‘Annie’ marks 35th anniversary of Youth CONNection

On July 27, when Center Stage Theatre opens its summer production of Annie at Shelton High School, the Shelton theater will be celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Youth CONNection.

In 1983, more than two decades before the advent of Center Stage, Gary and Francesca Scarpa founded the Youth CONNection, a summer theatre group for high school and college students. Each summer since, the Youth CONNection has presented a major musical in Shelton.

In 2005, the Youth CONNection became an integral part of a Center Stage, a full-time non profit theater, 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 theater education, directed by the Scarpas´ daughter Gina.

“We´re kind of reliving the life of my parents,” said Francesca Scarpa. “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 theater. The same has been true for our children.”

For thousands of young people who grew up with them on the stage, the Scarpas have been like second parents. In addition to productions with Center Stage and the Youth CONNection, the couple has also directed productions with the Shelton High School Drama Club, the Sacred Heart Academy Drama Club, the Amity High School Drama Club, the Orange players, the Connecticut Experimental Theatre, and the Quinnipiac University Theater.

“Theater has permeated every aspect of our lives, and it is the glue that has kept our marriage relationship strong,” said Gary Scarpa. “There has never been a year, in our forty-two year marriage, when we weren´t directing multiple productions. Forty-two 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 theater hasn´t changed for us in over forty years,” said Francesca Scarpa. “We have especially loved our work with the Youth CONNection, and seeing thousands of kids pass through our doors over the course of more than three decades.”

“With each new play comes a new adventure,” added Gary Scarpa.

“Annie” will play at Shelton High School at 7 p.m. on July 27, July 28, August 4, and August 5 as well as at 2 p.m. on August 5. Tickets are $30 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