New publication touts Windham arts, artists

WINDHAM – Along with great performances of Windham’s talented alumni, this year’s Richard Nickerson Scholarship Concert at the Windham High School will feature the debut publication of “Applause!”

The newsletter is written by and for Windham alumni and is funded by the Windham-Raymond Performing Arts Alliance, which is the main booster organization for everything arts-related at the high school.

Attendees to the Saturday, Jan. 8, scholarship concert will be able to pick up a copy of the newsletter, which will be produced on an annual basis by three longtime Windham performing arts leaders: Gayle Clarke, Nickerson and Linda Toppi.

Clarke, who had the initial inspiration for the newsletter, described the publication’s mission as focused on helping Windham arts alumni stay connected with each other.

“It’s meant to connect alumni with one another, so they can stay in touch,” Clarke said. “It’s also meant to encourage alumni pursuing a career in the arts beyond Windham High School. And I’d say we also want to communicate to Windham and the Lakes Region that we have an outstanding facility.”

Clarke said the annual newsletter is specifically targeted toward alumni of the Windham Chamber Singers, as well as Windham High School chorus, band, orchestra and theater. The potential audience for “Applause!” reaches into the hundreds, perhaps thousands, she said.

“Rick Nickerson and I both had a desire for some sort of alumni newsletter,” Clarke said, “and my son, Sam, had amassed an e-mail contact list of former students. So we have a base of former students to start with.”

The inaugural issue is being printed this week by The Printhouse in Windham in preparation for the Jan. 8 concert. The cover page will be in color with inside pages in black and white. Clarke, Nickerson and Toppi are planning a full-color digital version as well, which can be e-mailed to subscribers.

“We don’t have a website, but we’ll post unalterable PDF documents on the Windham High School website. That, and we’ll have a Facebook page: ‘whs performing arts alumni,'” said Toppi, who is in charge of communications and publicity for the newsletter and is the newsletter’s graphic designer.

While Clarke is in charge of writing articles, Nickerson will serve as the newsletter’s editor, something he will need to add to his growing list of vocational pursuits. Nickerson serves as the Chamber Singers’ conductor, the director of music for K-12 in Windham, the Concert Choir director, conductor of the fall musical, chorus master for the “Magic of Christmas” at Merrill Auditorium and minister of music for the North Windham Union Church.

A veteran of the Windham music scene, Nickerson has seen a lot of kids come and go. The alumni newsletter, therefore, will tie his years in Windham together.

“This is a lot of fun,” Nickerson said. “It enables me to look at a lot of the things that have happened in the last 20 to 30 years.”

Nickerson, who grew up in Houlton in northern Maine, said his hometown’s high school alumni association has a similar newsletter.

“We’ve been thinking about this the better part of a year or two,” Nickerson said. “It is very successful in Houlton and I always thought maybe we should do that here. I still get my newsletter every year, and it’s definitely a highlight,” Nickerson said.

Sam Clarke recently graduated from Emerson College in Boston and is currently pursuing a writing career in Los Angeles. The former chamber singer wrote two articles for the issue.

The first, he said, is a profile of a Windham High School alum who’s been very successful in the entertainment business: Kate Boutilier.

“She’s been writing for television and movies in Los Angeles for years. After graduating from Emerson College, she moved to L.A.,” Clarke said. “We hear a lot about our alumni who go on to perform, not a lot about the writers. That’s why I chose to profile Kate.”

Boutilier wrote for the nighttime soap “Falcon Crest,” the comedy “Family Ties” featuring Michael J. Fox, as well as several other popular shows, Clarke said. Eventually, she ended up with Klasky Csupo, the production company behind the Nickelodeon cartoon “Rugrats.” She was very successful there, he said, writing “Rugrats Go Wild” and “The Wild Thornberrys,” both nationwide feature films.

Since he’s currently attempting to break into show business with the help of former Windham alumni like Boutilier, Clarke’s second piece “is all about the power of networking, how easy it is, and how much so many people are willing and able to support young people getting into entertainment,” he said.

Members of the general public who want to stay informed of Windham performing arts are also encouraged to subscribe. A membership form will be included in the first newsletter suggesting a $10 donation for those who wish to receive the newsletter. For those who can’t get a copy of the printed newsletter, another way to subscribe, Toppi said, is to go to the newsletter’s Facebook page (whs performing arts alumni) and become a friend by “liking” the organization. Toppi, whose children Ben and Laura are former Windham performers, said the Facebook page, which already has 162 friends, will be updated throughout the year.

“I’m very proud to be a part of this. Hopefully it just grows and grows,” Toppi said. “Both of my children were part of the Chamber Singers and both are pursuing careers in the arts, and both are already on the mailing list.”

Linda Toppi, Gayle Clarke and Richard Nickerson have created a newsletter entitled “Applause!” for alumni of Windham High School’s many music programs. The debut issue will be available at Jan. 8’s Richard Nickerson Scholarship Concert. (Courtesy photo)