It's fitting that the six-foot diameter metal sculpture memorializing the founders of the Staples Players is round in shape because Saturday's sculpture dedication ceremony in the lobby of the Staples High School auditorium brought the theatrical troupe full circle.
Past and present performers came together to honor Craig Matheson and Steven Gilbert, the founders of the award-winning Staples Players that, since its formation in the 1957-58 academic year, has performed more than 100 musicals and plays.
After a matinee performance of the current Staples Players' production, "Thoroughly Modern Millie," about 200 people gathered in the auditorium lobby to reminisce about the men who provided students with a broad education in the performing arts and inspired many careers in the arts. The performance was also dedicated to Matheson, who died last August. Gilbert died in the 1970s.
Artist Miggs Burroughs, of Westport, class of 1963, said Gilbert and Matheson "opened our eyes to career options we might never have considered otherwise."
It could be argued that Matheson discovered Christopher Lloyd, a prolific actor best known for his roles in the television comedy "Taxi" and the film "Back to the Future." According to the Staples Players' website, Matheson directed a theatrical revue which featured Lloyd the first year of the dramatic organization's existence.
Joan Elizabeth Goodman, class of 1968, remembered Gilbert as the person who taught her "an artistic professionalism." She called Matheson "the consummate teacher and lifelong mentor."
"During the turmoil of the late '60s,the Staples Players provided a way to channel adolescent angst, as well as a joyful haven of creativity and profound friendships," Goodman said.
David Roth, the most recent director of the Staples Players, said Gilbert focused on the technical aspect of the troupe, teaching stage craft and founding the Staples Stage and Technical Staff, and Matheson's emphasis was on the creative side. Together, they created something that Roth called "rare and special."
So well respected and influential were Gilbert and Matheson that several alums traveled from out of state to attend the unveiling. John and Cathy Woolley came from Florida and Peter Leokum from Philadelphia. John Woolley was the first president of the Staples Stage and Technical Staff. Leokum wore his costume from when he was in the 1961 Staples Players' production of "Teahouse of the August Moon."
Matheson was represented by his grandson, Craig Logan, 17, of Tolland, who told the crowd of about 200 people that Matheson loved theater "more than anything, except his grandchildren."
Reading from written comments by Peter Hirst, a Staples Players' alum, Stolpen said, "The shows come and go with the raising and lowering of the curtain ... but Craig's real work, the real gifts of education, both formal and personal, live forever in us and in those to whom we are fortunate enough to pass on these treasures."
To make a contribution to a Staples Players scholarship fund established this year in Matheson's name, visit www.staplesplayers.org.