Theater director brings Ridgefield together for get-well Marconi singalong
A video get-well card to cheer on First Selectman Rudy Marconi’s recovery from COVID-19 offers vivid testimony to the spirit of the town Marconi has served for the last 20 years: vimeo.com/406562555.
And it’s a glimpse at the creative talents and upbeat outlook of its creator, Daniel Levine, the artistic director of the ACT (A Contemporary Theater) of Connecticut and a member of the town Conservation Commission.
“Everyone was so excited and happy to be a part of it,” he said of the sprawling assemblage of Ridgefielders he got to join in a galloping chorus of the Fleetwood Mac song ‘Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow’ to cheer up Marconi.
“People really love Rudy!” he added.
But the video get-well card for Marconi from friends all over town is just one of many initiatives he’s launched.
The coronavirus crisis seems to have lit a fire under Levine’s creative cookpot even as it has brought much of normal life to a standstill.
“I’m just doing everything I can do — to help, really,” Levine said.
“The goal is to attempt to stay positive, to keep the town hopeful. And I think in order to keep people hopeful they still need entertainment.”
And entertainment is familiar ground for Levine, a Broadway veteran who has performed in shows ranging from Les Misérables to Mamma Mia! to Jesus Christ Superstar to Little Shop of Horrors.
At the time the coronavirus began curtailing life in Connecticut, Levine was busy working on what was to be a world premier of the new musical Nickel Mines at the ACT theater off Old Quarry Road on Ridgefield’s town-owned former Schlumberer property.
Then came the social distancing mandate.
“I said to myself when I locked the door to the theater and sent the caste home: What am I going to do for the next three months? I’m going to help this town,” Levine said.
“It's just insane. It’s just crazy,” Levine said of the coronavirus situation. “I kind of can’t wrap my head around it.”
Who can, really?
Still, Levine has responded with a flurry of activity.
HIs efforts have included a live streamed theatrical event, a series of videos publicizing open spaces — with various of his Conservation Commission colleagues touting their favorite walk or hike — that he created and posted on YouTube.
He has also creation and launch of a website called “Ridgefield Streams” that allows Ridgefield’s myriad arts and cultural organizations to publicize what they are offering online and through various virtual entertainment media during the coronavirus lockdown. https://ridgefieldstreams.org
And, of course, it allows members of the public to see what’s available in the virtual Ridgefield arts world.
Early on the coronavirus crisis — back when people were being told not to gather in groups of 10 or more — Levine put on a live streamed evening of entertainment for town together with some of his talented friends. Collaborators included composer, lyricist and longtime Ridgefielder Stephen Schwartz, whose artistic credits include musicals such as Wicked and Godspell and movies including Pocahontas, and Brian Perri, the musical director of Wicked and Jagged Little Pill on Broadway, music supervisor of ACT and another Ridgefielder.
The livestream performaces were put on from the lobby of the ACT theater off Old Quarry Road, with performers spread out at least 10 feet away from each other.
“I wanted the viewers to know we were truly practicing social distancing,” said Levine, who produced and directed the event.
“When I was doing it live there were a little over 3,000 watching it,” Levine said.
After a story about it was picked up in the New York Times, the audience mushroomed.
“Within 48 hours it really went viral — I hate to use that word right now — and 50,000 people viewed this thing,” Levine said.
“I got an email from northern Canada, this little town I’d never heard of, this couple told me they were watching the livestream from their kitchen,” Levine said, and “the love they felt” from the Ridgefield performance “made all the difference for them.”
“We got emails from Italy we got emails from Germany.”
Link to livestream:
That Levine has created videos celebrating Ridgefield’s open spaces and trails is no surprise.
He has served on town’s Conservation Commission for the last four of the 10 years he’s lived in Ridgefield.
“I love serving on the Conservation Commission,” he said
“A lot of people don’t know what the Conservation Commission does. The Conservation Commission is responsible for managing all of Ridgefield’s incredible open spaces and trails. People don’t know we’ve got over 5,000 acres of open space and over 50 miles of trails.
“There are so many gems in the forest,” Levine said.
“Sometimes I walk these places and it’s like being on another planet. Waterfalls, bogs, and vernal pools. There’s incredible water courses including streams and rivers and some gorgeous waterfalls. There's moss bogs, vernal pools. There’s this bridge and bench that the commission has built over the years to let people sit and look at a pond and listen to spring peepers,” he said.
“People that do know about it are there all the time,” Levine said, but those with
It seems to him the perfect time for the Conservation Commission to publicize the town’s open space treasures.
“What are people doing right now? They’re home on their computers looking for things to do,” he said. “What a great time to engage everyone!” Here’s one offering: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=331FbGdXz0o
He’s got more ideas in the works.
“I had an idea to give parents a little “break” during this forced homeschooling period of time. ACT is partnering with Books On The Common. We’ve created a "ACT & Books On The Common Story Time!” live stream,” Levine said. “ACT actors (alumni) will read children’s books to kids. These will be prerecorded ‘packages’ and will be released each week.
“They will be geared to younger kids (up to fourth grade). Books On The Common will select the books. I will ship the books to the actors. Actors will record at home and send me completed videos.”
He expects to release one video per week starting the week of April 20.
Another idea was for ACT to begin a weekly live stream “interview show” with Broadway stars. Called “ACT’s Happy Hour,” it’ll be available on ACT’s Facebook page starting Friday April 17, at 7 p.m. The first week’s guest is expected to be Kathryn Gallagher and Derek Klena of Jagged Little Pill.
“Viewers are encouraged to chat and ask questions during the live stream,” Levine wrote in his Facebook invitation “This is a backstage pass just for you!”
And, Levine created ACT’s “Virtual Season Announcement” to get people excited about returning to the theater:
Because for all his scampering around the varied branches of the virtual entertainment forest, Levine’s roots are in old fashioned live Broadway — singing and dancing to tell stories and take people’s minds off their troubles.