Welcome, Lily!

Photo courtesy of Sharyn Peavey Photography

 

I am honored to be the newest member of the Education Team at the Children’s Museum and Theatre. I grew up playing and attending theatre productions here, so it’s inspiring to join the amazing group of people who make this organization truly magical.

I first became interested in museum education when I volunteered at the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine during college. I realized how much children learn from the interactive exhibits and programs at the museum; it was particularly exciting to see the thousands and thousands of children who play, learn, and explore at the museum and theatre each year. I was ‘hooked’ after my summer of face-painting, story reading, and camera obscura operating.

My newfound interest in museum engagement inspired me to focus on museum studies and education classes throughout the rest of college, visit over eighty museums during my study abroad experiences in France and England, and volunteer at several art education programs for children and youth.

Most recently, I worked in a one room co-op schoolhouse and a small children’s museum, both in rural Northeast Tennessee. Teaching in a one room schoolhouse was an amazing chance to collaborate with a small number of individuals to create learning opportunities for my students and to experience our educational system in a different part of the country. Working at a children’s museum in rural Tennessee showed me that play-based, youth-centered organizations can create positive change in a community and that children are hungry to learn and explore the world around them.

When I’m not playing at the Children’s Museum and Theatre, I am usually busy organizing an art and social justice camp in Transylvania, Romania or helping to promote our new crowdfunding website that supports community development projects in Transylvanian villages. You may also find me planning farm camps for some of Maine’s youngest farmers, riding and competing my horse, or playing my violin.

Next time you and your family are at the museum and theatre, come say hello. I’m excited to meet you!

-Lily O’Brien

Now Playing at the Museum & Theatre: Santa’s Reindeer Present: The Nutcracker!

A Note from the Director:

Every year, we reindeer put on a variety show before loading up the sleigh. The stage summons our magic, surges our energy and brings us together. Vixen does card tricks. Comet tells jokes. Donner recites ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.When Dancer and Prancer are getting along, they usually do a tap routine. This year, I challenged my crew to explore something different. If we can pull a heavy sleigh, we can put on a whole play! We can use our reindeer magic to play timeless characters with our hooves and with our hearts. This year’s play? The Nutcracker! A ballet, a symphony, and now… a realistic drama, told reindeer style!

We beg you to imagine yourself in St. Petersburg, Russia, 1892, in the small workshop of a toymaker named Drosselmeyer. Not just a toymaker, Drosselmeyer is also a clock maker and a mouse catcher. On Christmas Eve, his nephew, a young prince, comes to visit. But lo and behold – before Drosselmeyer’s one good eye an evil sorcerer turns his nephew into… a NUTCRACKER! To become human again, the Nutcracker must defeat the Mouse King, travel to far off lands, and fall in love with a beautiful maiden. Impossible? Not if you find yourself in a child’s dream! Drosselmeyer the Toymaker gives the Nutcracker to a young girl named Clara, in hopes that she will help the Nutcracker complete his tasks to be human again.

Join us for this reindeer tail of magic and wonder. Only magical flying reindeer can write, dance, choreograph and stage as complex a yarn as The Nutcracker. We’ve worked hard on these weeks leading up to Christmas. Without these elves Maud, Eli and Murray taking time off from building toys, the play would never be possible. Thank you Dasher, for keeping us on track as the Stage Manager. Thank you for coming, you elves and reindeer in the audience. Happy holidays and enjoy the show!

Your Esteemed Director,

Rudy the Red

Leah as Rudolph, director of the Nutcracker!
Leah as Rudolph, director of the Nutcracker!

Interested in seeing the show? Click here, call 1-800-838-3006, or stop by the front desk during your next visit to get tickets!

Now Playing at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine: The Witches!

Reba as a Witch
Theatre Director, Reba Short, joining in the witchy fun!

“Oh, is my tongue blue?” Here’s what our Theatre Artistic Director and director of our production of The Witches has to say about the play… Want to see more? Get your tickets to The Witches here and for our own special interactive adaptation of the story for preschool ages, How to Spot a Witch, here!

From the Artistic Director, Reba Short:

Why would a theatre company produce The Witches anyway? The themes are dark, the images are gruesome; for goodness’ sake, there’s a chorus of witches talking about crunching children’s bones! The Grandmother in the story seems alright, but she’s smoking black cigars! How could this possibly be a children’s play? Has the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine lost all its good sense?!

 

As Theatre Artistic Director, I say not in the least! We are producing the work of Roald Dahl, hailed as one of the greatest storytellers of the 20th century. He received the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 1983, and Children’s Author of the Year from the British Book Awards in 1990. The themes in Dahl’s books are so dark, they’re funny. The witches are so terrible, they’re loveable. The plots are so preposterous, they can’t be serious, and they aren’t, at all. That’s Dahl’s magic as a storyteller. He pushes the boundaries of his make-believe world to its furthest corners, and then keeps pushing. His imagination goes to dark and wild places, and he invites the young reader with him and counts on them to know what is fantasy. Today we are asking the same of you, our audience. Join us for this wild and awful annual convention of witches and know that it’s just pretend.

My favorite part of Roald Dahl’s books are his heroes. Always unlikely, they may seem weak at first. They are usually children who use courage and cleverness to become strong. In our play, it’s a small-boy-turned-mouse that receives the call to adventure. (It would be impossible to find a smaller hero!) If the witchy plot wasn’t so awful, it wouldn’t be necessary for the boy-mouse to save the children at all. This is a story that begs the audience not to take it too seriously, but to find inspiration in the acts of courage and magical ways that the even small heroes can save the world.

Mini Moviemakers: Stop Motion Animation Workshops – Coming up on February 8th!

Calling all movie-makers! In this afternoon workshop, we’ll work together to make a short claymation movie in the style of Wallace and Gromit. You’ll learn about how animation works and then get to view your group movie on the web once it’s published. Ideal for ages 6+.

$16/members, $22/visitors. This is a drop-off program. To register call 828-1234 x231 or stop by the front desk.

Next workshop on February 8th: sign up here!

Parking & street closure info for $2 First Friday on December 6

We’ll be open on for $2 First Friday this Friday, December 6: from 5pm-8pm, admission is just $2 per person (kids under 18 months free).

You’ll notice that this Friday there will be some extra excitement around town! A large portion of Congress Street will be closed for First Friday: Holiday Edition, a special First Friday night with a special Circus in the Streets performance. This means there will be limited street parking on Congress Street; see below for details.

To reach the Spring Street municipal parking garage from 295, we suggest the following route:

    • Take exit 6-A (Forest Ave. South).
    • Bear right at the lights onto Rt. 77 South and proceed through the park.
    • Continue up the hill (Rt. 77/State Street).
    • Cross Congress Street and proceed to Spring Street.
    • Turn left at Spring Street.
    • Turn left on High Street.

Bear right at the Congress Square intersection onto Free Street.Proceed past the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine; the entrance to the parking garage is on the right, past Oak Street.

Street closure/parking restriction information from our friends at Portland’s Downtown District:

  • Congress Street (between Brown & State) will be closed to vehicular traffic from 6-8 pm on Friday, December 6.
  • No vehicles will be allowed in during that time, except for emergency responders.
  • High Street will remain open to traffic with a police presence stationed at the Congress Square intersection.
  • Vehicles are NOT allowed to park on Congress Street (between Brown & State streets) from 4-8 pm. 
  • Any cars in the Congress Street zone (between Brown & State Streets) during that time will be towed at the owner’s expense.
  • Side streets will remain open.
  • Please alert tenants, neighbors, visitors, business owners and shoppers in the district to the 6-8 pm street closure and 4-8 pm no-parking zone.
  • Even those living or working in the zone will NOT be allowed in to park during that time (No exceptions!)
  • For those attending or coming to downtown Portland during that time, we recommend taking the Metro Bus, using area parking garages or parking on side streets.
  • The street closure will happen rain or shine.

Click here for lots more information about First Friday: Holiday Edition on Friday, December 6.

Lights, Camera, Color: In the reimagined Camera Obscura exhibit, 10th Century Technology Meets 21st Century Kids

CO-tableThe technology behind the Camera Obscura – the reflection of light into a dark space, creating a projected image – is more than 1,000 years old. How do you make that feel new in 2013 for kids who are accustomed to high-tech screens that fit in their pockets? That was the challenge the we faced when creating Lights, Camera, Color: Exploring the Camera Obscura, a reinvented exhibit on the Museum’s third floor.

The year is 1020.

There are about 300 million people on earth. The city of Portland, Maine won’t be established for another seven centuries. Recent innovations include locks (allowing the creation of canals) and fire arrows. The Middle East is in a golden age of scientific achievement, with scientists making notable progress in the fields of medicine, astronomy and physics. The scientist Alhazen (also known as Ibn al-Haytham) has made an important discovery about how people see.

Depiction of a camera obscura used for recreation. Paul Sandby, Roslin Castle, Midlothian, ca. 1780, Gouache on medium laid paper, mounted on board, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon collection.
Depiction of a camera obscura used for recreation. Paul Sandby, Roslin Castle, Midlothian, ca. 1780, Gouache on medium laid paper, mounted on board, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon collection.

Until 1000 A.D., people believed that eyes sent out rays of light, and those rays formed a picture. They believed that the picture disappeared when eyes were closed because eyelids blocked the light from shooting out. After many experiments with light, Alhazen correctly theorized that eyes work the other way around, receiving light to create an image. His work offered the first clear description and early analysis of the device that came to be known as a camera obscura (latin for dark chamber): a box with a small hole
into which reflected light rays pass to create an image of what is outside. He used the camera obscura throughout his lifelong study of optics; his work corrected several antiquated theories and predated many Western optics discoveries by hundreds of years.

The camera obscura played a vital role in art and photography for centuries to come. During the Renaissance, the camera obscura helped artists understand the concept of perspective, taking painting from the flat compositions of the Middle Ages to the more lifelike, three-dimensional images we see after the 1400s. In the 16th and 17th centuries, using portable, tented camera obscuras for sketching became popular for both artists and hobbyists.

Starting in the 1700s, many scientists were working simultaneously to find a way to make the images projected by the camera obscura permanent. Their experiments with light project and silver salts, iodide and nitrate led to photography as we know it. Louis Daguerre’s “Daguerrotypes” are perhaps the most well-known form of early photography although amateur scientist William Talbot’s obscure “Talbotypes” were perhaps a more direct precursor to modern film photography.

Throughout history, the camera obscura has played an important role as artists and scientists sought to record and understand the world around us.

The year is 1994.

The original Focus Room. Photo by Claudia Dricot.
The original Focus Room. Photo by Claudia Dricot.

About 5.6 billion people live on earth, and about 1.25 million of them live in the state of Maine. Less than 20% of the US population has a cell phone; only 14% of Americans report that they use the internet. In Portland, the Sea Dogs are playing their very first season, and the Pirates are about to play their second. The Children’s Museum of Maine has been at its Free Street location for one year, with exhibits on the first floor (the second floor is mostly undeveloped) attracting more than 120,000 visitors. This year, the Museum is opening a brand new exhibit: the Camera Obscura.

Frederic L. Thompson – chair of the capital campaign that raised of $2.5 million for the Museum’s new location – secured a donation from Kodak to build a periscopic camera obscura on the Museum’s third floor, taking advantage of the cupola that tops the historic building. While a simple camera obscura can be created with a box and a pin, Thompson had a vision for a more complex device that would provide a more memorable visual experience. Though our camera obscura still uses natural light alone to create the image, a 12 inch lens inside the cupola helps project a more focused image, and a 20 inch mirror rotates mechanically, offering a 360-degree view.

A feature in the Boston Globe in 2008.
A feature in the Boston Globe in 2008.

Depending on light and weather conditions, visitors can observe everything from a flock of seagulls flying over Congress Square to the top of Mount Washington, nearly 100 miles away. A camera obscura of this scope and quality is rare – similar examples can be found in San Francisco, Edinburgh and a handful of other cities – and the exhibit drew the appreciation of Camera Obscura enthusiasts, art historians, photographers and travel writers (the exhibit has been featured in AAA Magazine and the Boston Globe).

The room just outside the camera obscura (called the Focus Room) offered a few hands-on optics exercises and a wealth of historic context for the camera obscura, from Alhazen to the light shows of the early 20th century. However, because of the delicate equipment that moves the rotating mirror, the exhibit’s central component was available only by guided tour, which generally took place twice daily. While popular with older children and parents, some families with younger children – due to short attention spans or challenges of navigating up to the third floor – visited the Museum for years without taking advantage of the hidden gem at the top of the stairs.

The year is 2013.

There are over 7 billion people on earth and 1.3 million call Maine home. 91% of US adults now have cell phones (as do 78% of kids over 12). More than half of those are smartphones, meaning most Americans have internet access in their pockets (85% use the internet in some form). In Portland, locals are enjoying the city’s trendy status thanks to the many accolades it’s received in recent years, from being named America’s Foodiest Small Town to having one of the 12 best children’s museums in the US. The Children’s Museum of Maine is now the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine, and it’s celebrating two decades at its Free Street location – as well as a new chapter in the story of one of its most distinctive exhibits.

An early sketch that included the shadow wall (top) and the completed shadow wall in use.
An early sketch that included the shadow wall (top) and the completed shadow wall in use.

Knowing that the Camera Obscura was one of the Museum & Theatre’s most versatile exhibits, staff has long been motivated to bring more people to the third floor to see it. By the fall of 2012, the exhibits and education staff had developed some ideas for renovations that could excite younger visitors and inspire the Museum & Theatre’s core audience to learn more about optics and light. The staff again approached Fred Thompson, this time via the Rines/Thompson Fund of the Maine Community Foundation, with a proposal. In early 2013, the Fund funded the Museum & Theatre’s proposal to renovate the exhibits, expanding upon the existing educational content, adding and updating interactive components and getting more visitors – especially young visitors – in the door. The goal: make a 1,000-year-old technology appealing to children growing up in the digital age.

The key to attracting young visitors: accessibility. Logistically, that meant modifying the actual Camera Obscura itself; previously open only during guided tours, the Camera Obscura is now open throughout the day; Museum visitors can get a
peek at Portland from a room with no windows any time they like. To preserve the exhibit and ensure that it will be here for years to come, the rotation controls are locked except during guided tours (still given daily). The projection is far from static, though – the cityscape is constantly alive with activity along Congress Street and beyond. Depending on light and where the lens is directed, visitors can observe everything from a flock of seagulls flying over Congress Square to the top of Mount Washington, nearly 100 miles away.

An early prototype of the tented camera obscura used in observations.
An early prototype of the tented camera obscura used in observations.

Accessibility is a psychological and developmental challenge as well, so the two-room exhibit is now filled with bright, new, kid-friendly components. The component that inspires the most dancing, wiggling and giggling is the shadow wall: a bright white wall in a dark room with adjustable colored lights where children can play with their shadow and layer the light to create new colors. The exhibit also features a light table surrounded by low stools attracts toddlers eager to stack blocks with sheer color inserts to play with projection. New model camerae obscurae throughout the exhibit invite visitors to experiment with focus and find the parallels between the inner workings of the eye and the camera.

During the development process, each component was prototyped and observed
in action. Although prototypes may appear rough around the edges, they provide important insights into how an exhibit will appeal to children at different developmental stages and whether it will work at all. Some experiments were taken out of the plan when staff observed that they did not hold children’s interest or inspire them to make connections; other new elements were inspired by offhand remarks or unexpected responses to prototypes during the observation period. Chris Sullivan, the Museum & Theatre’s Director of Exhibits, worked with staff to develop a series of prototype exhibit components; staff observed visitors interacting with the prototypes and used those observations to inform the final exhibit – although Sullivan is hesitant to use the word “final.”

Experimenting with a model camera obscura in the new exhibit.
Experimenting with a model camera obscura in the new exhibit.

“Our exhibits are always growing and evolving,” Chris says. “Visitors are learning from the exhibits, but we learn from our visitors, too.” The prototyping spiral – a series of exercises in design, testing, analysis and redesign – is an increasingly popular in the museum field, particularly children’s museums and science centers, which thrive on durable, hands-on exhibits that inspire open-ended learning.

At the opening celebration on October 16, the revitalized exhibit seemed to have
met its goal, mesmerizing toddlers and preschoolers (along with a few big kids
visiting from out of town) who darted happily between the shadow wall, the light
table and the camera obscura itself. Those seeking a more historical perspective – typically parents – picked up copies of the new background take-home brochure that details the history of the camera obscura phenomenon.

(Left to right): Director of Exhibits Chris Sullivan, former Board chair and ex- hibit founder Frederic L. Thompson and Executive Director Suzanne Olson at the opening celebration on October 16, 2013.
(Left to right): Director of Exhibits Chris Sullivan, former Board chair and ex- hibit founder Frederic L. Thompson and Executive Director Suzanne Olson at the opening celebration on October 16, 2013.

We will continue to offer guided tours of the Camera Obscura; tours offer a more in-depth history of the phenomenon and include a demonstration of the periscopic Camera Obscura’s rotating view of Portland and beyond. Tours are free with general museum admission and are also available separately for $4 per person. Call 207-828-1234 x231 or visit our calendar of events for scheduled tours.

For more images of the new exhibit Lights, Camera, Color: Exploring the Camera Obscura, visit www.kitetails.org.

Cardboard + Community + Creativity = Pop-Up Playscapes

Facebook event graphic

Remember Caine’s Arcade, the video that went viral about a 9-year-old in East

Caine Monroy with his Arcade. (Image credit: Caine's Arcade)
Caine Monroy with his Arcade. (Image credit: Caine’s Arcade)

L.A. who built an amazing arcade out of cardboard? Now imagine dozens of kids like Caine meeting up in one spot with tons of cardboard and permission to build anything they can imagine. What do you think they could create if they worked together?

We’ll find out this summer! We’re inviting all of Portland to join us for Pop-Up Playscapes on Monday, July 22nd at Kennedy Park and on Saturday, August 31st on the Eastern Promenade.

At these FREE, first-of-their-kind events, people of all ages will meet up to build the ultimate fort-meets-sculpture-meets-homemade-playground. We’ll have a huge supply of recycled materials, like cardboard boxes, old

Picture this... only HUGE!
Picture this… only HUGE!

books, tubes, fabrics and more. You – that means kids, grown-ups, everyone – bring your imagination and sense of adventure. Artists and Museum & Theatre staff will be on site to help make your vision a reality. At day’s end, we’ll take down the structure and recycle it. All kids take home a bag of recycled building materials to keep dreaming and creating long after the event is over.

If you visited us last summer, you may remember the “Box City” we created on the second floor of the Museum & Theatre – dozens of buildings made from recycled materials. There were homes, a library, a school, a garden shop – anything our young builders could imagine! I’m so excited to make that concept way bigger and bring it out into the community so all kids can contribute their ideas, inventions and creativity.

3 Pop Up Adventure PLayground at Canadian International School of Egypt
A cardboard building project at the Canadian International School in Egypt.
Image source: http://popupadventureplay.blogspot.com/2013/04/playing-around-world.html

A project like this is tons of fun, of course, but there’s also a lot to learn from it. When kids engage in open-ended play like this – a project where there’s no one right answer – they get to solve problems and direct themselves. They’ll hit road blocks, then come up with solutions that none of the adults could have devised. They’ll build the skills that will make them great problem-solvers and creative thinkers – and that’s not just good for kids, that’s good for all of us! What community couldn’t use more creative problem-solvers?

We’re grateful to everyone who made these events possible! Pop-Up Playscapes are funded by the Cumberland County Community Building Fund of the Maine Community Foundation. We’re also getting help from some great community partners: City of Portland Recreation and Public Services; Ecomaine; No Umbrella Media; The Root Cellar; and Ruth’s Reusable Resources.

Coming to a Pop-Up Playscape event? RSVP on Facebook and share it with your friends!

 

Announcement: $2 First Fridays start July 5th

On the first Friday evening of each month, we’re open from 5-8pm for a reduced admission rate. On Friday, July 5th, admission will increase from $1 to $2 per person.

The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine is a non-profit organization. Providing a safe, high-quality experience costs $11.60 per visitor. Increasing our First Friday admission rate from $1 to $2 will help us continue to provide affordable hours for our community. Thank you for your support!

Scholarships are available.

If you cannot afford the new admission rate, please visit our website for a scholarship application. Donors have provided funding for memberships and day passes for families who receive public assistance. We are committed to keeping the Museum & Theatre accessible to all families.

Transit Tips for a Fun & Fuss-Free First Friday

We’re looking forward to our special event, Raising Readers Presents… Scott Nash, during our next $1 First Friday on June 1. Scott’s books are hugely popular, and we expect a terrific turn-out!

First Fridays are busy nights in the Arts District, especially as the weather warms up! There are several events in the neighborhood on June 1, making the coming First Friday extra-festive. But with a little planning, we’re confident you’ll reach us in plenty of time to hear Scott read every word of The Bugliest Bug!

Tips for getting to the Museum & Theatre on Friday, June 1:

Plan your parking. Some nearby parking garages and lots (including the By the Bay Parking, adjacent to the Holiday Inn) will be closed to the public on June 1. Fortunately, there are several garages within walking distance, including the Gateway Garage on High Street (about a 4 minute walk), the Monument Square Garage (about a 7 minute walk) and the Elm Street Garage near the library (about an 8 minute walk). Download this handy parking map for other options.

Can you spot staff member Chris F's bike in this photo? His bike and its milk crate basket are familiar sight - he pedals into work several days a week.

Use pedestrian or pedal power. Bike in (we have a bike rack out front), or lace up your sneakers and stroll in from Munjoy Hill, the West End or beyond! Google Maps offers walking and biking directions to help you plan your trip, and Portland Trails is a great resource for finding a scenic route.

All aboard the bus! All Portland METRO buses stop near the Museum – some routes stop just a few yards from our front door! Routes #1, #3 and #8 have the closest stops (just outside Starbucks). For other routes, maps and schedules, visit the METRO website.