New theater group hopes for good run in Westbrook

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WESTBROOK — For generations, Portland Players and Lyric Music Theater have found success in South Portland, and two Westbrook residents hope the same can be true in Westbrook for Presumpscot Stage, a new theater venture they are piloting this summer.

Dillon Bates and Janelle LoSciuto are taking a leap of faith in filling a void they see in the Westbrook/Gorham theater community with the staging of “Urinetown” July 13 and July 14 at Westbrook High School. The Tony-award winning musical is a political satire about a futuristic world in which, due to a 20-year drought, people have to pay to use the bathroom and the lengths residents, led by urinal worker Bobby Strong, take to fight the regulation.

Bates and LoSciuto originally set their sights on staging “Cinderella,” but in late spring, just before auditions, they found the rights to the show were not available because the Broadway tour was being extended.

Rather than already announced auditions, he and LoSciuto decided to “pick the show based on the talent.”

LoSciuto is glad they went with that approach.

“If the rehearsals are an indication, we were right to pick a show based on the auditions. The cast is perfect,” she said.

Several of the cast members are returning to community theater after a prolonged absence.

“We’ve been involved with the theater scene in southern Maine for years and we saw a lot of people we didn’t know at auditions,” Bates said.

Bates, who has a degree in political science and theater from the University of Southern Maine, has directed shows at a number of local theaters, is on the board of  the Maine Educational Theater Association and works as the educational director at Schoolhouse Arts Center in Standish.

LoSciuto, who has a degree in vocal performance with concentrations in classic voice and musical theater from USM, has taught private voice lessons in the Westbrook area for the last 15 years and has produced a number of shows in the area. She also sits on the board of the Maine Chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing. 

Bates and LoSciuto are confident Westbrook can support a community theater company and operate in harmony with the theaters in South Portland and others in the area.

“I am not worried about competing with the other theaters. If we do, great. I’d love to be seen with the same level of legitimacy as those theaters, but we should be able to provide a flavor that is uniquely our own, uniquely Westbrook,” Bates said.

The hope, he said, is that the theater company would “raise awareness of the arts and provide some creative options” for residents in this part of southern Maine.

LoSciuto said the goal is to make the new theater company a “community endeavor in the truest sense of the word.” To that end, Bates and LoSciuto hope  to connect with all facets of the community to take part in their theater company. One such option, she said, would be tap into the expertise of the students at Westbrook Regional Vocational Center for set construction and other backstage work.

“We have a very unique opportunity here with the vocational school. It would be fantastic to bring that to our theater company,” she said.

The vision is to stage three to four shows a season beginning next summer: two musicals, including one in the summer, and one more serious show. LoSciuto said ideally Presumpscot Stage would cast all the shows in a season at one company audition.

Based on early reactions, Bates and LoSciuto are optimistic their vision will work.

“It may not be successful, but if it is successful, we would then present to the city about how things are going in the fall and develop an action plan and find a permanent performing space,” Bates said.

Bates said Presumpscot Stage could well continue performing going forward, but “the City Council may be more interested if we create a separate performance space. It not only could be a space for us, but town meetings to mayoral debates to Eagle Scout ceremonies as well.”

Bates said one option could be to renovate the old 200-seat theater that has been walled over in the old Westbrook High School at 765 Main St. The building is now Presumpscot Commons, an apartment building run by Westbrook Housing. Bates said a performance space could also be constructed in vacant commercial space off Westbrook Commons (Blue Note Park).

City Administrator Jerre Bryant, who called the community theater an “intriguing concept,” said another option may be to use the stage that is attached to the gymnasium at the Westbrook Community Center.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x 125  or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or Twitter @mkelleynews.

PERFORMANCES: Presumpscot Stage’s inaugural performance of “Urinetown” will be staged at Westbrook High School Friday, July 13, at 7 p.m., and Saturday, July 14, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for children and seniors and will be available at the door.

Organizers of Presumpscot Stage Company are hoping the community theater scene is strong in Westbrook as they begin to the new theater group. Its first show, “Urinetown,” is scheduled to run at Westbrook High School Friday, July 13,   and Saturday, July 14.

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