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Melissa Arnold

Douglas Quattrock as Bob Cratchit in a scene from ‘A Christmas Carol’. Photo from Theatre Three

By Melissa Arnold

Acting has been a part of Douglas Quattrock’s life for decades now, but like a kid at Christmas, he waits all year to take the stage for Theatre Three’s “A Christmas Carol,” which opens this weekend. Quattrock, 52, of Selden, is director of development, group sales and special events coordinator for the theater. On stage, he’s Bob Cratchit, the long-suffering clerk of Ebenezer Scrooge and the father of Tiny Tim. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Quattrock as he prepares to play the quintessential character for the 27th year.

How long have you been with Theatre Three?

I performed in my first show at Theatre Three in 1982 and became an official part of the staff in 2004.

What got you interested in acting?

I grew up in New York City and then moved out to Long Island in high school. I had to take an elective, and they had a spot open in chorus, but I didn’t realize I could sing. After that I spent a lot of time in the music room and taught myself to play piano. From there I got involved with the school’s productions and discovered I had a passion for it, whether I was acting or on the stage crew.

When did you first appear in ‘A Christmas Carol’?

Back in 1989, I was doing a show in East Islip, and (director) Jeff Sanzel saw me perform. He came backstage and asked me if I would audition for Bob Cratchit for the upcoming production at Theatre Three.

From left, Doug Quattrock as Bob Cratchit and Jeffrey Sanzel as Scrooge in a scene from 'A Christmas Carol.' Photo from Theatre Three
From left, Doug Quattrock as Bob Cratchit and Jeffrey Sanzel as Scrooge in a scene from ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Photo from Theatre Three

Did you hope to play Bob Cratchit from the beginning?

Absolutely. I’d seen the production before and a few friends had done the role before me. I’ve loved the story for as long as I can remember. I love [Cratchit’s] hope and connection to his family — he comes from a large family, just like I do. We grew up in a small apartment and my parents always struggled to make Christmas special for us, even if they couldn’t afford much. They taught us it was all about family.

Do you feel you’ve brought anything new or different to the role?

As I’ve gotten older, I come to appreciate more the value of family and what really matters in life … I focus so much on that in the role. I hope people can see that, and that my family knows how much I love and appreciate their support.

Tell me about the cast.

While Scrooge, Mr. Fezziwig and myself have been the same for many years, there are also new people that come onboard every year. They bring a fresh, new energy to the show and new dynamics. For example, I’ve (appeared with) many different women who were playing Mrs. Cratchit over the years. Each of them has her own way of playing the role, which affects our relationship on stage. It’s really exciting to see how it changes with time.

From left,The Cratchit family, sans Tiny Tim, from left, Jace Rodrigues, Marquez Stewart, Douglas Quattrock, Zoe Kahnis and Kellianne Crovello in a scene from last year’s ‘A Christmas Carol’. Photo from Theatre Three
From left,The Cratchit family, sans Tiny Tim, from left, Jace Rodrigues, Marquez Stewart, Douglas Quattrock, Zoe Kahnis and Kellianne Crovello in a scene from last year’s ‘A Christmas Carol’. Photo from Theatre Three

What is it like working with the young people in the cast?

The children are just amazing. It’s fun to watch them grow up and go on to other roles in the show or other productions over the years. [Director] Jeffrey [Sanzel] works so hard to instill good values and responsibility in them, to let them know how important they are to the show. If they’re not on stage, they’re either watching rehearsals or doing homework — they need to keep up with every aspect of their lives. Theater provides such a wonderful outlet of expression and education for children.

What is it like working with Jeffrey Sanzel as both director and Scrooge?

He has so much passion and warmth not only for this story, but for everything he does here professionally. I consider him a friend. It’s amazing for me to watch him make the transformation into Scrooge — he’s very scary. It’s especially so because he’s also my boss in real life! But we have a unique relationship.

Is the show scary? Are there any special effects?

Yes, it is scary — we don’t recommend it for children under five, and if they’re five, they shouldn’t sit in the front. There are fog machines, strobe lights, loud noises, darkness, voices from below, a 14-foot ghost and much more. We recommend that they watch other versions of “A Christmas Carol” first so they have an idea of what the show’s about.

Is this your favorite time of year?

Without a doubt!

‘A Christmas Carol’ will be adding extra shows during the Port Jefferson Dickens Festival, which falls on Dec. 3 and 4 this year. What do you most enjoy about the Dickens Festival weekend?

It’s amazing seeing how the whole village embraces this production. They decorate [Port Jefferson] so beautifully and everyone comes together to support what we do. It’s like the whole place comes to life.

What is so special about community theater?

It’s about taking limited resources and creating the best productions from that. We create with heart, imagination and a lot of hard work. That comes from within. And when a show goes well, it’s that much more exciting and valuable.

People have said that you always make them teary-eyed in your last scene with Scrooge. How does that make you feel?

That’s my favorite scene, even though it’s the shortest between us. From Bob’s perspective, the whole story has been building up to that moment, when Scrooge says (Bob’s) son, Tim, will walk again. Scrooge has so many redemptive moments in the last few minutes of the show, and it’s so powerful. I love knowing that moves people. I want people in the audience to see that even the tiniest gestures of kindness can mean so much to someone. That is Christmas to me. If the audience can walk away with that message, and capture the spirit of the season, then I’ve done my job.

“A Christmas Carol” will run at Theatre Three, 412 E. Main St., Port Jefferson, from Nov. 19 to Dec. 30. All tickets are $20 in November and range from $20 to $35 in December. For information or to purchase tickets, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

By Melissa Arnold

It’s hard to live in the Three Village area without noticing the beautiful neighborhoods around us. And it’s easy to fantasize about the ornate period homes. Each year, local residents team up with the Three Village Historical Society to offer visitors from across Long Island a rare, festive peek at a few of them with a Candlelight House Tour. This wonderful event, which will be held on Dec. 2 and 3 this year, has been a mainstay of the North Shore’s holiday season for almost 40 years. But it began as just a simple fundraiser.

 

A scene from last year's Candlelight House Tour. Photo form TVHS
A scene from last year’s Candlelight House Tour. Photo form TVHS

At the end of the 1970s, the Three Village Historical Society was meeting in the Setauket Neighborhood House on Main Street. The building wasn’t in the best shape, however, and members of the society starting brainstorming on ways to repair it. It was Eva Glaser who came up with a unique idea: What if they charged a small fee to take visitors inside the area’s historic homes? Elaborate holiday decorations would make the tours even more interesting, she thought. Those first tours of 1979 were a great success, and the event is now one of the historical society’s biggest annual fundraisers. Proceeds will benefit community and in-school educational programs.

“A lot of people use [the tour] as a kickoff for the holiday season since it’s always the first weekend in December,” said tour co-chair Patty Yantz. “It’s wonderful seeing families all come out together, and then go out to dinner or start their shopping for the holidays. We see people from all generations come together.” The tour features different homes every year, so you’ll never get the same experience twice. The event is so popular that Three Village homeowners are often the first to approach the society to get involved. “People are so generous in their willingness to open up their homes and be a part of the tour. We take time looking at each house on the tour and then look at the elements that they might have in common that could lead to a theme,” Yantz explained.

A scene from a previous Candlelight House Tour. Image from TVHS
A scene from a previous Candlelight House Tour. Photo from TVHS

This year’s theme, Visions of Historic Setauket: A Look Back in Time, will feature five decorated homes. Gallery North and the historical society’s building will be decorated as well. “Setauket has a perfect little historic enclave near the [Frank Melville Memorial] park, and we have a tremendous amount of photos and documents from the area in our archives,” said Patty Cain, also a tour co-chair. “The houses in the tour all circle around the [park’s] pond, which makes it possible for us to have a walking tour this year. We were very lucky.”

The participating homeowners work with volunteer professional decorators to deck the halls for the tour. Afterward, they can keep those decorations to use for years to come, Cain said. She added that Eva Glaser, the inspiration behind the original house tours, will be participating this year. Tour participants have three different times to choose from, each offering a unique experience.

Visitors enjoy a previous Candelight House tour. Image from TVHS
Visitors enjoy a previous Candelight House tour. Photo from TVHS

The darkness of Friday evening makes the lights and luminarias on the tour especially pretty. At each stop, hors d’oeuvres and wine will be served courtesy of local restaurants, followed by a reception at the Old Field Club in Setauket. Those hoping for an early start can take a Saturday morning tour that begins with breakfast at the club. There’s also an option for the tour alone in the afternoon. Each tour allows visitors the freedom to park wherever they’d like, and to visit the homes in any order.

Guides will greet visitors at each home and take them through in small groups to keep the experience intimate. Once inside, there’s a specific path to follow, where guides will explain the special elements of each room. In addition, the tour admission ticket is actually a historical booklet full of information and photos. Yantz said that many families keep these booklets over the years as both a historical record and memento. Admission to the house tour also includes access to SPIES!, an interactive exhibit about the Culper Spy Ring, and the Chicken Hill: A Community Lost in Time exhibit at the historical society, as well as admission to the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, Yantz said. “I think the best part about it is hearing all the wonderful comments from people that come out. There’s never been a complaint on the weekend of the tours, and the joy on people’s faces, seeing people come together, is very special. It’s such a positive force in the community,” she said.

The Three Village Historical Society’s 38th annual Candlelight House Tour will be held the evening of Friday, Dec. 2, and the morning and afternoon of Saturday, Dec. 3. Depending on the option you choose, tickets range from $40 to $100 per person. For more information, please call 631-751-3730, email info@tvhs.org or visit www.tvhs.org.

Charles F. Wurster

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

The cover jacket of the author's latest book.
The cover jacket of the author’s latest book.

In 1972, the pesticide DDT was banned across the United States following proven harmful effects on wildlife. The positive impact of the ban cannot be understated. According to a recent study by the Connecticut Audubon Society, the population of ospreys is 31 times greater than it was in 1970. The bald eagle population is 25 times greater nationwide.

But before the ban, former Stony Brook University professor Charles Wurster found himself at the forefront of the battle to stop DDT. His book, “DDT Wars: Rescuing Our National Bird, Preventing Cancer, and Creating the Environmental Defense Fund” (Oxford University Press, 2015), recounts the story from Wurster’s perspective in vivid detail, from his childhood to the establishment of the Environmental Defense Fund and beyond.

I recently had the opportunity to interview the 86-year-old professor emeritus, now living in Maryland, by phone.

Were you always an animal lover?

Yes, I think so. My parents weren’t much into wildlife, but they always showed excitement when they saw animals, so those were little encouragements for me. But from age 11 to 20, I spent every summer at a camp in the mountains of Pennsylvania — that put me in a natural environment and I learned bits and pieces about wildlife, especially birds, turtles and snakes. Later on, a high school teacher took a car full of students to Florida in the summer to learn about birds, which sparked my interest in a big way.

Do you remember when DDT was first used?

I was teaching at Dartmouth in 1962 and went to a cocktail party for a birding friend, who said they were spraying Dutch elm trees with DDT [to eradicate Dutch elm disease]. She told me it was killing birds and she had dead birds in her yard. I signed a petition at the party to stop the use of DDT in the town, but the town fathers ignored it, saying they were being very careful.

What made you realize that DDT was harmful?

When the town refused to stop using DDT, some of us decided to perform a study to see what happened. We compared bird populations before and after they sprayed the trees, and at first there were no dead birds. But within a few weeks, we began to find birds that were convulsing and then dying. At the time we had no knowledge of the [scientific] literature that was already published about DDT. Gradually, we began to catch up with it, and eventually we published a study in Science Magazine, which gave credibility to our work.

Did you ever see yourself getting involved with the effort to ban DDT?

I never dreamed I would get involved with such a thing. It was very incremental. I wanted to stop the use of DDT in Hanover [Massachusetts], and the effort succeeded by the next year. Eventually, I moved to Long Island, where I got involved in efforts there to stop the use of DDT. [In New York], they were focusing on its effects on ospreys, which were not reproducing properly and eating their own broken eggs. A group of us filed a lawsuit and were able to get an injunction in two weeks. That news was electrifying. It got us to start thinking bigger. In the fall of 1967, we incorporated the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), with the goal of bringing science into the courtroom. We hadn’t the remotest idea of what it would be at that time — we were just a group of 10 people with an idea.

What was it like to fight against the use of DDT? Did people listen or did they disregard you?

At that time, much of the general public was becoming environmentally aware and involved, so they were generally favorable to us. Wherever we went, there were droves of birders and environmentalists rushing out to help, which was an excellent support. But the (pesticide) industry also began pushing back, even though they didn’t have the science to support their case. Several federal agencies tried to throw us out of court, but they failed.

What were you feeling?

It was scary in a way, because we knew we could get shut down and the industry was saying nasty things about us. But we believed it was the right thing to do. It’s like watching a football game — you’re cheering for the team, and you’re likely to lose, but you stay in the stands anyway because anything could happen. The EDF got to a point where we knew we were the ones that could [ban DDT], and we really wanted to win this thing, so we pushed forward.

Did your life change in any way afterward?

After the ban of DDT, I really started to focus on the development of EDF and various other environmental issues. I still sit on the board of trustees today.

What made you want to write a book about this issue decades later?

Within the past ten years, I started to realize that our story was being forgotten. Most people didn’t know how DDT was banned, and there was a lot of false information given in the media saying that Congress had banned it. That was so annoying to me — we purposely avoided Congress! And that same junk science presented about DDT was being used to influence the climate change issue. I started to get after several people I knew who I thought could write a book, but in the end, almost everyone who was actually there for the ban had died. I thought, “Gosh, I’d better do this.” But it was never a plan of mine.

What is the greatest lesson you learned from your experience?

I think it’s that one person can begin to make a difference, but you can’t always be a one-man band. The critical work and studies on DDT were done by so many different people, and we weren’t all present at every hearing. It was important for us to work together.

Why do you think your book is relevant today?

One reason is because it’s just interesting — I intended it to read like a novel, even though it’s completely true. But it also gives a great case history for how a small group of people can make a difference. So much (in society) has changed, but that idea is still true. So many people have this hopeless feeling that they don’t matter and there’s nothing they can do, but this book sends the opposite message — if there’s something you feel strongly about, get out there and do something about it!

What can we do to aid in wildlife conservation efforts on Long Island?

Find a group of people that share a common purpose that matters to you. Working as part of a team, you can escalate those issues and help to create big changes.

“DDT Wars” is available online at www.barnesandnoble.com and www.Amazon.com.

From left, Steven Uihlein, Jessica Contino, Melanie Acampora and Emily Gates star in 'Pumpkin Patch Magic'. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Melissa Arnold

Twenty years ago, Theatre Three’s Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel wrote a Halloween play for children with sweet, goofy characters and an encouraging moral lesson. This October, the Port Jefferson theater will present an updated version of Sanzel’s original show, “Pumpkin Patch Magic,” featuring all-new music and lyrics by Jules Cohen. I sat down with Sanzel and Cohen to learn more about bringing the show to life again.

Jeffrey Sanzel has written or adapted more than 100 plays in his 28 years at Theatre Three.

What inspired you to write this play?

Jeff Sanzel: This goes back many years. We’ve actually done “Pumpkin Patch Magic” twice, with the original performances happening 20 years ago. (My writing partner and I) were looking for a new Halloween show and decided we wanted the theme to be based around the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” We always want to have a moral underpinning for our stories. So we created this world of Halloween with all the characters you’d expect — witches, ghosts, gnomes — and their different skills and limitations. For example, there’s a witch who can fly and a witch who can’t. It’s very funny.

How do you go about developing a show like this?

We talk about a theme, and then work on characters. I usually sit down and think about the sort of direction I want the story to go in, and from there I’ll start writing … there are usually 15 to 20 pages that never make it into the show — it’s just about getting the ideas going. If we’re doing an adaptation, I’ll read as many different versions of the story as I can to help flesh out how I want to tell it and what kind of message we want to convey.

From left, Princess Pumpkin (Melanie Acampora) Ermengarde Broomwellsweepalot the Witch (Emily Gates) and Norman the Nervous Gnome (Steve Uihlein) star in ‘Pumpkin Patch Magic. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theater Three Productions, Inc.
From left, Princess Pumpkin (Melanie Acampora) Ermengarde Broomwellsweepalot the Witch (Emily Gates) and Norman the Nervous Gnome (Steve Uihlein) star in ‘Pumpkin Patch Magic. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theater Three Productions, Inc.

Can you summarize the story?

These characters are the ones who are responsible for getting pumpkins into the pumpkin patches all over the world. There are two groups involved: the overachievers and the underachievers. Some of the characters are limited in what they can do, and they’re always being reminded of how they can’t do as much as others. The story is told by a fairy, Loquacious Chattalot, who tries to encourage them, but it backfires and they give up. But in the end, it’s the limited ones who end up making it all happen successfully.

How did you come up with the name Fairy Loquacious Chattalot?

I’m a big fan of Charles Dickens — we do “A Christmas Carol” here at Theatre Three every year — and Dickens-style names always tend to stick in my head. The characters’ names really reflect who they are, and that is definitely true for this fairy. She’s a very nonstop talker, and that’s where I got Loquacious Chattalot.

For what age group is this play recommended? I would say it’s best for ages 3 and up.

It’s very entertaining, fast and colorful. It’s not scary at all — in fact, it’s very silly. The humor is very goofy, and the show is extremely family-friendly. All of our children’s shows are meant for the whole family to be entertained.

Are children encouraged to come dressed in their Halloween costumes?

Absolutely! We love when the kids show up in costume; it’s so much fun. And if you stay after the show, the characters will come out [in the lobby] to meet the kids and have their picture taken.

Why should parents bring their kids to see the show?

Children’s theater is the greatest way to introduce kids to theater, and the earlier on they’re exposed to it, the more they can develop an appreciation for it. Seasonal shows like this one are a lot of fun and the message for this show is so important — keep trying. You can learn, you can make a difference and there’s nothing you can’t do.

Jules Cohen has written music for dozens of shows all over the country, but now he fights breast cancer as an oncologist at Stony Brook University Hospital.

Are you a native Long Islander?

Jules Cohen: I grew up in Poughkeepsie, and after college I lived in Manhattan for 20 years. I moved to Suffolk County six years ago to work at Stony Brook.

Composer Jules Cohen, center, with the cast of 'Pumpkin Patch Magic' at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.
Composer Jules Cohen, center, with the cast of ‘Pumpkin Patch Magic’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

You studied music in college, but now you’re an oncologist. What led to that change?

I have a bachelor’s degree in music and a master’s in music composition. I hoped to make my career as a musical director in theatre and a songwriter, and I did that for several years working with several reasonably high-profile directors. But it’s difficult to make a living in those fields, as you never know where your next job will come from. I had to move all over the country — I’ve worked in Vermont; San Francisco; Louisville, Kentucky; and in New York City. I knew that if I wanted a more stable life, I needed a more structured day job. Music and theater could always remain a hobby while I did other work. My initial thought was to become a psychologist, so I went to medical school, and once I got there I found I really gravitated more toward medical oncology.

Was the transition difficult for you?

Once I decided to go to med school, I pursued it wholeheartedly and didn’t find leaving the music and theater career difficult. I’ve always played the piano and am working on jazz piano now. That satisfies the musical part of my brain.

What inspired you to get involved with composing for ‘Pumpkin Patch Magic’?

I have two young children — a 5-year-old and a 10-year-old. I’ve always taken them to basically every show at Theatre Three, and it got to the point where the actors all knew Emma and Oscar. They really watched them grow. I decided to see if I could get involved, and I met Jeff in the lobby one day. He suggested I collaborate with him on one of his kids’ shows, and a few weeks later he emailed me the script for a Halloween show he had written years ago. From there I worked on updating the score, one song at a time. My kids love Halloween, so they’re very excited, and my daughter is very into musical theater — she loves to give her input.

What’s involved with writing a song? What is the process like?

Writing lyrics was relatively new for me, but I really enjoyed spending time working on the rhyme and wordplay. That process develops a sense of rhythm, and from there I start thinking about pitches. You flesh it out a bit at a time, eventually developing chords and a melody line, then adding little embellishments and intricacies. It’s really not magic or anything — as they say, it’s 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.

How would you describe the music for the show?

It’s definitely heavily influenced by jazz, and the whole score is written for keyboard. Who are your musical influences? I really enjoy musicians in both jazz and theater, and the intersection between them — George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Frank Lesser, Thelonious Monk, and Charlie Parker are some of my favorites.

What are you most looking forward to about the show?

I’m very excited to hear my songs performed by real actors and singers, to see them come to life onstage. I’m hoping that people will appreciate it and that they leave tapping their feet. I know that I’m pleased with the songs — they are fun and clever.

“Pumpkin Patch Magic” or “If At First You Don’t Succeed” will run from Oct. 1 through Oct. 29 on Saturdays and Sundays at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson. All seats are $10. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (631) 928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

‘No Day But Today’: Above, the cast of ‘Rent’ sings the finale. Photo courtesy of the SCPA

By Melissa Arnold

With Election Day less than two months away now, the media is saturated with heated debates about crime, poverty, drugs and equality. These were the same issues that inspired Manhattan-based playwright Jonathan Larson to create “Rent,” a rock opera that made its off-Broadway debut in 1996.

Now through Oct. 2, diehard “Rent-heads” and first-timers alike can celebrate the show’s 20th anniversary during its run at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts.

“Rent” is heavily based on Giacomo Puccini’s famous opera “La Boheme,” which follows the struggles of poor artists in Paris. Larson’s story is set in Alphabet City on Manhattan’s Lower East Side at the end of the 1980s, where aspiring director Mark and songwriter Roger are living in squalor. It’s also the height of the AIDS epidemic – drugs are everywhere, being gay is stigmatized, and one way or another, every member of the cast is just trying to survive.

The Cast:

Jordan Hue

Scott Johnston

Jess Ader Ferretti

Angela Garofalo

Michelle Rubino

Robins Prophete

Dondi Rollins Jr.

Jose A. Torres

Meagan Materazo

Megan Cain

Janelle Primm

Samantha Rosario

Jahlil Burke

Brodie Centauro

Kevin Burns

Matthew Paredi

 With all this in mind, it’s not exactly a cheery show. But there is plenty of humor to go around, and its biggest messages — no day but today, forget regret — are inspiring and hopeful.

While this is director Mark Decaterina’s first time leading a production, the cast at SCPA are no strangers to the stage, and many have appeared in “Rent” before with other groups. Their skill makes each of the characters’ struggles and triumphs that much more believable.

As a rock opera, the show’s score is loud and proud — there are very few periods of purely spoken dialogue. Musical director Melissa Coyle (keyboard) leads a small but powerful ensemble with Chad Goodstein on guitar, Jim Waddell on drums and and Rob Curry on bass.

Worth particular mention are Scott Johnston (Roger) and Michelle Rubino (Mimi), who play HIV-positive heroin addicts in various stages of recovery. Their performances were raw and emotional in a way that’s hard to shake. This is especially true in their duets “No Day But Today” and “Without You.”

Jose A. Torres (Angel) does a great job bringing humor into the show as an unapologetically flamboyant drag queen and street drummer. You can’t help but fall in love with him as he dances effortlessly in a serious pair of heels.

While the majority of the individual performances were strong, the cast shines most during ensemble numbers. Their harmonies are perfect and might even make the hair on your neck stand up. The title song “Rent” and famous “Seasons of Love” show off the cast’s enormous talent.

The show was enjoyable overall, but the performance on opening night included multiple issues with sound and video. Some lines were inaudible or too loud, with a few instances of feedback, and the crucial movie projected onstage at the end of the show was barely visible. Hopefully, these were just quirks that will be corrected for upcoming performances.

“Rent” is for mature audiences — the show includes strong language, intense sexual dialogue, and drug use as a major plot point. However, it could also serve as a great springboard to conversation for families with teens.

Run time is approximately 2.5 hours with a 15-minute intermission. All tickets are $35. The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts is located at 2 E. Main St., Smithtown. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.smithtownpac.org or call 631-724-3700.

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.