Save the Date! Our new garden is revealed Saturday, October 7th from 2 - 5PM

Focus On: Darcy Hicks

Darcy Hicks is a well-known figure throughout town—an activist and artist who moved here with her brother and mother, who is also an artist mom, in 1978. Darcy went to Hillspoint Elementary, Long Lots Junior High, and Staples High School. After leaving for college, grad school in Boston and a career in NYC, Darci moved back to Westport when she married her high school boyfriend, attorney Josh Koskoff. The couple have raised their three boys in town.  

“In my years in Westport, I have known so many good people who truly care about those less fortunate. But the bubble is real, and so is the desire, however subconscious, to stay inside of it. So, the words haven’t always turned to action. Humility is not America’s thing, and yet without humility we can’t change how we see things. However, lately I’m seeing the bubble in Westport get thinner, and people are listening better. This gives me hope. 

I want to be careful about belittling the effects of COVID in Westport because I know many people have been suffering the effects – physically, psychologically, and financially. But we are all so lucky. Just a few miles south and north of us, our neighbors are unable to socially distance because of congested living situations, because they cannot afford to stay home from work, and because they are often the essential workers we need to help us function. And many of them have lost their jobs as their struggling workplaces have shut down – so the students I work with in Bridgeport, for example, are simply hungry all the time. That’s the reality of COVID for so many. 

With respect to COVID, I’ve caught myself being less careful in the last week or so, especially as I feel the urgency of speaking out and participating in protests for Black Lives Matter. Also, we are social beings, and for many this has been either a lonely stretch of time or a claustrophobic family time. As the weather gets nice, of course, we all want to get out and see our friends or go to the beach and be among other people. But I am very worried that we have been impatient and in denial. The thing that really drives me crazy is the people who say they aren’t worried about getting it so they are willing to “take a risk.” They are ignoring the very real fact that many of us are asymptomatic carriers, which is like being armed with a weapon that has its own mind. We can be giving it to those who are susceptible to dying from it. It’s so important to try to think about other people right now. 

Westport has two mouths. Out of one, we preach tolerance and inclusiveness – and that is not nothing. And, we have walked the walk, a bit. For example, unlike so many other wealthy suburbs, we provide housing and services for the homeless, for lower-income families, and for people with disabilities. However, the other mouth is simply that: a mouth. Being mostly white and wealthy, we have this remarkable ability to rest on our laurels. We post the right sayings, go to the right protests, and then close the blinds on the rest of the world. It’s not enough. You don’t have to be a confederate flag-waving white nationalist to be part of the problem. In fact, resting on your words or your beliefs – without actually fighting for change – is the systemic racism which allows for what we see on our screens. I can sum it up with this anecdote: shortly after Hurricane Sandy devastated our shorelines, people in Westport were incredibly responsive. It was beautiful to see throngs of people at the beach, raking people’s houses and yards free of sand. A week later, I put the word out that there was a project community in Norwalk that had literally been underwater, and again, the response was so generous. I collected gift cards, furniture, and at Thanksgiving many people cooked extra turkeys and sides since the residents of the project lost their kitchens in the flood. But: I could not get a single person to come with me to deliver the items! I made eight trips because people were so generous – but they were also generous with excuses as to why they couldn’t join me to meet the people who lived there. Until the people who live in the comfort of towns like Westport meet people from towns like Bridgeport, they will not understand how similar we are, and how different our circumstances are. What they would have discovered is that many of these people who were so destitute were sharing the food we donated with the homeless that lived on the streets outside their project. They were as giving and as compassionate as we are, and I was sad this beauty was not seen by Westport residents. 

I think we are moving in the right direction. Every debate and every argument pushes us forward. Sometimes the smaller arguments online – the shaming, especially – can set us back. But we are a lively town, willing to share our thoughts. I’ve always loved that about Westport. This engagement is what moves the dial and allows for creative thinking. 

I think that most women, actually, have had to learn to be patient, hopeful, and hardworking in order to get through life’s challenges. So as a woman who has, like all women, dealt with sexism in school, in the workplace, and in social circles, I feel equipped for obstacles. On a personal level, I’ve experienced family tragedies and trauma. These times seemed insurmountable, yet here I am.  

My fear stems from the scapegoating and vilifying of particular groups, whether it’s by race or by uniform or by income. It is distracting us from finding solutions to gun violence, systemic racism, climate change, and the pandemic. Because one thing we must do now is VOTE. We MUST get Trump out of office or he will dismantle the few protections to our country and our planet we have left, which are fewer every day. Most urgently I think climate change needs to be addressed so we can all live long enough to fight the rest of the world’s ills. My hope is that we get every soul in this nation to vote in November so we can avoid the iceberg and focus on repair. 

I love this town. When you are a parent, you don’t see your child as someone that should be doing things for you. You see that child as someone you should be nurturing and helping to become a good, compassionate person. When they disappoint, you don’t abandon them. You correct them and admit that maybe you also need to correct yourself. I hope that people can see Westport – or anywhere they live – in this way. It’s not here for us… it is here BECAUSE of us. 

Explore More of “Westport In Focus”

To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.

Focus On: Cat Graham, Westport Museum Associate

Catherine—Cat—Graham joined Westport Museum as an associate, after graduating from Staples High School in 2019. In addition to greeting visitors, she is learning the ropes of the museum field, and also uses her skills and talent as an artist to help exhibit installation and more.  

“My sense of the current-ness of history especially in more recent years has consumed many of my thoughts. But this current-ness isn’t new. Systematic oppression advances as fast as technology. A telephone is a telephone if it’s a rotary phone or a smartphone. But with my new exposure to local history and my town’s place in that history, historical events don’t feel so distant both geographically and chronologically. 

I have learned that the interpretation of historical events has almost always been done by the victors. Rarely are the stories of everyone ever told, giving people in the present an incomplete picture of the truth. This is especially important in this moment because one day we’ll look back on this moment from a historical perspective and I hope that people in the future will interpret the immense documentation of our current climate in a holistic way, and they may learn from the choices we are making right now.  

I want other people to know that while it feels very much like nothing has changed, in a lot of ways that’s true, progress has been made. In our exhibit Taking the Cure I realized how the narrative around mental illness has changed. While we still have a long way to go in our treatment and discussion around mental illness, there has been immense strides in the right directions. I joke rather morbidly sometimes that if I were alive a few decades ago a doctor may diagnose me with being a black girl and I’d never see the light of day again. But I find that before mental illness was a taboo topic, buried away instead of treated. Now, my friends and loved ones openly discuss therapy and medication and feel safe to do so. While it’s taken a long time to get where we are now, and there is still a long way to go, change can be made. Being surrounded by our past every day at work has made me realize that there is hope for our future. 

I’m a biracial girl so my experiences in life will always be safer and easier than that of a fully black person. I also am very light, my skin is more olive than brown. Because of this I am not “enough” to many people. To white people I’m not white enough to be white but I do not fit the picture of blackness they have painted in their minds. To black people I am not enough because I haven’t been hurt enough and to an extent that is true, my light skin is a shield in many ways.  I have never in my life had a black person teach me black history in school. Neither have many of my peers, so I can’t really blame them for what they think I should be.  

While I go home to a black mother who introduces me to black history, art, movies etc, my white peers don’t. Black issues and black history are almost a fiction. It’s too far back to be real and too far removed from them to be related to them. Oppression is part of the same world as poodle skirts and sock hops, because my white peers rarely interact with black people unless they are behind a checkout counter or cleaning their house. I was often the only black person in the room in my classrooms growing up. The students I sat beside only interacting with blackness when it’s convenient. They love rap music. They love full lips. They love a tan. They love thickness. They love the n word. They love black bodies and minds as long as they don’t have to live in them.  I can’t blame them for wanting me to be something else when they can wash blackness off in the shower and don’t have to risk being killed for it.  

 I think forcing our citizens to look our history in the eye to understand what the truth is, is important. The Museum’s exhibit Remembered: The History of African Americans in Westport was an incredible step forward and I am so happy I was able to see it even before I worked there and can now appreciate the work that went into making an exhibit like that. I never learned about Angela Davis or Tulsa Oklahoma in school let alone the enslaved black people that were considered the property of the people my [high] school is named after. I sat at the front desk of the museum over the summer facing the mural of names [of enslaved and free people of color]. My name –Cat– was one of them. Museums like the one I work at are incredibly important. Not only because they document, protect, and tell historical stories like this one, but also because they make up the gaps in education about what happened. By focusing on everyone’s story, not just the stories of the victors and the oppressors, we are doing right by our citizens.” 

Museums … are incredibly important. Not only because they document, protect, and tell historical stories…but also because they make up the gaps in education about what happened.

Explore More of “Westport In Focus”

To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.

Focus On: Jes Bengston, Regional Executive Chef, Terrain Café and Amis in Westport

Chef Jes Bengston has worked in Westport for the last four years at Terrain’s popular Café and downtown-Westport sister restaurant Amis Trattoria.  She lives in West Haven with her wife who is a hair stylist. The restaurants opened today (June 12, 2020) after complete closure during the COVID-19 lockdown period. 

“We have never opened a restaurant like this before and may never again. When you open a restaurant you either take over an existing restaurant with its staff or start a new place and build it up. Yet, here we are starting over with an established restaurant as if it were brand new. For example, we started the week with an empty kitchen that had to be stocked from scratch yet we have the same staff doing the same dishes we were doing before. This morning we got some jitters out of the way and brushed up on some rusty skills, figured out where stuff was since things had been moved around. 

We have a smaller staff now because we did have a couple of people who have skipped coming back because they just don’t feel safe—and that’s ok. We only need a smaller staff now because we are doing very limited service—ten outdoor tables only this week and then will begin limited indoor/outdoor service next week. The folks who are back are really happy to be here—everyone is eager to get back to life even if it’s a completely different kind of life.  

There are things we’ve had to learn or relearn. For example, the mask makes it really difficult to work both in the kitchen and on the outside patio for the servers. Everyone’s struggling a bit. We already do handwashing constantly and keeping a safe distance is an old trick. The store is outfitted with new high-grade air filters, great signage explaining safety procedures and PPE. There is a full protocol about what to do if an employee—or guest—feels sick or comes down with COVID. When people make reservations, they are advised of safety procedures and again when they come in and again on their menu. So, we hope everyone feels prepared. So, it’s feels like business as usual but with a twist—kind of like the first day of school. 

Working in restaurants makes you feel prepared for everything. In many ways we are re-inventing the wheel everyday – managing problems is what we do. It’s not unusual to figure something out on the fly. We live in organized chaos all the time—what do you do if you don’t get a food delivery? Or a cook is out? Or the electricity goes off? 

In some ways, I feel like I’m working backwards. For example, we normally try to make our food in 12 minutes—fast. People want to get in and out, they want to get out and pick up their kids, get back to work, go on with their lives. Now I’m telling staff to take some time–we are trying to make good food, with masks and we don’t know yet where anything [ingredient-wise] is. It’s a work in progress.  So, now we have set the expectations is you get good food, but we hope that people realize there are things we can’t control – like the weather for outside seating. My hope is that, after being inside for so long, we take our time and enjoy being out, enjoy being healthy, and having the means to enjoy a nice restaurant meal. 

During lockdown, I did think about the fact that people were learning to produce food at home at a higher level so they wouldn’t have to depend on chefs and restaurants.  But I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. I myself have never been home so much as during the quarantine — my job has crazy hours. We all go to work to be paid to have a safe and great home to enjoy but we don’t seem to do it. But during quarantine, I saw a lot of people doing that. Maybe that’s why we are not yet seeing people are rushing around — because I think they learned it wasn’t that bad.  

I see the world opening its eyes and ears and a whole generation awakening. We currently have the opportunity to change the outcome of our future — to gain civil rights for people of color, change our government, rebuild our police forces. I see a movement happening, and our generation ready and willing to speak for justice and change.  

I see the world opening its eyes and ears…

Like a lot of places, I think Westport has a lot of work to do. My thought is that we all take charge in the areas we can to make a difference, permanently and with passion. It’s not enough to discuss for a moment or to chalk your driveway or donate money, we all have to do more. We need to be having open discussions and acceptance of our behavior in the past whether that behavior was intentional or not and just do better. I’m hoping to focus on people of color in the local farming community and bringing better jobs and wages and opportunity in the Restaurant business.  

We are now in a moment that is a great opportunity to start over—with respect to a lot of things: food service, race relations, the environment. I think food can be freedom, it can open doors. We all have a lot of work to do and it’s an exciting time to discuss all that has been previously swept under the rug.  

Explore More of “Westport In Focus”

To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.

Focus On: Stafford Thomas

Lessons I Learned From This Pandemic 

For one, we know that this dreadful virus has put our routines and expectations for 2020 on hold.  Our priorities have been readjusted and aligned with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as the virus has taken so much away- a staggering loss of life we have not seen in our history in such a short period of time.  It caught us off guard and we were stunned by its brutal force while being forced into quarantine for as long as the government directed us. In the meantime, they readied tests, ventilators, PPEs and made seemingly daily legislative orders which were implemented with the aim of mitigating both the spread and impact of this virus.  We know and are actually experiencing our belief in real time- as each day we are closer to Covid-19 becoming a tragic bookmark in history when we say, “Remember in 2020 when….”  And while we will never be able to regain all that was taken from us, it seems that we are prepared to do whatever is needed to ensure that we are not impacted in the same way again.   In fact, as a nation, we’ve done a respectable job of doing this as the closest comparison of such a plague would be found in 1918.  Whereas, we have had a major protest regarding race relations and societal injustices just about every other year going back to 2010.  We seem to be far more efficient and effective at implementing lessons learned from a disease outbreak than those outbreaks of unrest based in societal injustices (and we’ve only created one of the two).  Lesson #1   

The outpouring of support for our healthcare workers, rightfully so, designating them as heroes and the constant flood of images projecting caring individuals and positive uplifting tweets is something you could not escape in the past 10 weeks.  This truly unique experience, well when I was growing up on St. Croix, everyone would shelter in place during a hurricane for days- without electricity, but other than that, I cannot think of another time in the past 44 years where every American had to do the same things at the same time, for anywhere near this length of time and for the same reason.  Other than the state and location of your dwelling, there was complete inclusion in how we had to behave on a day to day basis.  We were similarly situated in our existence and dare I say bonded by this.  The constant reminders and feelings of when this is over we will so cherish our time together and treat everyone with a high degree of respect and decorum warranted by our fellow man/woman/child.  Indeed.  Just to get out in the sun again or gather at a restaurant.  “Mom, if you get me the Nintendo/Playstation/iPhone, I’ll never ask for anything again”.  Ever.  Yep, that seemed to capture the mood of this country as “phases” were inserted into our lexicon.  Well, only days into our reopening we had plenty of quick and vivid reminders that the pandemic might have changed our lives during the past 10 weeks but some of our beliefs, feelings, and prejudices seemed to return as quickly as, well a reflex.  Almost like it never really left us at all.  In fact, what is endemic in our society will always eclipse a pandemic(again, we’re only responsible for creating one of the two).  Lesson #2 

We were distracted for a good part of this pandemic with the blame game of the origins of Covid-19 and the national and local critiques around levels of reactions/preparedness.  However; during this political football game, we heard little from actual chemists or biotech companies but we are all very confident in our belief that a vaccine will be developed sooner than it takes for most viruses.  Many would guess by this time next year for sure.  In fact, raise your hand if you would be shocked if we are forced into distance learning on March 11, 2025 due to Covid-19? 

Well, we did our part in “flattening the curve”, the summer weather will help out and even though a second wave is on the horizon, we will either have a vaccine or we can always quarantine for at least 8 weeks right?  We’ve basically done 10 and we know it’s temporary.  So it is possible that we could eradicate a virus, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a century,  that we have known for a mere four months within four years.  A virus- the explanation of its intricacies and functions is something  that is reserved for a select group of individuals who traffic in the upper levels of the medical and science fields for the most part,  but we are all somehow clear on what our collective action needs to be in order to “flatten the curve” and combat its spread.  Hmm.  Lesson #3 

Every single one of us knows what it is like to be made to feel less than by another person.  We all know how to find the identifying traits of people, to then attribute sameness as it’s easier to group them in that manner, and finally to attach with intent to harm or not but at least know the terms ascribed to a group of people that if acted on, would make them feel, well, less than.  In terms of race, that started here in 1619.  What do we do today to “flatten the curve” when it comes to race relations in our country?  It’s a problem that’s existed in our country for over four hundred years.  Well, we have to identify the basic actions and techniques we will all have to enact to flatten this curve.  Since we have all done our part recently to flatten the curve- a phrase we weren’t familiar with prior to March- and did so religiously whether we were symptomatic or asymptomatic, why are we choosing to instead come out of quarantine and immediately remind everyone that the insidious feelings associated with discrimination should be primed for a spike?  “Flattening the curve”, was a lesson in creating and retraining our brains by practicing methods to form new habits-well over 30 days-in order to cope with a dangerous situation.  A situation where you would not know simply by looking at someone whether or not they are infected.  But we did it.  For our part, when it comes to the treatment of people, wouldn’t making sure that you treat everyone with respect and not dance on the line of whether or not I could be offending them, be a way to flatten this curve?  That is erring on the side of caution or I should use the reinvigorated term of,  with an abundance of caution I will follow practices I have listened to, learned and heard so as to not place myself or anyone else in jeopardy.  During the pandemic, we did a lot of listening without judging and certainly without prejudging.  Well, we did at first, remember- “This is just the flu.”, oops. However, when you see the actions of people in extreme pain and justifiably angry but now coming together with a diversity in the protests we haven’t seen since the 60’s, I certainly don’t remember this representation during the turbulent 90’s, across this country, it gives us hope.  Hope is something that is at an all time high right now, in terms of the pandemic but at its nadir in terms of our views of justice and a peaceful coexistence as a nation.  Hmm.  Maybe we need to, come together regardless of background, listen to and hear one another and not judge- with some hope sprinkled in, you know, like we did for Covid.  Lesson #4         

No more lessons.  I am 44 years old.  I am a black man.  I’m actually fifty percent Italian but I learned very early on that to try and explain that to someone based on my appearance would take longer to do than writing this letter every time and it’s not worth it.  I am proud to identify as a black man so I’ve come to terms with that minor detail which is unique to our history.  But I do not know what to make of what I am seeing every night.  I cannot lecture you on what is happening or why or how anyone should feel.  The images that made me the most fearful-they were not the worst or most graphic and I am not attempting to rank each of the horrific images or stories we have borne witness to recently, regarding the tragic murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.  You see, sadly I have seen horrific incidents very similar to these just about every year spanning decades.  However; what I have not seen and what was additionally upsetting to me was the March 26th  “Please, put your dog on a leash; – I’m going to call the police and tell them there is an African American man threatening my life”, incident in  Central Park; coupled with so many divisive and forceful comments being carelessly aired for consumption in a country that is severely injured and already divided.  Where does it stop?  It just seemed to be some next level act of aggression committed by a citizen in a somewhat casual manner and a great deal of talk about using force by our government officials, to which I felt powerless or perhaps unfamiliar with these vivid exhibits of power plays I guess is the best way to describe them, in my life experiences. It is okay to be confused, angry and afraid, all at once sometimes, and not know what to do. However; we cannot remain in this state; paralyzed or indifferent, hoping it will go away.  We do that, and we’ll be right back here again, claiming as I have heard many times, statements that racism ended once Obama was elected.  We’ve been there and here already folks and we must know at a minimum, at the very least, what not to do(do no harm), then what we can do to bring about change and ultimately what we need to do in order lead a group or community or even a nation out of this quagmire.  Kind of like what we are doing now as we try to diffuse this pandemic.   

You see, in my first year here at Staples, we had uncovered or more accurately, it was brought to my attention some areas that were in need of improvement.  Work that needed to be done by our school community.  We identified the work that needs to be done around including students of color but not limited to as other groups shared the common feeling of being disenfranchised. We were working on the roll out of our Diversity Month events when the pandemic hit.  Upon our return we will certainly be ready to address what we were getting started on.  Flattening the curve and working towards creating a healthy and safe environment for all of our students.  All of them.  Perhaps the lessons learned from our time away, is that we were forced to see- no distractions or sporting events, movies or shows- the need for all of us to take responsibility, to identify our individual bias, we all have them to then listen to what can hurt or harm and with an abundance of caution, choose to do no harm, flatten the curve or lead the way to make sure that all aspects of our school are free from injustices present at our level-the vaccine of sorts.  There is so much right with this country and there is even more right with Staples, but we need to get to a point where when an issue is revealed that can negatively impact us as a people, we feel the immediate need to collectively take action to eradicate the issue.  Kind of like what ……. 

One final statement, I hope we have all had the time to reflect on life a bit lately and realize that life is precious.  It is also hard enough on its own simply because there is so much that is out of our control, as we don’t know when the next virus will appear for example.  But what about that which is in our control.  Let’s take control and make up for the time we lost with each other in a fashion where we go to school each day with a goal in mind.  Kind of like what the teams of scientists around the world do every day in pursuit of a common goal which will make all of our lives better.   

With a heavy heart and a ton of hope,  


Stafford W. Thomas, Jr. JD 


Explore More of “Westport In Focus”

To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.

Focus on: Michael Barker, Managing Director, Westport Country Playhouse

Michael originally hales from Jonesboro, Arkansas and Sewanee, Tennessee. He spent 4 years in graduate school in New Haven at the Yale School of Drama/Yale School of Management, then took 7 years in California, and returned to Connecticut about 3.5 years ago when he was hired to work at the Westport Country Playhouse. Now living in Trumbull with his wife and young son, he normally commutes to the Playhouse for his work.  

“Along with Playhouse Artistic Director Mark Lamos, I am the co-CEO of the organization. Mark is primarily responsible for the artistry and mission of the organization, and I’m primarily responsible for the institutional side (and of course there’s often 100% overlap between those areas). I spend a lot of time fundraising (about 50% of our operating expenses come from contributed income) and in the balance of my time I concentrate on the strategic direction of the theater as well as our day-to-day operations. 

There is no historical corollary to the devastation that the live performance sector is facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We went from planning to produce a 5-play season to producing nothing live onstage overnight. That means half of our income, as well as our primary mission expression, disappeared. As has happened in so many small businesses, we determined to furlough our entire crew and about half of our staff. We’re producing online content, mostly items that are about theater or theater performance but no full-scale streaming of plays and musicals (which are, at least at present, financially cost prohibitive). We continue to work in service of our community, but we aren’t designed to be flexible or to do this particular thing—we’re set up to produce a series of live in-person messy theater performances… which we can’t do until people are willing to gather in groups again. It’s an awful time for theater institutions and theater artists. I read somewhere that more than 90% of theater artists are now unemployed. That will have knock-on and echo effects in our field for decades. I think we’ll be talking about the impact of this pandemic on the American theater for the duration of my career and beyond. 

We have to adapt to the moment and prepare for the future, and we’ve started to do that. So much of the field has the disadvantage of being on a year-round season, which means that the pandemic hit right in the middle of their 2019-20 plays and it doesn’t look like we’ll be back to normal in time for the regular kickoff for their 2020-21 seasons in the fall. The Playhouse operates on a bit of an oddball schedule, April to November, because of our prior history as a summer stock theater. So, the timing was, to the extent there is any upside to any of this, better for the Playhouse than for most of our peers. We have given ourselves the gift of remaining in this in-between place (reduced staff, online production, etc.) for almost a full year, and if we can pull it off we will have done so thanks to the generosity of our audiences, donors, and trustees. Many regional theater organizations are desperate to get back into production so they can open a season in October. I know if I thought we had to be back in rehearsal and onstage in front of an audience before Thanksgiving I would be behaving differently, and wouldn’t be thinking about much in the longer term, certainly not as far off as April 2021. I know of a prominent West Coast theater that is trying to create a social-distancing plan for their large space, and determined that they can only fit about 80 people into a 700+-seat theater. And I don’t know of a single public health expert who would say it’s unequivocally a good idea to sit in a confined space for two hours at a stretch, even six feet away from everyone else. And what happens at intermission when the line at the Ladies Room winds across the lobby all the way to the box office? Harvard A.R.T. is working with Harvard’s school of public health to come up with guidelines and logistics for audiences, artists, and production personnel to experience live theater while COVID-19 is still a going concern. There are really smart people trying to make this in-person art form work during a time that experiencing a play live with strangers could mean a death sentence. But at least at the moment, I think most of what will enable us to produce theater in front of live audiences again (or prevent it) will depend on exogenous forces more than anything we can cobble together as organizations or even as a field. Without at least an effective treatment for the virus, and at best a vaccine, we will not be able to return to anything resembling status quo ante. 

I’m trying to enjoy the extra time for streaming, reading, and projects around the house. I appreciate the time with my wife and son. In some ways, I feel Mark and I may be in better communication with our trustees than we’ve been at least since I’ve been in the job. But I understand the urgency that so many folks have to get out and participate in normalcy again. Americans hate not having a choice, and I certainly feel some of that tugging on my soul. I would love to see a play in a theater again. I’m tired of screens. 

I would love to see a play in a theater again. I’m tired of screens. 

Jim Marpe and his team have done a great job handling this crisis in Westport, and my first selectman Vicki Tesoro and her team have done a great job in Trumbull. I think the biggest difference culturally between Westport and Trumbull with regard to COVID-19 is that Westport had that super spreader event at the party very early on, so the pandemic came home right away. I think it’s why you see the petition asking Jim not to open up the beaches and parks in Westport too soon; people in Westport had early and personal contact with infected people, included people who died of the disease. In Trumbull, I think, on the whole, we may be a smidge closer to the folks you see on television on the Florida beaches, wondering why we all have to stay at home when we don’t even have that many cases in town and many people don’t know anyone who has contracted the virus or died as a result. Shared sacrifice is a really tough thing to ask people to do, and even more difficult to enforce. I think we have to be compassionate towards people who are feeling stressed socially and emotionally while maintaining a fact-based approach to stay-at-home orders and any easing of restrictions. 

On a Zoom call early on in the pandemic, one of our most knowledgeable trustees compared the enforcement of restrictions in some states but not in others as “having a peeing section in the swimming pool.” People who live in states like Connecticut that have strict stay-at-home orders and got them in place reasonably quickly are going to feel like we’re being punished while the rest of the country opens up. But the experts say that the second wave will be more significant the more we prematurely open up, and I think we have to believe them. My family and I will certainly continue to avoid large groups and unnecessary trips to stores, etc. until we have reasonable assurances that it’s actually safe.  

As much as I hate screens and long for a return to in-person communication, this has been a great excuse to get back in personal touch (outside of a social media environment) with my network of friends nationally and internationally. I watched a streaming play from The Public with a friend from Peru, I caught up on Google Duo with an old pal from Kentucky, I played a board game (poorly) online with some friends from college. I hope that I can carve out time to continue that kind of intentional outreach and conversation even after coronavirus. But certainly, my access to a broad network of friends has been a great help in terms of coping with these unique circumstances. 

My greatest hope is that we are reminded of our shared humanity; when we return to some semblance of normalcy, we carry with us a feeling of camaraderie and community that was absent as we all hunkered down in our homes. 

My greatest fear is that we liked the way things worked during stay-at-home, or we got used to the way they worked, and we carry that way of working forward in a way that supplants our feeling of shared humanity. I don’t mean that people won’t do more on Zoom post-COVID-19 than they did before (they will) but rather that those meetings will continue to stand in for most of our professional in-person social interactions. Getting stuck on our screens is a real danger, because in so many ways it simplifies logistics. We need to remember why the logistical difficulty of arranging in-person gatherings is worth the trouble. 

I am here to remind you why the Playhouse is important. I don’t think of my job as convincing people most of the time; I’m reminding you of something you already know. My mantra is “if the Playhouse did not exist, we would have to build it.” You may not see a performance on our stage until next year, but reach out to us, reach out to me, participate in the programs we’re putting out in the world, support us with a monetary contribution if you can. I will be here when the smoke clears, and I can’t wait until that day when we open the front doors onto the patio in full bloom and invite you back into our sacred space when we can share stories in this very special way again. 

Explore More of “Westport In Focus”

To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.