Authors Posts by Melissa Arnold

Melissa Arnold

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Playwright Jude Treder-Wolff will host (Mostly) True Things: 'Bad Valentines and Worst Dates Ever' on Saturday, Feb. 11.

By Melissa Arnold

When you’re on a mission to find your perfect match, it’s safe to say you’ll have some less-than-great experiences along the way. It happens to the best of us.

Whether you’re partnered up or flying solo, an evening of Valentines-themed storytelling is sure to be relatable and entertaining.

The Performing Arts Studio in Port Jefferson will host a production of (Mostly) True Things, a recurring show featuring people from all walks of life sharing real, personal experiences. Their Feb. 11 production is themed “Bad Valentines and Worst Dates Ever.”

There’s also a game wrapped into the evening — while all four stories are true, three storytellers will change subtle little details. In Act 2, the audience will have a chance to question each person and decide for themselves who’s being sneaky. Winners get a tote bag, and the whole truth about each story is shared before the end of the night. It’s a combination of comedy, heart and community that is truly a unique experience every time.

The host and creator of (Mostly) True Things is Selden resident Jude Treder-Wolff, a creative soul who has worn a number of hats. 

“I grew up in a family where everyone learned to play piano, and I fell in love with it. I’ve always been a musician and a performer, and I got a degree in music therapy in my 20s,” Treder-Wolff explained. “Music has always been a healing art form for me … I love helping people tap into their creativity and use the arts as a way to express their feelings.”

After working as a music therapist in hospitals, rehab facilities and sessions with children, Treder-Wolff went to graduate school for social work and began a private practice. 

She was also growing creatively, getting involved with the cabaret scene in New York City and writing her own material. A mentor encouraged her to share true stories from her own life as well. 

(Mostly) True Things has appeared around New York City, Long Island and the Midwest since 2014, weaving the performers’ stories with original songs written and performed by Treder-Wolff.

This Valentine’s edition is special, she notes.

“I don’t usually do themed shows, but a while back I was in a show called ‘Worst Dates Ever,’ and it was hilarious, so I put out a request for story pitches on that theme,” she said. 

To be cast in the show, potential storytellers meet with Jude, often via Zoom, to present their ideas. If it’s a good fit, they’ll work with her to develop a carefully-crafted and polished story for the show — possibly with those little white lies added in. 

Among the Feb. 11 performers is Kelly Massaro, a Westhampton Beach middle school teacher and writer. 

“I was a scarecrow in my elementary school play, and that’s all the theater experience I have. I’m feeling terrified and thrilled,” Massaro admitted, laughing. “But I made a New Year’s resolution to try new things. I saw (Mostly) True Things in the past and knew I wanted to share some of my writing with Jude … The show was so evocative, thoughtful and funny — the little twist of trying to find who’s telling their story straight is really engaging for the audience.”

Massaro will share the ups and downs of learning to own her romantic history while giving herself permission to love. It may not be the funniest story of the night, but she hopes it will resonate. 

“The most important stories come from being vulnerable,” Massaro said. “I want to reach the person in the audience who might be nursing a broken heart.”

The evening will also feature performances by humor writer Ivy Eisenberg; playwright Jack Canfora; and political comedian Joey Novick.

Ultimately, the goal is to leave the audience feeling hopeful, Treder-Wolff said. 

“Everyone can enjoy this because it’s both comedic and real,” she added. “I think it can help people to feel a lot less alone in their life experiences.”

See (Mostly) True Things: “Bad Valentines and Worst Dates Ever” at The Performing Arts Studio, 224 E. Main St., Port Jefferson on Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 online at www.mostlytruethings.com or $20 at the door (cash only). The show is recommended for teens and adults. For more information, call 631-928-6529.

New Year's Eve

By Melissa Arnold

Whether it’s been a banner year or a tough one, having some fun to celebrate the new year is never a bad idea. If you’re looking for a unique way to spend New Year’s Eve, then consider grabbing your friends or family and heading over to one of several lighthearted comedy events in the area.

Theatre Three in Port Jefferson is hosting two comedy performances for their New Year’s Laughin’ Eve celebration: an early bird show at 6 p.m. and a prime time show at 8 p.m. 

Now in its 14th year, the event is hosted by Paul Anthony of the Long Island Comedy Festival. “This night of comedy is something that people look forward to every year,” said Douglas Quattrock, artistic associate and director of development for Theatre Three. “We always make an effort to mix up the comedians that we feature so it’s always fresh for our audiences.”

This year’s national headliners include Rich Walker, Eric Tartaglione, and John Ziegler.

Beer, wine, soda and snacks will be available for purchase and are welcome in the theater during the show. Early bird tickets are $55 per person, while tickets to the prime show are $65 per person available for purchase at www.theatrethree.com or by calling 631-928-9100.

Over on the South Shore, the Argyle Theatre in Babylon Village will also team up with the Long Island Comedy Festival to offer two comedy shows at  6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Featuring Bryan McKenna, Maria Walsh and a headline performance by Chris Roach, the Argyle shows promise to heat things up while having fun. Purchase tickets for $50 to $60 per person by visiting www.argyletheatre.com or call 631-230-3500.

Later that night, the Smithtown Performing Arts Center (SPAC) is hosting their own night of comedy in partnership with Governor’s Comedy Clubs starting at 10 p.m. Comedy has been a mainstay at SPAC on New Year’s Eve for more than 10 years now, with 2022 marking the end of a two-year hiatus during the pandemic.

“Everyone is just excited to get together and be entertained again, and we’re thrilled to provide the opportunity for some laughter,” said SPAC managing director Kelly Mucciolo. “We began working with Governor’s this past summer and it’s been a lot of fun for all of us.”

Headlining the SPAC show is Chris Monty of CBS’ “Kevin Can Wait,” along with featured act Tony Landolfi, guest performer Debbie D’Amore and emcee Mary Capone.

Tickets are $70 for SPAC members and $75 for general admission. The show includes  hors d’oeuvres, an open bar of beer and wine, and a champagne toast at midnight. To purchase tickets visit www.smithtownpac.org.

Gerald Dickens

UPDATE on Dec. 5 — This event has been canceled with no immediate plans to reschedule.

Read post from Gerald Dickens here.

By Melissa Arnold

When it comes to Christmas shows, there is perhaps none more iconic or beloved than A Christmas Carol. Since its publication in 1843, Charles Dickens’ famous novella has inspired dozens of theatrical and film adaptations, many with cult followings.

Whether your favorite Scrooge is George C. Scott, Michael Caine or Scrooge McDuck, a one-of-a-kind performance in Huntington next week may just top them all.

On Dec. 5, the Cinema Arts Centre (CAC) in Huntington will welcome British actor and producer Gerald Charles Dickens for a live, one-man performance of “A Christmas Carol.” Gerald is the great-great grandson of Charles Dickens, and his fascination with the author’s life and works led him to create something of his own.

Gerald will portray nearly 30 individual characters as the story unfolds with a touch of humor and deep emotional connection to the man behind the words.

The performance comes in the midst of the center’s Vic Skolnick Life of Our Cinema Campaign, an annual fundraising effort to support programming for the coming year, said Nate Close, CAC’s director of marketing and communications. He added that they like to host events during the fundraiser that are intriguing and fun for a broad audience to enjoy. “It’s always great to see theater performed live, especially when we typically broadcast theatrical performances on-screen here. The theater seats around 190 people, so it will be an intimate performance and we’re expecting a great turnout.”

CAC board member Jude Schanzer said that A Christmas Carol is the perfect holiday classic to set the season’s purpose of generosity, kindness, and goodwill.

“While it is true that Gerald is the great-great grandson  of Charles Dickens, it is his acting skills that make him extraordinary. His command of his voice and movements create unforgettable and completely distinguishable characters from Scrooge to Tiny Tim, all with minimal props,” said Schanzer. 

“How often are you afforded the added perk of having a brush with history? Gerald is passionate about his work as an actor and in portraying characters with whom he has a unique bond. He is also generous with his time and spirit and readily answers audience questions after every performance,” she said.

Copies of Gerald’s new book Dickens and Staplehurst: A Biography of a Rail Crash will also be available at the event. The book examines a deadly rail crash in 1865 and the subsequent investigation. Charles Dickens survived the crash and was profoundly affected by the events of that day. Gerald digs into Charles’ private life and professional motivations before and after the crash.

See A Christmas Carol at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 5 at the Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave, Huntington. Tickets to the performance are $30 per person, $25 for CAC members. Tickets to the performance plus a copy of the book are $45, $40 for CAC members. For To order, visit www.cinemaartscentre.org or call 631-423-7610. 

Learn more about Gerald Charles Dickens at www.geralddickens.com.

Birdlovers art sale to support local environmental groups

By Melissa Arnold

Birds have long fascinated nature enthusiasts of all ages, and it’s easy to understand why. Their wide variety, brilliant colors, seasonal travel and flight skills provide a lot to admire. Those same qualities have made birds a frequent subject in art for generations as well.

On the weekend of Nov. 11, the historic Bates House in Setauket will host a special 3-day art sale and silent auction entitled “Audubon and Friends.” All proceeds from the weekend will be split equally among four local organizations dedicated to protecting Long Island’s wildlife and environment: The Seatuck Environmental Association, the Four Harbors Audubon Society (4HAS), The Safina Center, and Frank Melville Memorial Park.

The idea for the event came from conservationist John Turner and his brother Craig, who shared a love for nature from their early years.

John, who is conservation chair at Seatuck and serves on the board of 4HAS, developed a passion for birding as he watched his father feed the birds as a young boy.

“I was pretty active in conservation even as a teen — when you fall in love with something, you want to see it protected and have the ability to flourish,” said the Setauket resident. “I was really affected by stories of pollution, fires and disasters on the news, and I wanted to do whatever I could to help.”

Craig Turner’s interest in birdwatching developed later, thanks to an old friend from his time in the Air Force.

“He fed all sorts of birds at his home, and whenever I would visit I would become completely captivated by watching them stop to eat,” Craig recalled. “It became a wonderful excuse for me to get outside and see what I could find, and it was a great window into exploring natural history as well.”

Craig would go on to befriend a man who lived near him in Maryland who ran an Audubon magazine and also collected an array of bird depictions, many of them made by early natural history artists. Craig found the prints beautiful and desired to start a collection of his own.

“I thought the prints would look great at home, and then eBay came along, which gave me the ability to acquire things that would otherwise be very expensive, like prints made by John James Audubon in the 1840s,” he said.

By 2012, he had amassed so many prints that he decided to open his own shop in Annapolis, Md. The Audubon and Friends Gallery sold a variety of natural history prints as well as glassware and wood carvings before its closing in 2015.

As much as he treasured each piece, it didn’t make sense for one person to have so many, Craig said to John some time afterward. Why not continue to find ways to share beautiful work with others?

And John had another thought: Why not make it for a good cause as well?

“I wanted to do whatever I could to support the hard work of environmental conservation and protection, and I thought it would be fun to explore the history of natural history art in a talk,” said Craig.

So the event took shape — the beautiful Bates House in Frank Melville Memorial Park would host more than 100 prints from some of the earliest natural history artists, including John James Audubon, Mark Catesby and Alexander Wilson. Depending on value, some pieces will be for sale, while other, rarer pieces will be available in a silent auction held throughout the weekend.

“Audubon wanted to catalogue all the North American birds in life-size prints, and his work became the pinnacle of bird engraving,” Craig explained. “The idea of owning an original natural history print appeals to a lot of people as an important part of Americana, regardless of whether or not they’re birders themselves.” 

Among the pieces included at the fundraiser are many first edition, hand-colored prints from John James Audubon’s Royal Octavo edition of “Birds of America,” a foundational work in the field. 

Visitors to the show will enjoy light refreshments throughout the weekend, and on Friday, Nov. 11, Craig Turner will offer a special presentation on the history of bird illustration.

It’s a win-win situation for natural history enthusiasts, art lovers and the organizations who will benefit.

“When John Turner approached us about the fundraiser, we thought it was a splendid idea. The art is exquisite and classic,” said Carl Safina, founder of the Safina Center in Setauket. “Birds make the world livable. They are the most beautifully obvious living things in our world and they connect everything, everywhere. It’s truly a tragedy that most people barely notice them, nor do they understand that nearly 200 species can be seen on and around Long Island in the course of a year.”

The Safina Center inspires awareness and action in the community through art, literature and other creative outlets. Safina said that their portion of the funds raised would likely benefit their fellowship program for young, up-and-coming creators.

“Henry David Thoreau said that in wilderness is the preservation of the world, and it’s never been more important to do the work of preservation,” John Turner said. “The biggest thing we can all do is think about the planet in our everyday choices. Some people don’t realize how much of an impact they can make in what they eat, what they buy, and what they reuse.”

The “Audubon and Friends” art sale and silent auction will be held at The Bates House, 1 Bates Road, Setauket on Friday, Nov. 11 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. with a special presentation from Craig Turner titled “A History of Bird Illustration” at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 12 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sunday, Nov. 13 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event is free to attend. For more information, call the Bates House at 631-689-7054.

Author Sarah S. Anker at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai with a copy of her first children's book. Photo by Michael Toscanini

By Melissa Arnold 

Sarah S. Anker was born on a Navy base and lived all over the country before her family finally settled down in central Florida. She loved living amongst the orange groves, woodlands and even the swamps. But with time, the area began to change, giving way to urban development and the sprawling complex of Walt Disney World. Some of the ponds and lakes have evaporated. 

“You have to be careful with nature, because once you lose it, it’s really hard to get back,” said Anker. “And we’re seeing so much of that loss all over the world, not only in woodland but in wildlife.”

Anker raised three children in Suffolk County, which she’s called home for 35 years, and quickly became aware of issues impacting the environment here as well. 

Among them are the gyres — large systems of circulating ocean currents — that have become clogged with plastic waste, slowing the oceans’ circulation and speeding up climate change.

In addition to her ongoing career in the Suffolk County Legislature, Anker’s concern for the environment inspired her to write Below the Ocean: Keeping Our Sea Friends Safe. Through the perspective of a young seal named Sophia who becomes entangled in undersea garbage, kids will learn about threats facing ocean life and what they can do to make a difference. Vibrant and expressive illustrations will make this book captivating for children of all ages. 

How did you get interested in writing? 

My mother was a writer of short stories and poetry, and she always dreamed of getting published. I was a news reporter, photographer and graphic designer for a long time before I began my political career. So the desire to write was always with me.

Why did you decide to write a book for children?

I have children myself, and before that I loved reading lots of books to the children at the preschool where my mother worked while I was growing up. It’s important to influence children in a positive way and give them a greater understanding of how to take care of their world. Our future generation needs to understand how important our environment is, and their role in protecting it. We all need to do more.

What is this book about?

Below the Ocean tells the story of Sophia the seal as she learns about the ocean, how it affects people and sea life, and what she can do to help stop ocean pollution. 

When did you first get involved with environmental protection efforts?

I’ve been doing environmental work as far back as high school, helping out with beach cleanups and other activities like the Future Farmers of America. When I moved to Long Island, I joined the Sierra Club and other civic organizations looking to address pollution in the area, and around 20 years ago I founded a not-for-profit organization called the Community Health and Environment Coalition (CHEC) to address the issue of cancer and how it relates to the environment.

Why are these issues so important to you?

My grandmother passed away from breast cancer when I was pregnant with my daughter Rachel. The New York State Department of Health’s cancer map has shown increased rates of cancer in our area, and I have always believed that the environment directly impacts our health. We not only need to clean up the damage that’s been done in the past, but preserve our environment for future generations as well. 

What do you hope kids will learn from reading this book?

Each individual person, adults and children, has a part that they can play in helping the environment. We can all recycle. We can all help to clean up garbage that we see. We can all go to public meetings to contribute our ideas and find out what needs to be done to address problems. There is a lot of work to do, but all of us can do something.

What was the publication process like? Did you self-publish or use a traditional publisher?

With my background, I decided to create my own publishing company called Anker Books. I wanted to be able to work on the project at my own pace and have more freedom over what the final book would be like. There was a lot of research involved in learning how to self-publish, and I ultimately went through Kindle Direct Publishing for part of that process. They weren’t able to publish a large size, so I also published through another company called IngramSpark. 

Who is the illustrator for this book? 

The illustrator, Lily Liu, is a Chinese woman who lives in France. I found her on the website Upwork, and was amazed by her incredible talent and how rich her illustrations were — the vivid colors and emotion she was able to capture on the characters’ faces. I gave her creative freedom and she has been amazing to work with.

Is there an age recommendation for this book?

Not specifically, but I’d say that kids from ages 2 to about 10 would find something to enjoy about it. It’s a picture book with expressive animals and there’s a storyline to it, but there’s also scientific information and an educational component that older children can benefit from as well. 

What are some things we can all do to take care of the natural world?

Help clean up pollution you see around you. Go to local meetings and advocate for policies that protect our environment. Write to your elected officials about the issues that are meaningful to you. Try to focus on how you can reuse materials instead of always buying new.

Do you plan to write more books in the future?

This will be one of many books for children I hope to publish. I also hope to use Anker Books to support other authors as well. 

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Below the Ocean: Keeping Our Sea Friends Safe is available online at popular retailers including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Join Sarah Anker for Children’s Storytime at Barnes and Noble at the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 11 a.m. followed by a Q&A session and book signing. 

Learn more about the author’s writing and how you can help the environment at www.ankerbooks.com.

Breast cancer myth busters

By Melissa Arnold

Each October, it seems like the whole world turns pink in the name of breast cancer awareness. From fundraisers to billboards, clothing and social media campaigns, that ubiquitous pink ribbon is everywhere. Of course, there’s a clear need for awareness, as 1 in 8 women on Long Island will develop invasive  breast cancer in their lifetime. But even with the October blitz, myths and misconceptions remain widely circulated among women of all ages.

Susan Samaroo is the executive director of The Maurer Foundation (www.maurerfoundation.org), a nonprofit organization in Melville established in 1995 with one goal in mind — to save lives through breast education. Their interactive workshops held in schools, colleges and community locations debunk long-held breast cancer myths, teach people how to lower their risk through lifestyle modification, and provide instruction to find breast cancer in its earliest stages when it is easiest to treat.

“We believe that it’s important to educate young people specifically and give them the information they need early on,” said Samaroo. “It’s never too early to learn what to look for and how to make positive changes that reduce breast cancer risk.”

The foundation educates roughly 20,000 people each year, the majority in co-ed settings. And Samaroo noted that they tend to hear the same rumors about breast cancer year after year. Let’s set the record straight on some of the most common myths.

MYTH: If you don’t have a family history, you won’t get breast cancer.

FACT: While family history is an important factor when considering potential risk, the National Institutes of Health reports that around 85 percent of people diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history.

For people that do have a family history, it’s critical to have a conversation with your doctor as soon as possible. Mammograms and other screening may be recommended as early as age 25, and in some cases, genetic testing is warranted. Having certain genetic mutations causes an individual’s risk to skyrocket, and preventative medication or surgery could be necessary.

MYTH: Only older women get breast cancer.

FACT: There are actually two false statements here. First, the age factor. According to Eileen Pillitteri, program manager of The Maurer Foundation, approximately 12,000 women in their 20s and 30s receive a breast cancer diagnosis each year.

Furthermore, men can and do get breast cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that 1 in 100 breast cancers patients are men, making it critical for both men and women to familiarize themselves with the look and feel of their breasts and check regularly for lumps, discharge and changes in appearance.

MYTH: Size matters.

FACT: Some people believe that having larger breasts reflects a greater risk of cancer, but that doesn’t matter. It’s worth noting, however, that some women’s breasts are more difficult to screen for abnormal growths.

“An annual mammogram is the best overall screening test for breast cancer. There are some limitations, especially in women with dense breast tissue,” said Dr. Erna Busch-Devereaux, chief breast surgeon at Huntington Hospital, Northwell Health. “Having dense breasts means that there is not a lot of fatty tissue present in the breasts. These breasts are mostly glandular and the X-rays don’t penetrate that tissue as well, so the picture is not as clear. Finding cancer can be more difficult with dense breasts — it’s like finding a snowball (cancer) in a snowstorm (background breast tissue).”

Your doctor will let you know if you have dense breasts. Different types of screening, such as 3-D mammograms, ultrasound or MRI might be suggested for a clearer picture.

MYTH: Your deodorant or your bra could give you cancer.

FACT: As of right now, there is no scientifically-backed evidence showing an increase in breast cancer risk for women who use antiperspirants or deodorants, though there are “general concerns surrounding the impact of environmental and consumed chemicals on our health,” Busch-Devereaux said, adding that more study is needed.

And as for the rumor that wearing tight bras with underwire or any other type of bra can cause breast cancer by obstructing lymph flow? “That’s completely unfounded,” Pillitteri said.

MYTH: Lifestyle doesn’t change your cancer risk.

FACT:  Across the board, limiting or avoiding alcohol consumption and eating a well-rounded, nutritious diet can help lower your risk of many cancers.

When it comes to breast cancer specifically, other choices you make can make an impact as well, but the specifics can be complicated. 

“Having children at a young age and having multiple children results in a reduced breast cancer risk, but this protection is seen decades later. In the short term, there is an increased risk for breast cancer after having a child which is associated with pregnancy-related hormone surges,” Pillitteri explained.

Contraception is another tricky topic. Hormonal IUDs and oral birth control pills can increase breast cancer risk, but they can also greatly reduce the risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers, Pillitteri said.  Other health professionals, including Dr. Busch-Devereaux, said that birth control pills don’t appear to increase overall breast cancer risk.

Healthcare organizations agree that most types of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to cope with symptoms of menopause does increase breast cancer risk.

The takeaway: “It’s important to talk to your doctor about the products that are right for you based on your individual risk factors,” Pillitteri said.

Be proactive

In the end, risk of breast cancer can vary from person to person based on genetics, body type and lifestyle. But it’s never too late to make positive changes.

“Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, exercise, maintain an average weight, avoid smoking or vaping, and limit alcohol — things that are good for overall health are good for the breasts,” Busch-Devereaux said. 

Make sure you have an annual mammogram screening beginning at age 40. If you have a family history or genetic mutations, talk to your doctor about when to start screenings.

And don’t be embarrassed if it’s been a while since your last mammogram. The important thing is to go.

“Sometimes women are too worried to go for a mammogram, or they delay seeking care because they’re afraid,” Busch-Devereaux said. “We stand an excellent chance of curing cancer when it is found early, so mammograms are very important and should always be encouraged. Additionally, women shouldn’t feel afraid or embarrassed to come in for an evaluation if they feel a lump or notice a change in their breast and haven’t gone for a mammogram. We’re here to help.”

This article first appeared in TBR News Media’s Focus on Health supplement on Oct. 20, 2022.

Jeffrey Sanzel, pictured with Michelle LaBozzetta, in a scene from 'A Christmas Carol' in 2018. Photo from Theatre Three

By Melissa Arnold

If you’ve been to Theatre Three in Port Jefferson at any point in the last 30 years, you have Jeffrey Sanzel to thank. Of course, he doesn’t see it that way, but as Executive Artistic Director, he’s responsible for overseeing everything from the upcoming season’s lineup to hiring actors and managing day-to-day operations.

Jeffrey Sanzel Photo courtesy of Theatre Three

Beyond that, he’s also written countless shows of his own and taken his turn onstage. Each December, he reprises the iconic role of Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol,” and most recently starred in “Every Brilliant Thing,” an intimate one-man production about mental health.

So when it came time to choose an honoree for Theatre Three’s 50th anniversary celebration and fundraiser, the decision was a simple one.

“The amount of work Jeffrey puts in is completely unmatched. Watching him work up close is amazing – he’ll agonize over something as small as the placement of a book or the lighting being a certain way. He has a vision of how everything fits together, not just as a director but an actor,” said Andy Markowitz, president of Theatre Three’s board of directors.

The dinner/dance celebration was originally slated for 2020, the theater’s anniversary year, but was shelved during the pandemic. 

Jeffrey Sanzel in a scene from ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ in July of this year. Photo by Steve Ayle/ShowbizShots.com

“After the original plans were canceled, there was a suggestion to have a 55th celebration instead, but ultimately this is about recognizing Jeffrey for all he does. He deserves it, and this is his time. There’s no need to wait,” said Theatre Three’s Managing Director Vivian Koutrakos who met Sanzel when he first joined the Theatre Three staff in 1989. Since then, he’s earned a reputation for being a meticulous and serious director, but he’s got a humorous side, too. 

“It’s true that his humor is dry and he runs a very tight ship. But he’s honestly the funniest person I’ve ever met, and he makes us laugh every day,” Koutrakos said. “He’s absolutely brilliant.”

Now in its 52nd season, proceeds from the evening will be used to expand Theatre Three’s programming, particularly for children.

“The money raised is going towards new educational programs, specifically one called ‘How Does It Make You Feel?,’ an original musical aimed at elementary schools. The play will address many social-emotional learning topics,” said Sanzel. “In addition, there is a long-term project in the works for educational touring that I’m working on with Oya Bangura from Project Move.”

Sanzel is the creative force behind the theater’s school-based programs, using the stage as a vehicle to educate thousands of students on issues that can be tough to address, such as the Holocaust (“From the Fires”) and bullying (“Stand Up, Stand Out”), among others. Hired actors travel as far as Florida and Canada for the shows, with as many as 100 performances per year.

“The traveling shows for students are about 45 minutes long and are focused on specific age groups. The kids become totally captivated by the shows — it gives them an opportunity to connect with serious issues and ask questions in a way that’s meaningful to them,” Markowitz said.

Above, Theatre Three celebrated Jeffrey Sanzel’s 1,400th performance as Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol’ on Nov. 29, 2019 with the cast and crew. Photo by Gabriele Brekne

In addition to the traveling shows, the theater puts on a full mainstage season, children’s theater productions, comedy nights and special events. They also offer acting classes for all ages and skill levels.

Douglas Quattrock, Artistic Associate and Director of Development for the theater, said that while the past few years have been a struggle for the nonprofit, they are excited about the future.

“I think all of us at the theater saw our 50th year as a real turning point. Times are always hard in the arts, but with Jeffrey’s leadership we’ve been able to keep going and maintain the integrity and quality of our work. This team respects Jeffrey and the mark he’s made on this institution so much,” he said. “Personally, he’s given me so many incredible opportunities, brought my stories to life, and become such a dear friend to me over the years. I know that if I ever need him, he’s there for me.”

Dinner dance guests will be treated to a cocktail hour, an elaborate meal with open bar service, and live entertainment from Debra and Patrick Lawler.

As for Sanzel, he’s feeling a little sheepish about all the attention.

“It’s kind of embarrassing,” he joked. “But this is a great honor and the acknowledgement is deeply appreciated.”

Theatre Three’s Dinner/Dance fundraiser will be held on Saturday, Oct. 8 from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. at Danfords Hotel and Marina, 25 E Broadway, Port Jefferson. Tickets are $150 per person. For questions or to purchase tickets, call Theatre Three at 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

'Born to Sparkle'

By Melissa Arnold

Megan Bomgaars was born feet first on Thanksgiving Day in 1992, and if you ask her mom Kris, Megan hit the ground running and hasn’t stopped since. Bomgaars was born with Down syndrome, and from an early age wanted to spread the word about acceptance and equal opportunities for all kinds of people. 

Author Megan Bomgaars with a copy of her first book, ‘Born to Sparkle.’ Photo courtesy of Flowerpot Press

The 29-year-old Denver native was among seven young adults with Down syndrome who shared their lives with America in the A&E docuseries Born This Way. The show went on to win an Emmy Award in 2016 for Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program.

A motivational speaker and self-advocate, Bomgaars is also the owner of the  online fashion company Megology.com and teamed up with Sanrio’s Hello Kitty to create a fashionable clothing line in 2018.

These days, Bomgaars, whose motto is “Don’t Limit Me!’, is focusing on one of her greatest passions: writing. Her first book, “Born to Sparkle: A Story About Achieving Your Dreams,” teaches kids that all of us are unique and have something special to share with the world and if you dream big and work hard, you can achieve anything. 

The uplifting storyline coupled with adorable animal illustrations by Pete Olczyk that sparkle on every page make the book a fun and charming pick for early readers.

TBR News Media recently had the opportunity to speak with Bomgaars about her new venture as an author.

Megan, were you always a creative person? Did you write stories when you were little?  

I was always a creative person with lots of singing and dancing. As I got older and learned to write and type, I began writing in my journal every day. I would write about my dreams and goals. And some of them even come true – like publishing my Born to Sparkle book!

Did you like school? What was your favorite subject? 

I loved going to school with my friends. I was a cheerleader in high school and got to do lots of activities and social stuff with them. I’m still friends with my girls and love them! My favorite subject was science. I also really liked writing in high school too.  

Did you always want to write a book? 

I have wanted to write a book ever since I was at a conference in Nashville and saw one of the other keynote speakers selling and autographing his book after his speech. Since then, it’s been my goal to be able to do the same thing someday, and now I can.

‘Born to Sparkle’

What is the book about? 

Born to Sparkle is about following your dreams, and never giving up, and learning everything you can even when it’s hard. I think that this book is important because it teaches kids to follow their dreams and work hard. I also think it’s inspirational for people of all ages to read.  

How long did it take to publish?

My book took about a year to publish, and the release date was pushed back for a year because of the pandemic.

Did you use a publisher or self-publish?  

I published my book with Flowerpot Press. When I met them, they believed in me, and they were the best in giving my words a meaning that can be passed to others. We are going to continue to work together in the future to spread more positivity.

What did you like about putting the book together?  

My favorite part was being able to work with the illustrator Pete Olczyk and giving him feedback on the final art. He was super in tune with what my message was. I loved the sketches of the artwork from the very first time I saw it. We were the perfect team! 

Did you always want to use animals as characters in the book instead of people?  

I liked the animals because it was a children’s book and I thought it made it more fun. Plus these animals have courage and are fearless!

What was it like when you got the finished book? 

I was very proud of my book and everyone who made it possible. Getting to publish my own story was one of my biggest dreams, and hopefully it will inspire everyone who reads it.

Is the book recommended for a specific age group?  

Born to Sparkle is for young children, but I also think it would be a great replacement for a card or gift for anyone who has worked hard to accomplish anything, like a baby shower or graduation.  

Do you want to write other books in the future?  

I’m going to be working on a book that I hope to title Born to be Brave. I have met so many very brave people in the last several years who have inspired me, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned with others.  

I know you are doing a lot of different things for the Down Syndrome community right now. What else are you involved in?  

The organization that I support is called the Global Down Syndrome Foundation. I am committed to helping fund research for people with Down syndrome. This research also helps people with cancer, Alzheimer’s, autoimmune disease, and so much more. I have also participated in research studies myself that will lead to improving the lives of people with Down syndrome, both for people living today and those babies who haven’t even been born yet.

Stay up to date with Megan Bomgaars at her official website, www.Megology.com, and follow her on Instagram @meganbomgaars. Born to Sparkle is available online at www.barnesandnoble.com, and www.amazon.com.

Anthony Famulari in a scene from The Switcheroo. Photo courtesy of Staller Center
Fest to include indie weekend, female directors panel, SBU grads

By Melissa Arnold

Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts turns into a movie lover’s mecca when new independent films screen at the Stony Brook Film Festival from Thursday, July 21 to Saturday, July 30. The popular event pairs memorable short films with an array of features you won’t see anywhere else, making it a favorite of moviegoers and filmmakers alike.

Now in its 27th year, the festival will celebrate its return to a fully live experience after some creative adjustments during the pandemic. Over the course of nine days, 38 films from 27 countries will be screened on evenings and weekends. But deciding what to show is no easy task.

More than a thousand films are sent to festival director Alan Inkles each year, he said. With the help of co-director Kent Marks, they go through an intense process of screening, debating, and cutting before the final selections are made.

The resulting collection showcases both shorts and feature-length films in all kinds of styles and genres. Among them is a short sci-fi comedy called The Switcheroo, directed by brothers and Stony Brook natives Ryan and Anthony Famulari. The film will be screened on Sunday, July 24 at 7 p.m. 

“I try not to read anything about a film before I watch it — I owe it to our viewers to not favor anyone, so I’m not going to pick a film just because it’s local. We choose a film because it’s enjoyable,” Inkles explained. “That said, I love that we’ve been able to include Switcheroo and have Long Island represented. Comedy is hard to do, especially for young filmmakers, but this story is so charming, funny, and just really nailed it. And when I read that the brothers were from Stony Brook, I thought it was great.”

The Switcheroo stars Anthony Famulari playing both a heartbroken scientist and his charismatic clone. The clone tries to help his creator land a date, which reveals some surprising and funny secrets.

Cloning was the perfect concept to explore for the brothers, who were living together during the worst of the pandemic and looking for something fun to do.  

“The idea was more of a necessity, considering we didn’t have a crew or a large budget,” said Anthony, 33. “But we wanted to make something that was still enjoyable and interesting. We both gravitate to stories with sci-fi elements, and it was a great solution to the creative challenges of the time.”

The brothers grew up with their own interests, but shared a deep love of movies and storytelling. Both went on to major in journalism at Stony Brook University. While there, Ryan played football and Anthony dove into theater. They also worked together conducting and filming interviews on campus, and wrote film scripts in their spare time.

“Anthony was always a ham, but I didn’t see him act for the first time until college. I found that he was really good at it,” recalls Ryan, 35. “This has been a passion for us for a long time. We’ll go see a movie and then get into a deep discussion about it for an hour after. Our filmmaking is like that too. We’ll wrestle over an idea, but that’s fun for us.”

These days, the Famularis are on separate coasts — Ryan went to grad school for creative writing and is currently living in New York working remotely for a Los Angeles-based animation studio, while Anthony lives in Los Angeles pursuing acting while also working for an animation studio. But they’re still writing together and looking forward to whatever comes next.

“We’re constantly bouncing ideas around, and with each one of our short films, we learn something new and continue to improve,” Anthony said. “At the end of the day, our goal is to create something enjoyable that’s worth people’s time, while pursuing our passions.”

Also of note during this year’s festival is a panel discussion on women in filmmaking, and a weekend celebrating the spirit of American-made indie films.

“We have a lot of female writers and directors represented here, and have since the festival first began,” Inkles said. “It was important for us to feature them in a special way, and provide a unique opportunity for conversation, both among the panelists and with the audience.”

The panel is an exclusive benefit open to those who purchase festival passes. A variety of options are available, including an opening weekend pass.

Many film screenings will also include a question and answer session with the filmmaker. “That’s what makes a film festival so interesting as opposed to just going to the movies — you get the chance to talk with the filmmakers directly and learn more about their process,” Inkles said.

The Stony Brook Film Festival will be held from July 21 through July 30 30 at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook. Individual tickets and premium passes are available. For the full schedule and more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.stallercenter.com or call the box office at 631-632-2787.

This article was updated July 23, 2022.

Jeffrey Sanzel in 'Every Brilliant Thing'

By Melissa Arnold

On any given day here in America, roughly 130 people die by suicide. Countless more are actively struggling with poor self-esteem, depression or self-harm. If it’s not you, then it’s likely someone you know and love. No one is immune. One bright spot: It’s also becoming more common to talk openly about mental health. More people are going to therapy or reaching out for help in other ways.

This summer, Theatre Three in Port Jefferson will present eight performances of an intimate, moving and funny one-man play called Every Brilliant Thing. The protagonist, a middle-aged man played by Jeffrey Sanzel, takes the audience along as he recalls his mother’s mental illness and multiple attempts at suicide, along with their impact on his own wellbeing.

Audience participation is a large part of ‘Every Brilliant Thing.’

What’s funny about that? Well, after his mother’s first attempt when he was seven years old, the young narrator sets out to make a list of everything in life that’s brilliant – like eating ice cream, or peeing in the ocean without getting caught. Some items on the list come with silly memories that put the honest, pure heart of a little kid on full display. And as he grows, so does the list. The hour-long show is equal parts heartbreaking and uplifting.

Sanzel, the theater’s executive artistic director, said he first discovered the show thanks to lighting director Robert Henderson.

“Robert attended the Utah Shakespeare Festival several years ago and bought the script [for this show] for me to read, just because he thought I’d enjoy it,” Sanzel recalled. “I thought it was a beautiful piece of writing, though I didn’t intend to do a production of it.”

Some time later, he bought a second copy of the script as a gift to his friend, director and actor Linda May.

“When I read the show, I said to Jeffrey, ‘Not only do I love this, but I think we need to do it, and we should do it together.’ Everything came together very quickly from there, and I feel like it was meant to be,” May said.

Every Brilliant Thing was originally set to open in July 2020, only to be tabled by the pandemic. May said the extra time has allowed them to delve much deeper into the show and its character.

Jeffrey Sanzel stars in the one-man show, ‘Every Brilliant Thing,’ on Theatre Three’s Second Stage through Aug. 28. Photo by Steven Uihlein/Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

“Jeffrey is very decisive and businesslike as a director, but I’ve had the opportunity to see a more vulnerable side of him as an actor,” she said. “This unnamed narrator really divulges personal parts of his life, and I knew that Jeffrey could bring that sensitivity and communicate how important it is to bring the issue of suicide into the open, without shame.” 

The show relies on some audience participation, with showgoers making brief appearances as significant people in the narrator’s memories — his father, a counselor, a young woman — and reading items from “the list” from Post-It notes they’re given on arrival. The resulting dynamic is personal and emotional, and each performance will have its own unique variations.

“I have to admit that audience participation isn’t my favorite thing, but it’s brilliantly woven into the fabric of the piece,” Sanzel said. “It’s very funny and balances out the darker elements, while remaining sensitive and respectful of the topic … In fact, this is probably the best play I’ve ever read on the subject of depression. It’s a common topic of discussion in theater, but this was captured in such a unique way.”

Theatre Three has partnered with Response Crisis Center of Long Island for this production. Founded in 1971 by volunteers after a suicide attempt at Stony Brook University, the center is now a 24/7 local hotline and chat service for people in crisis. They also function as a backup center for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, taking more than 5,000 additional calls, chats and texts from them each month.

“We want to give people the support they need and help them to stay safe. It’s hard to problem solve during a crisis situation — you can get a sort of tunnel vision and feel helpless. Talking to someone can help create distance from those feelings,” said Meryl Cassidy, the center’s executive director. “There’s tremendous relief that comes in sharing your story, having someone take the time to listen and help come up with a plan for safety.”

Sanzel approached Cassidy about using the performance to lessen stigma and shine a light on local resources.

Cassidy said that it was important to vet the play first to ensure its message was appropriate and accurate. While she had never heard of the play before, it was well-known to colleagues at the American Association of Suicidology, who were thrilled to endorse the production.

“People are afraid to say the word suicide or disclose thoughts of suicide, both because of stigma and fear of repercussions. But open and honest conversation about suicide saves lives — it’s so important to be able to speak frankly about what you’re feeling and know there are people you can talk to,” Cassidy said. 

Half of all gross ticket sales will directly benefit Response Crisis Center. Staff members from the center will be at each performance to answer questions, provide information and offer a listening ear. 

Audiences are encouraged to fill out their own “brilliant things” on provided Post-It notes, which will be on display throughout the show’s run — a constantly growing collection of reasons why life is worth living.

“It’s not only a lovely hour of theater — funny, sweet and poignant — but there’s something to take away from this show, and that’s being able to see people in crisis in a different way, without judgment,” May said. “If people walk away feeling more compassionate or less judgmental, or if someone finds the courage to reach out for help, then it’s a success.”

Every Brilliant Thing will run at 3 p.m. on Sundays from July 10 through Aug. 28 at Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson. Performances are held downstairs on the second stage. Tickets are $20. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com. Learn more about Response Crisis Center by visiting www.responsecrisiscenter.org. 

Note: Although the play balances the struggles of life while celebrating all that is “truly brilliant” in living each day, Every Brilliant Thing contains descriptions of depression, self-harm, and suicide. The show briefly describes attempted suicides and death by suicide. The show is recommended for ages 14 and up, with your own comfort level in mind. 

If you or someone you know is struggling, help is available 24/7 at 631-751-7500 or the National Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.