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Great shows grace the Gracie in 2018-19

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BANGOR – There are some great shows that will be gracing the stage of the Gracie Theatre – located on the campus of Husson University – over the next year.

This marks the seventh season for the Gracie. Seven seasons of quality programming aimed at enhancing the cultural landscape of the region. Seven seasons of wonderful performances offering something for audiences of all ages to enjoy. Seven seasons of seeing things you won’t find anywhere else in the area.

Whether you’re looking for music or comedy or one-man shows featuring Hollywood icons, Gracie Theatre Managing Director Jeri Misler has come up with something for you. Misler was kind enough to chat with The Maine Edge about what’s going on at the Gracie and talk about some of the highlights, as well as about the process of assembling such a diverse season.

First on the list is a one-man show titled “A Man and His Prostate” starring the one and only Ed Asner. This comedic show – written by Asner’s longtime friend Ed Weinberger – is about the realities of aging and will play here in Bangor on Oct. 4.

“Ed Asner, that is one of those ‘Oh my word, he said yes!’ moments,” said Misler. “I received an email about this crazy, funny, oddly titled one-man play called ‘A Man and His Prostate.’ Knowing we have a strong College of Health and Sciences here, I thought I would look into it. When I saw that Ed Asner was touring, I was a bit shocked, and then when I read that the show is a true-life account of a serious medical emergency that happened to his friend, Ed Weinberger (who wrote Mary Tyler Moore), I was determined that we needed to have this show play here on our campus.

“My motto is ‘The answer is no unless I ask’ … so I asked,” she continued. “[Asner’s] daughter, who tours with him, said ‘Let me talk to my dad.’ Boom. He’s coming in October for a two-day Gracie event, where he will be a guest on ‘The Nite Show with Danny Cashman’ (and yes, Dan is also floating on air) and then offering a private performance for the Husson campus in the afternoon and a public performance that evening. The show is clever, funny, serious, and, yes, contains animated slides of the male anatomy. What more could we want?”

Another season highlight is a show from 1960s music legends The Association. This multi-platinum, multi-talented music group – seriously, these are the guys who did “Windy” and that song OWNS - will be taking the stage at the Gracie on Oct. 20.

“The Association will be a huge hit,” said Misler. “This popular band from the 60s was a mega success with six gold and three platinum records, and they are still touring today with some original band members and all. I believe folks will recognize the band’s hits like ‘Windy,’ ‘Never My Love’ and the timeless song ‘Cherish.’The show caps off our Homecoming weekend, which draws an oldies- and Motown-loving crowd.”

Next up is Michael Hawley, whose show is part concert and part lecture and completely unlike anything you’re likely to have experienced before. Misler expressed a particular enthusiasm for this show, set for Nov. 2.

“Mr. Hawley promises an evening that will be part concert, part lecture celebrating some of the great composer-pianists,” she said. “Music of Bach, Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Bernstein and including delicious transcriptions by Liszt, Godowsky and himself. That’s all fantastic, but what blows my mind about Michael is his resume. He was educated at Yale and MIT. He developed the first eBooks and NeXt computer with Steve Jobs. For years, Michael was Professor of Media Technology at MIT; he’s currently the director of special projects there. I heard him speak at a conference and was enthralled. He is witty, obviously smart and happens to be an accomplished pianist. I think it is a unique offering that pushes the norm in our Classical series.”

The Gracie’s annual holiday offering is always worth checking out; this season is no exception. This year, Misler has programmed “Close to You: A Carpenters Christmas” for Dec. 8. It’s a loving homage to one of the most beloved musical acts of the 1970s.

“Holiday shows are popular, and I have wanted a Carpenters tribute for years, so I thought it would be great to hit both those marks with one show,” said Misler. “Lisa Rock sings in the original keys Karen sang in and has a lovely alto richness to her voice. Performing timeless holiday classics, the group will be joined on stage by singers from Bangor Children’s Choir for three of their songs. It should be a warm-hearted holiday event.”

There’s more comedy on the docket as well. “Late Night Catechism 3: ‘Til Death Do Us Part” will be holding services at the Gracie on February 15. This long-running comedy show is witty and ribald and rife with opportunities for audience participation.

“‘Late Night Catechism’ is a must-see, interactive comedy that current Catholics and reformed Catholics – as well as fans of ‘Nunsense,’ ‘Sister Act’ or improv comedy - will love,” Misler said. “In the show, a fictitious nun teaches a catechism class that has never seen the light of a stained-glass window. The original ‘Late Night Catechism’ is one of the longest running shows in Chicago and U.S. theater history.

“I chose this version because I wanted a show in February that was funny and would be a different kind of date night around Valentine’s Day,” she continued. “At one point, the ‘Sister’ will call several couples to the stage from the audience and conduct a version of ‘The Newlywed Game.’ Call it Loretta Young meets Carol Burnett.”

The season’s closing act is an exciting one as well. Black Violin is a group that is utterly unlike anything you’ve seen, a virtuosic duo bringing together wildly different musical worlds and creating something altogether new. They’ll hit the stage on April 4.

“We are wrapping our season with Black Violin,” said Misler. “They’re an outside the box selection. I’m actually pinching myself that it’s happening; I’ve been trying to get them here for three years. Adele Adkins, who used to work for CCA, met me last year at the NYC conference and insisted I book these guys. I looked into it, put my requests in, and it so happens that Maine is a market they have never played, and agreed to come here.

“We have never this type of music in this house,” she added. “Black Violin musicians Wil B. and Kev Marcus combine their classical training and hip-hop influences to create a multi-genre sound they refer to as ‘Classical Boom.’ They’ve shared stages with top names including Kanye West, Aerosmith and Tom Petty. They’ve creatively collaborated with the likes of Wu-Tang Clan, Wyclef Jean and Alicia Keys. I think we will be hitting this one out of the park.”

And there’s more as well. Lee Rocker, the rockabilly musician best known for his time with the Stray Cats, will be at the Gracie on Nov. 10, bringing his unique rock and roll energy to Bangor. And in March – March 23 to be exact – the Gracie will play host to “Rumours, the Ultimate Fleetwood Mac Tribute,” bringing that band’s catalog to life; they’ve got the endorsement of none other than Mick Fleetwood himself, so you know it’ll be a good one.

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As you can probably imagine, there’s a lot that goes into putting together a season for an entity such as the Gracie Theatre. There are a lot of moving parts that need to be addressed and plenty of hoops through which you need to jump to make it all run smoothly.

In the following Q&A, Misler shared some of that process with us, as well as her thoughts regarding the Gracie’s history and how things have grown and evolved over the years.

The Maine Edge: What is the process you go through to assemble your season?

Jeri Misler: This is a great question as it forces me to put into words something that is a bit esoteric. I would say the process is 50 percent practicality, 25 percent hoping and dreaming and 25 percent gut feeling. As a member of The Association of Arts Presenters, I have access to a large network of both artists and agents who send materials every day. When something catches my eye online, I’ll look at it more closely, speak to the agent, see if I can beg the group to come to Bangor and if it’s not an instant “No way,” I’ll add it to a wish list. In January, I attend a conference in NYC chock full of said artists, agents and presenters who crowd into the downtown Hilton for a long weekend of show overload! With showcases and full performances to watch, agents to meet, and plenary speakers to inspire, I return home fueled with ideas for the season. It is one of the best parts of my job.

TME: How long does it take? Who, other than yourself, is involved?

JM: The process is ongoing. I might be putting bids in for shows two years from now. I am at the helm of the process. Once our tech director, Litho Ruksznis, reviews the group’s technical rider, we get a quote on instrument rentals needed and decide if the show is feasible. I may share show ideas with others who work at Husson to get an opinion or reaction on a certain show.

TME: What draws you to select certain acts to bring to the Gracie?

JM: Here is the gut feeling part I mentioned earlier. I think the Gracie is a perfect complement to the other venues in this area. Our smaller, intimate size (490 seats) allows us to present a different style of show that may not work in a larger venue. The opposite is true; we haven’t the budget, the seating capacity or the staff necessary to bring a huge Broadway tour to our room. However, when an artist says they are looking for performing arts centers under 1000 seats for a specific kind of tour - something unplugged, for example - then the Gracie is in luck!

Along with that gut feeling, I look for shows that have sold well here in the past years, those which appeal to our demographic, and every year, I look for at least one that pushes a boundary a bit or is just a wild card “hope and dream.” My motto tends to be “The answer is no, unless I ask.” When I like a touring show that may be out of our reach financially or otherwise, I tell myself I have nothing to lose by asking if there is any way on this green earth, that (insert famous person or group here) will come to Bangor in February! If I don’t get an instant rejection, I have a fighting chance. That has happened in the past for me. For instance, having such huge stars as Molly Ringwald, Paul Reiser and Manhattan Transfer perform the Gracie was such a tonic! I never thought it possible, but I asked and they said yes.

(They also may have said on occasion, “BUT NOT IN THE WINTER!”)

TME: Is there a specific sort of act you look for?

JM: Obviously, I am looking for groups who I think our audience will like, but just as importantly, I am looking for shows that will benefit our students in their experiential learning programs at Husson and NESCom. For example, we have a great major here called Entertainment Production run by Ken Stack. Those students work side by side with the artists who come here, setting their lights, acting as stage managers, putting in the sets, and even steaming their costumes. It is a fabulous way for those students to learn what it is like to tour with a show and helps them to be ready to do so when they graduate.

That’s part of the Gracie’s two-fold mission. To paraphrase our mission statement, we aim to provide cultural arts programs that will attract the community onto Husson’s beautiful campus, but also to serve the students and the campus community with opportunities to gain experience in employable skills.

TME: This marks the seventh season for the Gracie – in what ways have things changed since that first year? In what ways are they the same?

JM: In terms of doing this job, the Gracie and I have grown up together. I come from a performance background; my MFA in acting didn’t necessarily train me for managing a theatre, but it did reaffirm my commitment to working to keep the arts alive, diverse and accessible. Accessibility is something I feel strongly about. As a non-profit campus and theatre, we strive to keep ticket prices as low as possible so that as many people as possible can attend. That aspect of the Gracie has not changed in seven years. Our ticket prices are just a few dollars higher than when we started, depending on the show, and we are committed to that.

One thing that has changed in seven years is that I’m finding my stride in terms of what’s working at the Gracie and finding which shows have a large appeal at a good cost. One of the best parts of my job is standing in the Darling Atrium after each show and having patrons thank me for bringing a certain group to Bangor. It is rewarding to feel appreciated. I find Gracie audiences polite, grateful and altogether respectful of the performers we have here.

It warms my heart to see their faces light up when they’ve dreamed of meeting Pam Tillis their whole life, for example, and find themselves standing next to her, posing for a photo and walking away with tears in their eyes. Those are the moments when I think to myself “We may not be solving political problems or healthcare crises, but we are bringing good entertainment and moments of joy to folks who may not be able to otherwise have access, and that’s about as much as one can ask for out of a job.”

(For tickets or more information about the 2018-19 season at the Gracie Theatre, you can visit their website at www.gracietheatre.com or call them at (207) 941-7888.)

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