MEET THE PIANO PLAYER
Ethan Walmark, 12, is a piano prodigy who is destined for stardom. At only 15 months old, Ethan taught himself to play the piano by ear.
“[He had] a Melissa & Doug toy piano…we were in the other room and we heard ‘Twinkle, Twinkle,’” Ethan’s father, Michael Walmark, remembers with pride.
Ethan has Autism Spectrum Disorder, which is only one part of who he is; neither he nor his family let ASD hold him back from performing or from living his life to its fullest.
“When he is on stage I like to say it’s the most typical that he is because he’s in his comfort zone, and he’s just an all-around entertainer,” Allison Ziering Walmark, Ethan’s mother, says. "While it may be challenging for him to do a one-on-one conversation, when he’s on stage he can go back and forth with the audience, and it’s just so natural for him.”
The Walmark family has a history filled with music, so it is no surprise that Ethan is so talented.
“My dad was a professional musician and won Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts numerous times. He was in the Army Air Corps, entertained the troops stateside and later had a well-known professional society band,” Allison says.
Ethan’s favorite part about playing the piano is sharing his music with others.
“It shows my ability,” Ethan says. “It makes people happy.”
He has performed all over Connecticut and the United States at huge venues like the Kennedy Center and Jones Beach, as well as local venues. He has played for audiences of more than 30,000 people without a tinge of stage fright.
In 2013, when Ethan was 8 years old, he was asked to join a new band called Clueless, which was started by two pre-teen musicians from School of Rock in Fairfield just so they could jam with Ethan. Although Clueless is made up of high school and college-aged students, Ethan holds his own with ease. The band performed their first gig at an Autism Speaks fundraiser at Toquet Hall in 2014. Ethan’s family is very involved with the Autism Speaks organization and has participated in numerous walks, fundraisers and performances for the charity. Clueless also holds fundraisers for the Jerry and Sandy Ziering Music Scholarship fund, formed by Ethan’s parents in memory of his grandparents, to help underserved children in the community by providing free music lessons.
Ethan’s musical knowledge is impressive and extensive.
“I like Elton John; Emerson, Lake & Palmer; Genesis. I like anything rock and soul. Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Jackson 5…” Ethan says.
And the list could go on and on.
“He has tremendous musical taste,” Allison says. “He can play swing, he can play ragtime, jazz, funk, blues…he listens to something three or four times and can play it.”
Ethan’s younger sister, Eliza, is a talented gymnast who is one of Ethan’s biggest supporters and enjoys singing and dancing to her brother’s piano playing.
“It makes me feel special to know he’s making other people happy by playing music,” Eliza says.
MEET THE DANCER
Jamie Mann, 15, has been dancing since he could walk.
“It was like a compulsion,” his mother, Jill Mann, says. “If there was music playing anywhere, we had to stop and let him dance.”
Jamie’s interest in ballet was sparked at age 3 at a performance of Swan Lake in Madrid.
Because it was getting late, the family decided to leave at intermission.
“He cried when we left,” Jill says. “And he was obsessed with ballet after that.”
Since then, Jamie has trained at Ballet Etudes (The Studio) in Norwalk, along with Alvin Ailey and the School of American Ballet in New York City. He has even performed with the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center in productions of Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Harlequinade.
“The first production I did [at Lincoln Center] was The Nutcracker…it was surreal,” Jamie says. “It was just an incredible experience.”
His passion for dance is unwavering, and his face completely lights up when he talks about performing.
“I love the fluidity of it all. I love the rhythm and how I feel when I’m dancing, especially on stage with a cast…It’s like its own language,” Jamie says.
Not only is Jamie an extremely talented dancer, but he is also a gifted actor and singer. When Jamie was training at Alvin Ailey at age 9, he was scouted for the Billy Elliot Broadway National Tour. Unfortunately, the tour closed just before he turned 10 and was about to audition for the production’s creative team. However, Jamie had the opportunity to go on to perform the title role of Billy Elliot in four regional productions of the show in four different states, totaling more than 60 performances.
“That was really my first time doing professional theater,” Jamie says. “It was intense because all the productions were different. It was a really difficult role to play. I learned you can really do anything if you put your mind to it.”
Jamie is involved in Staples Players locally, where he has already performed in two main stage productions during his freshman year and has performed in numerous ballets at The Westport Playhouse through his local dance studio, Ballet Etudes.
Jamie pictures himself pursuing an acting career and has dreams of being on Broadway someday.
MEET THE SKATEBOARDER
Bunk is a brilliant and dedicated athlete, which is unusual because he’s a 5-year-old English Bulldog. Unlike other dogs, “going out” never means a walk around the block.
“When we lived in Brooklyn I used to take him out for walks and to the dog park, but he didn’t really see the utility of walking,” says Frank Nussbaum, Bunk’s owner.
It all started four years ago when Carlye, Frank’s wife, got Frank a skateboard for his birthday.
“He’d seen other things with wheels and was fascinated by them… and Bunk was absolutely infatuated with the skateboard. He was obsessed with it from the moment he got on,” Frank says.
Skateboarding comes naturally to Bunk. He rides the board instinctually and puts his front paws on the board and powers it with one or two of his back feet. Now, he goes out three times a day and skateboards for the entire time.
“He likes an audience,” Carlye says. “You can’t be out there on your phone and not be paying attention to him or he gets mad!”
The Nussbaums live by the school in Weston so people frequently walk or drive by and stop to watch Bunk skateboard in the driveway. He has even become a local celebrity in Weston.
“People recognize him when he’s out, which is a few hours a day,” Frank says.
Bunk enjoys going out to eat. His favorite local spots include Wire Mill Saloon & Barbecue for burgers and Heibeck’s Stand for a vanilla ice cream. He also loves spending time with his sisters, Mia, 12; and Tabitha, 8 months.
“He’s always been a very sweet dog,” Frank says. “He was good with Mia right off the bat, and he’s wonderful with his new baby sister, which is an adjustment for him.”
In the future, the Nussbaums hope to involve Bunk with a more formal role in the community.
“We’d love to have him as a therapy dog,” Carlye says. “He’s great with people, and he’s wonderful with kids.”
Bunk is a self-taught athlete, and he’s also taught the Nussbaum family a lot.
“He’s a really hard worker, and every day he does the unlikely,” Carlye says. “He has this really interesting passion and works so hard at it…it’s inspiring,” Frank says.
Follow Bunk on Instagram @GoodBoyBunk.