Dawn McAndrews views the Theater at Monmouth’s fall tour of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” as something of a pay-it-forward idea.
The 5,000 or high school and college students who see the 90-minute production probably won’t buy tickets next summer to see a play at the Theater at Monmouth’s primary home at Cumston Hall in Monmouth.
But someday they might think about buying a ticket to a theater somewhere, and that’s good enough.
“We want people to love the show and we want people to love the art,” said McAndrews, Monmouth’s producing artistic director. “Maybe they won’t come to our theater, but they might go to another theater.”
As theater companies across the state think about ways to reach a younger audience, Monmouth is using a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to spread its particular brand of theater. Monmouth is known as the Shakesepearean Theater of Maine, and this production is part of Shakespeare for a New Generation, an NEA program in partnership with Arts Midwest. The Theater at Monmouth is one of 40 theater companies nationally to participate in this initiative.
After an opening weekend of performances at its home at historic Cumston Hall in Monmouth, the company will present the show 16 times at more than a dozen schools and theaters across the state, with more bookings pending. In a tour dubbed Shakespeare in Maine Communities, those theaters range from the Waterville Opera House to the Vienna Union Hall to the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone. Most of the performances are geared to students, but many are open to the public.
The fall tour is not unusual for Monmouth. The theater has a long history of sending its actors out across the breadth of Maine, north to south and east to west, after its summer season closes.
But what is unusual, the theater will kick off the tour with a weekend of performances on its home turf, and for the second year since McAndrews took over as producing artistic director, it also will offer a holiday show, opening on Thanksgiving Day. Both the fall tour and the holiday show address a concern that is not unique to Monmouth: How to keep the theater strong and economically healthy as audiences age. Every theater in Maine wants to diversify its offerings and attract younger audiences.
McAndrews said the theater is excited about the prospect of beginning this tour at its home theater in central Maine. “Twelfth Night” runs for one weekend only in Cumston Hall, beginning with a preview on Thursday and additional performances Friday through Sunday.
It hits the road after that, with performances into November.
The Theater at Monmouth shares the 250-seat Cumston Hall with Monmouth Academy, the Monmouth school system and Monmouth Community Players. Its exclusive right to use the theater extends from Memorial Day through the end of September. October dates are rare – and welcome.
Most theaters in Maine operate in the fall, winter and spring, and cede the summer season to the traditional summer theaters, of which Monmouth is one. Another is the Ogunquit Playhouse. Slowly and steadily, the summer theaters have begun extending their seasons.
This is the eighth year that Ogunquit has mounted shows beyond Labor Day.
Bradford T. Kenney, Ogunquit’s executive artistic director, said the fall has been an economic windfall. Last year, “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” was the highest-grossing show in the theater’s history, topping $1 million in sales. Ogunquit opened a three-week reprisal run of “Buddy” last week.
In September it mounted a new production of “West Side Story,” which took in just under $1 million in box-office sales.
Regardless of Monmouth’s motive for staging “Twelfth Night,” Kenney thinks the theater will find fall agreeable, both at its home theater and on the road.
Kenney was not surprised when people began buying tickets to the fall shows at Ogunquit. He comes from a tourism background, and knows well that September and October are often the best times to reach travelers and locals alike.
“When you get past Labor Day, the stroller crowd dissipates. The beach traffic goes away. September is the best month weather wise, and the empty-nesters really come out. We see a lot of folks just wandering up Route 1. The traffic is not crushing, and you can get a table. But we are consistently sold out,” he said.
At the same time, there is more competition. Most of Maine’s professional theaters begin their seasons in late September and early October, resulting in more choices for ticket buyers.
This month, audiences in greater Portland have a half-dozen choices, including Good Theater’s “Clybourne Park,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” at Portland Stage, the American Irish Repertory Ensemble production of “Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me” and Mad Horse Theatre’s “The School for Lies.” City Theater in Biddeford opens Neil Simon’s “Rumors,” and The Public Theatre in Lewiston opens John Cariani’s “Love/Sick.”
It is against that backdrop that Monmouth takes its show on the road. McAndrews’ goal is to reach students, who later might become ticket buyers to her or other theaters. The theater-going process begins at a young age, she said.
“Our commitment is getting the art to them. If that translates into people wanting to come to Monmouth, that’s fantastic. But the reason we do this is to bring the art to them, because the reality is, more than likely they won’t be able to get here. But maybe someday in the future, sometime down the line, they will be in a position to see theater, and hopefully they will remember when this crazy group of people came to their school and presented this fast-paced version of ‘Twelfth Night.’ ”
Portland actor and Monmouth mainstay James Noel Hoban directs a cast of eight professional actors. Hoban edited the original text to about 90 minutes so it fits easily into the busy school schedule.
“Twelfth Night” is a comedy with a romantic subplot and twists of mistaken identities, set on the coast of Illyria. In the condensed Monmouth version, the play is set at Illyria University in the late 20th century. Orsino covets Olivia, who attends Illyria College for Women. Out of respect to issues of the day, Hoban has emphasized elements of the play that explore the issue of bullying.
Hoban has worked at Monmouth for three seasons, appearing in “The Taming of the Shrew,” “Our Town” and “The Knight of the Burning Pestle.”
“Twelfth Night” stars April Singley as Viola, Teddy Spencer as Orsino, Rylee Doiron as Olivia, Max Waszak as Malvolio, Alex Pagels as Sir Toby Belch, Ian Kramer as Sebastian/Sir Andrew, Heather Irish as Maria, and Elise Voigt as Feste.
And while the performances are intended for school audiences, several stops on this tour are open to the public.
Jim Bulteel, an English teacher at Orono High School, called the opportunity for students to see a professional theater production a “game-changing experience. I can remember when I was a kid being taken to the theater by my English teachers, and it was one of the most memorable things I did,” he said.
“Live theater is something that is really hard to find (outside of the urban centers) in Maine, which is largely a rural state. So this is a wonderful opportunity for kids to have it,” Bulteel said.
Tim Straub, an English teacher at Rangeley Lakes Regional High School, often brings students to productions in Portland – he has a trip this week to see “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” at Portland Stage – but it’s more immediate when the theater comes to the school.
About 100 students will see “Twelfth Night” at Rangeley during the day on Oct. 18. Monmouth will stage another performance for the community at 7 that evening.
York High School brought Monmouth’s touring production of “Hamlet” to the school last year, but lacked funding for “Twelfth Night.” That disappointed Lisa Stathoplos, who directs the York High School Players.
“It’s hugely valuable for kids to be exposed to as many of the arts and as much of the arts as possible,” she said. “While they do not have the option to take theater courses here, I wish they did. Giving kids the opportunity to have professional players come into their school is invaluable. It’s a shame we don’t have the money to do it this year.”
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: