Margaret Kuffner Golden Vivino, known as “Peggy” to her friends, died of cancer on Monday, May 30. Although she was not a close personal friend of mine, I am feeling the ripple effect of her death, realizing that the relationships she built, and the things she created as the costumier of the all-volunteer Rockaway Theatre Company, made my life immeasurably better.
If you love theatre, music and dance, having access to excellent community theatre performances in Rockaway is an invaluable aspect of your quality of life. The word “excellent” is the key. You can attend community theatre performances around the country, and find a great degree of variation in the quality of effort. Not at Rockaway Theatre Company. The standards are high. Peggy Vivino was a big part of that.
Peggy was a maven of the costume art. The company received many clothing donations from members of the community, and Peggy devoted years of effort to skillfully adapting the items. RTC now has a trove of costumes so extensive that other community theatre companies in Brooklyn have been able to borrow for their own productions.
Peggy’s creative eye and skill could turn some snippets of stuff from the warehouse of Materials for the Arts into treasures that came to life on the stage. I can only imagine the hours of volunteer labor she expended to dress the actors for all the classic RTC shows — “My Fair Lady,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” and “The King and I” are just a few. If you’ve been telling yourself for years: “I’ve got to get over there to RTC and see one of those shows soon,” guess what? The cast, crew, costumes, and sets for each of those shows can never be re-created. The company will produce new, great shows, but each individual production was a moment in time that will never occur again. Peggy’s death made me realize that we should treasure each show the RTC produces — they are priceless, unique gems of community effort!
I was not privileged to be a part of the company, or to work with Peggy on costumes for an RTC show. I did, however, have a brief experience in 2004 when she and John Gilleece, Artistic Director of RTC, served as creative advisors for my Parents as Arts Partners song-writing program at PS 114. The program kicked off with a magical whirlwind ferry trip to Ellis Island on an impossibly warm Saturday in February. Parents and children in the program then attended weekly songwriting workshops with an enthusiastic young pianist from Young Audiences, Eli Yamin. Just hearing the chorus of the folk standard, “Freight Train,” our warm-up song for the workshops, will forever bring back great memories for me of the excitement of staging our recital in the PS 114 auditorium at the conclusion of the program. Peggy and John helped a bunch of ragtag moms and dads, and their children, look like stars. Not with a big grant to buy costumes, but with a couple hundred here and there for necessities. To see talented and resourceful people create something together with limited resources is truly a marvel to me. That was one of Peggy’s hallmarks.
Goodbye, Peggy. Thank you for all that you did for Rockaway.