We heart these people

By JEFF INGLIS  |  February 10, 2010

Performing Arts

FEAT021210_PMIPerformingArt 
Jennie Hahn

JENNIE HAHN's Maine roots are generations deep. She grew up in Thomaston, a Midcoast town near Rockland, with parents who were fourth- and twelfth-generation Mainers. When she left the state to go to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, she recognized that she harbored "special feelings about Maine" — feelings of geographical identification "that a lot of my peers maybe didn't have."

After graduating from Vassar's largely non-traditional theater program, Hahn learned of the Cornerstone Theater Company in 2001, a Los Angeles-based theater ensemble that made its mark between 1986 and 1991 by going into rural communities around the United States and producing contemporary adaptations of famous plays. The shows were meant to highlight and explore issues within the communities, such as race, generational strife, or Native American ostracization. In 1992, Cornerstone settled in Los Angeles, where the company continues to use theater to play with definitions of community. Hahn, fascinated by the ways that drama could help answer the question of "how place affects people," moved to California, volunteered with Cornerstone, and was eventually hired. For several years, she "absorbed their methodology, always with the idea of moving back here."

Which she did, in January 2006, to South Portland. She founded Open Waters Theatre Arts, and quickly produced several unique shows, including The Stone Fisherman — an evening of short, original plays inspired by the Bertolt Brecht poem — and Choirspeak: The Maine Woods, a project that used interviews with Mainers to create a choral-inspired spoken-word commentary on the ways Maine is changing. Choirspeakwhich Phoenix reviewer Megan Grumbling described as "lovely and wise," is a work-in-progress, Hahn says — one she hopes to revisit someday.

Hahn's latest, and most ambitious, effort (apart from having a son nine months ago) is Of Farms and Fables, a collaboration between Open Waters and three local farms. The project — which recently received much-needed funding through the Ella Lyman Cabot Trust — involves a cross-pollination between artists and farm workers that will culminate in public outdoor performances during the summer of 2011. By tackling agriculture, Hahn is diving headfirst into what she calls "the third cultural bloodline of the state" (the other two being the woods and fishing).

"My vision is one that involves the entire state," Hahn says over breakfast at 158 Pickett Street Café. "For me it's about Maine. It's about Maine people."

It's also about her complicated relationship with those people, and that legacy. For someone who describes herself as "a shy person" and "not all that social," her work helps introduce her to people she might not otherwise meet.

"What is so tender and raw for so many people in the state of Maine is whether you belong here," she says, admitting that the time she spent "away" made her wonder the same thing about herself. "I recognize that I have some baggage around my own insider-outsider status." But as a result of her Open Waters experience, Hahn says she can now "own my own relationship with the state in a much healthier way than I did when I was first 'in exile.'"

And thanks to her, perhaps so can we all.

BRIAN ALLEN + STEPHEN UNDERWOOD | co-founders, Good Theater | Highlighting Portland's professional talent

ATOMIC TRASH! | burlesque dancers | Creating a raucous home for Portland's performance artists

ROB CAMERON, BRYANT MASON, JOHN SEYMORE | founders and directors, Fenix Theatre Company | Shakespeare in the park is both fun and accessible

JOSIE CONTE | bellydancer | Godmother of Portland's thriving bellydance scene

CAROLYN GAGE | playwright | Writing and performing the hard truths of lesbian life

MIKE LEVINE | founder, Acorn Productions | Planting seeds of theater everywhere — bars, stages, black boxes, and playwrights' desks

ANDY LYMAN | executive director, MENSK | Getting Portland pumped

JESSICA MEANS | artistic director, Naya's Trance | Shimmying her way to bellydance-lovers' hearts

ROBERT MOODY | music director, Portland Symphony Orchestra | Pleasing the silverhairs, and enticing the youngsters

DEIRDRE NICE | executive director, St. Lawrence Arts and Community Center | We always feel at home when she's in the house

ROSA NOREEN | Ayperi | Teaching and performing top-notch bellydance

BRIDGET PAULUS | Vivid Motion | Opening the doors of dance to the masses

AIMEE PETRIN | executive director, Portland Ovations | Reimagining the city's longest-running arts group

CATHY PLOURDE | executive director, Add Verb Productions | Promoting activism through her plays

PAUL ROSS, STEVE KECSKEMETHY, RONALD LANTZ, JULIA ADAMS | Portland String Quartet | Performing great music together for more than 40 years

SUSAN + TONY REILLY | co-founders, American Irish Repertory Ensemble | A new brand of high-quality theater (and brogues) in Portland

BARBARA TRUEX, CHRISTINE LOUISE MARSHALL, PETER BROWN | executive and artistic directors, Mad Horse Theatre Company | Producing provocative classics

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