As summer approaches, theater companies from around the state are announcing their 2016-2017 theater seasons. From comedies to love stories to a tale that will hit close to home for those with ties to the paper industry, there will be much to see on Maine stages next season.
At the Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor, the 2016-2017 season will begin with a show that has been on producing artistic director Bari Newport’s mind for a long time. “Calendar Girls” will make its Maine professional theater premiere at the historic Bangor Opera House. The production chronicles the trials of a group of ladies and their friend Annie, whose husband dies of leukemia. In an effort to raise funds for a commemorative settee at the hospital, a plan is hatched to have the women pose nude for a calendar.
“We’ve been sitting on the rights for ‘Calendar Girls’ for almost two years now. There was a small production done in Portland. The Portland Players, a community theater, did it for three or four performances in the very beginning of . Ever since then no other theater has been able to do it because we’ve been waiting for the opening slot of this season. The whole notion of doing ‘Calendar Girls’ was to have women on our stage who may not have had a lot of opportunities recently to be on the stage,” Newport said.
The show, based on a true story, will feature local talent, including Sharon Zolper, Amy Roeder, Jasmine Ireland, Margo Lukens, Irene Dennis, Julie Lisnet and Alison Cox.
Also peppered throughout the season are a handful of comedic shows, including “Murder for Two,” a musical murder-mystery featuring two piano-playing actors, one who investigates the crime and another who plays all the suspects, which is also a Maine premiere.
Also on the docket are two more Maine premieres, “Lumberjacks in Love,” and “I Loved, I Lost, I Ate Spaghetti,” the latter of which will feature a dinner prepared on stage by the actress.
“Eight tables are served a full pasta dinner, and she makes the full dinner over the course of the play, completely from scratch. It’s a funny play, it’s a true story and it has a great gimmick, which is this dinner. I think people will love it, even if they’re not eating,” Newport said.
The holiday production for the PTC this year is a classic Dickens tale — but not the one you’d expect. “Oliver!” will be staged Dec. 1-24, in all its “Please, sir, may I have more?” glory.
The PTC also will be the second company ever to stage Monica Wood’s “Papermaker,” which tells the story of a paper mill strike in a small Maine town. It premiered in Portland in April 2015 and will be staged by PTC in March 2017. “Papermaker” is novelist Wood’s first play and touches on subjects that will be familiar to many Maine people, including issues concerning mill town life.
A surprise seventh show will be announced in August, and the season will include children’s productions via the company’s dramatic academy. Those will include “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales,” “The Neverending Story” and “Ramona Quimby,” according to director of education Roeder.
PTC isn’t the only professional theater company gearing up for the next season. Travel south, and a completely different roundup of shows offers even more variety to Maine’s theater scene.
A Pulitzer Prize-winner, a tale of romance, a Christmas classic, a one-man show, a historical drama and a story about the struggles of everyday life — these and many others comprise the 2016-2017 season for Portland Stage.
Their common bond?
“The theme this season is around love and marriage and family, how people build their personal lives,” Anita Stewart, executive and artistic director of Portland Stage, said. “We try to get a good range of material — stuff that’s going to be funny, stuff that’s going to be moving and poignant, stuff that will make you think.”
The season started taking shape with A.R. Gurney’s “Later Life,” a tale of two people who meet at a cocktail party.
“We’re bookending that with the final show of the season, which is ‘Disgraced,’” Stewart said. “Disgraced,” a 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner, is “multicultural, hard-hitting, fast-paced, and features multiethnic relationships,” Stewart said. “It’s about how the world has moved to where it is now.”
Following “Later Life,” “Sotto Voce” will be staged in November.
“The second show is a play by Nilo Cruz, and it’s about a woman who is older, lives by herself, doesn’t see people, is hermitted and has memories of the past of the great love of her life, who was a man who ended up being on board a cruise ship leaving Germany during the Second World War,” Stewart said.
Portland Stage’s season isn’t complete without Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol.” Another classic, “Arsenic and Old Lace,” will follow in January and March will feature “Buyer and Cellar,” a one-man show.
The winner of The Clauder Competition, a competition that takes place every three years, will stage in April 2017. This year, Brenda Withers’ play, “String Around My Finger,” was chosen from 240 submissions.
“It’s about a woman and man who are about the get married and have a medical emergency that makes them go, ‘Woah. Where do we go from here?’” Stewart said.
Community theater companies are preparing for their new seasons as well, including Some Theatre Company, a new addition to the Greater Bangor theatre scene.
Some Theatre Company only got their last year, but their second season is planned and the company is excited to undertake a new, challenging list of productions.
To start off their season, the company will stage “Next to Normal” in November, a rock musical that takes on some heavy subject material, including bipolar disorder, suicide and drug abuse.
“It’s a feel-everything musical. It’s a rock musical, and there’s very little dialogue. It follows the story of a family, and something happens to the mother/wife and she is diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder. We meet up with her in the middle of a bad episode. She sees a psychiatrist, and things gradually get worse. She has electroshock therapy. It chronicles her journey,” artistic director Elaine Bard said.
“I wanted something a little deeper — a little darker and edgier. We’re in a place in society where there’s a lot of mental health issues, so it seemed like something people could relate to, even if it’s not them who has a mental disorder,” Bard said.
This commitment to work that is difficult in nature will continue on in the March 2017 production of “Agnes of God,” the story of a nun whose infant has been found strangled. She insists the child was the result of virgin conception and an investigation ensues.
“We don’t want to always do stuff just because it’s fluffy and nice and it can make money. It’s nice to do a show that’s a little darker and edgier — that has a different story and meaning to it,” Bard said.
“A lot of these shows are not traditionally done because they’re so hard to do as an actor. I think a lot of people don’t believe they can push community actors to get there, but we’re confident in the community and our people.” Erryn Bard, Elaine’s daughter and secretary of the Some Theatre Company board, said.
“I think most actors are looking for that deep challenge and want to push themselves in these roles,” Elaine Bard said.
In addition to these productions, Some Theatre Company will stage “Velveteen Rabbit” in December, which was written by Mainer Andrew Frodhal. The show will feature puppetry and consist of a children and adult cast. The company will stage their productions for the 2016-2017 season in the Keith Anderson Community House in Orono.
To complete the season, a surprise fourth show, a family musical, is in the works for May 2017.
From productions lovingly produced by members of Maine’s communities, to shows featuring unfamiliar, fresh faces, there’s something for everyone in the upcoming season of Maine theater productions.