Thank You, Reba!

Beauty and the Beast dancing
Emma as Bella and Gabe Walker as the prince in Beauty and the Beast.

Emma Cooper is an actor who first appeared on the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine stage last fall as Bella in Beauty and the Beast. In the past year, she’s spent countless hours here rehearsing and performing with friends and peers under the guidance of our Theatre Artistic Director, Reba Short. Emma wrote this essay for a school assignment this spring and shared it with Reba and the actors in the Youth Voices on Stage project (learn more about it here or here). Reba was very moved and shared it with me, and I wanted to share it with you – Emma writes so eloquently of the very special experience our actors have here. If you or someone you know would like to have an experience like Emma’s, we have an audition workshop this week and auditions for Little Red Riding Hood next Wednesday, June 8.

Emma writes:

When you’re a child magic is everywhere. Things become what they aren’t. A boulder becomes a fortress for a fairy army, a bumble bee a fairy prince’s noble steed. Mermaids frolic in the frothy waves at the beach and terrible monsters lurk in woods. Anything is possible. You can fly, become invisible and even become a cat. It all happens. Then, a strange phenomenon called “growing up” occurs. 

Boulders begin to look like really big rocks. Bumble bees become foul pests who sting. The waves don’t seem that imposing and the mermaids are really just loose pieces of seaweed. Flying, it happens, but it’s expensive. Where does all the magic go? We become cynical and hardened. We don’t stop to smell the flowers and to marvel at the beautiful world we live in. Everything has to be fast, grown-up, scientific and chic. 

Reba with Rabbit cast
Reba (standing, left) with members of the cast of The Rabbit Who Wanted Red Wings.

I get tired of this. This fast moving society we live in. I want to stop and smell the flowers, to marvel at a rock, see the good in a bumble bee! But it’s hard to unravel yourself. To get off of Faceook and sit outside, to stop thinking about your future and be awed by the present. 

I’ve found someone who helps me do this, a grown-up none the less. Her name is Reba Short and she is the director of the Children’s Theater of Maine. When I heard about acting in your shows, I was thrilled. It’s hard to find theaters that do straight shows, non-musicals, for teens in Maine. I remember thinking “I’m so excited; this will look great on college applications! And, I’m getting experience for an acting career!” That IS true and it’s one of the perks of the theater. But when I participated in my first show, Beauty and the Beast, I realized that that wasn’t what I valued the most. I began to marvel again. That childlike wonder came back. I found myself questioning if an angsty prince-turned-Beast really DID live in the woods. Were those mermaids I saw smiling at me? Wait, are those troll tracks?! Smell these flowers! That was the most rewarding thing you could have ever given me Reba.

I remember one time in Beauty and the Beast. Gabe was having a hard time doing the characterization during a scene. You decided that we had to sing our lines out to each other. The combination was one of Phantom of the Opera meets Beauty and the Beast meets a couple of bad singers. It was one of the most outrageous things I’ve ever done and I thank you for it!

Emma in a Youth Voices Onstage workshop at East End Community School
Emma at East End Community School leading a group discussion as part of the Youth Voices Onstage project.

In the Youth Voices project that we’ve been doing it’s such a pleasure to work with you. I know that you’ve taught us all to question our actions. When we go into schools the little kids adore you. They hang on to your every word, mesmerized. I know you’re probably going to say that you’re the one that is supposed to be thanking us, because we’re really the people who do the acting. You’re wrong. Without you this project would have not been possible. You’ve not only helped these little kids to do acts of kindness, you’ve helped us. You’ve made it so that we could all heal from wounds that were inflicted upon us by mean things people have done or said. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that working with you on this has been such a pleasure and honor.

We are so blessed to have you in our lives. You’ve taught us to see the fortress in a boulder, the smiling mermaids in the waves, to stop and smell the flowers. To cherish life and everything in it. To slow down and be awed. To find magic in the world. And most important of all to imagine and hope.

Dancing With Books

Dancing With Books is a series of innovative early childhood reading programs at the Museum & Theatre that uses theatre, movement and music to help develop young children’s enthusiasm for performing arts and reading while enriching their language skills in a fun and engaging way. Our most recent series was funded by a generous grant from the Sprague Foundation and concluded on May 3 with children from St. Elizabeth’s Child Development Center performing what they had learned for their teachers and families.

Hope Hoffman and students dance their way through Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa

Organized and facilitated by Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine’s Theatre Artistic Director Reba Short, this Dancing with Books series featured musician Jim Hall, dancer Hope Hoffman and three stories, Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter, A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry and The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle. St. Elizabeth’s students and teachers explored the featured stories through song and dance in sessions throughout April. And every day St. Elizabeth’s had a session, the artists would offer an additional one to Museum visitors!  During the sessions, children read the books and learned to dance like a seed or tree and sang songs using vocabulary from the stories.

Teachers at St. Elizabeth’s have also benefited from this program. From attending the sessions with their students, they learned new ways to teach literacy through the arts, such as creating rhythms, singing vocabulary words, using body movement to make shapes of letters and words and telling interactive stories with props and puppets.

We hope that Dancing with Books will continue to inspire children to see the connection between the performing arts and literature and develop a life-long interest in not just reading, but music and movement as well.

Singing songs and dancing with Jim Hall!

Coming up in June will be Dancing with Books: Alphabet Dance! Children will use the letters of the alphabet to make fun shapes with their bodies. They will learn movements for each letter and create dances by spelling things out! Click here for dates and times. Dancing with Books will continue in the fall with a grant from the Beim Foundation and support from People’s United Community Foundation.

Meet the Kids on the Block!

Renaldo, Brenda and Melody are just three of our Kids on the Block!

Hi everyone! Do you know what Mandy, Renaldo, Mark, Brenda, and Melody all have in common? They are our new Kids on the Block life size puppets and each one has a unique disability that they have come to understand and that they have learned to live with. Each puppet has his or her own story to share and when they get together with their puppeteers and put on a show, they dazzle the crowds with their humor, wit and adorable faces. Since November, we’ve been putting on Kids on the Block shows for our visitors free of charge and the response has been phenomenal. Funded by Unum and Sam L. Cohen Foundation we are delighted to be able to implement this wonderful disability awareness program and educate our audiences with both useful and heartfelt information. Check out our next Kitetails for another round of Kids on the Block performances, here at Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine or out in your community.

Click here for upcoming performances of Kids on the Block!

Big Thanks: Auction 2010

Group of friends enjoying auction night.
Auction night is more fun with friends! (Photo by Stpehen Quirk)

Each year starting in early October, our volunteer friends committee spends endless hours planning and preparing for our annual auction. The auction raises funds for the Museum & Theatre’s exhibits and educational programming, is rewarding to work on as a volunteer and fun to attend as a guest. This year’s auction, which was held this past Friday night at the Holiday Inn by the Bay was a big success, in spite of our fairly sluggish economy. Over 25 dedicated volunteers worked extremely hard to secure over 400 fabulous donations, including family getaways, sports and concert tickets, parties, jewelry, and much, much more. Approximately 300 guests attended, bid and won both live and silent auction items, and feasted on delicious appetizers, mini sandwiches and ice cream sundaes.

I would like to thank all of our incredible sponsors, White Rock Distilleries, Spectrum Medical Group and Sudzie Autowash for their outstanding support in Auction 2010. I would also like to thank all of our auction volunteers, guests, bidders, and winners and our extremely loyal donors- all of whom made this event possible.

Bidding in the silent auction
Guests peruse the tables just before closing to get in their last-minute bids. (Photo by Stephen Quirk)

I hope YOU will consider attending next year’s auction which will be held on Friday, April 29th, 2011. Stay tuned for more updates throughout the summer and fall. For more information on how you can get involved, please contact Alicia at or 207-828-1234 x242.

You can see many more photos from auction night on our Facebook page:!/pages/Portland-ME/Childrens-Museum-Theatre-of-Maine/91981131578

UPDATE 4/6/10: The results are in and Auction 2010 exceeded our budgeted goal by over 15%!  Donations were outstanding – more than 300 local businesses and individuals donated goods and services valued at a total of over $105,000 to this year’s event.

Thanking the foundations that helped us put on “New Clothes!”

By now, we hope you’ve heard all about our ongoing shows in the Dress Up Theatre, Cinderella and The Emperor’s New Clothes. But have you heard of the New Clothes Collaboration?

Cast members of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” participate in a peer critique, while "Cinderella" musician Jeffrey Sheerer looks on.

When these two shows were selected many months ago, we thought of so many ways all kinds of artists in our community could make valuable contributions. Having professional musicians, costume designers and playwrights contribute their expertise would not only yield great shows on our stage, but would provide our young actors with a unique opportunity to explore their talents under the mentorship of working artists. We developed a proposal for the New Clothes Collaboration: pairing young actors with guest artists from Portland’s thriving theatre community to design, direct, score, rehearse and perform Cinderella and The Emperor’s New Clothes.

The "Cinderella" royals. Sebastian Grimm as Andre, Gabe Walker as Prince Louis and Elias Grimm as the King.

Thanks to the support of the Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust, the Morton-Kelly Charitable Trust and the Simmons Foundation, we were able to make this dream a reality! Our casts (all under fifteen years old!) have worked closely with director Claire Guyer, choreographer Gretchen Berg, costume designer Christina Klein, lighting designer Nicole Sirois and musicians Jeffrey Sheerer, Gregory Reed and Shawn Cole to bring scripts by Michele Livermore Wigton to life on our stage.

We’re so grateful for the generosity of the Burnham, Morton-Kelly and Simmons foundations for making this project possible. We’d also like to tip our hats to our show sponsors: the Neudek family (Debby, Tom and Alexandra); Andrucki & Mitchell Family Law of Lewiston; and Sudzie Autowash of Scarborough.

As anyone who has caught the shows can tell you, the New Clothes Collaboration yielded magical results!

Be sure to catch both shows, playing alternating weekends through March 21st. Shows are selling out, so click here to get your tickets in advance!

Fairchild Semiconductor and our Youth Rangers make science fun!

Winter marks a busy season for science programming at Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine. Our Youth Ranger program, generously funded by Fairchild Semiconductor, is an innovative leadership training program for students in grades 8-11 interested in environmental education. It involves recruiting, training and employing teenagers as environmental science educators who work under the guidance of staff mentors.  Rangers deliver programs and serve as nature experts on the Explore Floor (that’s our second floor). The program is powerful because it supports our long term goal of promoting responsible stewardship of Maine’s environment.

Youth Ranger Fiona talks to a young visitor about the turtles in the Ranger Station.

Youth Rangers run programs each weekend and throughout school vacation weeks at the Tidepool Touch Tank and inside the Ranger Station. They facilitate visitor interaction with activity kits covering environmental themes such as animal behavior, forest and water resources, patterns in nature, food webs, and Leave No Trace principles.  Please stop by the Ranger Station and ask a Youth Ranger a science question. If they don’t have the answer, they’ll inquire and get right back in touch!

Little Youth Rangers in training and their parents can visit this website for some fun science activities to do at home!

For a full list of our 2008-2009 educational programming corporate and foundation funders, click here.