Cover Story (522)

PORTLAND – One of the state’s most beloved cultural events is back after a one-year break, albeit in a different form.

PortFringe, the Portland-based fringe theatre festival, was forced to take last summer off as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. They made the decision to come back this summer, marking their 10th year, but with so much uncertainty still swirling, they opted to try something different.

Instead of a collection of live performances, they’d move to film.

The result is “Fringe-on-Film,” a collection of 21 short films created for the festival. Some of the artists are longtime PortFringe participants, while others are first-timers. But all have fully embraced the chaotic creativity that is fringe.

These 21 films have been divided into seven programs of three films each. PortFringe will be hosting virtual watch parties for each slate, with each of the seven receiving four screenings in all. It’s an assemblage of all the wild weirdness that we’ve come to expect from PortFringe, but this time, instead of traveling to one of the many venues that have hosted the festival in the past, you can enjoy the work from the comfort of your own home.

It’s not the ideal situation, of course – like so many other artists, the powers that be at PortFringe would like nothing more than to return to a world filled with live performance. But for now, this is the next best thing.

While the shared social events will be taking place from June 11-19, fear not - if you're unavailable to see these pieces at one of the virtual watch parties, there will be an on-demand period stretching from June 20-30, with pay-what-you-can ticketing. You'll have plenty of opportunity to see some or all of this wonderful work.

Tara McDonough and James Patefield are two of the forces behind PortFringe; the pair was kind enough to make time to answer a few of our questions about the festival, the pivot to film and the never-say-die spirit of Fringe.

As we prepare to hurtle headlong into the summer after the Memorial Day weekend, we should do our best to really embrace the opportunities for outdoor fun provided by the too-brief summer months. The clock is ticking – it’s time to really start leaning the fun in the sun portion of 2021. Even the cruelest of weather patterns will allow us a few days over the coming weeks in which to get out and enjoy what the season has to offer.

However, there’s only so much lounging one can do. There are only so many places to go for a swim. And sometimes, you’re looking for something fun that doesn’t involve taking a trip to the coast or to your favorite dipping spot.

That’s where lawn games come in.

Nothing says summertime quite like being out in your yard with a frosty beverage in your hand and the scent of the grill in your nostrils. If you can add an element of competition to that, how can you go wrong?

There are plenty of traditional games that many of us have played since we were kids and will likely bring back fond (or not-so-fond) memories of summers gone by. However, there are also some more adult-oriented games that prove to be a lot of fun as well.

It should also be noted that there’s the still-extant issue of COVID-19 lurking out there. Things have been getting better, yes, thanks to Maine’s robust and well-executed vaccination plans, but there’s still risk out there. Gathering outside largely negates much of that risk, so it’s an ideal time to introduce or reintroduce lawn games back into the rotation. These days, outdoor fun is about the safest fun there is.

We’re going to take a look at a few personal favorites. We’ll revisit a couple of classics, but we’ll also bring some newer games to the table – some that you may have heard of before, others you may not have. And among these newer games, chances are good that you’ll find at least one that speaks to you in that so-special “crush your enemies and see them driven before you” summertime kind of way.

(As an aside, if there’s anyone out there with a set of vintage lawn darts that they’re looking to get rid of, by all means contact me. Nothing says summertime fun like potential grievous bodily harm and the looming specter of death. This is very real talk – This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it if you’ve got a line on getting me my Jarts fix.)

Let’s talk lawn games.

Monday, 24 May 2021 15:31

Bari Newport bids goodbye to Bangor

Written by Allen Adams

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.)

The summer season is back!

With COVID restrictions easing and movie theaters reopening, the 2021 summer box office looks pretty crowded; there are a LOT of offerings, though as always, one anticipates the level of quality will be wide-ranging.

That said, there are few things I enjoy more than looking forward at the movie release slate to come, so now that I have the opportunity, I intend to take full advantage.

To that end, here is a list of 21 films coming to theaters over the next few months. Now, there are some of these movies that will be receiving simultaneous streaming releases – mostly the Warner Brothers/HBO Max entries and a few Disney+ offerings, with a handful of others as well – but they will all be hitting the big screen.

It’s worth noting that there will be plenty of big-time streaming-only films coming from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and the like. These movies have their own blockbuster bona fides, but I’ve chosen to focus on films hitting the silver screen for the ticket-buying public.

In addition, this is just a fraction of all the movies coming your way this summer. If I missed something that you’re looking forward to, well – apologies. And I’m not saying these are the 21 BEST movies of the summer – a quick glance should disabuse you of that notion. This is just a cross-section of the (hopefully) good, (possibly) bad and (potentially) ugly from the weeks ahead.

(Please note that all of the listed release dates are subject to change.)

Saturday, 08 May 2021 17:24

Baseball nights in Portland: A Sea Dog sampler

Written by Allen Adams

PORTLAND – Minor league baseball is back for the summer of 2021!

The Portland Sea Dogs began their season – the team’s 28th as an organization in Maine’s largest city (though only the 27th on the field, due to 2020’s cancellation in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic) – on May 4 and are off to a hot start.

As a way of celebrating the return of minor league baseball to the Pine Tree State after a season away, we thought it might be nice to find some ways to celebrate our beloved AA team – a Sea Dogs sampler, if you will.

We’ve got a couple of Q&As here – one with the team’s President and General Manager Geoff Iacuessa, another with Director of Broadcasting and play-by-play voice Emma Tiedemann. Both were generous with their time and insight, offering up their thoughts about the upcoming season and what it means to be a part of the Portland Sea Dogs organization.

I figured I’d also offer up a quick rundown of some of the best players to ever wear the Sea Dogs uniform – there are a LOT of great players, so paring down the list wasn’t particularly easy – in an effort to celebrate the storied past of the franchise. It’s been over a quarter-century, after all; that’s a hell of a run.

Before we get into the other stuff, let’s take a moment to look at some of what fans can expect when they make their way to Hadlock Field in the coming weeks.

First of all, there have been a number of improvements to the facility since the end of 2019. The big one is the lighting, with the team having upgraded all of the lighting fixtures and integrating some dynamic lighting that will enhance player introductions, celebrate home runs or add another fun element to the seventh inning stretch.

The team has also upgraded their Red Sox Update Board, allowing fans in attendance at Hadlock to also keep track of what’s happening with the parent club in real time. Game data such as pitcher-hitter matchups will be there, as will score, inning, outs, count and all the rest. As for in-game Sea Dogs data, there’s plenty of that too, with an updated display that will provide both pitch speed for pitchers and exit velocity for batters.

In terms of attendance, the Sea Dogs are currently operating at a 28% capacity, though that number will change as the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 continue to shift. That means that just over 2,000 fans – 2,087, to be precise – will be allowed to attend a given game. It also means that the team will be selling tickets month-by-month, with sales for a given month beginning the month prior in order to maximize the team’s flexibility with regard to numbers.

Social distancing and other protocols are being met through the creation of seating pods of two to eight seats, each with a distance of at least six feet from any other pod. Masks will be required at all times, save for actively eating and drinking. Said food and drink will be ordered via mobile app or from service staff and will be delivered directly to the fan’s seat.

(It should be noted that among those concession options will be the beloved Sea Dog Biscuit, a personal favorite of mine now produced by iconic Maine ice cream company Gifford’s.)

Portland has a reputation as one of the country’s best minor league cities and the Sea Dogs are considered one of the top-tier organizations in all of MiLB. And even in the face of these many obstacles, we can rest assured that the folks in charge will do everything that they can to ensure an exceptional baseball experience for all. So head on out to Hadlock – it’s going to be a heck of a time.

Play ball!

If you haven’t read Chris Bohjalian, you really should.

It’s not like you don’t have options – over the course of his decades-long career, Bohjalian has written over 20 novels. He’s graced the New York Times bestseller list numerous times. And unlike many of his contemporaries, he has shown not just the willingness, but the ability to explore a wide range of themes and styles along the way, even as he maintains a consistency of voice throughout.

From his 1988 debut novel “A Killing in the Real World” to his latest work “Hour of the Witch,” which was released just this week (you can read our review here), Bohjalian has demonstrated a proclivity for taut narratives and well-realized characters. He’s that rare writer whose prolificity has never undermined the quality of his output – if anything, he just keeps getting better, even as he refuses to be bound by the trappings of any particular genre.

Few authors are able to combine Bohjalian’s prose gifts with his unwavering empathy and concern for the world around him. He wraps important issues in compelling narratives, leaving the reader to be exposed to powerful ideas even as they turn page after thrilling page.

Remember how much fun it was to have a houseful of friends over on a Saturday night? Those days will return. In the meantime, singer-songwriter A.J. Croce, with his friends, have put together “By Request,” an outrageously fun album of diverse pop, rock, jazz, blues and soul cover songs – from Randy Newman to The Beach Boys - that gives us a glimpse of how much fun it would be to crash a Croce house party.

A.J. Croce has become firmly established over the last three decades as one of America’s finest musical craftsmen through nine albums of original songs encompassing multiple genres. It became evident during an interview with The Maine Edge that he’s also a musicologist in possession of an almost encyclopedic knowledge of music history and music-makers. Croce says he did his best to tighten the reins on his broad taste when it came to selecting titles for “By Request.”

“As much as this album is a celebration of different kinds of music I love, it’s about the celebration of friendship, being together and entertaining friends,” Croce said. “This record was recorded live in the studio, and I produced it with that in mind, as if I could welcome the audience over to my place, hang out and play music for them.”

“By Request” features a mix of well-known songs and others that are waiting to be discovered by new listeners, as Croce (who augments his piano by also playing guitar, organ and harmonium) and his touring band deliver each one with a great spirit of fun and spontaneity.        

Better late than never.

It feels weird to be writing an Academy Awards preview in April instead of February, but thanks to the pandemic, that’s where we are. 2020 was also a weird year for movies in general, what with the extended closure of movie theaters and the general lack of enthusiasm by Hollywood for releasing their big-ticket offerings.

Still, the Academy pushed back the Oscars by a couple of months and expanded the eligibility window for films, both in terms of timeline and of distribution. It only makes sense that after a year unlike any other, we would wind up with an Oscars unlike any other.

And as always, I’m here to offer up my thoughts.

This is the 93rd edition of Hollywood’s favorite awards show. It’s also the 14th time I’ve offered up my Oscars predictions, if you can believe that. You might think that after 14 years, I know what I’m doing. And maybe I do … to an extent. I’ve gotten pretty good at sussing out who is going to win. But the real joy of these awards is that there are always going to be some surprises. You just never know, and in a strange year like this one, who can say what will happen?

Here are my picks. I’ve gone in-depth on the big-ticket categories and included winners for all the others. And as always, the disclaimer: these are my predictions as to who WILL win, as opposed to my feelings about who SHOULD win. There will always be a degree of disconnect, though perhaps a touch less than in previous years.

Let’s hit the red carpet.

BANGOR – It was six months ago, give or take, when the State of Maine, nearly four years after its citizens voted to legalize recreational marijuana through a referendum vote in November of 2016, finally gave the go-ahead for retail adult use sales in the state.

By the terms of that law, adults 21 years of age or older with a valid ID are able to purchase up to 2.5 ounces of a combination of marijuana and marijuana concentrate that includes no more than five grams of marijuana concentrate.

In the half-year since storefronts began opening their doors in early October, the industry has seen steady and impressive economic growth, though as with any relatively new endeavor, there have been some growing pains along the way. The truth is that these current circumstances are the culmination of a gradual journey.

Here at The Maine Edge, we really miss the live music experience, and you’ve told us that you really miss it too. Most stages, venues and concert halls have been quiet for more than a year and that silence is deafening. We miss the intimate in-person shows at Bangor Arts Exchange, the magic of live theater at Penobscot Theatre, the symphonies and concerts at the Collins Center in Orono – and we miss seeing legends take the big stage downtown.

We asked you to tell us about the best shows you’ve seen at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, presented by Waterfront Concerts. The votes are in and your picks are fascinating to say the least.

Before we reveal the list of your favorite shows, let’s look back at the rise of Waterfront Concerts and the effect it has had on the area’s economy and entertainment landscape.

It’s been nearly 20 months since Waterfront Concerts last staged a show at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, a venue that was preparing for its biggest season to date when Covid cleared the schedule for 2020.

Over 10 seasons, from July 2010, when Celtic Woman was featured as the inaugural concert at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, through August 2019, when Breaking Benjamin performed with four support bands, Waterfront Concerts staged 152 shows that brought well over one million concertgoers to downtown Bangor. In the process of entertaining all of those folks, the greater Bangor area’s entertainment landscape was transformed as a direct result of the concert series, which some believed to be an unworkable prospect.

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