Nov 142015
Two English classes in Piscataquis Community Secondary School in Guilford and one English class and one drama class in Penquis Valley High School in Milo created theater pieces during Building Community Through the Arts residencies (see our most recent website post) and performed their works at the Center Theatre in Dover Foxcroft on October 27th and November 3rd. Parents and members of the community also attended, and all had an opportunity to watch compelling works of original theater, each exploring social themes that the students had chosen.
Teacher Joseph Hennessey’s two senior English classes from PCSS in Guilford, working with theater artist Jeri Pitcher, had each selected a different theme in the novel, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, to relate to a social issue in their own lives. One class chose the theme of the “demon child” from the novel, and in a piece that included powerful theatrical group chanting effects, showed the “demon child” as a high school student who is socially ostracized. The other PCSS class addressed the novel’s theme of a hoped for “week of peace” that never materializes because “things fall apart.” Using the structure of a television newscast, the students showed the incidents that would be Guilford’s version of “things falling apart.”
Penquis HS teacher Chad Emery’s two classes worked with artist Beverly Mann. Mr. Emery’s College Prep 10 English class, discussing the issue of socio-economic disparity in The Great Gatsby, created a powerful play about poverty’s social stigma in their own community. The plot focused on what happens when a student spreads a negative rumor about another student’s family, but the fact that the rumor is that the student’s family is poor shows how poverty affects youth socially in the community.
Beverly Mann brings her specialty of mask theater to her residencies, and the students in Mr. Emery’s drama class wore half masks in the piece they created about the interplay of parent child relationships and the safety risks young people are willing to take. In this case the strict rules imposed by a mother not sensitive to her daughter’s anguish at feeling unpopular, becomes the impetus for the daughter breaking rules and injuring herself… an outcome that ultimately brings a realization by both mother and daughter about how much each means to the other.
For the three English classes this was the students’ first time on a stage, and even for the drama class it was the students’ first attempt at creating theater.  The students in all four classes talked about the program’s creative process through group improvisation as giving them a new sense of closeness with one another. Teacher Chad Emery spoke about his admiration for the students’ work and about the combined impact of the program: “The program helps bring students closer together as evolving 21st century problem solvers…. teachers are able to witness these future leaders’ dynamic flexibility, creativity, and innate inspiration.  In seeing our students on stage, we see ourselves and all that the future has in store.”
Building Community Through the Arts in Piscataquis County was supported by funding from the Piscataquis County Fund of the Maine Community Foundation and the Maine Arts Commission.
Oct 232015
This is a busy month for Building Community Through the Arts! For the past two weeks all the ninth grade students in Bethel’s Telstar High School, who are participating in a morning experiential learning program at nearby Bryant Pond, have been doing a BCTA creative theater residency as part of that morning program. The students have been creating tableaux and learning improvisation skills with BCTA theater artist Libby Marcus, who is also linking their creative work to their reading of Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck.

 (photos are from previous BCTA residencies)

Meanwhile in Piscataquis County BCTA theater residencies are also in full swing at two classes in Penquis Valley HS in Milo and two classes in Piscataquis County Secondary School in Guilford. The students of Joseph Hennessey’s two senior English classes in PCSS are working with artist Jeri Pitcher to creatively engage with their reading of Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe. At Penquis Valley HS artist Beverly Mann is working with Chad Emery’s College Prep 10 English class as well as with Mr. Emery’s small (but very enthusiastic!) drama class. One of the PCSS groups and both Penquis classes will be gathering on Tuesday, October 27th at a performance conference at the Center Theatre in Dover-Foxcroft ( The three performances will run from 9:45 to 10:45 am and the public is invited. Admission is free. There will be a second set of performances at the Center Theatre at 7 pm on the following Tuesday, November 3rd. The evening performances, by the other PCSS group and the Penquis Valley drama class, will be an opportunity also for the community to learn more about and support the BCTA program at these schools. Admission is by donation, with all donations going toward the program’s continuation at PCSS and Penquis Valley in 2016.


For the program at Bryant Pond MAAE is grateful for the support of the Robbins-de Beaumont Foundation and the Jane B. Cook 1983 Charitable Trust. For the program in Piscataquis County we are also very grateful to the Piscataquis County Fund of the Maine Community Foundation and the Maine Arts Commission for their generous support, as well as to the Center Theatre in Dover Foxcroft, whose active partnership has helped us bring this student project to the whole community.
Jul 272015

Classroom Scene(1)

Youth in the Parkside area of Portland performed an original theater piece on the evening of July 21st that they had created as part of MAAE’s Building Community Through the Arts (BCTA) program. The group of mostly immigrant and minority youth meet as part of OPEN (Organization for Partnership and Engagement with Neighborhoods), an after school and week-end program in Portland’s Parkside area that empowers diverse youth to take an active role in the decision making and dialogue around social justice issues affecting their community. The play, the result of a partnership between OPEN and MAAE, was the first time that the OPEN program had incorporated theater.

During a three-week residency with BCTA theater artist Jeri Pitcher the group created “Amy’s First Day,” a play exploring the social problems faced in school by the title character Amy, an African girl newly arrived in Portland. The play also explored the social problems in school facing minority and immigrant youth in general. These included rejection of African immigrant students by black students born in America, teachers expressing surprise at the academic accomplishments of their black students, and Muslim youth being made to feel uncomfortable about their custom of daily prayer, while also being looked at with suspicion by white students.


Part of the tension that the play explored was the question the students faced in all of these situations of whether to accept and work around the daily indignities and obstacles or to try to confront them, and if so, how.

The powerful and compelling play, performed for the Parkside community, included monologues when the characters spoke directly to the audience about their motivations. In a facilitated discussion with the audience afterward, many in the audience commented on how true to life the situations were and how insightful the monologues were as well.


For BCTA this represents an important new phase.  So far the program has been operating only in school classrooms, and in areas of the state where social issues are based on socio-economic rather than racial and religious diversity.  We will be working with OPEN and with the youth themselves on ways that we might take the BCTA program into the Portland schools, and the best way to do that to effect change.  We’d welcome your input as well. To contribute to this discussion and/or for more information contact MAAE director Susan Potters either by email ( or by phone 207 439-3169.

Amy and Sharon

Jun 062015


(Emily Bean, BCTA Bangor Community Committee Chair; Betsy Webb, Superintendent of Bangor Schools; Susan Potters, MAAE Director)

MAAE’s Building Community Through the Arts (BCTA) program and Bangor High School’s new Visual and Performing Arts Academy were celebrated together on May 28th when MAAE joined forces with the Bangor School Department to raise community awareness about the arts programs at Bangor High School. The late afternoon event, held in the barn of John Rohman, a member of MAAE’s advisory board, was a joint effort by the BCTA Bangor Community Committee and the arts educators at Bangor High School, and included a student art exhibit and student jazz and string ensembles. The party’s shared focus was the high school’s new Visual and Performing Arts Academy, which offers students a full program in their chosen arts field, and the school’s annual two-week dance residencies as part of MAAE’s Building Community Through the Arts program, now in its fifteenth year.


(Betsy Webb, Superintendent, and BHS arts educators: Kal Elmore, art, George Redman, chorus, Eric Hutchins, art, William Bell, orchestra. Seated: Scott Burditt, band.) 

Betsy Webb, Superintendent of Bangor Schools, spoke about the second pathway of in-depth learning offered by the addition of the Visual and Performing Arts Academy to the academy initiative begun by the school’s STEM Academy in 2012.  Kal Elmore Bangor High School visual art educator and William Bell, Bangor High School music educator, spoke about the Academy’s visual and performing arts offerings in more detail. As director of MAAE, Susan Potters spoke about the opportunity offered to students by the BCTA residency program to explore academic concepts in English and science classes through dance.

BHS English teachers Angela Domina and Stephanie Hendrix, and science teacher Michele Benoit, who had hosted BCTA dance residencies with teaching artist Katenia Keller, showed photo and video examples of the interpretive pieces created by their classes and described the impact on the students of the collaborative creative process itself.

(BHS English teacher Angela Domina. Also pictured: Betsy Webb and
English teacher Stephanie Hendrix)

The event was in part intended to raise community support for the dance residency program. BCTA Bangor Community Chair Emily Bean, who has been organizing the annual support for the program at Bangor HS, helped to organize the party and the host committee  – Lizabeth Schley, Susan Carlysle, Katie Schaffer, Sandy Johnson and Margaret Baillie – that provided the refreshments.

3Violinists (1)

(Photo credit: Michele Benoit)

Feb 252015

Excerpted from an article by Peter Alexander in the Coastal Journal:

“I was in Boston on Jan. 31 where I attended the Berklee High School Jazz Festival. The festival, organized by the Berklee College of Music, was celebrating its 47th year and drew well over 1,000 young jazz musicians representing 130 high schools from 14 states as far away as Florida and Illinois, including an impressive 18 schools from Maine. I was determined to see as many Maine high school jazz bands as I could. Unfortunately, a few schools, including Brewer and Bangor, were not able to attend, stymied by the weather, and there were scheduling conflicts in the incredibly dense program (a dozen groups performing during each time slot). Nonetheless, I was richly rewarded.

The first group I heard was the Fryeburg Academy Big Band under the direction of Mike Sakash. This band, featuring a full 13-piece horn section, drums, guitar, bass and piano, was REALLY good, especially in ensemble. The horns were crisp and punchy as they executed some heavily syncopated lines while staying so solidly in the groove that my feet started tapping.

The South Portland High School Jazz Combo, under the direction of Craig Skeffington, was next on my agenda. This was a smaller group, with just four horns, drums, bass, guitar and piano. These talented young musicians executed some very challenging passages with all four horns playing lines in perfect unison: not one sloppy entrance, not one missed note.

South Portland HS Jazz Combo, from top left: Alex Quinn, Owen Doane, Kevan Merrow, Cole Lemelin, Julia Stanton, Ansel Hoecker, Anna Foster, Thomas Costin and Vincent Amoroso.

At competitions like this the bands are tempted to focus on wowing the judges with technical prowess, and there was plenty of that in evidence. But there was also some exceptionally fine musicianship. After impressing the standing room only audience with their first number the South Portland group launched into a slower piece that featured many rich and moving harmonic cadences. Hats off to Mr. Skeffington for bringing out the best in these kids!

Next, I heard the “Upper School Jazz Combo” from Waynfleet School under the direction of Ray Morrow. Again, I was blown away. This group played with great sensitivity and superb execution, with some fine work on guitar and keyboards. They positively ripped through their final number. It’s worth noting that all these bands had a fairly even distribution of parts between boys and girls. I was particularly impressed that up to this point all the bass players were girls—and they were really good. I was also impressed that the judges often by-passed soloists in presenting their “judges’ choice” award to one of the players in each group, favoring instead one of the musicians who provided leadership “from the background.” The female first trumpet player from Waynfleet richly deserved this honor.

I then saw in dizzying sequence the Biddeford High School Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Patrick Bolin, the Thornton Academy Jazz Band under the direction of Jennifer Witherell-Stebbins, “Enigma” from Maine Central Institute under the direction of Dean Neal, and the four-piece Biddeford High School Jazz Combo, also under the direction of Patrick Bolin. All were excellent, especially the last jazz combo, which featured bass, guitar, drums, and keyboard. Unfortunately, there was no time between acts to gather the names of the players and they weren’t listed in the program, so I can’t give them by name the accolades they deserve. All four of these players were performing at a professional caliber—not only in their technical mastery of their instruments, but also in the musical feeling they brought to their work.

Tiny Mount Desert Island High School had two offerings toward the end of the afternoon: the 13-horn big band “DARTH,” and the ambiguously named 4-man combo “6 out of 10,” both under the inspired direction of Michael Remy.

MDI High School Big Band “DARTH”

Both groups performed with complete authority and ease. Although, as you might imagine, I was a bit tired by the end of the day, these kids got me to my feet once again. I was especially impressed with the combo’s final number, which started with the piano player (who looked like a young, mop-haired George Harrision) feeling out a series of sparse melodic lines that soon resolved into some absolutely gorgeous harmonic cadences more akin to classical music than jazz. I loved it!

I thought that I had seen and heard it all, but there was more. That evening, following the awards ceremony there was a full concert in the Hynes Center’s huge auditorium (seating capacity: 4,200 and nearly every seat filled) featuring four or five of the best bands from around the country. Every one of these performances was off-the-charts excellent, and I was glad to see Maine well-represented by Fryeburg Academy’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Mimi Rohlfing.

Freyburg Academy Vocal Jazz Ensemble

Lest you have tired of all the superlatives, let me just say that these kids were beyond amazing. The chorus of a dozen young men and women, backed up by a solid instrumental section, completely overwhelmed me with their precision and the emotional power of their delivery. I had never heard anything like it from any age group.”

Peter Alexander, aka Peter Blachly, served from 2012 – 2014 as Executive Director of Maine Alliance for Arts Education.

Jan 262015

We are happy to announce that MAAE’s group Facebook page is now the MAAE Student Arts Collaborative, a place where Maine high school students involved in the arts (any of the arts) can share their work, their thoughts and their questions with each other, with college arts students and with Maine post-grads already pursuing careers in the arts.

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We see this as a place where young artists will find support, encouragement, information and frank advice from their contemporaries and from those who have walked the same path before them.

The page will not only be for young artists but also managed by them. The cover photo designer is high school artist Piper Smith, a junior at Traip Academy in Kittery.
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The other two young managers of the page are Zachary Fisher, a freshman at UMaine in Orono, studying choral music
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and Meredith Crawford, 28, who grew up in Veazie, Maine and who is now a professional violist in Los Angeles.

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Encourage any young artists you teach or know to join the group by directing them to either the Facebook group (MAAE Student Arts Collaborative) or to the Facebook link on this website. Here is a handout you can give to your students.StudentArtsCollaborative

The more students who join and share their work, the stronger the support system will be.

Jan 182015


For high school students involved in visual art and interested in exploring possibilities for college and beyond, the Maine College of Art in Portland, MECA, has been offering a three week intensive residential summer program. Now, MECA and Portland Stage have announced a partnership to set up a program for theater students as well.

For more information, see the Bulletin Board page.

Photograph by Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld of CFW Photography (

Dec 222014

Maranacook Community School’s Bee Sculpture Project – a Student’s Voice

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“I didn’t like bees at all before creating this sculpture with my class. After learning about them and what’s going on with them, I definitely care more than I did before. Not only did I learn how to create a sculpture, or evaluate the meaning of another artist’s sculpture, I also learned how sculptures can impact your life or how you view a certain topic.”
Kaleigh Parks, freshman.

For the rest of Kaleigh’s artshare, see Artshare/latest shares or click here

Nov 242014


This November, Bangor HS teacher Angela Domina’s two Junior English classes hosted BCTA dance
residencies with teaching artist Katenia Keller. The two college-preparatory classes had been
studying several texts in medieval British Literature. The dances they created and performed at the Orono conference
explored the universal themes the students saw represented in those texts. The symbolic capacity of dance allowed the students to render the large and abstract themes visible and creating the dance focused the students on shaping them into a narrative story. Performing for an audience gave the classes the opportunity to have
their ideas impact others. The students in one
class aimed to show the audience the essential balance between humans and nature. The second
class attempted to give to the audience a sense that a powerful force, Love, is given to them to
care for and to carry into the world.

For more photos and excerpts from the students’ own description of their dances see
MAAE Programs/BCTA – Latest News. Interested in bringing BCTA residencies to your school? Contact Susan Potters at