Since 1997, the Oddfellow Theater has been one of the best kept secrets of the Maine theater scene. Soon, it goes away for good.
Founded by comedian, juggler, and carpenter Mike Miclon on Route 117 in ultrarural Buckfield, the Oddfellow Theater has long been a creative mecca for theater types, and helped to make Oxford County an unlikely choice for one of most artistic communities in the state.
This weekend, however, Miclon and the Oddfellow troupe will put on the "Early Evening Show" for the last time. Next month, the crew throws a "Farewell Bash," with two shows New Year's weekend, featuring highlights and performances from the Oddfellow's well-traveled roster of performers. The bellwether act of the theater's 14-year run, the "Early Evening Show" is a mix of Downeast humor, physical comedy, fringe science experiments, and well-oiled improv. "It's really just a thinly veiled variety show," says Miclon, who intends to tour a "Best Of" version of the show at Maine theaters in the coming years.
Until very recently, Miclon has lived with his wife and two boys above the theater since first buying the building at age 30. "One of our goals was to make (the theater) a kind of laboratory." By all accounts, that goal was achieved. Oddfellow alums and performers include Eepybird (the experimental science duo of Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz, a/k/a the "Diet Coke and Mentos" guys), Matthew and Jason Tardy of the nationally touring act Audiobody, Celebration Barn director Amanda Huotari, and local actress/acrobat Casey Turner. Miclon's own children soon joined the fray, and the extended family is even greater: Grammy-winning folkster Ray LaMontagne played the Oddfellow stage, and Miclon himself recalls Buckfield native Patrick Dempsey as his high school scene partner.
Though the theater officially closes after New Year's, Oddfellow devotees still have much to look forward to. Miclon intends to compile footage from 80 hours of the theater's history into a DVD retrospective, which might be the biggest contribution to Maine humor since Bert and I.
If that weren't enough (hey, we told you he was a good juggler), Miclon's turning his creative attentions to Richard Cubed, an Odd-style remake of the Shakespearean classic (guess which...) which fittingly features Moto Hoonchbach, one of Miclon's characters, as the scheming duke. The Oddfellow first debuted Richard 3 as a stage show in 2005 (prompting our own Megan Grumbling to call him a "goddamn comedic genius"), but ambitions have only grown since: the project marks Miclon's first foray into film, which he plans to submit to Sundance next year.
While economic factors surely play into the decision to close, his work has affected the community in far more intangible ways. "We saw this migration of understanding that theater is an option and performance is a potential way of life for people," he notes. "That may be our gross national product in Buckfield. We just pump out entertainers."
Tickets to the evening performances of the "Early Evening Show" on Nov 25-26 have sold out, but Miclon has added a matinee Saturday at 2 pm. Visit oddfellow.com or call 207.336.3306 for details.