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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mark Twain Presentation a Huckleberry of a Show

Mark Twain Presentation a 
Huckleberry of a Show:
Pequot Library marks 100th anniversary of Twain’s passing
(Posted to 1/9)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Southport, CT – If Mark Twain were alive today and had known about the performance, he may have made the trek down from his Hartford home to enjoy it. He certainly would have been acquainted with the subject matter.

To mark the 100th anniversary of the passing of the great American author, on Sunday afternoon Southport’s Pequot Library presented “Mark Twain: Adventures in American Humor”, a program that included a lively, three-actor performance and historical characterization based on the author’s life and writings.

Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Florida, Missouri in 1835, is one of the most famous American writers of all time. As a boy, he dreamed of becoming a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River. As a young man, he tried his hand at various trades from printing to silver mining. But he is best known for the many books he wrote, including “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

The library’s Executive Director Dan Snydacker said the program aligns with the publication by the University of California at Berkeley Press of Twain’s official autobiography, of which Volume One of a multi-volume set has just been released. Said Snydacker, “Twain is really at the center of American letters. He was groundbreaking in so many ways and tackled head-on the issues of slavery in ‘Huckleberry Finn’. The African-American character, Jim, had humanity, which was unique at the time it was published. It has been a long gradual road in literature since for African-Americans to gain equal recognition.”

Snydacker added that the program was “a great opportunity to do something intergenerational, which is one of our key objectives – to bring families and the community together. It’s also a great way to start off the year and a great thing to do on a Sunday afternoon.”

The program’s three featured actors were Carl Howell, Cary Hite and Ashton Crosby, as Twain. They were as enthusiastic about the performance as the audience, which completely filled the library’s high-ceilinged meeting room space.

“I live in New York and it’s so much fun to take the show to small towns and new audiences,” said Howell, who primarily played Tom Sawyer. “While Twain was born in Missouri, he spent a lot of time in Connecticut. This is an audience that understands the significance of his work and legacy.” Added Hite, “I grew up reading Twain, so this enhanced my education about him. I love his humor and use of and celebration of the American language.”

While the actors related biographical highlights of Twain’s life and traded select dialogue from his most famous books, audio cues like steamboat whistles and projected imagery such as historical portraits enhanced the show, which has been performed three to four times a year since 2005 when it debuted at Lincoln Center. Written by Cecelia Rubino, it has since played primarily to regional libraries and schools.

Twain fans were abundant in the audience. “I love to support an author like Mark Twain,” said Southporter Virginia Arndt. “And I’ve seen a lot about him in current press which has put him top of mind. I thought it would be fascinating to learn more about him.”

Fairfielder David Thornton said, “My daughter Mary goes to UConn and is an English major and has read most of Twain’s books. I personally would like to have had a chance to have a drink with him. I understand he liked to have a pop now and then.”

Ridgefield resident Ken Wippermann came to support a cast member. “Ashton Crosby’s brother is my sister’s husband, so I came to root him on. Of course, I also like Mark Twain.”

As the performance wrapped, the actors offered some concluding Twain thoughts. “Respect your superiors… if you have any” and “Respect your parents… when they’re around.” It was a classic Twain close – sound advice with a twist of humor.

‘Fire and Ice’ Gala Anything But Bookish

‘Fire and Ice’ Gala Anything 
But Bookish:
Friends of the Fairfield Public Library hold second 
annual fundraiser
(Posted to 1/9)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – They were doing everything you’re not supposed to do in a library: eating, drinking, playing music and hanging out after hours. But the staff didn’t mind. In fact, they encouraged it and joined in.

On Saturday evening, the Friends of the Fairfield Library held its 2nd Annual fundraiser event, themed “Fire and Ice: A Library Lovers’ Gala” in the Main Library, 1080 Old Post Road. About 80 people attended, a mix of community supporters and library personnel, and enjoyed classical music, wine and hors d’oeuvres. Fairfield-based actors Chris Sarandon and Joanna Gleason hosted as honorary co-chairmen.

Khorshed Randeria, President of the Friends of the Fairfield Public Library (FFPL), explained that the event is critical to the ongoing programming efforts of the library and was pleased with the turnout. “The event mainly supports our Soundwaves Concert Series but also our One Book One Town program, which is in its fourth year.”

In the One Book One Town program, one exemplary book is chosen by a committee of librarians, Fairfield University staff and the Fairfield Arts Council and recommended to the town to read. The library buys 200 copies – 100 for the main library, 50 for the Fairfield Woods branch and 50 for Pequot Library. This year’s selection is “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Saffran Foer. Throughout the month of March, the library conducts a series of events around the book and book clubs invite librarians to talk about it. A children’s book is also selected, which, this year, is “Our Farm” by Maya Gottfried.

The fundraiser also helps fund the main library’s Bruce S. Kershner Gallery, which is currently hosting an exhibit of paintings and sculpture themed “Investigation – Imagination”. 

“This is about celebrating our donors’ community and thanking them for their support with an elegant evening,” said Catherine Burnett, a member of the Board for FFPL and a member of the art committee for the gallery. She mentioned that the event had grown from last year’s inaugural fundraiser, which was held around Valentine’s Day and themed “Romance in the Stacks.”

This year’s “Fire and Ice” theme was a juxtaposition of the wintry time of year and the lively musical entertainment. The latter included gypsy music rendered in a classical style by pianist Robert Merfeld and violinist Katie Lansdale, who is also the Soundwaves director. They delivered what was described in the evening program as everything “from sobbing laments to skirling accelerandos” and “fiddling pyrotechnics to unforgettable tunes”, entertaining all in attendance with their instrumental mastery and showmanship.

Town Librarian Karen Ronald felt the event really shows what a library can be to a community. “It provides people with another view of the library as an experiential site.” Friends member Dee Skott, attending with husband Alan, agreed. “The library’s the center of the community and this is a great way of supporting the programming.”

Silent auction items were an additional feature of the evening. These included expensive wines, vintage books, Wedgewood china, wine baskets and one-of-a-kind signed prints, displayed throughout the lower level. Reviewing some of the items, attendee Rosemary Rembetsky said, “I particularly like the vintage books, but also the Dom Perignon.”

Attendees Christy Ottaviano and Kevin Ohe had a special place in their hearts for the library. “We’re both in publishing, and anything to do with books we support,” said Ottaviano. “We spend a lot of time in the library, so it’s a very happy, comfortable place for us. Obviously, we love this library and want to do what we can to keep it thriving.”

Fairfield’s First Selectman Ken Flatto was on hand for the festivities and stressed the importance of the town’s library. “This is becoming an annual tradition. It’s so important for the community to get involved and it makes people feel like they have a stake in the enterprise. This group helps set policy. I’m very pleased about it.”

Oh What a Knight

Oh What a Knight:
Higgins Armory shows medieval weaponry at Pequot Library
(Posted to 1/8)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved

Southport, CT – Eyes were wide and the audience attentive as the enthusiastic presenter showed fearsome examples of ancient weaponry.

The speaker was Neal Bourbeau, Program and Outreach Manager of Higgins Armory Museum of Worcester, MA and the program he was presenting at Southport’s Pequot Library Saturday afternoon was “The Knight’s Tale.” His goal was to provide a general overview about armor and the museum itself, and have audience members join him to partake in elements of his demonstration.

The weaponry he had brought was displayed on two long draped tables on a stage in the library’s high-ceilinged meeting room and included mail armor, swords, helmets and a shield. Related books from the library’s collection stood on end along the front edge of the stage.

Children’s Librarian Susan Ei, who had coordinated the Higgins visit, introduced Bourbeau and was glad for the turnout given the snowy climate in which the area had been immersed after a snowstorm passed through the previous afternoon. “I’m guessing every one of you called to make sure we were having our program,” she mused.

Bourbeau mentioned that the museum does outreach programs throughout New England primarily, though he has traveled to New York and New Jersey and even as far as Tennessee to present his program.

To a full house comprised of a mix of grandparents, parents and children ages 5 to 15, Bourbeau began by speaking about the museum itself. It was founded by industrialist John Woodman Higgins to showcase his personal collection of arms, armor and other metal items. Though the four-story building is of an art deco architectural style on the exterior, the interior is dressed in gothic d├ęcor. The collection is principally steel plate armor and includes 70 authentic suits, but also Greek, Roman and Persian pieces. In all, there are about 5,000 items. The museum is the only one in the country that specializes in the category.

Bourbeau mentioned that all the items he brought with him were reproductions. “The authentic pieces don’t travel well as steel corrodes and breaks down, particularly because of the oils and acids from our hands. The same thing happens with wood.”

Challenging the audience, Bourbeau asked for the definition of a knight. “Knights were from a long long time ago,” said one child. “They were hired warriors that worked for lords in medieval times,” said another. Bourbeau clarified that being a knight meant you were mounted on a horse with heavy armor – specialized cavalry essentially given land in return for service.

There ensued a demonstration of items that included a shield, chain mail and helmet. In each instance, he brought a child up to help him illustrate their usage. Redheaded 10-year-old Jack Whitten, from Fairfield, gripped a round steel shield and defended himself from Bourbeau’s mock blows with a wooden sword. Kayla Scala, 6, wore a helmet as Bourbeau explained why it was curved -- to allow weapons to glance off the surface when struck. Owen Swenson, 4, held chain mail as Bourbeau drew a steel sword across it, thankfully resulting in no ill effect to the boy.

The presenter showed other intimidating items such as a mace, which elicited a collective “ooh” from the audience, given its menacing multi-angled metal head. More “oohs” followed as he held up other artifacts.

Audience members were impressed. “It’s great for Pequot Library to provide this educational advantage,” said Fairfielder David Harvey, 46, attending with wife Ann and children Robbie, 7, and Mary, 5. “Lego has a little knight castle that Robbie has played with and enjoyed. But this is really a first experience for him.”

Of son Owen’s view of the program, Genevieve Swanson, 34, said, “This is his major area of interest. He’s a devoted fan of medieval knights, history and armor. He really is obsessed. I just jumped at this.”