Randy Jackson is not the kind of person who can sit back and wait for others to take action to improve the Katahdin region.
That’s why the former Millinocket town councilor last year bought a long-vacant downtown building. His dream was to bring some culture to the former mill town by converting the property into a 48-seat performance space.
Called the Boreal Theater, it held its opening event last month featuring a small jazz band and a sold-out crowd. The idea is that the theater will become a space that regularly hosts concerts, plays, art exhibits and other events.
“Millinocket needs culture,” Jackson said. “A town without culture is a town whose heart is very empty.”
The Boreal Theater is one part of the work Jackson and others in the Katahdin region are taking on to help transform the area into a tourist destination, allowing its communities to thrive again and attract year-round residents.
The theater building, at 215 Penobscot Ave. in the downtown area, was built in the 1940s as a haberdashery, according to Jackson. It later hosted a clothing store, card shop and lawyer’s office but had been empty for 15 to 20 years when Jackson bought it last year.
“It had been closed up for many years,” he said recently. “It had no heat, no electricity and no water. It was in quite a state.”
Jackson took on most of the renovation work himself, bringing the building to life, on both the interior and exterior, as a performing arts space.
To help support the theater, Jackson created two retail spaces. They’re occupied by Yum Bake Shop, owned by John and Maria Rowe, and the Katahdin Gear Library, a Millinocket Memorial Library program that rents outdoor equipment including skis and bicycles.
Left to right, Boreal Theater board members (left to right) Randy Jackson, Renee St. Jean and Johnny Van Heest attend a fundraising event to support the 48-seat venue at the Blue Ox in Millinocket. The Boreal Theater drew a sold-out crawd for its first event last month. Randy Jackson bought and renovated an empty building to create the 48-seat venue. Credit: Courtesy of Randy Jackson
In addition to creating a performance space, Jackson said he also wanted to protect the green space next to the building, which was included in the property purchase. He didn’t want a developer to buy it and pave it over or use it to expand the building.
The theater received a $25,000 grant from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation in Freeport, which went toward renovations. The board is now working to raise about $110,000 for light and sound equipment. A recent concert in a local bar raised $700 toward that cost.
Brenda Angotti of Millinocket retired last year after teaching music in Millinocket schools for 35 years and now serves on the theater’s board of directors.
“The schools do a great job teaching the performing arts, but after kids graduate, there’s not a lot of opportunities for them to perform,” she said. “We’re pretty secluded up here. Not many kids have the opportunity to go to a Bangor Symphony Orchestra concert or a Penobscot Theatre production.”
Angotti’s personal hope is that small groups of musicians will visit schools and then perform at the Boreal Theater. She also hopes people interested in theater will use the venue to present small-scale productions for adults and children.
“This is an intimate space that might be better suited for those kinds of things than the larger school auditoriums,” she said.
The space also is available for art exhibits, educational programs and functions, and as a community meeting space. Rental information will be included soon on the theater’s website.
The word boreal refers to northern regions, including forested regions in northern Eurasia and northern North America.
For more information on Boreal Theater, visit borealtheater.org or call 207-560-5256.