Grange Hall in West Tisbury was filled with gregarious chatter, an atmosphere akin to a family reunion, Thursday evening during the celebration of Charlie Esposito, the recipient of this year’s Creative Living Award from the Martha’s Vineyard Community Foundation.
Several people spoke in honor of Esposito, kicked off by Martha’s Vineyard Community Foundation executive director Emily Bramhall. She said Esposito was joining a “pretty great crowd” of fellow Creative Living Award recipients, the first of whom were honored in 1983: Marian Halperin and H. Stanton Lair. The award was created in honor of Ruth J. Bogan.
“The Creative Living Award was established to recognize members of the Vineyard community who embody Ruth’s creative, innovative, and lively spirit. Charlie Esposito is a wonderful representation of these qualities,” Bramhall said.
Esposito began his life in the musical arts in New York City, traveling the nation with Timothy Maxwell and Duane Spencer to perform as the band Mr. TCD (Timothy, Charlie, Duane). Esposito settled down on Martha’s Vineyard in the 1960s, working for the Black Dog Tavern in the 1970s, and making a recording studio in the former EduComp building basement in Vineyard Haven. He has been the director of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center (PAC) since 2003.
Musician Jeremy Berlin told the audience about Esposito’s EduComp days and the various musicians who have worked with the award recipient, such as Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish. Berlin described Esposito, with plenty of jokes scattered throughout, as a master of his craft, albeit “kind of strange in his creativity,” who was patient, authentic, and always ready to help.
“I think that Charlie is always, eternally engaged with what he’s doing,” Berlin said. “I think he’s just going to outlive us all and keep on doing something. I don’t know what comes after the PAC, but it’ll definitely be something. So I’m gonna finish by saying there are various memes around that say, ‘After the world dies, what are we going to leave behind for the cockroaches and Keith Richards?’ and to that, I’d like to add Charlie Esposito.”
Members of the Black Dog crew who worked with Esposito — Matt Castro, Keith Propper, Lynne Irons, Randy Rynd, and Tom Engley — also shared various tales about Esposito at the restaurant, ranging from the preparation for his Chinese night idea that livened up the winter months on Martha’s Vineyard to getting lost on a snowy road.
“We love you, Charlie. It’s been a good, long, strange trip,” Irons said at the end of the group’s sojourn down memory lane.
Brook Ditchfield, who worked with Esposito at the PAC, had many titles to describe this “Island legend” who has “had many lives,” and was her “collaborator, my partner in crime, my dear friend, and someone who I truly consider family.” In particular, Ditchfield shared how Esposito became a mentor for many students who had an interest in any part of theater at the PAC.
“Charlie’s taught me how to live creatively, too. I think he’s shown everyone in this room at one point or another how to live creatively,” Ditchfield said.
Before Martha’s Vineyard Community Foundation board vice-chair Julie Fay handed the award to Esposito, Bramhall told the audience that State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, “regrets not being able to join us tonight,” but sent a “citation from the Massachusetts House of Representatives recognizing [Esposito’s] achievements.”
“We are so pleased you are here tonight to receive it,” Fay said, handing the award to Esposito.
Esposito concluded the ceremony with his own speech, including more humorous stories about his younger days and experiences on the Vineyard, such as rushing to get a project done and getting an A with an improvised presentation.
“This is an honor, is exciting, a surprise, and all that. I’m so bad about being in front of the mic except for over there,” Esposito said, pointing toward the instruments set up behind him.
The “Be a Philanthropist” raffle also took place, and Esposito pulled out Abigail Chandler’s name from the basket. The raffle winner gave $1,000 to a nonprofit of their choice, and Chandler chose to donate to the Minnesingers.
After the ceremony and a short intermission, Mr. TCD came back together for a concert, mixing music and storytelling segments, to the remaining audience’s joy.