Theater companies settle in

By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  October 11, 2006

When it comes to theater, there’s just no place like a home: somewhere to stash the costumes, to rehearse on your own terms, and, most importantly, to foster a sense of artistic family and community. Two of Portland’s most vital theater groups, Acorn Productions and Add Verb Productions, now have gorgeous new abodes, and it’s a boon for both the companies’ nuclear families and the larger theater neighborhood that might come over to play.

Acorn Productions, homeless since the 2000 closure of the Oak Street Theatre, has signed a lease on 2500 square feet of gleaming hardwood studio space in the Dana Warp Mill, in downtown Westbrook. Tentatively named “Acorn Studios,” the space will be renovated this month to include two 900-square-foot studios (one being the company space, the other available for rent), the company’s business office, three additional small offices for rent, storage space, and a common meeting area where all tenants will gather and converse. To further Acorn’s larger goal of encouraging what Producing Director Mike Levine calls “the synergy of the area’s performers,” the company will be renting its space at rates well below market price — between $8 and $12 per hour for the studio space.

A collaborative-minded group dating back to 1995, Acorn’s work has included the annual Phyzgig vaudeville festival, the Cassandra Project, the Maine Short Play Festival, the Naked Shakespeare Ensemble, and a plethora of workshops, classes, and school outreach programs. Surrounded by a growing variety of neighbors in the Mill — dance and fencing studios, the Bakery Photo Collective — Acorn will use their space to rehearse projects, offer a series of children’s acting classes, feature the work of solo performers, and provide opportunities for members of the greater theater community to avail themselves of each other. To help support Acorn in its renovation and community efforts, the world-renowned Avner the Eccentric offers a benefit performance on Saturday, November 18, at Portland High’s John Ford Auditorium.

Add Verb Productions, well-known as a Portland theater and social activist organization with a national audience, now seeks to more intimately ground its work locally. The company has taken up residence in the former Center for Cultural Exchange building, recently purchased by SPACE Gallery owner Christopher Campbell. Similar to the artist studios above SPACE, intended to encourage artistic networking and collaboration, the office suites of the Longfellow Square building — occupied by the Maine Jewish Film Festival, the Spinoccia Foundation, and Global Quest, among others — are meant to foster dialogue among diverse local cultural and arts organizations.

While a final business plan is still pending for the building’s performance space, which is currently being renovated, Add Verb will play a vital role in its future programming. This fall, it will host the artist residency of social justice artist/activist Michael Keck, who will offer artist training sessions, a youth workshop, and a solo performance (“Voices in the Rain,” Saturday, November 4) at SPACE. Executive Director Cathy Plourde has also been commissioned, on the initiation of Planned Parenthood of New England, to write a piece that will draw on community voices to address the issue of sex education from a parental perspective. Called “Real Life, Real Talk,” and part of a national social marketing campaign in which Portland is one of four test markets, the work will premiere in February, and will receive a staged reading at Longfellow Square sometime after Thanksgiving. “We’re looking to expand and fulfill our mission in lots of ways,” says Plourde. “And having a local space where people can come to see what we’re doing, share input, and collaborate is key.”
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