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Students take on a Maine Island's troubled past

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Pictured L-R: Rachel Shephard, Kate Friedell, Tommy Hutchinson, Ian Cust, Amy Friedell Pictured L-R: Rachel Shephard, Kate Friedell, Tommy Hutchinson, Ian Cust, Amy Friedell image courtesy AtTheReach.com
A historic tragedy turned inspirational in Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy'

STONINGTON On Nov. 16 and 17, Deer Isle-Stonington students transform one of Maine's great tragedies the willful destruction of one of its island communities -- into an inspiring story of doing the right thing. The Reach Performing Arts Center is proud to announce two public performances of its ground breaking and unique fall production, 'Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy,' Friday, Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 17 at 2 p.m.

One hundred years ago this year, the state of Maine assisted residents of neighboring Phippsburg in forcibly evicting a population of mixed race residents from Malaga Island, destroying the island community and the 45 lives there. The state has turned this centennial into an historical learning experience with an exhibit at the Maine State Museum, 'Malaga Island, Fragmented Lives.' Two-time Newberry Award winner and National Book Award finalist Gary Schmidt, recognizing the relevance of the story's themes, turned it into a novel for young adults, 'Lizzie Bright & the Buckminster Boy.' 'Here is a story that will break the ice in your soul,' wrote one reviewer of Schmidt's novel.

This past May, the acclaimed Children's Theater Company in Minneapolis presented a world premiere production of playwright Cheryl West's ('Play On!,' 'Holiday Heart,' 'Pullman Porter Blues') original stage adaptation adaption of Schmidt's tale of forbidden friendship and social tumult in 1912. The Deer Isle-Stonington production of this new play is part of an ongoing educational and theatrical collaboration between the Reach Performing Arts Center and Opera House Arts at the Stonington Opera House, which celebrates its own centennial in 1912. The Deer Isle-Stonington schools and Opera House Arts are one of more than 100 membership teams in the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Partners in Education program for arts integrated learning.

'We're taking advantage of this historic milestone in Maine history to provide learning opportunities for our own island community, as well as challenging our students with really complex dramatic themes,' said Morgan Witham, director of the Reach Performing Arts Center and of the production. 'The show integrates top notch literature with Maine studies and shines a floodlight on this year's school theme, 'Do the Right Thing.'"

The drama employs a singular friendship between Lizzie, a young black girl played by seventh grader Amy Friedell, and Turner Buckminster, the white son of a newly hired minister, played by fifth grader Ian Cust, to examine the histories of race and economic difference on the Maine coast. Similar scenarios of economic downturn, gentrification, and the resulting social strife continue to play out in Maine and across the country. Hilarious and heartbreaking in turn, Schmidt's story charts Turner Buckminster's coming of age and his attempts to "do the right thing."

"This show is different,' said lead actor, seventh grader Amy Friedell. 'There's not a lot of conflict in happy musicals. It's been good for me knowing I've been in a show telling the island about what actually happened, and how cruel people can be -- but that even in a bad situation, there's probably still one person you can count on."

In addition to Friedell and Cust, the small cast production includes third grader Kate Friedell Tommy Hutchinson grade four; Rachel Shephard, grade five; Alex Shorey, grade eight; Veronica Pezaris and Marvin Merritt IV, grade nine; Allison Cormier, grade 10; Sasha Zembrusky, grade 11; and senior Sarah Wilson.

The show's original sound design is by ninth grader Philomena Mattes. Set and light design for the show by Linda Nelson, executive director of Opera House Arts.

In addition to the production, the Reach and school are collaborating with Opera House Arts to bring novelist Gary D. Schmidt for a day in residence at the middle school and to take all middle school students to Augusta to explore the Maine State Museum exhibit.

Tickets for both performances are available at the door. Adults $10, seniors $8, students $5, and Deer Isle-Stonington students free. For more information visit the Reach's Facebook page, or AtTheReach.com.

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