In 1957 Craig Matheson arrived in Westport and began teaching at Staples High School then located on Riverside Avenue now Bedford Middle School. His task was to develop a drama program that would match the existing excellent music program. That December he staged The Night Before Christmas as part of the annual Candlelight Concert, a tradition which continues to the present. Later that year, he directed a theatrical revue which featured Christopher Lloyd, who later became well know for his roles in Taxi and Back to the Future. With this kind of energy, creativity and new space, Players was off to a great start, setting high standards right from the beginning.
With the support of the Board of Education, especially Richard Shirey and Leonard MacKenzie (a Staples graduate and talented musician), and Staples Principal Stanley Lorenzen, Matheson moved forward with confidence. Superintendent Gerhardt Rast was a staunch supporter of the beginning and Hal James, Broadway producer of Man of La Mancha, gave the theatre program a real professional push, something Matheson regarded essential.
In 1961 the first theatre classes were offered under the title of Play Production. Stephen Gilbert, art teacher, was hired to teach stage craft and to become the technical director for the Players. Steve's strengths gave credibility to the study of drama and a strong support system for the after school program. The Staples Players opened its first season with two outstanding comedies: You Can't Take It with You and Arsenic and Old Lace.
For the next few years Craig ran the program with the help of English Teacher Floren Harper and art teacher Steve Gilbert. With this dynamic trio of leaders, Players began its long history of winning awards - state and regional. War and Pieces, a much publicized and controversial anti-war original production, was the recipient of the Moss Hart Award and winner of the Connecticut and New England Drama Festival competitions in 1968. The War and Pieces company toured twelve high schools and five colleges in New England and their photo essay of this production was selected by the United Nations as part of a cultural exchange with the Soviet Union in 1969.
In 1968 Matheson moved into an administrative position and Albert Pia was hired to lead Staples Players for the next 28 years. High standards of excellence were sustained and flourished throughout Mr. Pia's career. Players continued to win such awards as the prestigious Moss Hart Award. Theatre became a full time curriculum and Mr. Matheson's student run 3 O'clock Theatre (performances presented right after school) was expanded into what is now known as Studio Theatre (with weekend performances). Mr. Pia continued to instill the commitment to professionalism that make Players the program what it is today. He inspired many a student actor to continue his or her craft after high school. His nearly three decades at Staples created a legacy that continues to this day.
When Mr. Pia retired in June of 1996, Judy Luster, a long time member of the Staples staff and sometimes member of the Players staff, became director of Players. During her four years with Players she expanded Players' repertoire to include such controversial shows as Runaways, A Chorus Line (directed by Players alum Bradley Jones -- a member of the original Broadway cast), and Tommy. Ms. Luster worked hard during her tenure to accumulate much of the Players' history listed in these pages. Under Luster's leadership, Players were invited to perform at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland during the summer of 2000, indeed an honor for Players.
David Roth was named the new Director of Players and has retained Staples Players' reputation for excellence and professionalism. Mr. Roth is no stranger to Players, having served as Vice President of the organization (under the tutelage of Al Pia) when he was a student at Staples from 1982-1984. Mr. Roth participated in over 16 productions while at Staples -- playing the Emcee in Cabaret (winner of the 1984 Moss Hart Award) and serving as director of Chicago in 1983 and Brighton Beach Memoirs in 1993. Mr. Roth has worked professionally as a director and actor and ran the drama program at Bedford Middle School in Westport from 1992-2000.