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Bari Newport bids goodbye to Bangor

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Bari Newport bids goodbye to Bangor (Images courtesy PTC/Magnus Stark)

BANGOR – One of the Bangor area’s artistic stalwarts is saying goodbye.

Bari Newport, longtime artistic director of Penobscot Theatre Company, is moving on after nine seasons at the PTC helm. She will be continuing her artistic journey at GableStage in Miami, Florida, assuming the mantle of producing artistic director at the company.

Over the course of her tenure at PTC, Newport has been at the forefront of the steady growth of the region’s creative culture. The company has long been a foundational piece of the artistic fabric of the area; under her stewardship, the already outsized presence of the company continued to grow.

The company has thrived under her leadership. She was a major part of the ongoing effort to renovate the interior of the Bangor Opera House, updating the space in ways beneficial to both comfort and aesthetics. It was also on her watch that the company purchased and renovated the former firehouse that would become the combination scene/costume shop known colloquially as “the Theatre Factory.”

And of course, there’s the work itself.

Putting together a cohesive season for a regional theatre is no small task, but Newport has assembled some excellent ones during her time here. Finding the balance between artistic challenge and aesthetic spectacle, she was able to build seasons that provided broad appeal for audiences and broad opportunities for actors both near and far.

(In the interest of full disclosure, this is probably where we should note that the writer of this piece has a longstanding relationship with Penobscot Theatre Company and with Bari Newport. I could sit here and tell you that I’m going to remain unbiased, but that would be a lie. PTC is an important place to me and Bari is my friend; this story will reflect both of those truths.)

In a press release reflecting on the upcoming changes, Newport said, “My years here in Bangor have been some of the most extraordinary and fulfilling of my life and this will always feel like a true home. Penobscot Theatre Company is deeply rooted in my heart and in leaving I do feel a ripping sensation, but I feel compelled to meet this next challenge.”

“We’ll miss her very much and are so thankful for what she’s been able to accomplish,” added PTC Board President Rob Prybylo. “Under her leadership we’ve grown tremendously, but of all her successes here she may have saved her greatest feat for last. She was absolutely determined to ensure the survival of the theatre company in the face of this pandemic, and led us through a creatively diverse and innovative digital season like nowhere else in the entire country. We’ve kept producing work, kept our doors open, so to speak, and have been able to retain our staff. She’s leaving us in a strong position.”

“We’re also very proud of the talent pool that she’s helped develop," Mr Prybylo continued. “We’re moving forward seamlessly with an outstanding leadership team by promoting talent within the company.”

As you might imagine, taking the reins in a new place involves a whole lot of time and effort. And yet, Newport was happy to spend a little time sharing her thoughts about her near-decade here in Maine and what the experience was like to lead a company like PTC.

When I asked her about some of her memories about shows from the past, I got some wide-ranging answers.

“Take ‘Annie,’ for instance,” she said. “When I first came in Nathan Halverson [interim PTC artistic director at the time] said ‘You know, what we really should do is ‘Annie.’’ He said that to me and I said ‘Let's do it.’ His response was that we weren’t really set up to do big musicals like that. And it's true – we weren’t.

“But we went ahead and did it anyway. And it turned out to be almost nightmarishly hard, but by God we did it and that changed everything. It changed the course of the theatre. It gave us the confidence to be able to do big shows; it gave us the opportunity to welcome in what turned out to be something like 10,000 to 15,000 more people a year. All of that together just helped us grow.”

She also spoke about the theatre’s production of “Misery” from 2017, a show of which she clearly has fond memories.

“Another one of the shows that comes to mind is ‘Misery,’” she said. “I genuinely wish I could go back and just see it again and just … go back to that that little chapter because it was so so cool. I don't even know what it was like as an audience to see the house turn around for the first time and I know how hard we worked to get the rights to it and that that was the last time the show was ever even done. The sound design of it and taking Liberace music and like breaking it down to each particular note and making the blood cannon, all the blood and gore stuff, cutting up a fur coat so that we had some like brain matter … that’s stuff I always immediately think of.”

Coming in, Newport knew that working at PTC would be a different experience.

“I had never worked at a company that was kind of like a hybrid,” she said. “This combination of high-end community theater and kind of scrappy professional theater that that had the blessing/burden of being in an enormous old building.”

Entering the situation with a different perspective helped lead Newport in the direction that she felt the company needed to go. Really, it came down to realizing just how much PTC and the people who drove it were capable of.

“What I kind of quickly surmised was the biggest issue – from a total outsider's perspective, at least - was a bit of a self-esteem problem. I remember hearing a company member, someone who's part of that group, I heard this person talking to a designer – this was during ‘Annie,’ I think – about Equity and the actor’s union. I heard this actor say ‘I'll never be a part of it because this company be able to be an Equity theatre’ or something like that. They didn’t know I heard that and I just kind of like took that in.

“I took in that ‘We can never’ vibe,” she continued. “People said we could never do big musicals. We can never do this, we can never do that. And I was like ‘Wait a minute – what if we can?’ I thought that and still think that. I watched and experienced it myself over the course of baby step by baby step by baby step.”

That “never say never” attitude helped push PTC in some new and exciting directions. Whether it was the theatre beginning operations under an Actor’s Equity Association contract a few years back or the addition of a summer show that disproved the notion that no one goes to the theatre in Bangor in the summer, the professionalization of the board of directors or the willingness to showcase new work by Maine playwrights, Newport’s tenure was marked by evolution and steady growth, both artistic and commercial.

Still, many of the lessons that she learned during her time at PTC are carrying forward into her new gig. And sometimes, it’s the simple things.

“I find myself going back to the core tenets of everything we did at Penobscot,” she said. “All the lessons I learned before, perhaps that too, but Penobscot comes up all the time because it's the most recent and because I was there for a decade of my life.

“It doesn't matter like what you have money-wise or resource-wise, all of that basic stuff of being a theatre company, of serving the community, of understanding the mission of the company … that's something that I really learned at Penobscot.

“Early on, I was on the phone with someone who runs a theatre in West Virginia (I can't remember the name offhand) and I was complaining about something and he said, ‘Well, what's the mission of the company?’ and I … couldn't say it. I couldn't just say it.

“And from that moment on I was like ‘Everybody has to say it all the time, we're going to say it before every staff meeting, we're going to have written on the wall, we're going to have it everywhere.’”

And true to her word, that’s just how it went.

(For the record, the PTC mission statement is as follows: “To inspire a life-long passion for the theatrical art form in the heart of Maine and beyond.” Pretty good mission, I’d say.)

I would argue that one of Newport’s crowning achievements is the just-completed Digitus Theatrum season at PTC. So many of this country’s theatres simply closed their doors during the troubles of the past year, but Bari and the rest of the folks at PTC refused to do so. They pivoted multiple times, adjusting to the constantly-shifting realities of the situation, reinventing the season on the fly when necessary and ultimately presenting a robust and challenging body of work that I would argue stands strong alongside that put forward by any regional company in the country. Doors kept open virtually are still open; the company stayed true to its mission and provided for its audiences throughout an unprecedented time. Perhaps it isn’t the exit that she would have chosen for herself, but still – that’s a hell of a way to go out.

So Bari Newport says goodbye to Bangor … and Bangor says goodbye to her. Over the course of her time here in the Queen City, she has overseen a period of marked growth at Penobscot Theatre. She has brought artistic acumen and passion to her role, serving as a strong leader throughout her tenure. While the baton has been passed – longtime PTC designer/director/production manager Tricia Hobbs has been named interim artistic director – Newport’s impact on the theatre and the area’s artistic sea in general will ripple outward long after she takes her leave.

I interviewed Bari in advance of her arrival here back in December of 2011. Now, almost a decade later, I spoke to her again to say goodbye. In between, I found a creative influence and a true friend.

Fare thee well, Bari. Bangor will miss you.

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Bari Newport, Director

Now, there’s a lot that goes into being the artistic director of a theatre company. There’s a lot of administration and other bureaucratic work that must be done. Fundraising, community engagement, the whole nine yards.

But lest we forget, there’s another component: directing productions.

Over the course of her time at PTC, Bari directly took the helm for 17 shows, to say nothing of the countless hours she spent offering assistance, guidance or even just an extra pair of eyes to directors of other productions. Still, for these 17, she was totally and fully in charge.

Boeing, Boeing

Becky’s New Car

Annie

Sugar Bean Sisters

Woman in Black

Our Town

End Days

August: Osage County

Dr. Cerberus

Duck Hunter Shoots Angel

Murder for Two

Misery

Escanaba in da Moonlight

Ugly Lies the Bone

The Graduate

Ripcord

Gaslight

We here at The Maine Edge have reviewed every single one of these productions; we invite you to check out those reviews on our website should you have the time and the inclination.

And for seven of those 17 – “Becky’s New Car,” “Our Town,” “August: Osage County,” “Escanaba in da Moonlight,” “Ugly Lies the Bone,” “The Graduate” and “Ripcord” – I personally had a front row seat to Bari Newport’s process.

It’s an impressive body of work, running the gamut. Dramas and comedies, classics and new works, Bari Newport brought them all to life on stage. Whether she sought to elicit tears or fears or cheers, she was always striving to produce quality work for the audiences of Bangor and beyond.

One of the things we talked about in our conversation – something that I couldn’t quite fit into the story proper – was Bari’s way of developing a line of communication with regular collaborators that crossed between verbal and nonverbal. She mentioned a few names, PTC regulars with whom she’d worked on many occasions.

We had it too.

Do I have a favorite show? Not really – every one of these productions was a valuable experience in its own right. I’ve been a car salesman and a milkman and a park ranger and an orderly. I’ve been a few different flavors of shiftless layabout and played multiple roles in a single show. I’ve been verbose and taciturn, goofy and sullen. And I’ve spent a couple of production runs showing my underpants to the theatregoers of Bangor for weeks at a time. Not bad, right?

And for all of those opportunities, I have Bari Newport to thank.

-

Actors share their thoughts

Over the course of her time at Penobscot Theatre, Bari Newport directed A LOT of local performers. I reached out to see if some of them might be willing to share a few thoughts about Bari on the occasion of her departure.

Here are just a few of the responses:

Jeri Misler

Bari's ability to take an actor's intention and turn it in all directions looking for the multiple facets of that choice, literally means that no moment on stage is left to chance. It was an incredible experience for me as an actor to be challenged in that way. I know I became a better actor because of the precision of her direction.

Julie Lisnet

Wishing you all the best in your new job and home. From the topmost state on the east coast to the bottommost is a long distance, but change means new challenges and adventures and is needed to keep the cobwebs from forming. Thank you for the six incredible characters you trusted me to play, and a seventh that made me realize I’m way stronger than I think. I hold them all in my heart with great fondness and for the lessons they taught me. 

Jen Shepard & Larrance Fingerhut

We went to see Bari's first show “Boeing Boeing,” but didn't meet her or even know anyone at PTC at the time. A bit after she settled into Bangor she contacted ImprovAcadia. She met us for lunch in Bar Harbor and came to see our show that night. She came to see our shows often and soon invited us to work at PTC. Bari's passion and intensity and her collegial attitude toward fellow theater folks and her support for ImprovAcadia was always appreciated.

Grace Livingston-Kramer

Bari's passion to create is contagious. She is devoted to not just what is happening in the moment but also to what is yet to come. I am lucky that I have gotten to work with her in so many different ways during her tenure at PTC. She has become a mentor and more importantly a friend and I wish nothing but success for her in this next adventure.

Ira Kramer

Bari has always been a beacon of artistic excellence. In my time spent working with Bari I have always been impressed by her passion, honesty and care. I have always felt her belief in me as an artist and collaborator and am very excited for her to continue to share herself with the Gable Stage Community. I will never forget moving to Maine from California right around the same time as you and beginning my journey with the Penobscot Theatre Company. Your belief in me has fostered my career and continues to inspire and inform my growth as an artist and human.

A.J. Mooney

Working with Bari all these years has meant the world to me. Her contribution to the community and Penobscot Theatre is immeasurable. She will be missed. 

And to this, I suppose I’ll add my own:

Allen Adams

Bari’s passion for the theatre has permeated every aspect of her tenure at PTC. Under her leadership, the company has grown and evolved in ways both welcome and unexpected. Working with her has always proven to be a gift – a sometimes strange, often challenging and always enlightening gift. I have grown as an artist and as a person thanks to the work that I’ve done with her. She made me better, and there is no higher praise that I can offer.

Last modified on Wednesday, 26 May 2021 21:35

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