Cue the red carpet spotlights… the stylish in Hartford to support AIDS Connecticut


The time has come to get fabulous and stylish as you prepare for your red carpet moment prior to the Academy Awards.

And it’s all for a good cause right here in Connecticut.

Get ready for the 90th Academy Awards as AIDS Connecticut (ACT) presents its Red Carpet Experience on Sunday, March 4 at 7 p.m. at Spotlight Theatres, 39 Front St., Hartford.

Guests will watch the Academy Awards telecast courtesy of WTNH, the Connecticut affiliate of the ABC Television Network.

Wendy Graveley, development director for ACT, explained the annual event was founded by radio host and columnist Colin McEnroe and Peter Shapiro. Initially, Graveley explained, they started an event called “Oscar Night Hartford” in the early 1990s in response to the HIV/AIDS crisis. The first event was held at Cinestudio at Trinity College and benefitted CARC (Connecticut AIDS Resource Coalition).

McEnroe and Shapiro “thought that a fundraiser that brought people together on Oscar Night would be a good way to raise funds and importantly, to raise awareness about the AIDS Crisis,” said Graveley. “There were actors who were being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and Hollywood was trying to figure out a way to help bring awareness and assistance to the crisis. Colin and Peter wanted to do the same in Hartford. They were committed to doing everything they could to help.”

In 2013, CARC merged with APH to form AIDS Connecticut (ACT).

ACT helps people with HIV—there are over 11,000 people in Connecticut living with HIV/AIDS– by offering care and supportive services, housing, advocacy and prevention. It operates walk in centers, syringe exchange programs, advocacy, testing, education and supportive services (food, housing, medical case management).

ACT, said Graveley, “has continued the tradition of hosting an Oscar Party in Hartford where crowds of 300 to 400 people gather to watch the Academy Awards and to help raise funds to support ACT and people living with HIV/AIDS in Connecticut.”

“We have had the event at Max, The Emperor at Linden, Real Art Ways, The Mark Twain House, DISH and for the past few years at Spotlight Theatre,” said Graveley.

“Spotlight is a great space because they can watch the Oscars in a large comfortable movie theater with a fashion show during commercials. Other guests mingle at the bar, dance on the dance floor or nibble on delicious food,” said Graveley.

Carolyn Paine and Alex Zarlengo, two of the bright lights of the Hartford arts scene, will be emceeing the event.

Like the Oscars, fashion will be in the spotlight at the Hartford event.

“I will be wearing a dress designed and made by my co-host Alex Zarlengo,” said Paine, who appears on McEnroe’s radio program and leads CONNetic Dance in Hartford. “This amazingly beautiful gown will also be part of the silent auction.”

Zarlengo is a professional dancer and model as well as a fashion and lifestyle guru.

Prior to the event, local female designers were recruited by the Red Carpet Experience to design a red carpet look for their favorite models.

“This year, with everything that has been happening in Hollywood and everywhere with the #metoo and #timesup movement, we felt it was important to shine the spotlight on women-so all five of the designers are Connecticut-based female designers who have created a red carpet look that is inspired by those movements,” Paine said.

“We have five designers committed who will each debut unique red carpet inspired pieces at this year’s event,” said Paine.

The designers are: Kathryn Paterwic of Redfield Design; Bertha Angelo-Lambert of LaMoo Designs; Natacha Saint Juste; Natalie Santana of Elegant Beauty by Natalie; and Rachael AL-Mahdi of Luxe and Curves Bridal.

(“If a female designer is interested, we still have room for one or two more designers,” said Paine.)

“During each of the commercial breaks in the theater where the Oscars are playing, my fashion co-host Alex Zarlengo and I will bring a model wearing the designers’ work up on stage to show off the look.,” said Paine.

“We will also talk about the fashion looks we are seeing at the Oscar and feature people being voted best dressed in our own audience. It makes the whole experience more interactive,” said Paine.

Although there will be models on the red carpet, Paine said the event should bring out the fashionista in every one.

“It is a chance to really get dressed up, be on a red carpet, take photos, and feel the glamour of that part of the Oscars. And having a Best Dressed competition makes that even more fun. You see a lot of people at this event taking true fashion risks and wearing some incredible creative tuxes, beautiful gowns, and outfits inspired by the year in film,” said Paine.

“It’s creative black tie, so anything goes,” said Graveley. “Lots of people dress as Oscar nominated characters…”

“It’s fun to have an event where you feel like you can really go big with your look just as they do in Hollywood,” said Paine. “Push past your basic black cocktail dress and wear something that makes you stand out. And if you do that, Alex Zarlengo, Debbie Allen Wright, Chion Wolf, and I may just choose you as one of our Best Dressed winners. Winners get VIP tickets to next year and bragging rights.”

And if you’re looking for that big moment on the red carpet, Paine said, “I think the great ‘red carpet’ moment for this event is seeing everyone feeling so glamorous and having so much fun taking photos on the red carpet and being interviewed by Maryellen Fillo and Theresa Dufour of WTNH.”

“I have been on red carpets for TV, film, and fashion events in NYC and LA and this event truly captures that kind of experience and excitement while raising money for a wonderful cause so you can’t beat that,” said Paine.

For people curious to see what the excitement is about, Paine said, “People should buy tickets because it a really fun event with 7 food stations, a live DJ, signature drinks, a red carpet, a silent auction, a fashion show, swag bags, and because it helps us serve people living with HIV/AIDS in CT and also helps to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.”

Hartford! AIDS Connecticut (ACT) will present Red Carpet Experience (formerly Oscar Night® Hartford) on Sunday, March 4 at 7 p.m. at Spotlight Theatres, 39 Front St., Hartford.

Tickets are $55 for general admission or $110 for VIP (6 to 7 p.m. reception). The VIP reception includes champagne, appetizers by DISH Bar & Grill and swag bags stuffed with fabulous surprises.

For Red Carpet Experience ticket information, go to:

A scene from last year’s Red Carpet Experience (PHOTO by GARY LEWIS)
Co-hosts of the Red Carpet Experience Alex Zarlengo and Carolyn Paine. Zarlengo’s tux furbished by Oscar Tux in West Hartford (where Zarlengo says everyone wearing a tux to this event should go).
Paine’s gown provided on loan by designer Carmen Marc Valvo.
A scene from last year’s Red Carpet Experience (PHOTO by GARY LEWIS)
A scene from last year’s Red Carpet Experience (PHOTO by GARY LEWIS)