Woog’s World: From Staples to kids’ theater, a trouper’s laudable second act
That’s not an exaggeration. Before graduating in 2007, the talented actor played that coveted role in Staples Players’ production of “Children of Eden.”
It was just one of many roles he starred in. But while still in college — studying for a theater management degree from Marymount Manhattan College — he moved to the other side of the footlights. Paul co-founded the Northeast Children’s Theatre Company. Now five years old, the organization offers year-round, professional theater for young audiences. NCTC also provides arts education and outreach. Its activities range from daytime plays and musicals for schools and youth centers to after-school birthday parties and private drama workshops.
It’s become one of the premier providers of arts education outreach programming throughout the state. But Paul has never forgotten his Westport roots.
NCTC’s biggest fundraiser is almost here. Set for Saturday, Oct. 17, at Christ and Holy Trinity Church’s Branson Hall, the third annual “Broadway in Connecticut” gala spotlights two important Westporters.
Mia Gentile — who will rush here from a Saturday matinee — is one of three featured Broadway stars at the event. (The others appeared in shows like “Wicked” and “On the Town.”)
A classmate of Paul’s at Staples, Gentile currently appears in the Tony Award-winning musical “Kinky Boots.” Her career began at Westport’s Music Theatre of Connecticut, then blossomed at Staples (she too starred in “Garden of Eden”). Gentile went on to “Forbidden Broadway,” and gained great fame with her self-produced “Stanley Steemer” video. (She sang that impossible-to-forget jingle in a mind-boggling array of genres, including jazz, opera, girl group, country, Latin, torch song, punk rock, gospel and Lady Gaga. Add in dozens of costume changes, a rollicking piano accompaniment and her own versatile, vibrant voice, and it’s no wonder the world lapped it up.
Gentile often credits Westport with shaping her career. Helping her friend and fellow Staples Player is one way to pay it back — and forward.
The other local connection at this month’s gala is Gerald (Jerry) Apoian. A longtime Westporter and supporter of the arts, he’s a posthumous recipient of the Morgan Weitz Founder’s Award of Excellence.
Apoian was a founding board member and longtime supporter of the NCTC, who died suddenly this past March.
A lifelong creative executive in the advertising world, Apoian worked with the NCTC on marketing, publicity and branding. He helped the organization develop promotional campaigns, and guided the young founders through press releases, interviews, pitch letters and e-blasts.
“Jerry was a quiet, unassuming resident of Westport,” Paul says. “He traveled constantly for work, but he had a great fondness for this town’s reverence and appreciation for the arts. Jerry and his wife Patricia did a tremendous job overseeing publicity for Staples Players during the years his daughter Zoe attended high school, and appeared in their productions and on stage. I considered him a trusted advisor, mentor and friend.”
Apoian’s award will be accepted by his wife and family.
Paul is passionate about the importance of arts education for children. Like Gentile, he got his start at Music Theatre of Connecticut. He spent two years each at Coleytown and Bedford Middle Schools, where he was influenced by Ben Frimmer and Karen McCormick. Years later, the two gifted educators continue to produce two shows a year at their respective schools.
At Staples, David Roth’s theater program provided a vital home for Paul. In addition to acting, he directed shows and worked on musicals.
Paul also worked for MTC as vocal director and camp director. That brought him full circle — and planted the seed for his current involvement in arts education.
The business, producing and management side of theater came later. After college, he worked at the world’s largest licensing agency.
As for NCTC, Paul says, “Fairfield County is an incredible area for the arts. I’m passionate about it. Kids who are exposed to theater and the arts have been shown to do well in school.”
But, he notes, “no organization does what we do.” And, he adds, “It’s tough finding affordable, age-appropriate entertainment for kindergartners through eighth graders. Nickelodeon and Disney are great. But kids need live performances.”
NCTC provides those. On Oct. 17, it offers a special performance with Broadway stars — one of whom, not long ago, was a kid here herself, dreaming of the bright lights she now stars under.