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INTERVIEW: Amie Sponza Talks Northeast Stage's Benefit "A Christmas Carol" Production

T.J. Clemente

A Christmas Carol will support the The Taming of the Shrew summer staging. (Courtesy Photo)

Greenport native Amie Sponza is very excited, and not just due to the holidays, because Northeast Stage is poised to present a lively staged reading of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Greenport on Saturday, December 21 at 3 p.m. and again at 7 p.m.

Directed by Alan Stewart and produced by Suzette Reiss, the holiday classic will star David Markel as Ebenezer Scrooge, with Abigail Field, Richard Gardini, John Hudson, Jere Jacob, Thomas LaMothe, Suzette Reiss, Deborah Rothaug, Stephan Scheck, and Sponza.

Sponza is President of Northeast Stage and explained that the A Christmas Carol staging is actually a fundraiser for their annual Shakespeare in the Park summer production. This year's summer production will be presented in August 2020, when the Greenport-based non-profit Theatre Company will present The Taming of the Shrew, directed by A.D. Newcomer, in Greenport, Riverhead, and Patchogue.

The mission of Northeast Stage is to continue the tradition of free summer outdoor performances of Shakespeare in Greenport's Mitchell Park and to expand its reach to include classics as well as other creative theater projects in different venues. All presentations aim to involve the community through participation as both presenters and audience and to develop actors, directors, producers, designers, set builders and costumers through workshops and exposure to professionals in visual and performing arts.

Yet, there is so much more to Northeast Stage. Sponza went to lengths to explain to me that the heart and soul of the North East Stage lies within 95-year-old artistic founder Peg Murray. Sponza said, "Peg entertained the troops overseas during WWII. Afterwards, she traveled the US doing shows. Her big break was in 1967. Peg Murray won the Tony Award for Cabaret on Broadway that also starred Joel Grey. She had an amazing full career and part of it was landing on the North Fork and creating the Northeast Stage in 1981 with the legal organization in 1983." When I asked why the name Northeast Stage, Sponza explained, "Peg wanted to encompass a wider audience." Sponza still visits Murray, who lives in Greenport at Peconic Landing. She goes weekly. "Peg Murray is a wonderful woman, the theater was her life, still is her life. She did not have children but she and I are family."

The theater has also been Sponza's life, too. She noted, "I met Peg Murray when I was 16. In 1981 we did our first production together, You're a Good Man Charlie Brown, with me playing Lucy. That was the year before I graduated from Greenport High School. She taught me to keep going and don't give up, and don't take no for an answer. I had stars in my eyes at 16. Peg was on All My Children, a soap opera I watched at the time so a few friends of mine signed us up for an improv course she taught. After that, a local art teacher suggested we [Peg and the group] do a show with her going to the East End Arts Counsel to get a grant. That's how Greenport summer plays began, which evolved into Northeast Stage."

However, years later, in the late 1990's when Peg Murray, perhaps due to age, proclaimed she had had enough, it was Sponza who had the desire to keep Northeast Stage going. Sponza said, "Peg is very pleased and proud it's still going." Sponza, when talking about her own two children, mentioned she did direct 16 high school musicals in Greenport besides her work with Peg Murray. So, there is so much Greenport theatrical history involved with both Peg Murray and Amie Sponza. Together they have held the lantern of live performing arts in Greenport up high for decades. Their light has entertained so many as the Northeast Stage marches into yet another decade come this summer.

Please go see A Christmas Carol on Saturday, December 21. Tickets are $20 (including refreshments) and sold at the door. Reservations can also be made by calling 631-477-2972.

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church is located at 768 Main Street in Greenport. For more information, visit www.northeaststage.org.

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