'More stories to tell:' Stage director's book spotlights Valley in late '60s

Gary Scarpa, who formed a directorial team with his wife, Fran, for more than 40 years, is now realizing the dream of becoming a published author.

Gary Scarpa, who formed a directorial team with his wife, Fran, for more than 40 years, is now realizing the dream of becoming a published author.

Gary Scarpa / Contributed photo

SHELTON — For more than four decades, theater director Gary Scarpa helped bring other people's stories to life on the stage.

Now, he says, it's his turn to tell the tales.

"It was always my dream was to be a writer," Scarpa, an English major in college, said.

Now that dream has become a reality. Scarpa recently released his self-published book, "Exit 14," next month.

He will be discussing the work at a special book club discussion at Calaroso Eatery, 100 Center St., on June 10. Dinner starts at 6:30 p.m., with the book discussion beginning at 7 p.m. The event costs $25, with the price covering dinner and the discussion.

Gary Scarpa's first novel, Exit 14, is now available.

Gary Scarpa's first novel, Exit 14, is now available.

David Provolo / Contributed photo

Scarpa describes Exit 14 as a coming-of-age tale based around true events from his youth growing up in the 1960s in the Valley — Shelton readers will easily recognize geographic references strewn the work. The title itself, he said, speaks to Shelton, since Exit 14 takes people into the heart of the city.

In part, the book is a memorium to a way of life now gone, and in remembrance of his brother, Edmund, who recently died.

"His death motivated me ... inspired me," Scarpa said. "This book was a way for me to process this loss and honor him. This is a retelling of our experiences growing up in Shelton, in the Valley.

"I really got emotional as I wrote this, I cried ... a lot," Scarpa added. "There is a lot of real stuff happening here, a lot of emotional things."

The book focuses on 15-year-old Gabriel DeMarco, struggling to find his place in the world during the turbulent late 1960s. He connects with the school's star athlete, troubled Daryl Novak, and the pair form a bond that will, according to Scarpa, change their lives forever.

"Most of the characters are based loosely on people I knew ... that I grew up with," Scarpa said, adding that much of the story revolves the Duchess on Pershing Drive in Ansonia, which back in the late 1960s was the gathering point for people after big high school games in the Valley.

"The most important part of the book really happened," Scarpa said. "I was not personally involved but knew of it, and these characters' actions are a reaction to the incident. The central character, the narrator, is who I was and who I wish I had been."

Scarpa and his wife, Fran, began directing in the 1970s with the high school drama club, then created Youth CONNection summer theater program and, in 2005, Center Stage Theatre, a nonprofit fulltime theater. But the lifelong Shelton resident said his passion as a youth was writing.

Scarpa said he turned to writing now because of pressure from his family.

The Scarpas had retired from Center Stage some two years ago. It left Scarpa with a creative hole to fill in his life — and writing, his first love, was his latest way of entertaining an audience, he said.

"When COVID hit, my family urged me to realize my first dream — writing a book," Scarpa said. "And when I started, the words just poured out of me. I was writing 3,000, 4,000 words a day.

"For me, I do this for the audience to read it, see it. That's is why we are in the arts. We wouldn't do this unless we wanted it in front of an audience," Scarpa said. "I needed to be creative, but at 69, it is important that I have complete autonomy and am able to do on my own schedule."

Scarpa said while in college, his plan was to go to graduate school for creative writing. But as a 22-year old, at the urging of a friend, he said he tried out for a musical play — and "the rest is history.

"From there, I met my future wife and entered into the world of performing arts. I fell in love with the theater," Scarpa said.

The Scarpas met in 1973 when they were dance partners in a college production at Southern Connecticut State College. They began directing the Shelton High School Drama Club in 1976 when Gary was a young teacher and Fran was a college senior.

In the summer of 1983, the couple started the Youth CONNection, a successful summer theater program for high school and college students. They then began a summer theater camp program for elementary students in 1989, which is still operating.

As a couple, the Scarpas have received the Silver Seal Award from the Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Millennium Award, given by the city of Shelton. Gary has been recognized by Long Wharf Theatre as Outstanding Theatre Educator; the Shelton Jaycees named him Educator of the Year in 1989.

In 2010, the Scarpas were recognized by the Boys and Girls Club of the Lower Naugatuck Valley, which presented Gary and Francesca with the prestigious Raymond P. Lavietes Service to Youth Award. In 2017, the couple was honored as inaugural inductees into the Shelton High School Hall of Fame.

"I fell in love with writing again," Scarpa said of his labor since the pandemic started, "and this book is so important to me. And I do not plan to stop here. I have more stories to tell, and that's what I plan to do."

To learn more about “Exit 14,” visit garyscarpa.com.