FARMINGTON — A community theater group is getting its first chance this week to perform at the Emery Community Arts Center on the campus of University of Maine at Farmington.

The Sandy River Players are set for opening night Thursday when they will kickoff a run of performances that end Jan. 22. They will present “The Man in the Bowler Hat” by A.A. Milne and “The Little Sweep” by Benjamin Britten, with casts for the play and opera made up entirely of local performers.

As a longtime music director for the group, Jane Parker has been preparing for the opportunity since the center opened in September amid pledges to give a new venue for community arts.

Rehearsals and stage designs started the month after the grand opening. The around 25 people putting on the Sandy River Players productions pushed themselves to devise the best use of a new and unique stage, Parker said.

The 2,500-square-foot performance space is known as a black box because it has movable features unlike more conventional stages. On Thursday night, the 160 seats for the audience will be set up on three sides of actors who perform from the floor.

“There is no curtain and the action is right in your face, and it’s a great way to push the creative boundaries,” Parker said of the shows.

The performances this week are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. They pick up again with shows on Jan. 20 and 21 at 7:30 p.m. The final performance is Jan. 22 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $14 adults, $12 for students and seniors, and $10 for UMF students. They are available at Devaney, Doak, and Garrett Booksellers, at the door, or by calling 779-7084.

The college received an $5 million gift from an anonymous donor to help build the 15,000-square-foot art center building, which off Academy Street and just a couple blocks from downtown Farmington.

Parker believes the center has added to a rich history of Farmington as the cultural center for the region, where the Sandy River Players have been performing for nearly five decades.

“There are a lot of wonderful talented people in this community and this partnership should help them thrive,” she said.


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