God Save the Scene

Jamie Keiles

“This place isn’t actually an orphanage, even if some of the kids here look like orphans,” Bob Leone laughs, gesturing at the space around him. The venue, on the second floor of the community center attached to Bridgeport’s First Lutheran Church of the Trinity,  seamlessly merges luxury with punk. At last Wednesday’s show, kids in studded jackets kicked their Docs up on velvet divans and sipped on cans of cheap beer. As the music began, vibrations from the amps rattled the crystal vases that lined the shelves of the timeworn armoires around the perimeter of the room. Kids stood up to greet each other, exchanging bear hugs and fist bumps beneath the crown molding and vaulted ceilings. Nobody seemed fazed by the stained glass windows or conspicuously plush décor.

David Medina, church member by day and Doorman Dave by night, is responsible for this aesthetic juxtaposition. Medina manages God’s Closet, a one-room donation-based thrift store operated by First Trinity that distributes clothing and furniture to the needy on a pay-nothing-take-what-you-need basis. The shop is located on the first floor of the rec center, directly beneath the Orphanage.  When Medina comes across something quirky, he simply carries it upstairs. This exchange is only one of the many ways that the relationship between the Orphanage and its host First Trinity is symbiotic.

Though the Orphanage has no official religious mission, this hasn’t prevented the two organizations from establishing a kind of informal cultural exchange. On occasion, bands seize the opportunity to provide a soundtrack to Sunday mass. What was once the church’s parsonage is now home to a handful of punk kids, artists, and organizers. At one point, First Trinity’s pastor, Thomas Gaulke, was the man in charge of booking shows.

Medina sheds light on this strange image–his pastor temporarily becoming a player in the local punk scene–by sharing a bit about the history of the Orphanage. The Orphanage opened about seven years ago, when one of the church’s members went looking for a place for his band to play. Bridgeport musicians, and eventually touring bands from around the nation, took an immediate liking to the space. In its original incarnation, the Orphanage served as a rotating gallery space for local artists’ work, as well as a music venue.

“When touring bands would come through,” Medina explains. “We’d put them up in the chapel. In the morning, we’d go to the store and get a ton of eggs and cook them breakfast. People loved it.”

After about five years of successfully hosting acts, an internal conflict began to rattle the staff of the Orphanage.

“Something about the website,” says Medina.

Many members of the original team defected, and the venue fell into an involuntary hiatus. Touring acts would call the church looking to book shows, confused by the venue’s sudden disappearance.

“People wanted to play here. They’d heard good things about the crowd, the space, the hospitality,” Medina says.

Eventually, Pastor Gaulke stepped up and started dealing with the scheduling. It wasn’t the original Orphanage, Medina clarifies, but it was still a good space.  An occasional act would trickle through, but it wasn’t the same. The scene started to fizzle. For two years, the Orphanage wallowed in organizational purgatory.

This past summer, Medina, along with musician and music teacher Bob Leone, decided it was time for a resurrection. Leone, who started attending First Trinity with his now ex-wife, saw the reinstatement of the Orphanage as a chance to recapture the fun of his youth. The church, and the Bridgeport scene, welcomed a new planning team with open arms.

This new incarnation of the Orphanage held its first event this past August–playing host to the second annual Black and Brown Punk show, a semi-queer, semi-activist-oriented, entirely eclectic fundraiser. Both Leone and Medina agreed the show was a success, despite an appearance by the cops and what Medina calls “a citation for a noise violation or something.” This past Wednesday, the new Orphanage’s second event took place. Familiar and new faces flocked to the venue for what was billed simply as “a punk show.”

During the show, Medina and Leone were both at ease, confident in the ability of the new generation of kids to carry on the DIY ethic left behind by the old guard. After one particularly frantic cymbal crash, a stand fell over, with one nearby punk hurrying over to re-set the instrument before the end of the song. If the smooth set changes, respectful decorum, and earnest music are any indicator, their confidence is justified. The space’s next event, a “dual benefit for community self-defense and to help the Orphanage pay their heating bill,” takes place December 10.

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