Illustration and Article by Evan P. Neidich

The Bijou Theatre, as we now know and love it, has been open for one year. It has been a year full of independent films, dance, opera, live music, theater, and events of all sorts. Though the theater has been around for over one hundred years, this iteration has framed The Bijou as a player in creating community and bringing high art into Downtown Bridgeport.

What is so special about the community in Downtown Bridgeport is that we are a cast of strange and wonderful characters. This is a place where your face doesn’t get lost in the crowd. In Bijou Square you matter and you can really make a difference. Though the Bijou hosts big acts, it often feels like a small town community (basically we’re Cheers down here).

Instead of waxing philosophical about the meaning of art in community building as I am wont to do, I’ve decided to celebrate Bijou’s one year anniversary by having a chat with a few of my favorite characters. Amanda Bowman is the Bijou Theatre’s marketing director. She is a hip, young movie buff with a wicked sense of humor. Marcella Kovac is the owner at The Bananaland, she is a brilliant artist and graphic designer, responsible for the Bijou website, brochures, E-blasts and more. Marcella is representative of the new community of artists that are infusing Bridgeport with new life. Christine Donahue Brown and her partner Kathy Reynolds are the reason why the Bijou Theatre feels like a family. They have taken an old theatre and, with significant effort and intelligence, helped it realize it’s massive potential. These are all people I am happy to know – and I hope you will come down to meet them and other Downtown Bridgeport characters!

Q: What are some of your favorite events during Bijou “year one”?

AMANDA: Live Comedy is my favorite. Improv, LEM Presents, America’s first “plomedy” Sit Down, Shut Up, and Eat, Brad Zimmerman’s Jewish Tragedy.

MARCELLA: Manhattan Short Film Festival, Lisa Lampanelli, and Yellow Dubmarine stick out the most for me at first thought. I love shorts and the fact that everyone from around the world can vote for their favorites, such a cool concept. Also, Lisa had us in hysterics! Yellow Dubmarine rocked all my favorite Beatles tunes with a reggae twist, and we danced all night! Although, I have to say, any given night there is something to enjoy. A visit to the theatre is becoming a staple to our girls nights out!

CHRISTINE: One of my favorite events is the Bijou Blender – the collegiate a capella competition. I also went crazy for Javier Colon and Taylor Hicks – huge talent, and the sweetest guys!!

Q: What are you looking forward to most in the coming year?

AMANDA: Bedlam at the Bijou! Because the only thing I love more than watching a horror classic, is watching a horror classic with a bunch of freaks. We love you film nerds!

MARCELLA: Bedlam at Bijou! Really puts me in the mood for the fall and Halloween. Can’t wait to see all the costumed zombies and walking dead. Also who doesn’t love Godzilla?

CHRISTINE: I am really looking forward to our spoken word series which we hope will serve to motivate and inspire our guests.

Q: What does the Bijou mean to you? Why is it important to you to be a part of it?

AMANDA: I am continually inspired, intrigued and challenged by the Bijou family and the talent that comes through. But you don’t have to work here to know what I mean, just walk through the doors any day of the week.

MARCELLA: It is one of my most treasured spots. It is where I see all my favorite indie films, get my culture fix without having to travel to NYC, share good times with friends, memories with family, work with some of my favorite people… the list goes on. I hope that my part allows other people to develop similar feelings about this special place.

CHRISTINE: The Bijou is our second home. We love welcoming old and new friends. We feel so privileged to play a part in creating a vibrant, interesting, and high quality energy in our downtown.

Q: What does Bijou mean to Bridgeport?

AMANDA: Bijou means “gem” in French. But this is America. The theatre is a historically important landmark poised for Bridgeport’s Renaissance. The Bijou is family-run and dedicated to bringing quality entertainment to a city brimming with potential. Maybe I watch too many movies, but if this isn’t a beautiful underdog story, then I watch too many movies.

MARCELLA: A wonderful piece of nostalgia. An entertainment venue that is unlike any other. One of the keys to unlocking our city’s amazing potential.

CHRISTINE: The Bijou has played host to many of the organizations and businesses in Bridgeport allowing them to host wonderful meetings and parties and great shows. The theatre is a place for them to be proud to bring their guests.

Q: What does Bijou mean to the wider community of Southern Connecticut?

AMANDA: Look out world (and Fairfield county)! We look forward to building a neighborhood together bursting with art, culture and pride.

MARCELLA: It is starting to paint a more positive picture of downtown Bridgeport to neighboring communities. I think as more time goes by, it will be one of the major factors in a complete revitalization. A luxurious way to watch a film.

CHRISTINE: To the community at large The Bijou Theatre is just one more reason to come downtown to see great quality entertainment, and contirbute to the arts industry and surrounding businesses.

Come down soon and become a part of the Downtown Bridgeport Renaissance!

Lauren Greenfield’s new film, “The Queen of Versailles”, tells a story that Kurt Vonnegut and George Orwell might have written if we could only figure out how to create zombie-dream team-writing partners.  The film has the texture of satire and science fiction— and hints at an emerging dystopia.

Only it’s not fiction…

“The Queen of Versailles” tells the story of Jackie and David Siegel, an eccentric, billionaire couple who are building a 90,000-square-foot mansion inspired by the Palace of Versailles.  The film was made leading up to the 2008 financial crisis and in the wake of it.  David and Jackie lose their wealth and nearly their home.  Their story echoes the massive foreclosure epidemic but also is a glimpse at the cause of the larger cultural and political problem.

Queen of Versailles Trailer

As a maker and proliferater of images, Director Lauren Greenfield is constantly conscious of and questioning the media’s awesome influence on culture.  Her work deals with power, privilege, poverty, inequity, sexuality and ultimately cultural pathology.  Greenfield is at once a cultural critic and a humanist.  We are disgusted and saddened by the portraits she creates, but ultimately we feel a complicated empathy.

The last real Queen of Versailles, Marie Antoinette, famously responded “let them eat cake,” when told that her subjects had no bread and were starving to death.  Antoinette has become a symbol for a ruling and elite class living in a universe completely detached from reality, while the people suffer.

In the context of the pending 2012 Election and in a post Citizens United era, the film brings up questions about money, power and influence that permeate the zeitgeist.   In the exposition of the documentary David Siegel brags that he “personally got George W. Bush elected president.”  He thoughtfully laughs and shrugs off the possibility that without him the United States may never have gone to war in Iraq.  When money equals speech and 40% of the country’s wealth is owned by 1% of our population, at what point does Democracy become Neo Monarchy?

Other Notable works by Lauren Greenfield:

Girl Culture
Kids and Money

For More Information on Queen of Versailles:

NY Times: David Seigel’s Multiple Law Suits against “The Queen of Versailles”
All Things Considered with Lauren Greenfield
Great Interview with Lauren Greenfield on KCET Cinema Series

It’s the kind of music you physically feel. The brass sinks in your stomach, the violin winds through your lungs, the guitar hooks in your ribs and pulls you up above yourself.

Howard Fishman has performed everywhere from New Orleans to New York City. He has rocked-out in the bowels of the NYC Subway and played Lincoln Center. This guy is prolific, ambitious and real. His experimental and original sound is a mix of blues, jazz, country, folk and gospel.

“ A Ghost”
“Crash on the Levee”

“In Romania”

Listening to this music reminds me of the few months that I spent down in Potts Camp, Mississippi.  I discovered the blues in a way that I had never developed a relationship with music before: In the flesh. I met the blues in bars bathed in red light in Oxford, Mississippi and church parking lots in Memphis. To me, the blues taste like moonshine and dry-rub.  They feel like sunburn and left-over adrenaline from getting too deep in the blackberry bush before remembering that it’s a favorite spot for the kind of snakes we don’t have in Connecticut.  The blues feel like dancing with extra curves on my hips.  For me, this music is a full sensory experience of exploding electrical impulses that create neurological webs of memory.

I danced to the blues with an old man with a prosthetic leg wrapped in moth-eaten cloth.   It was late morning in Memphis.  I’ve danced to the blues by myself, with friends and with strangers.

This strong music and memory connection is something many of us have experienced in a profound way.  Neuroscientists and psychologists have started to investigate the phenomena.  In the 2009 study “The Neural Architecture of Music-Evoked Autobiographical Memories”  Petr Janata, associate professor of psychology at UC Davis’ Center for Mind and Brain, compiled fMRI research on the subject.

Howard Fishman’s music is juicy, rough and raw.  It is brimming with magical realism– I feel as though I could meet the devil at the crossroads, or that magnolias might bloom from between the fingers of the guitarist.

Fishman has some great insight into the profound experience that live music can create for the performer and audience: “Live Music As A Spiritual Experience” by Howard Fishman

More on Howard Fishman:

Rubin Museum Interview
WNYC Sound Check

I suspect even the most groove-phobic among our audience will become full-fledged dance zombies.

“Storytelling: The World’s Second Oldest Profession.”
- Danny Harris, Storyteller

“Every story well-told changes both the teller and the listener.”
- Ina Chadwick, MouseMuse Productions

“There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.”
-Maya Angelou

Across culture and time, the sharing of stories is a constant.

Whether to fulfill our desire to communicate, connect, or attempt to grasp where we come from, storytelling is an important aspect of the human experience.  It can quiet anxiety, while at the same time allow us to “hear” self-reflection.

Storytelling is at the core of film, theatre, and music– of everything that we do at The Bijou Theatre.

It is vital to who we are, how we define ourselves, express ourselves, and make sense of our realities.

What is it about storytelling that is so vital to our species?

As a student of “RadioLab” I explored this question in as many contexts as possible:  Science, philosophy, history, anthropology and art.  Thanks to my good friend, the Internet, I found some meaningful musings to share with you on the subject:

Video: Phil Kaye on Why We Tell Stories/ Exchanging Narratives
“We like to think we can plot our lives out but there is this big, deep unknowing out there…this deep chance.  And I think…that makes us feel vulnerable, it’s scary, and in the face of that great vulnerability that’s where that impulse to tell stories comes from.  To share, connect, to figure out what it is to feel alive”

Video:  Why We Tell Stories:  The Science of Narrative
“Stories have existed in many forms—cave paintings, parables, poems, tall tales, myths—throughout history and across almost all human cultures. But is storytelling essential to survival? Join a spirited discussion seeking to explain the uniquely human gift of narrative—from how neurons alight when we hear a tale, to the role of storytelling in cognitive development, to the art of storytelling itself, which informs a greater understanding of who we are as a species.”

Click to watch

Video: Author Margaret Atwood on Why We Tell Stories
“Language is one of the most primary facts of our existence.  It’s something that you say, what is human? …it’s right dead, smack in the center of what it is to be human, the ability to tell a story. “

Click to watch

Upcoming Storytelling Events at The Bijou Theatre

In constantly expanding our scope at The Bijou Theatre as a space for a plurality of arts, and in exploring the deeper roots of storytelling, we have connected with Ina Chadwick’s MouseMuse Productions to provide powerful programming.

The upcoming series organized by Chadwick is storytelling in its purest form. As MouseMuse’s tagline reads, “Real People.  Real Stories.” The events will showcase engaging, funny, brave and thoughtful storytellers whether they are onstage as an ensemble, or solo, their stories can help us understand ourselves, laugh at, and have compassion for the human experience, and possibly metabolize trauma into wellbeing.

“Under the Covers”
September 29th, 8:00pm
Jill Jaysen’s Center Stage Theater’s original work, written and performed by women throughout Fairfield County, many of whom have played to sold-out audiences at the Westport Country Playhouse in The Vagina Monologues. Under the Covers is an ensemble dramatic performance by women for all sexes. There is tragedy and triumph. Real-life stories. Poignant and honest. No socio-economic or age barriers keep these women from the elixir of telling the truth. They have something to say.

“The Untouchables”
October 18th, 7:30pm
No one has blown away the highly discerning Moth judges as many times as Adam Wade has.   Eighteen-time Moth slam winner, Adam Wade has gone on to be a Storyteller on late night TV and has been featured in TED videos as a motivational speaker who “tells” from the heart.  Join a riveting round-robin of Storytellers who will try to keep up with Adam Wade in ten minute tales told from the heart: Joe Limone, Bill Bosch, and MouseMuse’s very own Ina Chadwick.

Ina Chadwick at the Fairfield Museum

“Totally Kimleigh”
Two shows!  December 8th, 2:00pm & 8:00pm
In a powerful, one hour theater piece, Kimleigh Smith takes the audience through a journey that is totally uplifting, totally heartbreaking, and totally powerful.

Listen to the RadioLab on Laughter!

Numerous studies have shown that laughter is important to our physical and emotional health. Well, it turns out that laughter can also help our community’s well being too…

This Thursday’s Live Comedy Night featuring Tom Cotter and Marion Grodin will benefit The Bridgeport Police Memorial dedicated to officers who have been killed in the line of duty. Tom Cotter is currently in the semi finals on America’s got talent and is Howard Stern’s favorite. Cotter somehow manages to take a swift left turn with every sentence to end up somewhere unexpected and hilarious. He has a brilliant and strange mind.

Tom Cotter on the perils of childhood games
Tom Cotter on a triathlon for chronic smokers and chess for cocaine addicts

Tom Cotter’s current girlfriend really takes his breath away — because of the asthma

Marion Grodin says of herself “I’m very autobiographical. I’m very personal. I’m edgy, very self-revealing. … I’m not particularly observational in that removed way. I’m very much coming off my own struggles, angst, insecurities.”

Read Full Article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette

Grodin is especially hilarious when interacting with the crowd. She is so quick on her feet that she can construct a comprehensive “bit” just by engaging with whoever happens to be in the audience.

Marion Grodin on the Empire City Casino audience
Marion Grodin on not wanting to do stuff she doesn’t want to do

The Bijou Theatre this Thursday, July 19th at 8:00pm.

Why Is Laughter So Important?

Laughter is Good For the Heart
Laughter Feels Good
Laughter Burns Calories

“I didn’t want to make a film with any heroes and villains.  I wanted to make a film with deeply good but deeply flawed characters,” Sarah Polley says of her new film ‘Take This Waltz’.

Listen to full Interview from All Things Considered

Polley creates a texture of truth with the little details we can’t help but see ourselves and our own relationships in. Those intimate and mundane moments we share with our “others”: waking up, going to sleep, cooking, eating, bathing, brushing teeth.  We get to see these characters the way we see only a few people throughout our lives- their tenderness and callousness, their neediness and selfishness, their best and worst.

The cinematography is sensuous, radiant, it evokes a kind of heartbreaking loveliness. There is a painterly and emotive sense of color and light- the universe glows and whirls at times.

‘Take This Waltz’ Trailer

Perhaps the best part of ‘Take This Waltz’ is the surprising and brilliant casting decisions. Seth Rogen, who plays Lou, recalibrates his humor to create a loveable, flawed and relatable character. Michelle Williams, who plays Margot, delivers a subtle and complicated performance. I was enamored and annoyed with Margot, empathized with her and was frustrated for the ways in which I saw myself in her. Sarah Silverman gives a nuanced performance as Geraldine, Lou’s sister and Margot’s close friend, who is a recovering alcoholic. Silverman plays the “fool” in the Shakespearean sense. Her character possesses a clarity and has several well-delivered lines that capture some of the themes of the film.  After a seriously funny scene in a water-aerobics class she thoughtfully muses, “New things get old just like the old things do”.  Later in the film she has a moment of acute consciousness mid-bender and asserts, “Life has a gap in it, it just does.  You don’t go crazy trying to fill it…”

We are faced with questions about the nature of love, about the difference between falling and being, our own expectations, failures, and inability to fully transcend the loneliness that is just part of what it is to be a person.

Polley says the film is “…at its root about emptiness, and about life having a gap in it…”

Sarah Polley’s A.V. Club Interview

‘Take This Waltz is funny, sexy, painful, beautiful and above all, honest.   It is an experience worth having.

Watch New York Times ‘Anatomy of a Scene’ with ‘Take This Waltz’ writer and Director Sarah Polley

Playing at The Bijou Theatre:

Fri 7/20 7:15pm
Fri 7/27 5:30pm
Thu 8/2 5:30pm

The Bijou Theatre is now permanent home to the The Westport Youth Film Festival, an empowering and inspiring outlet for young artists. What makes them unique is that they not only showcase the art of local, national and international teenagers in a professional setting, but the local youth have a hand in every aspect of the production of the festival.

Because town lines tend to divide us into more homogeneous groups, we often forget about the incredible socio-economic, ethnic, cultural and philosophical diversity that exists in Connecticut. WYFF brings together students from Norwalk, Westport, Bridgeport, Wilton, Stamford, Fairfield, New Haven and Weston to create a dynamic, professional level film festival.

Their mission is to provide young artists with agency for their voices and in doing so to foster the next generation of great filmmakers. They aim to bring teens from different places and experiences together to take part in the creation of a professional level film festival. WYFF empowers young people to expand their concept of what they are capable of doing.

The 2012 Westport Youth Film Festival will be held June 2nd. To purchase a full day pass, click here. The festival centers around screening the art of teen filmmakers. Submissions come from local, national and international youth artists.

The Westport Arts Center is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation and your donation is fully deductible as provided by law.

The Bijou Theatre joins Film Society of Lincoln Center, Unifrance Films, and Emerging Pictures in presenting “Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.” Seven French films will screen in Bridgeport, CT and 50 other US cities during March. This year marks the first collaboration with Emerging Pictures and the “Rendez-Vous with French Cinema” series, and the first time that audiences in cities across the country will have the opportunity to see these films in local theaters.

Directed by Delphine Coulin and Muriel Coulin
France – 2011
Running time:  90 min.
Based on a headline-grabbing incident in the U.S., sisters Delphine and Muriel Coulin’s provocative debut feature follows the fallout in a sleepy French coastal town when a group of teenage girls all decide to become pregnant at the same time.
Showtimes and Tickets

Directed by:  Laurent Achard
Starring Pascal Cervo, Charlotte van Kemmel, Karole Rocher, Brigitte Sy
France – 2011
Running time:  81 min.
CINEMA PARADISO meets PSYCHO in a provocative genre film about the dutiful manager/projectionist of a repertory cinema in the French provinces…and the many secrets he holds.
Showtimes and Tickets

Directed by:  Crystel Fournier
Starring Vincent Lindon, Emmanuelle Devos, Quentin Challal.
France – 2011
Running time:  min.
Romain is a “moon child,” afflicted since birth by a rare genetic deficiency that makes him unable to stand exposure to daylight.  Since infancy he has been cared for by David, a consultant dermatologist who is fascinated with his case and with whom he has developed an unusually close relationship.  Now David has to leave, and doesn’t know how to tell Romain.  The day of the separation draws near… a new ordeal for them both.
Showtimes and Tickets

Directed by Alain Cavalier
Starring Vincent Lindon and Alain Cavalier
France – 2011
Running time:  105 min.
Synopsis:  France’s most unpredictable filmmaker, Alain Cavalier, teams up with actor Vincent Lindon for a witty, semi-improvised look at men, power and politics, starring Cavalier himself as a fictional French President and Lindon as his newly appointed Prime Minister.
Showtimes and Tickets

Directed by and starring:  Mathieu Amalric
France – 2011
Running time:  77 min.
Commissioned by La Comédie-Française, actor-director Mathieu Amalric’s wildly inventive update of Corneille’s popular 17th century tragicomedy follows a hotel concierge on the trail of a missing young man who seems to have left many a young female heart aflutter.
Showtimes and Tickets

Directed by:  Daniel Auteuil
Starring:  Daniel Auteuil, Jane-Pierre Daroussin, Sabine Azema, Kad Merad
France – 2011
Running time:  107 min.
Daniel Auteuil, veteran of Marcel Pagnol adaptations JEAN DE FLORETTE and MANON DES SOURCES, returns to Pagnol for his first work as a director, telling moving story of a hardscrabble well digger, his eldest daughter and her passion for the son of a local shopkeeper.
Showtimes and Tickets

Directed by:  Rabah Ameur-ZaÏmeche
France – 2011
Running time:  97 min.
The 18th century folk hero and bandit Louis Mandrin is the inspiration for this strikingly relevant period tale, tracing the efforts of Mandrin’s followers to distribute his songs and stories in the build-up to the French Revolution.
Showtimes and Tickets