Tag Archives: Ogunquit

Controversy Brews Over Ogunquit Ocean Rescue

Ogunquit Ocean Rescue

Protecting Lives

Often Not Appreciated

By Bobby Franklin 

Ogunquit, Maine is known for, among other things, the great performances staged each year at the Ogunquit Playhouse. Unfortunately, the theatrics in this beautiful seacoast town are not confined to the stage of the Playhouse. The town with a year round population of just over a thousand residents has constant drama in its government. The players seem to be continually at war with one another, and quite often these battles become highly personal. The latest one playing out has to do with the leadership of Ogunquit Ocean Rescue.

At the end of June this year the interim Town Manager Matthew Buttrick decided to replace the Captain of the lifeguards, JP Argenti, with the incoming Fire Chief Russell Osgood. Even though Mr. Osgood has no experience as a lifeguard and is not certified for the position it was felt he could handle the job. This was done without public input, and it is unclear what, if any, input the Select Board had with the decision. The Town manager has said this was done to reduce the amount of department heads responding directly to him. Others have said it was because Mr. Argenti was pushing for pay increases for the lifeguards. The possibility that this was done for personal reasons has also been floated. The Town Select Board has remained silent on the issue other than to approve the appointment of Mr. Osgood as Lifeguard Captain.

Captain Jay Argenti and Guard Jacob Leonard Keeping Watch

The upshot of all of this is that Mr. Argenti, a twenty year veteran of Ogunquit Ocean Rescue and Captain for the past eight years has been dismissed and is no longer a member of Ogunquit Ocean Rescue. An additional fifteen lifeguards have either resigned or have signaled they will not be joining the service when scheduled to do so. Among these are the most experienced members of Ogunquit Ocean Rescue. This has all been happening just as the summer season is kicking into full swing. It is also a year that is seeing a 30 year high in lifeguard shortages across the nation, and an increase in drownings throughout New England. 

Over the past ten years I have spent a lot of time on the beach at Ogunquit. It is listed as the 7th most beautiful beach in the country, and it certainly deserves that designation. It is a breathtaking seashore with magnificent sunrises and sunsets, wonderful clean water, and a river with a strong current that flows into it. It can also be a bit treacherous as the sands are constantly shifting making for unpredictable riptides. On a typical beach day upwards of 20,000 people will pour onto the 1.5 mile long beach. When staffing is at full capacity there will be 17 lifeguards looking out for the public that is visiting. This out of a full compliment of 35. Most years the guards are about equally divided between male and female. 

On a typical beach day upwards of 20,000 people will pour onto the 1.5 mile long beach.

I once remember hearing someone on the beach remark while watching the life guards that “These kids get paid to hang around the beach all day. What a racket”. I get the feeling that sentiment is felt by the leaders of the Town of Ogunquit. I hope I am wrong, as the job of Ocean Rescue is much more complicated than “hanging around the beach all day”.

Then Jet Ski

Lifeguards must be Red Cross certified. At Ogunquit under JP Argenti, they went through extensive training that continued during the season. This training includes ocean rescue techniques, using a board and rescue can, CPR, first aid, AED (defibrillator), radio traffic, numerous workouts involving running, swimming, paddling, medical rescue scenarios, rules and guidelines. 

Guards also have to deal with such things as unruly people, enforcing regulations regarding alcohol and smoking, finding lost children, administrating aid to people suffering from heat related problems and even hypothermia caused by being in the cold water too long. They help disabled people on and off the beach. While doing all of this, team members also have to keep watch for people who may be getting into trouble in the water. Riptides are a major issue that can prevent swimmers from reaching shore. The lifeguards have to keep constant watch for signs that the water may be becoming more dangerous and remain alert for the dangers caused by these changes. 

If all that isn’t enough, the members of Ogunquit Ocean Rescue also assist people out of danger and back to shore  and prevent them from entering dangerous areas. They provide patrons information, perform water testing for Maine Healthy Beaches, monitor the plovers and the dunes, while on slow days (if there can be such a thing) they clean up the beach and do workouts and more training.

When jumping in to save a swimmer in distress the lifeguard puts him/her self in extreme danger. This is where the training and proper use of equipment pays off.

On top of all that, the most dangerous part of the job is springing into action to save swimmers who are in imminent danger of drowning. This is most common near the mouth of the river where the current becomes very strong during the changing tide as the water drops off and becomes colder as it enters the ocean. When jumping in to save a swimmer in distress the lifeguard puts him/her self in extreme danger. This is where the training and proper use of equipment pays off. Knowing how to maneuver the jet ski and board is a difficult skill to acquire but pays off when the time comes. When a life is in danger these “kids” take on a whole different aura of importance. They are highly skilled professionals, well trained, with the courage to risk their lives to save others. 

In the conversations I have had with JP Argenti over the years I have not only been impressed with his professionalism and knowledge of the beach, but also how steeped in the history of Ogunquit Beach he is. His dedication to his job and love for the area runs deep. He and members of the team could often be seen there after hours when he felt their services might still be needed. 

Ogunquit Lifeguards, 1926

Ogunquit Beach has a long and colorful history. There is some evidence the first lifeguards served on the beach in 1909 as tourism began to grow. At the time they were a volunteer group. In 1925 the Village of Ogunquit took control of the beach through eminent domain and it was designated a public park. The following year the Ogunquit Village Improvement Association set up the first publicly funded life guard service. A young Bette Davis was a member of that original group of life savers and wrote about her time with them in her autobiography. 

For many years only five lifeguards patrolled the beach. They would use a lifeboat when attempting to save people, but the techniques were not what they are today. In 1946 a lifeguard drowned and with the boat in disrepair, funding was increased. 

Lifeguard Bette Davis Working At Ogunquit Beach

Another incident in 1981 led to a further increase in funding when a child was pulled out to sea and never recovered. Over the years funding has been increased, but at times it has also been reduced. When JP took over as Captain he fought to increase funding and improve training and equipment. He did this to ensure the public would be safe by having the best lifeguards possible. 

The current starting pay rate for lifeguards posted on the Town of Ogunquit website is $18.00 per hour with a maximum of $21.50. There are no benefits included. I also looked to see if any bonus was given to those who worked last year in the midst of the pandemic while the beach was still crowded and the risk of infection was high. There was none even though parking revenue to the town was at a healthy level. 

What draws a person to seek employment as a member of Ogunquit Ocean Rescue? JP told me it is a combination of working at the beach along with the camaraderie, adventure, risk of the job, an interest in the medical fields as well as the friendships that are built. The biggest satisfaction is found in knowing the role they all play in keeping people safe. 

As with any professional, they expect a good measure of respect, something that is lacking in the town.

Pay is an important factor especially among the older and more experienced lifeguards who may have families to support, but it is not pay alone that draws them. They take extreme pride in their profession. As with any professional, they expect a good measure of respect, something that is lacking in the town.

The veteran guards play a very important role in helping the younger and less experienced members of Ocean Rescue learn the profession.

The veteran guards play a very important role in helping the younger and less experienced members of Ocean Rescue learn the profession. It is vital these veterans are there to pass on their wisdom. This is very serious work and there is no substitute for the skills that have been gained by having been on the job for a period of time. It looks like most of these top lifesavers are now gone.

Well Trained And Ready To Save Lives

The revenue brought in from fees charged for parking in the lots near the beach is a major source of income for the town. The fees have been raised and the hours when they are required have increased. People who pay these charges expect to have a level of protection while on the beach. That safety net is now in question.

Those active in town politics squabble over just about anything. The old saying that it takes a village doesn’t appear to apply in this hamlet of just 4 square miles. Most of the time these arguments and the petty backbiting that goes along with them don’t mean a lot. However, in the case of Ocean Rescue, people’s lives are on the line. It is a time for leadership and full transparency in the Town of Ogunquit. I have to wonder how much time the members of the Select Board have spent on the beach observing Ocean Rescue in action? I can only hope it doesn’t take a tragedy to bring people to their senses.

Ogunquit Ocean Rescue has been an elite force for years now. You would be hard pressed to find another life guard service that comes close to how the team under JP Argenti has performed. Ogunquit was lucky to have them; it’s too bad they don’t realize this.

The Ogunquit Playhouse Is Back With “Monty Python’s Spamalot”

With Monty Python’s Spamalot

The Ogunquit Playhouse

Returns Us To The Bright Side Of Life

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Charles Shaughnessy as King Arthur and Mariand Torres as The Lady of the Lake

In the early spring of 2020 hope began to fade that the Corona Virus was going to recede, and the reality that life for all of us was going to be quite different for some time was setting in. At the time Brad Kenney, Executive Artistic Director of the Playhouse, had to make the announcement the 2020 Season would be canceled. Brad did this via video and the poor guy could not have looked more beaten down. His heart and soul is in the Ogunquit Playhouse and having to let the public know the curtain wouldn’t be going up last year was heart wrenching. It seemed sure the place would  remain dark for a long time. Some wondered if it would be able to survive.

Well, Brad may have been staggered and even floored, but the count never got to ten. He soon recovered and was back in the fight, a fight he was not going to lose. After having to refund over 50% of the ticket sale money for the up coming season Brad went to work on fundraising, and more importantly, keeping the flame burning at the playhouse. This began with video talks with Playhouse Alumni such as Sally Struthers. The mood was changing for the better. Next was the Playhouse Cabaret Series where performers from past seasons displayed their talents before small crowds outside the theatre in a cafe setting. So, even though the season was officially canceled, there were still performances taking place before a live audience. 

Left to Right) Jen Cody, Dwelvan David, Charles Shaughnessy, Mariand Torres, Josh Grisetti, and Daniel Lopez (Photo by Gary Ng)

As the 2021 Season approached it was still unknown if the COVID restrictions would allow for the theatre to reopen. Since it takes some time to put together full scale productions it was decided to build a pavilion next to the theatre where it would be easier to allow for social distancing and ventilation. 

With generous donations from the many loyal supporters of the Playhouse, and a huge gift from benefactors Carol and Noel Leary, the Leary Pavillon was erected and a four show season was planned.

Last Friday night the season kicked off with Monty Python’s Spamalot. As one of the tag-lines from Monty Python goes; “And now for something completely different”. Well, not completely different as this production lives up to the high standards the Ogunquit Playhouse has always adhered to.

The laughter that came from the audience in response to those lines shows the resilience people have and how, just like the Ogunquit Playhouse, we are not giving up.

It was an interesting choice as the first musical to play since the pandemic hit in that it opens with references to plague and deaths. Grim? Not at all, gallows humor is exactly what is needed at this time. The laughter that came from the audience in response to those lines shows the resilience people have and how, just like the Ogunquit Playhouse, we are not giving up. 

Charles Shaughnessy is excellent in leading the cast as Arthur the King who just can’t seem to command respect. Sent by God on a quest to find the Holy Grail, Arthur is accompanied by his faithful companion Patsy (Jen Cody). Along the way the King assembles members of his Knights of the Round Table, a motley crew who often take things Arthur says literally which causes more than a little Pythonish confusion.

Josh Grisetti as Sir Robin
(Photo by Gary Ng)

Dennis Galahad (Daniel A. Lopez) is not easily convinced to become a knight as he has the radical idea leaders should be chosen by the people and not by Divine Right. The Lady of the Lake (Mariand Torres) appears and wins over Dennis with Come With Me who now becomes Sir Galahad. Ms Torres while singing hilarious songs shows her talent as a genuine Broadway Belter with the Diva’s Lament and Find Your Grail/The Song That Goes Like This.

Jen Cody is outstanding as Patsy. Her performance of the show’s best known song Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life was pitch perfect, and she showed great comedic expressions when Mr. Shaughnessy sang I’m Alone. Poor Patsy who had stood by the King throughout thick and thin was a riot as she looked to the audience with “What about me looks?” as Arthur spun his tale of loneliness.

Jen Cody as Patsy
Photo Credit: Gary Ng

With many of the devices that make Monty Python so popular, such as a giant wooden rabbit, the huge hand, poking fun at the French, and riding on horseback sans horses, fans won’t be disappointed.

The big show tunes are a treat as well. You Won’t Succeed On Broadway (Josh Grisetti) is Mel Brooksian in its formula for it’s humorous take in what you need to produce a Broadway Show while His Name Is Lancelot (Nic Rouleau) is best described as Lancelot’s coming out song.

Music, laughter, beautiful sets, and the joy of the Ogunquit Playhouse is back. Life is good again.

By the finale the audience was fully back in theatre mode. Music, laughter, beautiful sets, and the joy of the Ogunquit Playhouse is back. Life is good again.

I’d like to say a few things about the Leary Pavilion. While it is different from the main theatre it is a very interesting setting for a play. It accommodates 75% of the Playhouse’s indoor capacity. The 25,000 square foot steel structured, fully covered, open air performance venue has a 96 foot wide stage, a full array of lighting, and much better acoustics than I expected. A major plus is having the seats arranged in “pods” of two for social distancing. This also ensures every audience member is guaranteed an aisle seat with plenty of leg room. For a fidgeter like me this is a positive delight. Site lines are clear and unobstructed. You doin’t have to crane your neck to look past people’s heads. Is the pavilion better than the indoor theatre? No. Is it worse? No. It is a different and very interesting experience, and it works very, very well. 

Brad Kenney deserves more than high praise for making this all happen. Don’t think twice about buying tickets for Spamalot and the rest of the season. Come out of your cocoon and step into the world of outstanding musical theatre at the Ogunquit Playhouse. It really feels good to be back looking at the bright side of life!

Monty Python’s Spamalot

Through July 10

The Ogunquit Playhouse

Ogunquit, Maine

Box Office: 207.646.5511

ogunquitplayhouse.org