Center Stage celebrates 40 year anniversary

For Center Stage directors and founders, Gary and Francesca Scarpa, the world has been a stage for four decades. The Scarpas will celebrate 40 years of directing local theatre with the theatre´s production of In the Heights, which opens on July 29.

The Scarpas met in a college play when they were students at Southern Connecticut State College in the summer of 1973. They directed their first production in May of 1976 with the Shelton High School Drama Club in May of 1976 when Gary was a young English teacher and Francesca was a college sophomore, and the rest is history.

“That first production was The Music Man,” said Gary. “We had a lot to learn, but with some help from college friends and staff members at Shelton High School, it went off pretty well. A month later, we were married at Trinity Church on the Green in New Haven. The entire cast attended our wedding, and we toasted with pewter goblets they gave us, with the words ‘The Music Man 1976’ engraved on them.”

In 1983, the Scarpas founded the Youth CONNection, a summer theatre group for high school and college students. Each summer for 33 years, the Youth CONNection presented a major musical in Shelton. This summer, the group´s production of In the Heights features a talented cast from twelve different Connecticut cities and towns.

In 2005, the Youth CONNection became an integral part of a full-time theatre, Center Stage, also founded by the Scarpas. The Youth CONNection summer production kicks off each new Center Stage season, which consists of five full scale productions. The theatre also presents cabaret events and full slate of theatre education, directed by the Scarpas’ daughter Gina.

“We’re kind of reliving the life of my parents,” said Francesca. “My father, Maestro Francesco Riggio, was a prominent opera conductor in New Haven and conducted throughout Italy as well as in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and my mother was his partner in opera and a well-respected voice teacher, so my sister and I grew up in the theatre. The same has been true for our children.”

Besides their two biological children, thousands of people who grew up with them in theatre feel like the Scarpas have been their second parents. In addition to productions with Center Stage, the Youth CONNection, and the Shelton High School Drama Club, the couple has also directed productions with the Sacred Heart Academy Drama Club, the Amity High School Drama Club, the Orange players, the Connecticut Experimental Theatre, and the Quinnipiac University Theatre.

“Theatre has permeated every aspect of our lives, and it is the glue that has kept our marriage relationship strong,” said Gary. “There has never been a year, in our forty year marriage, when we weren’t directing multiple productions. Forty years is a long time, but working as a creative team for all these years has helped us to grow together artistically, intellectually, spiritually, and politically very much in the same direction.”

“The gratifying nature of creating live theatre hasn’t changed for us in 40 years,” said Francesca. “We´re especially enthusiastic about our success at Center Stage Theatre, and about recent initiatives that have increased our diversity both on the stage and in the audience. Productions like Mother Hicks, which helped us tap into the deaf community, as well as Hairspray and now In the Heights, which have increased our racial and ethnic diversity make this a very exciting time for us.”

“With each new play comes a new adventure,” added Gary.
In the Heights will play at Shelton Intermediate School at 8 p.m. on July 29, July 30, August 5, and August 6 as well as at 2 p.m. on August 6.  Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students and may be purchased by calling the Center Stage box office at 203-225-6079 or by visiting www.centerstageshelton.org

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