Throwback Thursday: DinoTracks and Black Beauty

Exhibits come and go here at the Museum & Theatre, and today we’re highlighting an exhibit that debuted six years ago, which you might remember: DinoTracks!

This trilingual exhibit explored, in English, Spanish and French, the fossil footprints of dinosaurs that once roamed New England and eastern Canada. Put together with help from the staff of the Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill, CT, DinoTracks also inspired programming including dino puppet making, learning how a Tyrannosaurus Rex moved, and making track print art.

Natural history educator Tony Sohns of Ellsworth, ME, also helped us borrow, for a limited time, a replica skull of Black Beauty. No, not the horse… a famous skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex! Black Beauty, named for the dark shiny mineral deposits on its bones from the rocks around it, was discovered in 1980 in Alberta, Canada, where the full skeleton is still housed at the Royal Tyrell Museum. Black Beauty and other replica skulls and complete fossils (have you heard of Sue, or Stan, a couple of other famous Tyrannosaur skeletons?) are still on tour and on display in several museums around the world. We were happy and proud to be one of them in 2009!

The original Black Beauty in Alberta, Canada. Image via Wikimedia.
The original Black Beauty in Alberta, Canada. Image via Wikimedia.

DinoTracks has come and gone as an exhibit, but we’re still wild about dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures here at the museum! Did you know that we have lots of fossil replicas, minerals and more in our collection? Check out some of our Science Spotlights and other programs that will let you explore tons of rocks, fossils, and creatures both living today and from the eras of dinosaurs!

Throwback Thursday: Treasure Island

Here’s a cool flyer from the archives: the cast and crew of the Children’s Theatre of Maine’s Treasure Island! In 1985, the Children’s Theatre produced Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic swashbuckling adventure story for the public. The show was adapted by Rae N. Simmonds, who also served as musical director on the production; it was directed by Jeff Toorish.

30 years later, we’re gearing up for this April’s Robin Hood, another timeless tale of action and adventure. As an additional throwback, we revisited Robert Louis Stevenson just last year, in A Child’s Garden of Verses, an interactive performance that traveled throughout the museum and to local farmers’ markets. A Child’s Garden of Verses was performed by four local adult actors, who helped bring Stevenson’s 120-year-old poetry to life for modern families.

In addition to the cast and crew list, the Treasure Island flyer makes a statement that still rings true today. Here’s a transcription, in case the flyer text below is a bit tricky to read:

“There is a common myth that theatre for children is inferior or easier to accomplish than other theatrical forms. That notion could not be further from the truth. Children’s Theatre encompasses all aspects inherent in all theatrical endeavor[s]; and indeed has facets not found in any other. We must not only keep our shows entertaining and moving. We must also educate. Our audiences–the children–do not yet have the learned skills to know when or how to react. It is part of our job to teach them.”

Today, as the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine, our casts and crews of actors ages 8 to 17, and local theatre professionals directing actors and designing various elements of the shows, continue to entertain as well as educate, providing what might be a child’s first ever experience at the theatre. Children may see a show and learn something new, or perhaps wish to jump up onstage themselves, whether in a stage story during museum opening hours, on their own in the Dress Up Theatre, or in a theatre production in our mainstage season.

We hope to see you at Robin Hood this spring – performances begin April 17th!


Throwback Thursday: 142 Free Street and John Calvin Stevens

Today’s Throwback Thursday post is going to throw you way, way back. Today, we’re taking a look not at the goings on inside but the outside of the museum.

Did you know that the Museum & Theatre’s current residence is an historic building? Believe it or not, this building is 185 years old! And it’s more tied into other structures in Portland than you may know.

142 Free Street was originally the home to a theatre, erected in 1830. Six years later, the building became the Free Street Baptist Church, and remained a church for nearly a century before being renovated in 1926 by local architect John Calvin Stevens.

Stevens worked primarily in the Shingle style and Colonial Revival style, and designed hundreds of homes, churches, libraries and other buildings throughout Maine.  Stevens and his son and building partner, John Howard Stevens, restored the building in 1926 in the Greek Revival style when it became the Portland Chamber of Commerce. When you walk by our building, you’re sure to notice the ancient Greek-inspired ionic columns, symmetrical facade, and aligned multi-paned windows around the central front door, indicative of the Greek Revival style. In the early 1990s, the Chamber of Commerce building became our home, and opened as the Children’s Museum of Maine in 1993.

If you take a walk through Portland, chances are you’ve passed a building that Stevens either designed or altered without even knowing it, such as the L.D.M. Sweat Memorial Galleries belonging to our neighbors, the Portland Museum of Art, or the Gothic tower on the State Street church. Stevens’ own 1884 home is still standing in the West End.

The front of our building from Free Street: check out those columns!
The front of our building from Free Street: check out those columns!

Several great local artists and artisans have left their mark on this building… we’ve talked about some of them, but others will be highlighted in other TBT posts soon! Next time you visit, take a look at our giant windows, and look through the Camera Obscura at the streets around us – there’s history on all sides of us, and it’s nice to be a part of it!

Throwback Thursday: James and the Giant Peach

While we make preparations to head into Wonka Weekend this Saturday and Sunday in anticipation of our production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (opening February 13th), we’re also taking this moment to pause and reflect back to the last time the words and fantastic characters of Roald Dahl graced our Dress Up Theatre Stage.

This may be the first time our actors have taken our audience into the famous Chocolate Factory, but, in our history as both the Museum and Theatre – and of course as the Museum & Theatre we are today – we love celebrating and performing Roald Dahl. The museum has hosted readings and events for Dahl’s birthday (September 13th – he’d be 98 if he were still alive!), and his characters have come to life on our stage in two recent occasions.

The Children’s Theatre of Maine performed James and the Giant Peach in the fall of 1992, ten years after Richard George first published the stage adaptation of Dahl’s 1961 children’s book.

Cast of James and the Giant Peach, Children's Theatre of Maine, 1992
Cast of James and the Giant Peach, Children’s Theatre of Maine, 1992

And only four years ago (exactly!), we were loading our giant peach into the Dress Up Theatre along with shadow puppet scrims, pieces of clouds, magic beans, and everything else needed for the February 2011 production of James. Catching the eye of some of our community friends, cast members were interviewed on WCSH6’s tv program 207 and in print in the Current, which stated, “For children, the opportunity to act in a play or musical can be transformative.”*

What better stories to help actors take on such a transformative challenge onstage than those of Roald Dahl? His magical, timeless stories are enjoyed by children and adults alike, which is one of the reasons we’re always so happy to revisit them!

Check out some photos from the 2011 production of James and the Giant Peach below! We hope you’ll join us in the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine’s premiere of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory next week!



(As an added throwback, we have three 2011 Peach cast members returning for the Chocolate Factory: Mae Livermore, who played the Glow Worm, returns as the gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde; Brooks Ewald, who juggled multiple roles including the Captain of the Navy in Peach returns as Veruca’s father Mr. Salt; and Michela Micalizio, who played the Earthworm, is working behind the scenes as a designer in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.)


*[Source: Kelly, Michael; Cape, Scarborough, South Portland Actors Among “Peach” Cast; February 16, 2011.]

Throwback Thursday: “What’s So Special About Puppets?” with John Farrell

We’ve had lots of special guests here at the Museum & Theatre over the years, and today we’re looking back at a special puppetry series that took place here at the museum in January of 1994. John Farrell of the Freeport-based  – and world traveled – Figures of Speech Theatre devised and implemented What’s So Special About Puppets? which explored, in his own words, the “different realms of reality and experience you can juxtapose onstage.”*

Farrell demonstrated a number of different styles and techniques during these performances, immersing audiences in the art of storytelling with puppets ranging from Japanese bunraku figures to hand puppets to his own shadow cast against a scrim. On the first floor of the museum, a temporary workshop was set up where our visitors could see Farrell building puppets for a performance of The Nightingale (which this writer remembers seeing at a young age!), and What’s So Special About Puppets? demonstrations took place Wednesdays through Sundays throughout the month. He explored the fact that while most anything can become a puppet, the life given to it is what makes the performance.

Of the art of performance, the museum’s then-director of education Jacqueline Potter said, “You have to lose yourself to find yourself. We want children and adults here to experience that.”*

Indeed, over the twenty years that have passed since these workshops took place, we have hosted events, put on performances, and even brought puppets to life again on the floors of the museum. Live performance is an excellent teaching tool; we love looking back to see the different ways generations of kids have enjoyed learning through performance in the museum! (Keep your eye on our calendar for new puppet and theatre performances and opportunities!)

You can learn more about John Farrell and Figures of Speech Theatre at the Figures of Speech website,



[*Source: “The Secret Lives of Puppets,” Fried, Suzy; Casco Bay Weekly, January 20, 1994; p.21]

Throwback Thursday: Big Gallery Art and Automata by Randy Regier

From dinosaur tracks to insects, from discovering Talking Walls of stories around the world to wondering What About Whales?, the Big Gallery (currently the home of the Playscape) has been the perfect space for many different exhibits over the years. In 2010, it played host to SmartArt, a huge exhibit dedicated to the fusion of art and science.

Portland’s own Randy Regier, an MFA graduate of our neighbors the Maine College of Art, designed two parts of the “Sound and Motion” component of SmartArt: Automata Dancers and Wake Up! 1, 2, 3. When we interviewed him about his work for Kitetails, he stated, “I imagine stories I wished had happened in the past and the objects that are part of those stories, and I make them come ‘true’ by building the objects. Often in my work the objects are toys.” In the area of Oregon where Regier grew up, there were no nearby toy stores, so he made his own as a child. The automata that Regier designed for SmartArt were colorful toys shaped like retro robots.

What exactly are automata? Automata is the plural of automaton, a Greek word meaning acting of one’s own will. (Think “automatic!”) Have you ever seen a cuckoo clock, or a clockwork doll that can write or serve tea? Cuckoo clocks are a great example of automata: the gears in the clock make the bird (or sometimes several objects) move in a certain way; the craftsmen David Roentgen and Peter Kintzing even created an automaton of Marie Antoinette in the late 1700s that plays the dulcimer! Automata usually have a recognizable physical shape, like a human or animal, and can act mechanically on their own without the aid of electricity; usually because of their shape, they mimic real human or animal movements. In fact, there are surviving automata from throughout several centuries, and accounts of mechanical figures dating back to ancient China and Greece!

Regier's Automata Dancers
Regier’s Automata Dancers

To make Regier’s automata move in our SmartArt exhibit, a visitor had only to play a nearby instrument made of found objects. The toys would respond to the vibrations caused by the instrument and dance!

SmartArt (3)
A young visitor makes Regier’s automata dance.


Regier’s delightful and thought-provoking toy art has been featured throughout Maine, including nearby Space Gallery; the United States; and even in Madrid, Spain. You can learn more about his work at his website (ask an adult to help you visit!),

Keep your eyes on our calendar for new ways we’re fusing science and art this winter and spring… including mini robot making labs!

Throwback Thursday: Featured Photographer Michael Odokara-Okigbo

Perhaps you know him as Michael O., of Dartmouth College’s Dartmouth Aires, the singing group that landed second place on NBC’s The Sing-Off in 2011. Perhaps you know him as the founder of the Mugadi Foundation, which provides necessary funding for education, clothing and more for children in Africa. Chances are, if you don’t know the name of this Portland native yet – you soon will, as he is making strides worldwide.

In 2005, Michael Odokara-Okigbo was a student at Waynflete School in Portland, ME, and was showing his photography exhibition, Mugadi (I Will Live), at the Children’s Museum on July’s First Friday night. In 2004, when he was only 14, Michael took a trip to the West Africa region (Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Ghana) with his mother Shalom, a speaker at World AIDS Day events. This trip would mark the founding of the Mugadi Foundation; during this visit, the photographs Michael took and stories he collected from children whose lives had been drastically changed by HIV/AIDS became the exhibit that showed here at CMTM along with other locations such as libraries, hospitals and schools. “It is estimated that a child is orphaned by AIDS every 14 seconds,” we reported in our quarterly Kitetails issue that year. “Many countries in Africa are at risk of losing the next generation.”

Fourteen tales were told in the exhibition, but several lives more have since been touched by the generosity of the Foundation. On First Friday in July 2005, Michael spoke at a free opening night reception about his photography project. The Mugadi Foundation (taking its name from “I will live” in Igbo), now ten years old, continues to assist children in need.

You can learn more about the Foundation, their good work and how to donate to their cause at their website here.

Follow Michael O.’s musical career at his website here!

Currently located in Los Angeles, Michael’s first EP, In The Beginning, debuted in 2013, and in 2014 he landed a role in Pitch Perfect 2 alongside actor Anna Kendrick, another Portland native. Congratulations to Michael – we wish him the best in all of his endeavors!

You may see many other photography exhibits gracing the halls here at the Museum & Theatre – keep your eyes open for chances to be a photographer yourself, and learn the art of telling stories through photographs in some of our upcoming 2015 programs!

Throwback Thursday: We Are Maine Opening 2006

We’ve seen lots of changes to our We Are Maine exhibit since its opening in May of 2006. Today we’re flashing back to 2005, when we were first awarded grants to begin work on the big second floor exhibit, which highlights children and families from myriad cultural backgrounds. New Mainers and those who have had family in the area for years alike all have stories to tell, and we’re always looking forward to telling new ones as We Are Maine ages and evolves!

The concept was brand new in 2006: we hadn’t yet merged with the Children’s Theatre, and We Are Maine was hailed as the “most technologically sophisticated exhibit that the Museum has produced to date,” as written in our Kitetails newsletter (remember the days of those purple-inked newsletters by post, anyone?). Video stories of children in Maine and their families – connecting roots to countries as far away as Greece, Iran, Ireland, and Japan – can still be viewed in the exhibit today, but let’s take a look at how some things have changed.

Previous spotlights in the exhibit have included dinner tables and dance instruction, plus the large Hmong History Stitched installation from 2013-14, created with help from consultant Kue John Lor and our culture scholars. We Are Maine has grown a new component yet again this year with Rhythm Play, an enclosed woodsy space where you can find a drum with multiple sound qualities in the shape of a tree stump!

The stump drum isn’t all there is to Rhythm Play: spotlights will continue through 2015 with special guests teaching visitors various percussive arts from around the globe. You can still check out our Brazilian Capoeira component, and starting in January, learn all about the Indian dance form of Bharatanatyam!

We Are Maine has, since its inception, been a unique space for telling stories, celebrating the heritage of Maine’s diverse communities, and reaching out to connect us to the globe.

Throwback Thursday: Theatre Anniversary!

Did you know that it’s been seven years since the first time the Children’s Theatre performed at the Children’s Museum? Today, as the Children’s Museum & Theatre, we’re opening our holiday production of Beatrix Potter’s Christmas, by Thomas W. Olson, in which lots of different animals from Beatrix Potter’s lively imagination scurry about the stage, from mice and squirrels to ducks and kittens.

Seven years ago, in Theatre Artistic Director Reba Short’s Kitchen Table Fables, another ensemble of mice, among other animals, performed tales from Aesop – the very first production to take place in our Dress Up Theatre. (If you see Beatrix Potter’s Christmas, you’ll even see one of the original Fables cast members!) Following the summer’s production Odd at Sea, which was performed on the pirate ship in our outdoor Shipyard, Fables centered around the story of the Grasshopper and the Ant, with other familiar animals from Aesop’s stories working as a community to bring charming tales to life in the Ant’s kitchen.

In the Portland Phoenix, Theatre writer Megan Grumbling emphasized that a “particularly lovely implication of the show’s story…  is that art is just as important a commodity as food or wealth.”

Happy 7th anniversary to Dress Up Theatre productions! You can catch Beatrix Potter’s Christmas onstage December 11th-22nd, 2014.


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[Source: The Portland Phoenix, 12 December 2007.]

[Photo source: CMTM archive.]


Ginger has been used in many ways for thousands of years, from ancient Greek and Chinese recipes and medicines to spices of the Middle Ages to the Christmas tradition of cookies and, of course, gingerbread houses. But how did the gingerbread we know today come to be, and when did it become so popular at Christmas?

Ginger itself is a knobby root that hails from Asia, from the Middle East to China. Ginger made its way to Europe in the 1st century AD, and gingerbread variations through France, Germany, Scandinavia and England began rising in popularity around the 1400s. Ginger is mixed with honey and molasses to give gingerbread its trademark sweet spongy, cake-like quality. Each country has its own spin on gingerbread, with many delicacies being referred to as “pepper cake” or “pepper bread.” Many countries in the Middle Ages had Gingerbread Markets!

Making shaped gingerbread (like gingerbread men) was a 16th century spin on the confection. Queen Elizabeth I of England (who reigned from 1588 to 1603) popularized shaping and decorating gingerbread people when she decorated cookies with the likenesses of other kings and queens of Europe! Gingerbread was so popular in England during this time that it even made it into a line of William Shakespeare’s 1597 play Love’s Labour’s Lost. Many European bakeries still craft gingerbread hearts, and it was once a symbol of affection to give gingerbread to another person.

Like many Christmas traditions celebrated in America today, gingerbread came to our country with early German settlers in the 1600s. In Germany, the art of baking and crafting ginger sweets goes back nearly 600 years, and gingerbread is such a delicacy that the occupation of gingerbread baker is not only in high regard, it’s in a league and class all of its own!

The gingerbread capital of the world is indisputably Nuremberg, Germany, where a gingerbread baker’s league was established in the 1640s. Only certified bakers of Lebkuchen (gingerbread) were allowed to craft gingerbread creations for many, many years… with the exception of Christmas and Easter, when it was declared acceptable for any household to make their own gingerbread cookies. Lebkuchen bakers fashioned kings, hearts, animals, and other beautiful shapes out of gingerbread, purchased at high prices and crafted exclusively by hand until the later 19th century, when mass production techniques made a major impact on European industries.

The gingerbread house itself has a history dating back to the early 1800s – it’s hard to say whether the practice of making gingerbread houses inspired the Brothers Grimm or if it was the other way around, but after the publishing of the Grimms’ still famous fairy tale Hansel and Gretel, gingerbread houses became quite the rage. Though the practice of decorating cookies with colored icing was already an established tradition, a house was a new undertaking. Icing or chocolate holds flat pieces of gingerbread together, while bright candies trim windows and roofs, chimneys and doors. Much like the house that Hansel and Gretel stumble upon in the woods, these houses are fully edible works of art, irresistible to children and marvels of artistry to adults.

The tradition of constructing gingerbread houses also made its way to America (and specifically, to the Museum & Theatre). Many real Victorian homes that appear to have “icing” around the roofs and windows are referred to colloquially as “gingerbread homes.”

Other gingerbread treats through the years have included gingerbread nuts – which evolved into what we know as ginger snaps, Swedish Papparkakor, and animal crackers.