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Nan Guzzetta

By Heidi Sutton

The 1,000-seat theater at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center was filled to capacity last Sunday night as the community came out in droves to celebrate the first screening of TBR News Media’s feature-length film, “One Life to Give.” And what a celebration it was.

“I have to say this exceeds our highest expectations. We are so thrilled,” said TBR News Media publisher Leah Dunaief, scanning the packed house as she welcomed the audience to “what has been a year’s adventure.”

“I am privileged to be the publisher of six hometown papers, a website, a Facebook page and, now, executive producer of a movie,” she beamed.

TBR News Media publisher Leah Dunaief addresses the audience.

Dunaief set the stage for what would be a wonderful evening. “I’m inviting you now to leave behind politics and current affairs and come with me back in time more than two centuries to the earliest days of the beginning of our country — the start of the American Revolution.”

“We live in the cradle of history and I hope that when you leave tonight you will feel an immense pride in coming from this area,” she continued. “The people who lived here some 240 years ago were people just like us. They were looking to have a good life, they were looking to raise their children.” Instead, according to Dunaief, they found themselves occupied by the British under King George III for the longest period of time.

Filmed entirely on location on the North Shore in 16 days, the film tells the story of schoolteacher turned spy Nathan Hale and how his capture and ultimate death by hanging in 1776 at the age of 21 led to the development of an elaborate spy ring in Setauket — the Culper spies — in an effort to help Gen. George Washington win the Revolutionary War.

Scenes were shot on location at Benner’s Farm in East Setauket, the William Miller House in Miller Place, the Sherwood-Jayne Farm, Thompson House and Caroline Church of Brookhaven  in Setauket and East Beach in Port Jefferson with many local actors and extras, period costumes by Nan Guzzetta, props from “TURN” and a wonderful score by Mark Orton.

The film screening was preceded by a short behind-the-scenes documentary and was followed by a Q&A with Dunaief, producer and writer Michael Tessler and director and writer Benji Dunaief along with several key actors in the film — Dave Morrissey Jr. (Benjamin Tallmadge), Hans Paul Hendrickson (Nathan Hale), Jonathan Rabeno (John Chester) and David Gianopoulos (Gen. George Washington).

“It says quite a bit about our community that we could pack the Staller Center for a story that took place over two hundred years ago,” said Tessler, who grew up in Port Jefferson. “I hope everyone leaves the theater today thinking about these heroes — these ordinary residents of our community who went on to do some extraordinary things and made it so that we all have the luxury to sit here today and enjoy this show and the many freedoms that come with being an American.”

Director Benji Dunaief thanked the cast, crew and entire community for all their support. “In the beginning of this project I did not think we would be able to do a feature film, let alone a period piece. They say it takes a village, but I guess it actually takes three.”

From left, Jonathan Rabeno, David Gianopoulos, Hans Paul Hendrickson and Dave Morrissey Jr. field questions from the audience at the Q&A.

“Our cast … threw themselves 100 percent into trying to embody these characters, they learned as much as they could and were open to everything that was thrown at them — I’m blown away by this cast. They are just incredible,” he added.

“The positivity that was brought to the set every day made you really want to be in that environment,” said Rabeno, who said he was humbled to be there, and he was quick to thank all of the reenactors who helped the actors with their roles.

One of the more famous actors on the stage, Gianopoulos (“Air Force One”) was so impressed with the way the production was handled and often stopped by on his day off just to observe the camera shots. “I really enjoyed just watching and being an observer,” he said, adding “It was just such an honor [to be a part of the film] and to come back to Stony Brook and Setauket where I used to run around as a little kid and then to bring this story to life is just amazing.”

According to the director, the film has been making the rounds and was recently nominated for three awards at Emerson College’s prestigious Film Festival, the EVVY Awards, including Best Editing, Best Writing and Best Single Camera Direction and won for the last category. 

Reached after the screening, Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said the film was the essence of a sense of place. “I thought it was spectacular. I thought that it was one of the highlights of all of the years that I have lived in this community.”

He continued, “It all came together with local people and local places talking about our local history that changed the world and the fact that it was on the Staller Stage here at a public university that was made possible by the heroics of the people who were in the film both as actors today and the people that they portrayed.”

For those who missed last Sunday’s screening, the film will be shown again at the Long Island International Film Expo in Bellmore on July 18 from 2 to 4 p.m.

Filming for a sequel, tentatively titled “Traitor,” the story of John André who was a British Army officer hanged as a spy by the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, will begin in two weeks.

Special thanks to Gold Coast Bank, Holiday Inn Express, Island Federal Savings Bank and Stony Brook University for making the evening’s screening possible.

Photos by Heidi Sutton and Rita J. Egan

Nan Guzzetta's collection of 1920s accessories. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Coming off the Spirit Tour in Setauket and Halloween, Nancy Altman “Nan” Guzzetta is preparing for the Dickens Festival in Port Jefferson — preparing costumes that is. As owner of Antique Costumes and Props By Nan in Port Jefferson, she provides high-end costumes for a wide variety of events including entire shows, themed weddings, historic anniversary celebrations and a whole lot more. Upcoming events for which Guzzetta will provide costumes include “The Music Man” in East Northport and the Santa Parade and Santa’s Workshop in Port Jefferson to name just a few.

Nan Guzzetta’s famous pincushion. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Nan Guzzetta’s famous pincushion. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Guzzetta’s attention is to detail, historical accuracy being her strong suit. “We don’t do Disney or Star Wars,” but Henry the VIII, that’s another story, or Gatsby, Titanic or Downton Abbey inspired pieces. “I work with museums a lot, for their galas.” When the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook opened its recent Gilded Coast exhibit,  “I costumed people for the gala.” And, she added, “Oheka Castle has a big garden party every year. I costume for that.”

The Dickens Festival honoree was “costumed yesterday,” she added. And “we did the 350th anniversary of Smithtown … we did a descendent of Bull Smith.” Richard “Bull” Smith is said to have drawn up the boundaries of Smithtown in the 1600s when he rode a bull around a tract of land.

Other costumes available include classic movie stars, ancient Egyptian and Roman outfits and even Marie Antoinette. She also provides all sorts of accessories such as fencing foils for the Musketeers, art deco jewelry to go with early 20th century ball gowns and fancy hats to complete an ensemble. She even provides hat pins to hold the elegant head pieces in place.

Antique Costumes is located in a historic Civil War era house, the Captain Henry Hallock house. Hallock was a Port Jefferson sea captain and shipbuilder. The house is sometimes referred to as the Chambers Mansion as it was later owned by Dr. Martin Luther Chambers. The mansion was also the home at one time of the Moose Lodge and the Slavic Cultural Center.

The mansion has a fascinating history all its own. In the 1970s the English band Foghat recorded a number of its gold records there. Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen also produced recordings at the mansion. Guzzetta added that it was one of the foremost recording studios in the Northeast at the time. The building also has a stage where live productions were once held.

Nan Guzzetta's medieval costumes with headpieces. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Nan Guzzetta’s medieval costumes with headpieces. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Costumes in the mansion are arranged by theme: the children’s room, the Downton Abbey rooms, the wedding room, the red carpet room, the Renaissance room, etc. Tucked between costumes is a door leading to Guzzetta’s personal research library. And through the passage way is the theater.

Filled with energy and a fount of knowledge, Guzzetta said, “Isn’t this fun?” as she showed one room after another filled with costumes.

Many of the events she costumes for will hold prizes for the best costume, Guzzetta said. “I can boast that we have more prize winners than any other.”  She added that a man recently rented a Christopher Columbus costume. He was asked to lead, not only one or two, but six different Columbus Day parades. “He’s sending us pictures.”

But, she also added that “We’re the best kept secret,” around. Why? Because many people don’t like to share their secret. They want people to think that they make their own elegant and historically accurate outfits.

When asked how things have changed over these 40 years that she’s been in business, she noted that “It’s changed dramatically.” There are fewer themed weddings, for example, but there are many more historic celebrations, like a 100th anniversary celebration in Cold Spring Harbor last year. She recently designed a costume for a book on Nikola Tesla, the 19th century Serbian-American inventor whose Shoreham, Wardenclyffe, laboratory is currently under restoration.

Guzzetta added that with the Internet, her business now is not only local but national and even international.  People sometimes rent here and bring the costumes to “Venice for Carnival or New Orleans for Mardi Gras.” She accommodates magazine and greeting card shoots, as well as commercials. She even rents vintage furniture.

When asked when is her biggest season, Guzzetta observed that the need for her high-end costumes is really spread throughout the year. In planning large events people contact her “well in advance,” but “Halloween is frequently last minute.” But Halloween is not just for kids. More and more adults are attending masquerade balls and parties where costumes are a must.

From Nan Guzzetta's collection of Americana uniforms. Photo by Ellen Barcel
From Nan Guzzetta’s collection of Americana uniforms. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Not only does Guzzetta have costumes, ready to be rented, but “we built them,” as well. “Over the years we’ve collected many vintage items … we rarely rent out the vintage ones,” now, but use them as models for new pieces. “I collect the best of every period and rent it.”

How does she deal with all the different sizes and shapes of her clientele? In some cases, she has several different sizes of a particular costume. In others she will alter them to fit. “All alterations are done here at no extra charge.” In other cases, she does what many theater productions do: There’s a slit in the back and the costume is laced up to fit the wearer. And, if she’s “building” a new costume, she has the renter’s measurements. Usual rental for individuals (it varies for theater productions) is three days, one to pick up the costume, one for its use and one to return it.

“We do teas and tours here,” too. The tea service can include a tour of the restored mansion or a tour and lecture, the group’s choice.

How did Guzzetta, who was a registered nurse, develop such a unique business? A lover of art and history, she opened an antique shop in Port Jefferson acquiring some costumes. But, “when I couldn’t get any more vintage costumes, I began renting (rather than selling) them and then making copies.” But for her, it’s not really work at all. “It’s a joy to come in every day.”

Antiques Costumes and Props by Nan is located at 709 Main Street, Port Jefferson (parking off Jones Avenue). Call 631-331-2261 or go to www. antiquescostumes.com. The business is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays by appointment only and weekends in special circumstances.