Toquet Hall Giving Artists an Audience

The spotlight. The fans. The music. It is easy to see why performers choose Toquet Hall as their preferred venue to gain publicity. But it’s more than that. Toquet Hall gives budding performers a haven where they can express themselves through their various types of music.

According to Director Kevin Godburn, Toquet Hall was founded in 1998 by the Westport Youth Commission to give kids a safe, drug and alcohol free place to hang out. It is usually used as a creative outlet for aspiring performers to get on stage and show off their talent.

“It’s a great way to develop your craft as a performer, especially since it’s not a judgmental environment and it makes you feel very welcome,” said Andrew “Rada”Medina’12, who has performed his blend of Hip-Hop and Rap music at Toquet Hall four times. “It gives you an opportunity to find out what kind of methods work with crowds and what doesn’t without being booed off stage.”

Take Zero, a Pop Rock band comprised of Charlie Lo Presti ’13, Josh Reedy ’13, Richard Granger ‘13, and Michael Orent ’13, had different reasons for performing at Toquet Hall. Since the venue is located downtown, it’s convenient and easy to bring lots of friends. But more than the location, Take Zero plays for passion.

“There is nothing better in the world than playing the music that you love and to have people enjoy listening to your music,” said Lo Presti. “Music also allows us to kind of let loose and do what we want, especially when we are on stage.”

Reedy agreed. “We began performing there in an attempt to be more socially accepted and make music that we enjoy,” he said.

Ellen Kempner ’12, a singer, finds performing at Toquet Hall therapeutic as well as financially beneficial. “It just allows me to space out and focus on my inner self,” said Kempner. “Plus they pay incredibly well.” According to Godburn, the maximum pay for local performers is $200 per concert.

Performances at Toquet Hall attract a wide range of different audiences. ForMedina, his audience usually consists of friends or Toquet Hall regulars. Thus, he looks forward to sharing the stage with others so he gets a chance to demonstrate his talent to other artists’ fans.

“I find it interesting when people I don’t know personally show up to my performances,” said Medina. “It gives me the feeling that I actually have a fan base that will show up to support and see me perform.”

Godburn takes pride in the fact that the environment at Toquet Hall allows a comfortable interaction between the performers and the audience. After shows, the crowd is able to hang out with the performers, get autographs, and socialize.

However, he feels that the perception of Toquet Hall amongst Staples students is mixed. Godburn said that there are either people who are really into it or people who are not. “Some feel like it’s the perfect fit and take pleasure in the fact that it’s their space. Others have a certain opinion in mind and just don’t want to give it a chance. They discount Toquet Hall right away,” said Godburn.

Medina shares the same concern and believes that many students at Staples view Toquet Hall in a negative light. “A lot of people need to realize that Toquet Hall can become something way bigger than it is now. It has potential but needs support from the Staples community,” said Medina. “Most people at Staples are very close-minded and won’t really try new things unless it’s ‘in’.”

Medina feels that Toquet Hall’s biggest problem is its entrance. It is hard to find due to the fact that it is in an alleyway, which hinders its appeal. “I’ve had problems where I would have to go outside minutes before I should be on stage to direct people to the entrance,” said Medina. The obscurity contributes to the loss of attendees at the venue.

Other performers have a more positive outlook.

“I think that Staples kids think that it is a very relaxing and chill venue. It offers a nice environment that people can just hang out in,” said Lo Presti.

Kempner has a similar opinion. “Staples is supportive of the scene, as underground as it may seem to the commercial eye,” said Kempner. “I think students like it for some sort of street credit.”

Regardless, for all the Toquet Hall performers, only one thing truly mattered. In the words of Lo Presti, “I play because I love doing it.”