10,000 years of nature, settlement, sacrifice, immigration & inspiration all in 75 minutes.
A stunning, unforgettable performance will be created by a team of internationally renowned, award-winning Maine theater artists, led by Director and Lighting Designer Chris Akerlind. Maine’s aesthetic as a DIY, ‘down home’, ingenious, make-do, stick-together-in-hard-times culture, will be married with 21st century technology. The tenuous balance between the natural world’s persistent resilience and its increasing fragility creates a sharp narrative tension. Maine’s ‘all-in-together’ sensibility makes community participants an essential presence. Beginning with the pounding beat of a Wabanaki 46” drum only to be interrupted by Atticus, a 75-year-old English/Irish Mainer pushing a lawnmower along a rolled-out strip of sod. An original score creates music for puppets of Maine’s endangered species – Salmon, Sturgeons, Leatherback Turtles, Cottontail Rabbits, Grey Wolves, Puritan Beetles and a magnificent, battle-scarred life-size Right whale puppet.
Ten professional performer-narrators will anchor the tale. Inspired by a ‘real’ Mainers, each has markedly different experiences and perspectives about life, history and Maine. MAINEUSA’s narrator/characters include a Wabanaki grandmother and granddaughter; Atticus, an English/Irish heritage elder, whose family has lived in Kittery for the last three centuries; Alfred, who came to Portland when he was 11, escaping genocide in Southern Sudan; Lucien, a Franco Lewiston-born union organizer who flew 35 bombing missions over Germany in WWII; and a hardworking, entrepreneurial Jill-of-All-Trades from one of the outer islands. Their stories reflect the complex history of the land and the state, a history of conquest, resistance, oppression, independence, survival, and ingenuity. Each story contains powerful contrasts and connections of caretaking, violation, oppression, triumph, tribulation, wisdom, humor, and grace.
Ravens first came to Maine by crossing the Bering Straits over 2 million years ago. Three core elements of MAINEUSA are a flock of 25 ravens who carry the story from one epoch to the next as performed by 25 adults from the community; 25 young people performing as herrings revealing the sea’s bounty through syncopated schooling; and 25 trees, performed by elders from 60 to 87 years old. Mihku Paul-Anderson (Maliseet), is one of MAINEUSA’s Wabanaki dramaturgs that will instruct and guide the performance, sharing perspectives, humor, and ensuring accuracy and respect. The artistic intent is a series of powerful points in an unbroken thread, some captured in brief snapshot tableaux, some told on multiple toy theater stages – Crankies by Daniel Minter– while others take center stage – live performers and puppets/puppeteers drawn from our thriving puppetry community of puppeteers, creators, and educators.
Performers: 10 performer/narrators tell contradictory, competing, complementary narratives, each inspired by a living Mainer; an ensemble of performers/puppeteers; 25 young people as herrings, 25 adults as ravens, 25 elders as trees. All performers will reflect the diversity of Portland and Maine, including Wabanaki natives, immigrants, refugees, and longtime Mainers many with English, Franco, Scots Irish, Lebanese, Armenian or Italian heritage.
Design Elements: To reflect Mainers’ DIY culture and challenge patterns of accumulation, the performance will use quality, imaginative, inventive – and a combination of found/recycled – materials. A small dog on a pull-string will have tiny LL Bean boots on 3 paws, and a knit cap with his ears poking out. Ravens with iridescent 4-foot feathered wings that allow the humans to be visible behind the ravens’ heads/beaks/masks. Herrings shimmering fluid silver flashing. And the elders – as trees – each one sturdy, fragile, aging – together showing us what a millennium of years of living on this planet looks like onstage.
Choreography: Based on the synchronicity of ‘flocking’ and ‘schooling’, a movement that requires improvisation, like life. Community workshops with local retirement homes, schools, community programs will build abilities and relationships among the performing groups of elders, youth and adults.
Music: Portland’s exceptional music community will anchor the original music composed by Mike Romanyshyn, MAINEUSA’s music director for the “Not So Perfect Orchestra” a live band with accordion, trumpet, drums, fiddle, oud, and Sudanese and Wabanaki drummers. An eclectic mix ethnically & stylistically, tight, silly, somber, woozy, intimate, celebratory with elements of the many cultures that have and now make southern Maine their home.
Toy Theaters: Some stories will be told through Crankies (visual art on a large scroll of paper that is manually ‘cranked’ from one spool to the other). Idea is to have multiple, unique toy theaters carried on & off stage, placed each time, at the end of every aisle and connected by a rope used by a mosquito puppet. Each tells a similar story with varying perspectives. The work of musician & visual artist Daniel Minter will take us epoch-to-epoch.
Projections: The tent’s ceiling and stage side will become projection surfaces. Audience programs will have a printed metallic sardine with which they collectively create a ‘program’ dance that swims, turns, rises, and dives in the theater lights.
Location: Performances will be in a circus tent that seats 400 to 500, located at Bug Light Park in South Portland, Maine. The location is gifted for 5 weeks by the City of South Portland. The park is where the Fore River meets Casco Bay, offering a lighthouse, parking, a dock with water access, and beautiful views of Casco Bay, the Fore River and Portland, Maine.
Coda: MAINEUSA is an ambitious, multi-faceted performance project. While we realize that recycling, information, and demonstrations are all important, they are not enough. We need an environment that doesn’t judge and doesn’t preach…one that is able to deeply engage our intelligence, compassion, and determination. Our hope is for MAINEUSA to make a significant difference by creating a collective experience where we can regard, consider, and absorb the enormity of grace and devastation that has come before surrounds us now and waits up ahead. We need each other to do what it will take to save our planet as we know it. To revive and create cultures where respect for all living things, connection rather than consumption, and sustainable practices are primary. Puppets, performers, drums, music, and whales are ready to help. We welcome your participation and gratefully accept whatever you’d like to offer.