1-2-3-4-5? An Adventure in South Africa
Carolyn Daniels
Arts and Education Program Director - Meriden YMCA
June 12, 2018

Some 61 Y’s Men of Meriden, during their final meeting of the year on June 12, were treated to a PowerPoint visual tour of the Zulu Nyala Game Reserve in South Africa by Carolyn Daniels, Arts and Education Program Director for the Meriden YMCA, accompanied by her friend Robyn Demarco who shared the microphone.  This guided tour, undertaken in Nov. 2017, was split into two parts: one week at the game reserve and a second week touring Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope.

The effervescent Daniels, wearing a brilliant red dashiki purchased at a local African market, described their tented camp teeming with monkeys and the daily safari drives in search of the elusive “Big Five” (elephant, rhinoceros, cape buffalo, leopard and lion). The leopard evaded them, but not the others.  Photos of elephant families at a watering hole and others destroying trees for food provided an “awesome” insight into their lives. Also spotted were white rhinos (with a flat lip for eating grass) and black rhinos (sporting a pointed lip to aid in eating leaves and fruit); armed guards patrol the Reserve’s borders to deter poachers from obtaining rhino horns, each valued at up to $1 million (more than its weight in gold) for presumed aphrodisiac and other benefits.


Wildlife in Zulu Nyala game reserve


Safari sunset


Watering hole


Child with grandma

Other animals spotted included hippos (ill-tempered and dangerous, with males often battle-scarred from defending their water holes), adult and juvenile giraffes, buffaloes, nyalas, zebras, wildebeest, cheetahs, warthogs, and a lion family. But the worst day of the trip for Daniels was about to occur: going to the St. Lucia Estuary and playing “the worst game of golf in my entire life, with monkeys in the trees laughing at every bad shot I made”.  

The tour continued through a small village, visiting a school where students were uniformly polite but cheerful, studying both Zulu and English and learning from American textbooks written in the 1970s. Then on to Cape Town and biking on the picturesque Tabletop Mountain, but not seeing any nightlife as two Caucasian women after dark likely would be attacked by “smash and grab” criminals. Other scenes displayed daytime hiking, nearby wineries, a bicycle tour, the Cape of Good Hope (where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet at the southern tip of Africa), an ostrich farm, and penguins cavorting at Boulders Beach.

Landscaping for birds and other wildlife
Patrick Comins
Executive Director, Connecticut Audubon Society
June 5, 2018

The Connecticut Audubon Society maintains more than 3000 acres of bird and wildlife habitat as well as providing outdoor science education to hundreds of thousands of children and adults annually. But Executive Director Patrick Comins, a Meriden resident, provided a different message to 67 Y’s Men of Meriden on June 5; namely, how to convert your home property into one that is more supportive of our native birdlife population.

Comins noted that our state is a busy crossroad for millions of migratory birds, some flying non-stop from Connecticut to South America, with many weighing no more than a quarter and mostly flying at night to avoid predators. Migratory routes depend on watershed resources (mainly by the Quinnipiac River feeders in Connecticut), wildlife, plants, ecosystems, geography and weather patterns.

But they need a place to rest and feed, and that’s where we all can help. Using a colorful PowerPoint presentation, Comins noted yard items that are beneficial; conifers, grasses, summer or fall or winter plants, hummingbird plants, snags (dried dead trees), nut and acorn trees, brush and rock piles, salt, dust and grit beds, and water. Bird feeders are OK but benefit the human observers more than the birds themselves.


Male and female Cardinals

Specific suggestions include minimizing your lawn area, providing natural vegetation as a food supply, eliminating (or sharply curtailing) the use of fertilizers and insecticides, providing water with a bird bath or water garden (using a recirculating pump), and providing a staircase (“stadium effect”) of vegetation rising from lawn to floral plantings to shrubs to small trees to larger trees. The slide program illustrated numerous desirable plantings including a few surprises: pokeweed (“the birds love it”), poison ivy (its berries are a favorite of warblers), Virginia creeper (for its blue berries), and American Holly (a popular roosting spot for owls).

Finally, Comins noted that today we rarely see insects splattered on our car windshields and grilles because “we are winning the war on insects”. But just remember, insects are the bottom of the food chain for most birds, so that may portend trouble for them in the future.  

The Ivoryton Playhouse -  Past, Present and Future
Jacqueline Hubbard
Artistic Executive Director
May 29, 2018

So, what would be the oldest self-supporting summer theater in the entire United States, where Katharine Hepburn had her acting debut and Marlon Brando gave his last professional performance? In fact, that would be the Ivoryton Playhouse right here in Connecticut, whose Artistic and Executive Director, Jacqueline Hubbard, spoke to 64 Y’s Men of Meriden on May 29, outlining the impressive history of this artistic venue.

An initial video, produced in 2011, showcased the first 100 years of the Playhouse, starting as a recreation hall for the employees of the Comstock-Cheney factory; however, the 1920’s which ushered in autos, radios and silent films provided harsh competition, draining Playhouse audiences. But the 1930’s brought a revival, energized by actor/director Milton Stiefel and appearances by Cliff Robertson and Norma Terris, until the onset of WW II during which the theatre went dark (gasoline rationing made attending impossible for most).

But the Playhouse flourished again after the war, starring the likes of Art Carney, Talullah Bankhead, Helen Hayes, Ezio Pinza, Betty Grable, Vivian Vance, Groucho Marx, June Lockhart, Gloria Vanderbilt and Don Ameche. Then another decline set in during the 1970’s and 1980’s almost resulting in sale of the building, but saved once again by the formation of the non-profit Ivoryton Playhouse Foundation and a return to robust health that continues to this day.


Ivoryton Playhouse

The Playhouse currently sponsors the Women Playwrights Initiative (featuring one-act plays by and about women), Playhouse on the Shore, Summer Children’s Theatre, school educational programs, and the Ivoryton Players (for staged readings). Other events are held in an adjacent tent, such as opening night galas.

Throughout this presentation, Hubbard glowed with enthusiasm as she described the 273-seat Playhouse, its staff, casts and productions. It now sports a yearlong seven-show schedule; this season includes productions of A Night with Janis Joplin, Grease, and A Chorus Line. An endowment fund started last year has raised $1 million to date and continues to grow, looking ahead to dedicated parking, actor living space (many currently stay with local families), and an enhanced performance space.

Goodspeed Musicals: The Home of the American Musical
Joshua Ritter
Education Manager & Library Director at Goodspeed Musicals
May 22, 2018

It stands like a queen on the eastern bank of the Connecticut River in East Haddam, this six-story Victorian-style opera house built in 1876 by local merchant William Goodspeed. Addressing 71 Y’s Men of Meriden on May 22, Joshua Ritter, Education Manager and Library Director, used a slide show to depict the rich history of the Goodspeed Opera House along with its sister theater, the Terris Theatre (formerly a knitting-needle factory).

Goodspeed Musicals entertains 130,000 patrons annually and has produced more than 275 musicals, 21 of which moved on to Broadway, including Annie, The Man of La Mancha and Shenandoah. It owns and operates over 38 separate buildings on its campus and meticulously maintains the 398-seat Goodspeed Opera House, a national historical landmark. But it is so much more than creating six productions annually (three at each theatre); also included are the Max Showalter Center for Education in Musical Theater (providing training and educational programs for musical theatre students), the Scherer Library of Musical Theatre (the only library dedicated solely to the American musical) and the Goodspeed Musicals Costume Collection (with over 220,000 costumes kept in a climate-controlled facility).

And Goodspeed serves over 3,000 students each season. The Arts Education Collaboration annually exposes over 750 elementary, middle, and high school students to a high-quality musical theatre production, Sensory Friendly Performances are intended for those who are on the autism spectrum or who have other sensory issues, and Theatre Access Across Connecticut provides a program that gives underserved populations in CT educational experiences and benefits.


Goodspeed Opera House

Additional outreach programs include the Johnny Mercer Writers Colony providing a four-week residency program for musical theatre writers and the Goodspeed Musical Institute which encompasses The Festival of New Musicals, Music Direction Intensive, the NYU Writers’ Residency, Goodspeed Movers Boot Camp, Goodspeed Audition Boot Camp, Scenic Painting Intensive, Song Coaching Workshop, and Observership Program. Plus, the Festival of New Musicals, a unique collaboration with emerging writers and students from The Hartt School and The Boston Conservatory. And the list goes on.

Did you know that the Opera House stage is not flat, but slopes up away from the audience, rising 3/16” each foot, a common construction in earlier years called “raking” to provide better visibility for the audience? Or that the “Singing in the Rain” production used actual “rain”, with an elaborate collection and repumping system?