Maine Performing Arts
The Arts in New England
New England has a powerful and diverse artistic legacy. In fact, when you look at the sheer number of writers, artists and performers who have called this region home, you realize that diversity is an understatement. It is like saying the fall foliage is beautiful when it peaks in fiery colors across the mountain ranges and valleys. There must be something in the Puritan soil, briny air and panoramic vistas that awakens the Muse and stirs the independent spirit of the artistic and literary minded.
History and Perspective
Hermann Melville wrote Moby Dick after a holiday to the White Mountains, in New Hampshire, and anybody who has been there can easily see how Mt. Washington could have been the inspiration for the famed white whale. Emily Dickinson wrote poetry as delicate as a spiderweb in Amherst, Massachusetts, while Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thoreau forged the concept of transcendentalism in Concord. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine and attended Bowdoin College, in New Brunswick. Nathaniel Hawthorn and E.B. White both lived in Maine, and the state’s most famous and prolific writer, horror novelist Stephen King, lives in Bangor. Entire travelogues have been created around the artistic and literary landmarks in New England, so it stands to reason that Maine would have a performing arts community that lives up to its rich artistic traditions.
Theater in Maine: Year Round
Dave Barry, a famous humor columnist, once joked that Maine’s state motto should be changed to “Cold, but damp.” While it is true that Maine is known as Vacationland (and if you forget, every sign on the Turnpike is there to remind you) most visitors flock to the state in the summertime, when the days are long, the ospreys are diving for fish off the coast and the sun has a tranquil warmth that you wish could trap you forever like a ship in a bottle. In Maine, there are more venues and choices for theater in the summer, but even in the dead of winter, the show must go on. Here is a look at what you will find in those “Cold, but damp” months.
Located in downtown Bangor, the Penobscot Theater Company offers all types of high-profile productions. From classic plays to modern musicals, the theater has been entertaining people in northern Maine since the 1970s. It is considered to be the most professional theater north of Boston.
The Portland Players, in South Portland, is Maine’s longest running community theater company. It was founded in 1931. The Portland Players are believed to be the second longest running theater in New England. Portland is also home to the Portland Stage Company.
Some of Maine’s lesser-known year round theater companies include:
- The Theater Project in Brunswick.
- The Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath.
- Camden Civic Theater, which is more of an entertainment venue than a classic theater.
Theater in Maine: Summer
The Ogunquit Playhouse is the crowning jewel of Maine’s theater companies. It is not just a favorite amongst people summering on coastal Maine, but one of the oldest and most prestigious playhouses in the country.
From Ogunquit, drive north on Route 1 and you will come to Kennebunkport. This quaint but popular stretch of coastline is filled with historic inns, refurbished B&Bs, swanky restaurants and high-end shopping. It is also where you will find the Arundel Barn Playhouse, which has the distinction of being the newest summer theater in Maine.
Some of Maine’s lesser-known summer theaters include:
- The Hackmatack Playhouse in Berwick
- The Belfast Maskers
- The Acadia Repertory Theater in Somesville
For the Ears: Chamber Music and Festivals
While some might argue that the most soothing sound in Maine is the gentle lap of waves against the shore, or Black-capped Chickadees singing in one of the state’s numerous nature preserves, there are an assortment of music halls, concert series and festivals that compliment Maine’s natural symphony.
Chamber music is popular in Maine, so if you are in the mood for Brahms, the Brandenburg Concertos or a string piece by Schubert, chances are the instruments are being tuned, and the pieces are about to be played somewhere.
Billed as the state’s most esteemed and varied chamber music series, the Bowdoin International Music Festival, in Brunswick, should be a must-hear on any music lovers’ list. Mount Desert Island has one of the most respected chamber music seasons in the state, and with three notable performance venues, you are sure to hear a playful mix of popular favorites and more esoteric pieces. The Bar Harbor Festival, the Arcady Music Festival and the Mount Desert Festival of Chamber Music are all highlights of the Downeast season. Classical music fans should also be sure to check out the Portland Symphony Orchestra and the Bangor Symphony Orchestra.
Of course, Maine is more than choral arrangements and Violin concertos in D. It is a hotspot for folk music, bluegrass, jazz and sea chanteys. Well, maybe not sea chanteys, unless you happen to catch an old salt break into… “When we came to mast-head the top-sail yards, with all hands at the halyards, we struck up Cheerily, men” after a few too many pints at the local tavern. However, the American Folk Festival is a popular attraction. It takes place in Bangor the last weekend in August. There is also a traditional Bluegrass Festival at Thomas Point Beach, in Brunswick, slated for mid July.
For the Feet: Ballet and Festivals
If all that music makes you want to dance, then breathe in the sharp northern air and cut loose. However, if you would rather watch the professionals, Maine has a variety of entertaining and respected dance companies
The Maine State Ballet and the Portland Ballet Company are Maine’s most well-known dance organizations. George Balanchine founded the Maine State Ballet in 1986. Balanchine was a legendary choreographer in the New York City Ballet. More importantly, he is also considered by many to be one of the greatest dance instructors of the 20th century. From smaller productions like Serenade and The Poet’s Love to popular hits like Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and The Magic Toy Shop, The Maine State Ballet’s seasonal schedule is composed of time honored classics and contemporary masterpieces. In addition to ballet, the company also performs tap and jazz.
Founded in 1980, The Portland Ballet Company performs in both Portland and New Hampshire. Its season runs from fall to spring, and its first performance of the year is typically a Halloween influenced production. Winter performances are dedicated to classic holiday ballets. In the spring, the Portland Company has been known to perform story ballets, contemporary pieces and collaborations with other theater companies.
Traditions in Maine run deep, and dance festivals have always held a prominent place in Maine’s communities. From the country and square dances that are orchestrated on village greens to the Bates Dance Festival, which has been held at Bates College, in Lewiston, for over thirty years, it does not matter if it is a summer day or “Cold, but damp,” the arts in Maine are as widespread as its potato blossoms and wild blueberries.