and Sedef: A Seal’s First Adventure" by Sheree Jeanes

Image of the cover of ’Simon and Sedef’ from author Sheree Jeanes

By Melissa Arnold

Sheree Jeanes has always loved animals, and last fall she channeled that passion into a captivating new children’s book. Jeanes, who grew up in Brooklyn and now lives in Huntington, published “Simon and Sedef: A Seal’s First Adventure” in November. A portion of the book’s proceeds will be donated to the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Jeanes about her book and what’s in store for the future.

Tell me a little bit about your background.
I’ve worked in marketing for close to 20 years now. I’ve also done grant writing, and I have my own copywriting business called Redwing Copywriting.

Have you always been interested in writing?
I always wanted to write children’s books. I have a collection of children’s books at home that inspire me, and I finally found the courage to do it.

Huntington author Sheree Jeanes/photo by Pat Dillon
Huntington author Sheree Jeanes/photo by Pat Dillon

Briefly summarize the plot for us.
“Simon and Sedef: A Seal’s First Adventure” is about a young seal who gets swept up in a sudden storm and is separated from his mother, Sedef. He needs to tap into his own resiliency, to see what he’s capable of, and learn to lean on others with trust.

What inspired you to write “Simon and Sedef”?
My mother-in-law lives in Rockaway Beach, which is a part of the story. Several years ago there was a story in her local paper, The Wave, about a little seal that got washed up on the beach, and it sparked my imagination. Simon’s story grew around him. When I got the idea for this book, I could see where it was going. I knew how it would end and that there could be sequels. I was able to enlist a friend who very generously edited and story boarded the book for me, and we went from there.

There are so many ways to write about marine life conservation efforts. Why did you choose to write a children’s book?
Honestly, I love to learn through stories. Historical novels are a great way to learn about different periods in history, for example. I did a lot of scientific research for the book, and when I do readings, I always bring someone from the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation. They always have an incredible wealth of knowledge to share and are able to answer additional questions about marine life while sharing how important it really is to all of us.

Who is your favorite character in the book?
My favorite character is Rita, a little girl that Simon meets on the beach. She’s actually named after my mother-in-law. Part of the book is about connection and being sensitive and kind to animals. She embodies what kids are able to do (if they encounter an animal), to engage them with respect on (the animal’s) own terms. She reflects the connection that humans and animals share and the animal part that exists in all of us. It’s a really beautiful part of the story, and she’s a lot of fun.

“Simon and Sedef” is full of vibrant, lifelike illustrations. Were you involved in the art development?
I’m not an illustrator, but I was a part of the process. I went onto (arts and crafts sale website) Etsy and put out a job request. I got a bunch of responses and spent a lot of time looking through portfolios. The artist I chose worked with these brilliant watercolors, and she was able to paint animals with so much expression and sensitivity. I ended up choosing her to do the illustrations — her name is Luminita Cosarenu and she’s from Romania. She was just lovely to work with. I told her what I had in mind and we went back and forth for a while until it was just right. She started with pencil drawings and finished with watercolor. They are just magnificent.

The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation plays a big part in your story. Can you tell me a bit about what they do and your decision to work with them?
The foundation would have rescued Simon in the real world and they do such incredible work — it only seemed fair to include them in this way. We’ve been working together from the early stages of the publication process to figure out how to best promote the book and all of the great things they do. They do a lot of animal rescue, particularly of seals and sea turtles. They’re also affiliated with the Long Island Aquarium, where some of the rescued animals will remain for a while or even their lifetime if they can’t be released.

Is there a recommended audience for “Simon and Sedef”?
I think the littlest of kids should probably have the book read to them, but there’s nothing inappropriate for them in there. I did make it a little scary, but even younger children really tend to enjoy that.

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
Every human character in the book is kind and also respectful to animals. That’s really the central message of the book — living and treating others with compassion.

What are some things we can do right now to help preserve marine life?
We can pick up after ourselves! So much garbage ends up going out to sea, where animals end up being choked or swallowing things that can impair their digestion or kill them. As for the bigger picture, go and experience the wildlife that’s all around us. Bring your kids. Lastly, really support the people who are out there doing the work of preserving marine life, whether that’s the foundation or another organization you care about.

What’s next for you?
I’m really enjoying the adventure of self-publishing and self-promotion right now. There is a sequel for Simon in the works right now that will be coming out soon — as you might expect, he has plenty more adventures to go on!

Where can people learn more about you or purchase the book?
My website is www.shereejeanes.com. I also have a Facebook page and an Instagram account to keep people up-to-date about the latest developments in my writing.

In celebration of World Oceans Day, Sheree Jeanes will hold a book launch on Wednesday, June 8, at the Long Island Aquarium, 431 E. Main St., Riverhead from 3 to 5 p.m. “Simon and Sedef: A Seal’s First Adventure” may be purchased online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as at Book Revue in Huntington.

The Long Island Museum will unveil a new traveling exhibition organized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland on May 20. Photo from LIM

By Melissa Arnold

There’s something especially memorable about going to a concert. Showing up with hundreds or even thousands of music fans creates an energy that’s hard to find anywhere else, and hearing a favorite song performed live can be pretty emotional and even lead to societal change.

This summer, the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook will celebrate the global impact of music festivals on culture with an exhibit called Common Ground: The Music Festival Experience.

“This is a really exciting opportunity for us here (at the museum),” says Joshua Ruff, director of collections and interpretation. “It gives us a chance to display some material that people wouldn’t normally associate with the museum.”

Common Ground is a traveling exhibit that was developed in 2014 by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio. The Long Island Museum will be the only East Coast venue for the exhibit, which will move on to Austin, Texas, this fall.

Visitors will be taken back in time to some of the biggest music festivals in the world, including the Newport Festivals, Woodstock, Live Aid, Coachella and more. Ambient sounds of bands tuning up, people chatting and even radio ads from each era will provide a true “you are here” feel.

Additionally, you’ll be treated to music and video footage from each festival, along with some special artifacts. Some noteworthy items are guitars from Davey Johnstone of the Elton John Band, Muddy Waters and Chris Martin of Coldplay; a guitar pick from Jimi Hendrix; and a corduroy jacket from John Mellencamp.

“The festival experience is one that brings people together from all walks of life. They’re memories that last a lifetime,” Ruff said. “This exhibit has items that will appeal to everyone, from baby boomers to contemporary concertgoers.”

A corduroy jacket from John Mellencamp will be just one of the many items on display at the exhibit. Photo from LIM
A corduroy jacket from John Mellencamp will be just one of the many items on display at the exhibit. Photo from LIM

While the exhibit will honor many musical superstars, the LIM is giving special attention to Bob Dylan this weekend as it marks his 75th birthday.

On Sunday, they’ll host musicians from all over the country who will play nearly 20 songs from Dylan’s career, which began in the 1960s and continues today. Dylan’s new album, “Fallen Angels,” drops tomorrow.

The concert is one of the final events for this year’s Sunday Street Concert Series. The series has its roots in a radio show of the same name on Stony Brook University’s WUSB-FM.

Radio personality Charlie Backfish has hosted the show since the 1970s, and was a part of launching similar live events at the university’s UCafe in 2004.

“Dylan is such a monumental figure in the acoustic world — he caused quite a controversy when he used an electric guitar and a full band at the Newport Folk Festival in the 1960s,” Backfish explained. “We thought it would be cool to make our last concert of that first year all Bob Dylan music.”

The Bob Dylan concert has since become an annual tradition for the Sunday Street Concert Series, which relocated to the Long Island Museum in January due to upcoming university construction, but Backfish is thrilled with the move’s success.

“We’ve had a tremendous welcome from the LIM, and we’ve had sold out audiences for most of our shows since we’ve moved there,” he said. “It’s very exciting that we’ll be able to celebrate Dylan’s 75th birthday the same weekend as the opening of Common Ground. The timing couldn’t be more perfect.”

Backfish hosts “Sunday Street Live” from 9 a.m. to noon each Sunday on 90.1 WUSB. This Sunday’s show will feature all Bob Dylan hits. Listen online or learn more at www.wusb.fm/sundaystreet.

Common Ground: The Music Festival Experience will be on display at the Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook, through Sept. 5. For hours and admission prices, call 631-751-0066 or visit www.longislandmuseum.org. The Sunday Street Concert featuring covers of Bob Dylan will be held at the museum on Saturday, May 21, from 7 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $30 and extremely limited. To order, visit www.sundaystreet.org.

By Melissa Arnold

For more than 25 years, the volunteers of Welcome INN have gathered week after week to prepare meals for local people in need.

Volunteers from Welcome INN divide their time between four different churches five days a week. Photo from Marge Tumilowicz
Volunteers from Welcome INN divide their time between four different churches five days a week. Photo from Marge Tumilowicz

They’ve never sought out the spotlight for their work — all of them are unassuming folks who just want to lend a helping hand, says the organization’s president Marge Tumilowicz.

But this week, the Port Jefferson Village Center will unveil a photo exhibit to showcase and honor their commitment to service in the community.

Soup kitchens have been a constant presence in the Port Jefferson area since the 1970s, when members of local religious groups saw countless families struggle during a recession. Over time, these independent groups determined they could do the most good under the umbrella of a larger organization.

In 1989, four area soup kitchens joined the Interfaith Nutrition Network (INN), which feeds and houses people throughout Long Island. Today, Welcome INN serves up to 100 people per meal, five nights a week.

It takes a village
Tumilowicz says it truly takes a village to pull off a meal that large on a weekly basis, but volunteers are never hard to come by. Over 200 people play a part at the INN’s kitchens, helping with setup, cooking, cleaning and anything in between. They are a well-oiled machine.

“Early in the morning, cars will go to the local supermarket for pickups, then bring them back to the [kitchen] for sorting. Whatever supplemental food is needed gets picked up by the coordinator. Then, in the afternoon, the cooks and setup people arrive. By 5:30 [p.m.], our servers are in place and the doors are opened,” Tumilowicz explains.

Guests are given appetizers immediately when they arrive, says Susan Davis, coordinator of Friday night dinners at First Presbyterian Church in Port Jefferson. “We want to make sure our guests have something to eat right away because some of them come to us as their only meal for the day and they’re very hungry.”

Then comes a from-scratch soup, fresh salad, a main course with a protein, starch and veggie and dessert. Guests are also sent home with a sandwich or leftovers.

Coordinator Terri Arrigon oversees Monday night meals at Christ Church Episcopal in Port Jefferson. She noted that many of the guests that frequent Welcome INN are not homeless. Some are unemployed or underemployed, and others are simply looking for camaraderie.

“We want to respect their privacy so we don’t really ask personal questions, but sometimes guests will open up about their situation,” says Arrigon, a volunteer for the past three years. “Working with the INN has really opened my eyes to the diversity of communities here on Long Island.”

Volunteers from Welcome INN divide their time between four different churches five days a week. Photo from Marge Tumilowicz
Volunteers from Welcome INN divide their time between four different churches five days a week. Photo from Marge Tumilowicz

The value of volunteers
As for the photo exhibit, Tumilowicz jokes that there’s an unusual backstory: Last fall, Welcome INN was given the Humanitarian of the Year Award by Jefferson’s Ferry, a retirement community in South Setauket. With the INN’s volunteers scattered all over Long Island, Tumilowicz approached the Port Jefferson Village Center about displaying the award there for all to see.

They offered her something even better — why not display an entire collection of photos from over the years?

Tumilowicz reached out to Welcome INN’s graphic designer Karen Loomis, and the result compiles shots of all four soup kitchens in action along with inspirational quotes.

“It’s demanding work — we’re on the go the whole time and many of us do not have young bodies — but we’re there because we want to be there and we love it,” Arrigon says. “I’m delighted that we’re getting this opportunity to recognize the value of our volunteers, to show them how much we appreciate them. And it’s a great way to let the community know that we’re out there.”

The Welcome INN exhibit is on display for the rest of this month on the third floor of the Village Center, 101 East Broadway, Port Jefferson.

To learn more about Welcome INN, including meal times and volunteer information, visit http://the-inn.org/programs/soup-kitchens/welcomeinn.

 

Welcome INN operates out of the following locations:

St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 309 Patchogue Road (Rte. 112), Port Jefferson Station, NY 11776
Hours of operation: Serves lunch Sundays from 1 to 2 p.m. and dinner Wednesdays from 5:45 to 6:45 p.m.

Christ United Methodist Church, 545 Old Town Road, Port Jefferson Station, NY 11776
Hours of Operation: Serves dinner Tuesdays, 5:45 to 6:45 p.m.

Christ Episcopal Church, 127 Barnum Avenue, Port Jefferson, NY 11777
Hours of operation: Serves dinner Mondays, 5:45 to 6:45 p.m.

First Presbyterian Church, Corner of Main and South Street, Port Jefferson, NY 11777
Hours of operation: Serves dinner Fridays, 5:45 to 6:45 p.m.

From left, Franklyn P. Butler, Phyllis March, Brian Gill, Robbie Torres, Katie Ferretti, Edward Breese and Jess Ader-Ferretti star in ‘Cabaret.’ Photo by Samantha Cuomo

By Melissa Arnold

The Smithtown Performing Arts Center took its audience on an emotional roller coaster ride Saturday night during its gripping opening performance of “Cabaret.”

Ronald R. Green III serves as both director and costume designer for the show, which is set in early 1930s Germany, just prior to World War II. Written by Joe Masteroff, “Cabaret” is based on a play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Frank Ebb. It is among the most enduring musicals on Broadway, with its first show in November 1966 leading to multiple revivals here and abroad.

“Cabaret” follows wandering novelist Cliff Bradshaw as he travels to Berlin in search of his next great idea. And boy, does he find it! He is quickly drawn into the raunchy, circus-like Kit Kat Klub and becomes entangled with its regulars, particularly the seductive performer Sally Bowles.

Sally Bowles is a woman who knows how to get what she wants, and she quickly wriggles her way into Cliff’s life,  first by moving in with him and then by slowly winning his heart. And they’re not the only ones falling in love. Cliff’s landlady, Fräulein Schneider, is charmed by the perfect gentleman, widower Herr Schultz.

Unfortunately, what begins as a shockingly funny love story grows dark as Adolf Hitler and the Nazis gain momentum in Germany. The characters eventually find themselves torn apart by politics, and the show’s ending is so gut-wrenching that you can almost feel the air leave the theater.

Sally and Cliff are played by Katie Ferretti and Brian Gill, who are both newcomers to the SCPA stage. Ferretti’s portrayal of Sally is full of moxie, and Gill’s effort is totally believable as Cliff falls helplessly in love.

The audience is directly addressed throughout the show by a flamboyant and hypnotizing emcee played by Robbie Torres. If “Cabaret” is a circus, then Torres is its wild ringleader. As crude as his character can be, he’ll capture your heart and hold on long after the show ends. Be warned, the emcee quickly transitions between several languages, and his thick accent may be hard to understand for some.

Worth particular mention in the talented supporting cast are Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, who are portrayed with great tenderness by Phyllis March and Edward Breese. The duets featuring the couple, “Married” and “It Couldn’t Please Me More,” are the sweetest of them all.

Choreographer Danielle Coutieri ensured that the many dance numbers in “Cabaret” were full of all the shock value and sex appeal audiences would expect from a questionable nightclub. The kick-line at the beginning of the second act was particularly fun to watch.

The orchestra is located on the set’s upper level for this show, where they are regularly visible to the audience and even become a part of the story as the Kit Kat Klub’s house band. Led by music director Melissa Coyle, the music is more than just a sound track — they are a driving force for the club and show as a whole. They play powerfully, at times almost overwhelmingly so.

While this is not a show for children, adults are bound to be thoroughly entertained and delighted by “Cabaret.” Just be prepared to leave the theater in stunned silence. This classic will strike you in the heart.

Smithtown Performing Arts Center, 2 East Main St., Smithtown, will present “Cabaret” through May 22. Show includes strong language, intense sexuality and brief violence, alcohol and drug use. Running time is approximately 2.5 hours with one 15-minute intermission.

The season continues with “Hairspray the Broadway Musical” from July 9 to Aug. 28, “Rent” from Sept. 10 to Oct. 2 and “Urinetown the Musical” from Oct. 15 to Nov. 6. All tickets are $35 and may be purchased by calling 631-724-3700 or visiting www.smithtownpac.org.

Erika Swyler will be the featured author at the local author panel. Photo by BJ Enright

By Melissa Arnold

It’s pretty common to hear a creative soul say wistfully, “Someday, I’m going to write my book.” If this sounds familiar, an event this weekend might give you the motivation you’re looking for.

The Port Jefferson Free Library invites writers of all kinds to join them on Sunday, April 3, for a discussion and meet and­ greet featuring five local authors.

The panel, titled “Writing: The Process Within” will explore all aspects of writing, from brainstorming to publishing and everything in between.

This is the first time in several years the library has hosted a panel like this, and librarian Salvatore J. Filosa hopes it will have wide appeal to the area’s budding community of writers.

“We have a local author collection comprised of people who have visited over the years, and it’s definitely growing. There are so many aspiring writers and people who appreciate writing nearby, and even a number of writing groups throughout the county,” Filosa said.

There is a wide range of experience among the panel’s five authors — some work day jobs while others write full time; some are traditionally published while others pursued self­-publishing; and they all have their own unique regimens and writing style.

Included on the panel are Stony Brook University creative writing professor Kevin Clouther; award­-winning children’s book writer Thomas Whaley; journalist, playwright and author Joe Beck; non­fiction writer, novelist and history buff Ralph Brady; and novelist Erika Swyler.

Swyler, who now lives in Sound Beach, has earned national attention over the past year with the debut of her first novel, “The Book of Speculation.” Set in a fictional Long Island town, the book follows a young librarian who is sent a mysterious book that holds ominous, magical secrets about his troubled family’s past and future.

“The Book of Speculation” was featured as part of Barnes & Noble’s Discover program, and it was also named one of the best books of 2015 by both Amazon.com and Buzzfeed.

“It’s all very surreal,” Swyler said of the experience in a recent interview. “When you write a novel, you feel like it’s just going to sit in a drawer and only be read by your mom or your spouse. Knowing the book has gone so far is amazing.”

As a child, Swyler’s parents encouraged their children to explore both the arts and sciences equally. Growing up, Erika was an enthusiastic reader who frequented the Port Jefferson Free Library.

Her journey to becoming a novelist was a winding one. ­­Swyler attended theater school and spent several years acting and writing scripts. Eventually, she said, those ideas became too big for the stage, which led her to pursue short stories and novels. Later, she was contacted by an agent who discovered one of her short stories online. The novel was published nearly a decade after that.

“Read as much as you can and write as much as you can,” urges Swyler. “There’s never going to be a moment where you think, ‘Oh, this is perfect!’ The important thing is to get the idea down on paper.”

The author panel will begin at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 3, at the Port Jefferson Free Library, 100 Thompson Street. Light refreshments will be provided. The event is free but registration is requested by calling 631-473-0022 or visit www.portjefflibrary.org.

‘Speed Sisters.’ Photo from GPJAC

By Melissa Arnold

Movie buffs, rejoice! After a long and dreary winter, it’s time to explore politics, health care, pop culture and more with a new season of the Port Jeff Documentary Series.

This month will mark the beginning of the 23rd season for the PJDS, which has brought compelling and award-winning documentaries of all kinds to our area in the spring and fall since 2005. The festival is sponsored by the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, the Suffolk County Film Commission and the New York State Council on the Arts.

It’s a labor of love for the “film ladies,” the six board members who plan the festival from the ground up twice each year. They include co-directors Barbara Sverd and Lyn Boland, as well as Wendy Feinberg, Honey Katz, Phyllis Ross and Lorie Rothstein.

Each year, the film ladies travel to some of the biggest film festivals in the area, among them the Tribeca Film Festival in Lower Manhattan, the Stony Brook Film Festival and the Hamptons Film Festival. They also closely follow online buzz for film festivals they can’t attend.

‘Sweet Micky for President.’ Photo from GPJAC
‘Sweet Micky for President.’ Photo from GPJAC

“Everyone on the board searches for films independently and brings them back to the group. This way, we get a lot of variety because we all like different things,” said Boland.

While each board member has her own opinions, they’re all looking for those films that generate a lot of interest and offer wide appeal. All of them are fresh off the circuit, and you won’t be able to see them on TV or other outlets, Boland explained.

Boland has always loved documentaries, and the series was born out of the desire to see them closer to home. She said those first films were chosen sitting around a kitchen table with the help of her late friend and law partner, Sondra Brooks. “I would hear about these great documentaries nominated for Academy Awards, but there was absolutely nowhere around here to see them. We wanted to change that,” Boland said.

These days, documentary film is one of the most common entry-level styles, leaving more titles and themes to explore than ever.

Each film lady selects two of her personal favorite documentaries to bring back to the group for discussion. Then, they write letters to directors and production teams of their favorite films, asking them to consider sending the group a copy for screening. Once the films arrive, everyone gets a say; 5/6 of the group must love the film in order for it to make the festival’s short list. It also has to fit well with that season’s other selections and budget. The final list features seven films, one for each board member and a seventh unanimously chosen by all the ladies.

Boland admitted that her two favorites for this season are the films she chose, which she affectionately calls “her babies.” They are “The C Word,” an eye-opening expose into cancer treatment and its many flaws, and “Speed Sisters,” which follows the unexpected experiences of five female race car drivers in Palestine.

During the series, each film is followed by a Q-&-A session or discussion with someone on the film’s production team, usually the director. It is an opportunity for audiences to delve deeper into the film’s development and themes.

Boland said that putting the series together twice each year is a lot of work, but there’s never bad blood in the group when they make the final selections.

Director Amber Fares photo from GPJAC
Director Amber Fares photo from GPJAC

“[The board members] volunteer to do this and it’s really like a year-round job,” Boland said.  “I can’t even say how many films I see each year, but I watch several every week. All but one of us have been involved from the beginning and it’s such a respectful environment. We do this because we’re passionate about it.”

In addition to showing the films at Theatre Three, the festival has recently added the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook as a co-host. The film ladies approached the museum after its former co-host, Stony Brook University’s Wang Center, could no longer participate.

The museum works with the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council on a regular basis, which made them a perfect fit. They’ve recently obtained a new projector and sound system, and Boland is looking forward to showing films there.

“Film is a vibrant artmaking medium, and the museum will be adding even more films to see as we move forward with our expanding public programming,” said Neil Watson, executive director of the Long Island Museum. “Partnering with the Port Jefferson Documentary Series is the perfect opportunity to extend both of our organizations into this rich and diverse community.”

The documentary series wouldn’t be possible without the support of numerous volunteers. Every season, help is needed for each part of the process, from distributing flyers and running the ticket booths to  tracking down directors and even recommending new films. A contact page for volunteers and board members can be found at the festival’s website, www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com.

The film ladies encourage hesitant viewers to try even one of this season’s films. Boland said that documentaries offer an extra touch of magic you just won’t find in a fictional movie.

“When you see a moving documentary, it shakes you the way a feature film does, but you have that extra level of emotion in knowing it’s all real,” she said.

The Port Jefferson Documentary Series will be held at 7 p.m. every Monday from March 14 to April 25 at Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson, and the Long Island Museum, 1200 Rt. 25A, Stony Brook. For the first time this year, moviegoers can purchase their tickets in advance. General admission for each film is $7. To learn more about the PJDS, this season’s films or to purchase advance tickets, call 631-473-5220.

Film schedule

A scene from ‘The C Word.’ Photo from GPJAC
A scene from ‘The C Word.’ Photo from GPJAC

■ The spring season will kick off with “Sweet Micky for President” at Theatre Three on March 14. Winner of the Grand Jury Award and Audience Award at the Slamdance Film Festival and Best International Director Award at the Documentary Edge Film Festival, the film recounts the story of Pras Michel, Grammy Award-winning rapper and founder of The Fugees, as he returns to his homeland of Haiti postearthquake and finds a corrupt government in paralysis. Wanting desperately to turn the tides there, he becomes the backbone of a presidential campaign for Michel Martelly, aka “Sweet Micky,” Haiti’s most popular and outlandish pop star. The film is presented in English, Creole and French with English subtitles. Guest speakers for the evening will be Director Ben Patterson and Pras Michel.

The second film in the series, “Janis: Little Girl Blue” by Amy Berg, will be screened at Theatre Three on March 21. It follows the life and career of renowned classic rock musician Janis Joplin prior to her sudden and tragic death in 1970 at the age of 27. The film explores the private side of Joplin’s life with new intimacy. Joplin’s own words tell much of the film’s story through a series of letters she wrote to her parents over the years, many of them made public here for the first time. The screening will be followed by a live performance of Joplin’s music by Amber Ferrari and a Q-&-A moderated by Norman Prusslin, director of the Media Arts Minor at Stony Brook University, co-founder of The Long Island Music Hall of Fame and founding general manager of WUSB 90.1 FM in Stony Brook.

On March 28, the Long Island Museum will host a screening of “The Anthropologist,” a film that tells the stories of anthropologists Margaret Mead and Susie Crate through their daughters’ perspectives. The film highlights how people all over the world, from Siberia to the Chesapeake, deal with changes in culture and the environment. The documentary won the Best Environmental Film award at the Nevada International Film Festival. The film is presented in six different languages. Director Daniel Miller will speak after the screening.

“Waiting,” to be screened on April 4 at the Long Island Museum, explores the cultural experiences and adjustment of three Italians from varied backgrounds immigrating to middle-class America. The film won the Big Apple Film Festival Cityscape Award and a 2015 Spotlight Documentary Film Award. Presented in English and Italian with English subtitles, guest speakers will include Director Cristian Piazza and one of the subjects followed in the film, actor-turned-opera-singer Paolo Buffagni.

■ On April 11, you’ll rethink your perspective on cancer treatment when Theatre Three screens “The C Word.” Narrated by Morgan Freeman, the film asks one pointed question: “With all of the resources and efforts in the war on cancer, why are we still losing?” It also exposes the multilevel, systematic problems in cancer care — the habits that predispose us to disease and a fixation on treatment instead of on the root causes of our ailments. The film is presented in English and French. “The C Word” was directed by one of its subjects, cancer survivor Meghan O’Hara, who will be on hand as the evening’s guest speaker.

“Karski and the Lords of Humanity” will take you back in time to World War II on April 18 at Theatre Three. This film tells the little-known and amazing story of Jan Karski, a highly intelligent and multilingual Polish man who was once a prisoner of war. He then goes undercover into Hitler’s concentration camps to bear witness to the Nazi atrocities and expose them worldwide. The film received the Best Polish Film award at the The Jewish Motifs International Film Festival in Warsaw, and Jan Karski was awarded a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. The evening’s speaker will be Director Slawomir Grunberg.

The final film in the series, “Speed Sisters,” will be shown at Theatre Three on April 25. Set in Palestine, it follows five female standouts in a thriving car racing scene. Held at improvised tracks — a vegetable market, an old helicopter pad, a security academy — the races offer a release from the pressures and uncertainties of life on the West Bank.  These women are setting a precedent in a male-dominated sport in a male-dominated country, and people everywhere are taking notice. “Speed Sisters” was awarded Best Documentary at the Adelaide Film Festival and the Audience Award at the IFI Documentary Festival. It is presented in Arabic and English with English subtitles. Director Amber Fares will speak after the film.

Miriam Schapiro’s ‘Berthe Morisot & Me,’ early 1970s

By Melissa Arnold

For the past 95 years, the Heckscher Museum in Huntington has worked to exhibit its varied permanent collection in new and interesting ways.

Audrey Flack’s ‘Lady Madonna,’ 1972
Audrey Flack’s ‘Lady Madonna,’ 1972

For the next few months, the museum is highlighting the contributions of female artists in an exhibit entitled You Go Girl! Celebrating Women Artists. Selected from the museum’s permanent collection, the exhibit will feature 50 women artists from the 19th century through today.

The theme is the latest dreamed up by museum curator Lisa Chalif.

“We wanted to select a group of art that showcases women artists in particular,” Chalif said. “We have art from more than 100 women artists at the museum, but they are only a small percentage of the overall collection.”

Chalif added that many women have faced “significant obstacles” to their success in the visual arts, including getting into galleries.

Museum visitors will have the chance to explore art in a variety of mediums, including print, photography, painting, sculpture and mixed media. The majority of the selections are contemporary and 20th century works and are split into two rooms — one for representational art and the other for abstract art.

Chalif noted that while the exhibit focuses on women’s art, it is not a feminist exhibit. The artists explored subjects of all kinds. “We have a lot of landscape-based work — I think that’s really characteristic of our collection as a whole, and I think that has a lot to do with our location,” she said. “People that live on Long Island are often drawn to the landscape here. There are a lot of abstract styles as well. There is something here that will appeal to everyone.”

Among Chalif’s favorites are works from feminist artist Miriam Schapiro, who founded one of the first feminist art schools in the 1970s, and super-realist painter Audrey Flack’s “Lady Madonna.” “It’s nice to have [a Madonna in the exhibit] because it refers to the most recognized woman in history,” Chalif said.

Elaine de Kooning’s ‘Black Mountain #6,’ 1948
Elaine de Kooning’s ‘Black Mountain #6,’ 1948

Many of the artists in the exhibit lived on Long Island or are still in the area today, including Emma Stebbins, Jane Wilson, Barbara Roux, Janet Culbertson and Berenice Abbott. “We were able to have [some of the living artists] come out for the opening,” Chalif said. “They have expressed how thrilled they are to be featured along with artists they’ve had as mentors or personal favorites. It’s gratifying for them and for me.”

Other artists include Elaine de Kooning, Dorothy Dehner, Audrey Flack, Jane Hammond, Mary Nimmo Moran, Georgia O’Keeffe, Betty Parsons, Miriam Schapiro and Esphyr Slobodkina.   

The Heckscher Museum is also displaying two simultaneous exhibits. The first, entitled Men at Work, focuses on depictions of men doing all kinds of jobs, from construction to academia and religious life. William Merritt Chase, Thomas Eakins, George Grosz, John Rogers, Emma Stebbins and John Sloan are among the featured artists.

The other, called Street Life, depicts life in New York City — its work-a-day life, shopping avenues and iconic transportation system in photographs. Featured artists include Berenice Abbott, N. Jay Jaffee, Martin Lewis, John Sloan, Garry Winogrand, among others.

You Go Girl! will be on display through April 3, while Men at Work and Street Life will be displayed through March 27.

The Heckscher Museum of Art is located at 2 Prime Ave., Huntington. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. For more information, call 631-351-3250 or visit www.heckscher.org.

The cover of Chris Brady’s new children’s book. Photo from Brady

By Melissa Arnold

On Dec. 14, 2012, 20 children and six adults were killed in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Chris Brady, 33, of Rocky Point, was profoundly impacted by the events of that day and has spent the past three years developing “Twenty-­Six Angels,” a children’s book inspired by those who died. The book was published on Nov. 13, and Brady hopes it will inspire children and adults alike to spread peace in our world.

I recently sat down with Brady to learn more about the book and what he hopes for the future.

Tell me a bit about your background.  What got you interested in writing?
I’ve always had an artist’s spirit. Writing has always been my way of chronicling my life. I have a book of probably a hundred poems that have gotten me through so many experiences. But I always wanted to be an actor and singer, so those things were always in the forefront. I’ve worked in retail and in the fitness industry, and also have a master’s degree in health care administration. Writing is kind of my hidden talent, but this story was something I needed to share.

How would you describe the book to someone who hasn’t read it?
It covers the theme of nonviolence and how the power of youth can combat evil in any circumstance. It’s about putting down your weapons, whether that’s guns, negative emotions or poor treatment of others.
In the book, the halos of angels light up when they sing. That light banishes everything evil in the world. When the book begins, there aren’t enough angels and the world is in despair. Then, 26 new angels are born. They face a lot of doubt from the older angels, but they’re given a try and are sent to bring a message of peace and nonviolence to the world.
I stayed away from any kind of religious elements. ­­ I chose to use angels because of the way they’re glorified in our culture, and there’s something cherubic about children. I thought it would be a nice symbol to use.

Chris Brady photo from the author
Chris Brady photo from the author

What inspired you to write about the Sandy Hook tragedy?
(The day of the shooting), I remember pulling my car over and listening to all the broadcasts. ­­ I was fixated on them. It was horrible listening to parents wondering if their child was alive, and I couldn’t imagine what they were going through. On 9/11, I was downtown (in New York City) and used writing to work through that, so it’s not surprising that I felt the need to write about this as well.
I was the choreographer for three years at Rocky Point Middle School and worked with sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. The book was partially linked to that experience of collaborating on an art that teaches the students to use their talents in a positive way.
Having worked with middle schoolers, I asked myself, what would I say to these kids? I’ve found myself suffering through tragedy and trying to cope with things I couldn’t understand, and I thought about what I would say to a younger me, as well as the families and loved ones of children who have lost their lives.
There’s something so unbelievably pure about first-graders. I told myself there has to be a way to brighten people’s lives in the absence of these children, and it’s happening. You can choose to either wallow in the darkness or make something brighter out of life. This was my way of balancing out the darkness with light and combat unspeakable evil with incredible good.
Obviously, one story can’t fix everything. But if we continue to give back to the people left behind, light really will shine through that darkness.

Who is the ideal audience for “Twenty­-six Angels”?
The book says ages 4 to 8, but I really think it would be appropriate for kids 6 to 10 or even 6 to 12. It can speak to all children and has a timeless feel. The poetry is a little bit elevated, but because it’s sing­song (in style) and rhymes, it’s easy for young children to grab onto. I read the book to a group of 4-­year­-olds and they definitely understood the message, which was great to see. Beyond that, it’s really for anybody looking for comfort. I’ve had an equally strong response from adults and children.

The book is written entirely in rhyme. Why did you choose this format?
With this subject and the idea of creating a song together, I thought rhyme would be most effective for the message.

How can parents or other adults use this book to help the children in their lives?
The first thing that you can teach a child is the difference between play and reality. We can play pirates and Jedis, but they really have no business with a weapon. That might be an unpopular opinion for some, but it’s what I believe. All of us are capable of violence, and children need to learn to channel their passions in a positive way.

What are your plans for the future?
I’m hoping to take any proceeds from the book and use them to help the people of Newtown in any way I can. I learned recently that many people are just showing up there to help out. This book belongs first and foremost in the hands of the people affected by the tragedy. It’s not about the profits for me.

Where can we get the book? How much is it?
You can find the book at all of the major online retailers, as well was www.archwaypublishing.com. The more interest there is, the more likely we’ll be to get it on shelves in the future, too. It’s available in hardcover for $22.95, softcover for $16.95 and as a digital e­book for $3.99.

Where can people learn more about you or contact you?
You can always email me at chrisbrady22@gmail.com. You can also find out more on the book’s Facebook page, “Twenty­Six Angels ­ Children’s Book Launch.”

Chris Brady will hold a book signing on Saturday, Jan. 16, at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, at 11 a.m. For more information, call 631-928-9100.

‘E.T. the Extra Terrestrial’ will be screened on Dec. 26 at the Cinema Arts Centre. Photo from CAC

By Melissa Arnold

The holidays are all about spending time with the family and making memories, whether it’s by shopping, baking together or traveling. But when all the hustle and bustle wraps up next week, some families might be left wondering, “Now what?”

The Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington is offering a unique suggestion: Give your kids a taste of your childhood.

Beginning Dec. 26, the theater will celebrate Winter Holiday Week, where moviegoers can see some of the most beloved family classics on the big screen for the first time in decades.

The lineup includes “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial” on Dec. 26, a 25th anniversary celebration of “Home Alone” on Dec. 28, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” on Dec. 29 and a special sing-along version of the musical “Grease” with onscreen lyrics on Dec. 30.

“These are shows that evoke memories for a lot of people, and getting to see it in the theater with their families or friends can be a lot like reliving the experience of seeing it for the first time,” said Raj Tawney, publicity director for the theater.

The CAC plays host to all kinds of artistic expression, not just film, including  concerts and lectures. The theater typically screens films with serious or intense themes that are best suited for adults, but they also offer events for all ages at least once a month with their Cinema for Kids and Families series.

“We’re looking for films that will interest a large audience and maintain our integrity as an art house cinema,” Tawney explained. And with kids off from school until the new year, there’s no better time for family films.

Also in the lineup for the week is Kid Flix Mix on Dec. 27, an hour-long collection of 11 live-action and animated shorts from the New York International Film Festival. The films come from all over the world, but all dialogue is in English.

“Kid Flix Mix has films from Australia, France, Russia, Norway, England and many other places throughout the world, which is a great opportunity for kids to learn something new,” Tawney said. “They can see more than just what’s a part of their culture. They’ll learn the importance of fantasy and that creativity comes in so many different forms.”

Many of the short films feature animals. One film, Torill Kove’s “Me and My Moulton,” was an Oscar nominee this year.

Before or after the show, Tawney recommends visiting the center’s Skyroom Café for a meal or snack, beverages and conversation. “People really love getting together at the cafe to talk and relax after a show,” he said. “The day doesn’t have to end just because the show is over.”

Winter Holiday Week will be held at noon every day from Dec. 26 through Dec. 30. The Cinema Arts Centre is located at 423 Park Ave., Huntington. Tickets are $12 for adults and free for children under 12.

To buy tickets or learn more, visit www.cinemaartscentre.org or call 631- 423-7611.

Matthew W. Surico stars in a sensory-friendly performance of ‘My Christmas Elf: The Musical’ on Dec. 5 at 11 a.m. Photo by Kristen Digilio

By Melissa Arnold

For a child with special needs, the world can be overwhelming.

The things many of us take for granted — a trip to the mall, stopping for a coffee or going to a show — can be frightening and confusing to children with sensory processing issues.

A sensory processing disorder affects how someone experiences their surroundings. Their senses might be too dull, or heightened to the point of discomfort. The disorder, which impacts at least 1 in 20 children, according to the SPD Foundation, can vary widely from person to person. The foundation also reported that 80 percent of people with autism experience symptoms of SPD, though not all people with SPD are autistic.

One thing is shared among them, however: SPD can make life’s little pleasures nearly impossible, not just for those with the disorder, but for their families and caregivers as well.

This year, the Noel S. Ruiz Theatre at the CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale has been hard at work adapting their children’s theater program for audiences with sensory difficulties.

Office manager Terry Brennan was inspired to bring sensory-friendly shows to the theater after reading about it in a magazine. Broadway theaters occasionally offer an adapted show, but CM is the only theater to do so regularly on Long Island.

Brennan, the former owner of the now-closed Airport Playhouse in Bohemia, is sympathetic to families and children with SPD. “It’s hard when you see a child in the theater who is extra vocal or likes to move around. It can be challenging for their families,” she explained. “We don’t want them to feel embarrassed. I thought, ‘Why don’t we do something, even if it’s just one performance per production?’”

Using brief instructional videos as a guide, Brennan educated the actors and theater staff on what makes sensory-friendly theater work.

“First, as people come in the door, there are sensory-friendly toys in the lobby, like Koosh balls and blocks, that the kids can play with while waiting for the show to start. They can bring the toys into the theater with them,” she said. “Families may also use cellphones or tablets with children who need distraction throughout the show, as long as the volume is turned off.

The key to an adapted production is to tone down elements of a show that may be disturbing to viewers with SPD. The house lights, which are normally off during a show, are kept on to prevent sudden darkness. Strobe lights, fog machines and most other special effects are not used. In addition, there is typically no intermission, as it can disrupt focus and peace for people with SPD. Most shows will run about one hour straight through.

The volume for sensory-friendly shows is lowered, and actors tend to avoid physical interaction with audience members unless directly approached first.

Beyond that, audience members are welcome to sing, dance, yell and move around to their hearts’ content. They can also meet cast members after the show if they’d like.

The theater held its first sensory-friendly performance, “Pinocchio Jr.,” in the summer of last year. At the time, there were just three families in the audience. But Brennan wasn’t measuring success by audience size, she said.

“To me, success is when a parent comes up to me and says, ‘Thank you, I didn’t feel like I had to leave or feel embarrassed at all.’ She could let her son stay and enjoy. It was wonderful.”

Today, sensory-friendly shows at the theater can bring in audiences of more than 100 people.

Kristen Digilio, director of the children’s shows and an occasional cast member, was working in the light booth during “Pinocchio.”

“Getting to see the kids waving, clapping and getting vocally involved was really exciting,” she recalled. “It was easy for them to get up and dance. We encourage audience participation in all of our shows, and this was special.”

She added that learning the basics of sensory-friendly theater was a breeze for the actors.

“It was really cool to learn about, because as a junior production, we were working with young actors,” she said. “There was even an actor in that show (‘Pinocchio’) with autism, so he was pumped for the changes and was really able to share why it made a difference.”

The theater is currently celebrating 38 years of children’s productions, and they plan to hold one sensory-friendly show per production from now on.

There are two upcoming sensory-friendly shows this season, including “My Christmas Elf” on Dec. 5 at 11 a.m. and “The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley” on Feb. 27, 2016, at 11 a.m.

Sensory-friendly shows for “Schoolhouse Rock,” “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” and “James and the Giant Peach,” in the spring and summer of 2016, will also be held. Dates for those shows will be announced soon.

The CM Performing Arts Center is located at 931 Montauk Highway in Oakdale. Admission for all children’s performances is $12. To learn more about the theater and its sensory-friendly productions, call 631-218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.com.