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PTC gets back on the boards! Digging in to the 2021-22 season

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BANGOR – One of the region’s most steadfast and beloved cultural institutions is gearing up to get back onstage.

Penobscot Theatre Company is on the verge of getting back to live, in-person theatre. The company announced their upcoming season with a virtual town hall event last month, but now that we’re approaching that first opening night, it seemed appropriate to do a full-on season preview.

While PTC did a wonderful job of finding ways to pivot into the digital realm last season, crafting a thoughtful and high-quality season in “Digitus Theatrum” that found ways to maneuver around the multitude of obstacles raised by the circumstances of the pandemic, there’s no question that they – and theatre lovers in Bangor and beyond – are eager to take their seats at the Bangor Opera House and be transported by the special magic of live performance.

This new season marks the company’s 48th, if you can believe it. For nearly half a century, Penobscot Theatre Company has been a cultural cornerstone for the region, the northeasternmost professional theatre company in the United States. It is a foundational piece of our area’s creative fabric, one of the many incredible organizations that bring the arts to life in this place that we call home.

There’s a lot of great stuff coming. From a beloved holiday classic to a Maine playwright’s premiere, from a pair of one-woman shows to a romantic two-hander to a big, bold musical, PTC has put together a collection of offerings that will feature something for just about every theatregoer out there.

And there have been changes in the organization as well, the biggest being the ascension of Tricia A. Hobbs, longtime PTC staff member, to the position of Acting Artistic Director of the company following the departure of previous Artistic Director Bari Newport earlier this year. Hobbs has worn numerous hats during her time at PTC – she has worked as a scenic designer and director, as well as serving as production manager and technical director. Her hands-on experience with so many facets of the theatrical experience make her a worthy choice to steer the ship during this turbulent time.

Now, this is a much later kickoff to the season than we usually see from PTC, with the first show opening in mid-November rather than early September. Rather than rush the process, the team opted to take careful steps as they moved forward, taking into account still-shifting situations. That said, these folks are definitely ready to get back to it.

So what should people expect? I spoke to Hobbs and PTC Executive Director Jen Shepard about what the upcoming season will hold – both in terms of what audiences will see and how they will experience it.

“The first thing to expect is an effort to get back to normal,” said Shepard. “We’re going to be producing high-quality theatre, bringing together a combination of familiar faces and newcomers to our stage.”

“We’re trying to keep the experience as close to ‘normal’ as possible,” added Hobbs. “We want to be as safe and as accessible for as many people as we can.”

As far as normal goes, well – we need to address the infectious elephant in the room. While COVID remains a factor, the team at PTC is doing everything within their power to look out for the well-being of everyone who crosses their threshold – staff, guest artists and patrons alike. This means that proof of vaccination or a negative test will be required for patrons, for whom masks will also be required; it’s worth noting that any FDA-approved testing method can serve, so long as the timing is appropriate. These testing protocols also extend to include younger audience members as yet ineligible for vaccination. As for PTC’s staff and performers, all will be fully vaccinated.

“We just want to make sure people know our policies coming in,” said Shepard. “There will be signage and staff members posted to help ensure that patrons know where to go.”

Both Hobbs and Shepard made a point of mentioning that the situation remains fluid, and that the theatre’s policies could change and evolve depending on any changes in guidance. The most up-to-date coverage of PTC’s COVID policies will be found on their website –; it’s worth mentioning that If you have any questions or concerns about testing or any other issues, that’s the place to go – any changes will appear there first.

“It’s important to us to stay true to our mission,” said Hobbs. “And that includes doing our best to make ourselves and our work as accessible as possible. Really, the little things add up in terms of keeping people safe.”

Speaking of accessibility, the PTC crew has been hard at work on other improvements as well, including renovated bathrooms and dressing rooms and the dedicated rehearsal space.

“We renovated three major spaces,” said Hobbs. “The restrooms have been fully redone and converted to all-gender welcoming; we want patrons to use the facilities they see fit to us. There’s new paint, enclosed fixtures, touchless fixtures, expanded stalls – our goal was more comfort for all individuals.

“The dressing rooms have been updated as well,” Hobbs continued. “The second floor is newly carpeted. Both floors have had their bathrooms freshened. These are renovations that will help with our cleaning protocol. And we’ve redone the rehearsal room, laying a laminate plank floor that will be a bit easier on the knees of the performers, accommodating dancing and other movement much better.”

Obviously, the last 18 months have proved trying for people all over – the theatrical world is no different. While PTC’s pivot was one of the better ones we saw – their digital work last season was exceptional – there’s no doubt that folks are ready to get back to it, even as the shift brought some other developments to light.

“One thing this pause did was allow us to take a look at our industry as a whole,” said Hobbs. “It led us to evaluate practices – COVID-related, yes, but also just people’s well-being in general. We’re trying to be more conscious of taking care of one another, not just as co-workers but as human beings.

“It has been beneficial to find some balance. And while it has been harder to get back into the groove than people might thing, we’re incredibly excited to be here, doing what we get to do.”

So yes, there will be some changes, both in how people exist in the building and in the building itself. But one thing has not changed – PTC’s commitment to bringing excellent work to the stage. Let’s have a look at what’s coming, along with some thoughts from Hobbs and Shepard about the various and sundry performances coming our way in the next few months.


The Mainstage Season

MIRACLE ON 34th STREET: A Live Musical Radio Play (November 18 - December 26, 2021)

To kick things off in Season 48, WPTC is going back on the air!

Penobscot Theatre is revisiting the musical radio play format with this year’s holiday show, adapted from the original 1947 Lux Radio Hour broadcast with original lyrics, music and arrangements by Jon Lorenz. The show – which will be paired with live Foley effects, localized advertising jingles and an original musical score – shares the same old-time fun sensibility of 2015’s successful run of the radio play version of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Expect plenty of holiday magic to burst forth from the stage as WPTC broadcasts live once again with this Maine premiere.

“This show was chosen to welcome audiences back to the opera house with a mix of nostalgia and heart, said Hobbs. “By returning to a familiar landscape (WPTC Radio) we not only wanted to go with something achievable for our production team but something that reminds our patrons that the company they know and love is back- as strong as ever! 

“The story is one of heartwarming hope and light in the face of pessimism and uncertainty- much like what the world needs today. Jen’s direction brings new life to an old story, transcending gender-based casting of the 1940s, and incorporating several ‘commercial jingles’ into the radio broadcast which she wrote herself. She and Larrance make an incredible team and I think this is a perfect piece for them to helm.” 

“We chose this show because of its message - take care of and help each other,” said Shepard. “‘Miracle on 34th Street’ is an incredibly optimistic play which seems perfect and necessary.  We need to remember we’re in this together. Audiences will get a few things - a few laughs, jazzy holiday tunes and a huge dose of hope, love and joy.”

TELL ME ON A SUNDAY (January 6 - 23, 2022)

This one-woman show features music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Don Black, as well as a star whose lovely voice will ring familiar to anyone who has spent time with PTC in recent years. Company favorite Brianne Beck stars in this moving story of a girl from Muswell Hill, England who travels to the United States looking for romance. From New York City to Los Angeles and back again, this young woman is determined to succeed at life and love. Yet in the midst of all that searching, perhaps the most important discovery she will find is … herself.

“Bri Beck is a lifelong Andrew Lloyd Webber fan,” Shepard said. “It’s been her dream to star in ‘Tell me on a Sunday.’ So that’s part of the reason [we chose it]; the other reason, it’s Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber! This simple story about one woman’s quest to have it all – love, family, happiness – will resonate with anyone. It’s what we all want. The question is – how do we find it?”

“‘Tell Me on a Sunday’ has been a dream of Brianne’s for many years. We are thrilled to collaborate with her and director Dominick Varney to make this dream come true,” said Hobbs. “This one-woman story will take audiences on a journey all across the US as she searches for success and finds herself along the way. Originally slated for a one-weekend special event pre-pandemic, we’re so excited to elevate the production to a full mainstage. Audiences know and love Andrew Loyd Webber but may not be familiar with this piece. I look forward to sharing the lesser-known work of such a master of the craft.” 

MAYTAG VIRGIN (February 10 - 27, 2022)

This two-hander by Audrey Cefaly – a Maine premiere – is an award-winning heartwarming tale of Jack and Lizzy, two neighbors that have as many things in common as they do differences. A relationship that begins as a neighborly friendship between this quirky, relatable pair becomes an unexpected journey of self-discovery and healing. Maytag Virgin is a radiant gem of light, full of delightful humor and evocative language, as well as a showcase for talented performers.

“I fell in love with this play the first time I read it – I couldn’t put it down,” Hobbs said. “It’s a perfect blend of characterization, humor, and heart. A realistic love story between two individuals who aren’t expecting (nor looking) for it, set entirely in their adjacent backyards, complete with wind chimes, clothes lines, a Maytag dryer, and a Virgin Mary statue. Although they’re both widowed and teach high school, they think the similarities stop there. I love watching as they discover they have more in common than meets the eye. I will be directing this one. Creating rich, realistic environments is a passion of mine and this script has boundless opportunity to do just that.” 

“Have you ever read a play that intrigues you with deft characterization, sparking dialogue and a deeply moving love story? We have. It’s ‘Maytag Virgin’ by Audrey Cefaly,” said Shepard. “Set in Florida, this is the story of two young widowers who become neighbors. They share a backyard and eventually much more than that.

“This is our Valentine’s Day offering,” she added. “It’s everything you want for Valentine’s Day - sweet, romantic, sexy and funny.” 

HOCKEY MOM (March 24 - April 16, 2022)

In local playwright Travis Baker’s fictional township of Clara, Maine, the residents love three things: blue tarps, hair salons and hockey (and not necessarily in that order, depending on who you ask). Cindy is the ultimate hockey mom – she loves her son Cole and they both love hockey. She will do anything to help him become a professional hockey player … whether he wants her help or not! This production will mark the world premiere of “Hockey Mom,” the third installment in Baker’s “Clara Cycle.”

“I’m THRILLED we are, once again, working with Travis G. Baker to develop and produce his latest play,” said Hobbs. “Set in Maine and following a family that many of our audience will relate to, this one is sure to be a hit. I think it’s going to move audiences in a way that only a down-home Maine story can, full of Downeast references, inside Mainer jokes, and enough Dunkin to keep the whole town runnin’.”

“Travis G. Baker’s latest play takes us all back to his fictional Clara, ME,” said Shepard. “Expanding our imagination about who lives in idyllic Clara, this time Baker is telling the story of Cindy, a mom who’s obsessed with hockey. Specifically, her son Cole’s hockey team and whether or not he has what it takes to go all the way to the pros. A wonderful story about the relationship between a mom and her son, Dunkin’ and hockey. This show is SO Maine – and it’s about the sport that’s at the heart of Maine.”  

BECOMING DR. RUTH (May 5 - 22, 2022)

This one-woman show – written by playwright Mark St. Germain - is an inspiring and humorous look at the incredible journey of the pioneering radio and television sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer. It’s a deft and clever illumination of the remarkable untold story and life-affirming spirit of a remarkable and life-affirming woman: Karola Ruth Siegel, the girl who grew up to become Dr. Ruth. Jen Shepard will bring the role to life in this Maine premiere production.

“Dr. Ruth is a cultural icon and a celebrity,” said Shepard. “We knew her as a tiny dynamo that gives very direct advice about relationships and sex. This play is about how she became Dr. Ruth. Her escape from the Holocaust to immigrating to America and rising to international fame for her candid talk and zest for living. I think all of our shows are about optimism and hope, but this might top them all!  Filled with laughter, tears, inspiration and more laughter – the story of Dr. Ruth will remind you what’s most important in life.”  

“‘Dr. Ruth’ has been a long time in the making,” Hobbs said. “We planned to produce the show in 19/20 before COVID closed the doors. Humor and heart seem to be deep-running themes through this whole season and ‘Dr. Ruth’ is no exception. This remarkable woman’s story will take audiences reminiscing through her life, career, and beyond. If we’ve done our job right, they’ll even leave with a broader appreciation for their loved ones, and themselves.”

9 to 5: THE MUSICAL (June 23 - July 31, 2022)

PTC’s 48th season will come to a close with this delightful musical, adapted from the 1980 film of the same name. With music and lyrics by Dolly Parton (who starred in the film and penned the iconic title song) and book by Patricia Resnick (who was one of the co-authors of the film’s screenplay), this hilarious story of friendship and revenge in the Rolodex era is outrageous, thought-provoking and even a little romantic! No doubt, there will be plenty of the spectacle that audiences have come to expect from PTC’s summer musical offerings. What a way to make a living indeed.

“WOOHOO! Bring on Dolly Parton! This crowd pleaser is sure to get people singing and dancing in their seats!” said Hobbs. “Another production that was slated for 19/20, we are excited to finally bring it to life with an INCREDIBLY talented group of artists and performers. Audiences are sure to see a mix of familiar favorites and hopefully some new names as well. Ethan Paulini returns to direct.” 

“The musical based on the 1980s movie tells the tale of Doralee, Violet, Judy and their sexist boss Mr. Hart,” Shepard said. “The show features many songs by Dolly Parton, [including] the well-known and catchy “9 to 5!”  Come laugh, sing along with Doralee, Violet and Judy! This show is a blast!  We have Brianne Beck, Heather Libby and Christie Robinson – our “Mamma Mia” trio – as the three leading ladies. Summer is the time for great music, dancing … and revenge on horrible bosses!”

It’s worth noting that subscriptions for this season – for the first and only time – will include tickets to the holiday show. A variety of flexible and affordable subscription packages are available, with prices starting at $125. These packages include the Fixed Seat Series and FlexPasses in four, five or six-packs of tickets that patrons may use to see any mainstage subscription show.

Subscriber’s benefits also include PTC’s see-it-again-for-free deal, as well as $5 off full-price single ticket purchases. Fees on first ticket exchanges are waived. Subscriptions also include complimentary tickets to all performances ImprovAcadia’s “Ready, Set, Go!” and access to other exclusive content.


But wait – there’s more!

Sure, the mainstage season is the main attraction – it’s got main right there in the name! – but there’s a whole lot more coming from PTC this season. In addition to the mainstage subscription series, the company will be presenting a number of add-on shows throughout the season.

READY, SET, GO! (November 28, January 16, February 20, April 3, May 15, July 3) 

ImprovAcadia and Penobscot Theatre Company join forces to improvise six new plays. On the second Sunday of each mainstage production’s run, a group of performers from both near and far will take the stage to improvise a new story inspired by your suggestions and the existing set. If you’re someone who has found themselves looking at a PTC set and thinking “I wonder what else they could do with this,” well – now you’ve got six chances to find out!

“ImprovAcadia and PTC are joining forces to bring a new show to the main stage of the Bangor Opera House,” Shepard said. “On that second Sunday of each mainstage show, a cast of improvisers will take over the stage and create a whole new play using audience input and the stage as inspiration. No two ’Ready, Set, Go!’ shows will ever be the same because it’s all improvised.”

“This collaboration with ImprovAcadia is one of the things I’m MOST looking forward to this year,” added Hobbs. “The idea is brilliant (improvisors on every Mainstage set creating an entirely original story from scratch with random props and costumes? YES PLEASE!) Not to mention the growing list of guest artists is spectacular. As always, it’s a joy to work with Jen and Larrance and cultivating and nurturing this relationship is a dream. PTC is lucky to partner with ImprovAcadia.”

(In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I will be part of the rotating cast of “Ready! Set! Go!” At least, assuming I don’t blow it.)

WHO’S HOLIDAY! (December 2 - 26, 2021)

Did you ever wonder whatever happened to Cindy Lou Who after the Grinch decided not to steal Christmas after all? Well, thanks to this show – written by Matthew Lombardo – you don’t have to! this wild Seuss-tastic parody is a must-see for mischievous adult (repeat: ADULT) theatregoers this holiday season! It’s Christmas Eve and the now 40-year-old Cindy Lou Who lives in her shoddy trailer home on Mount Crumpit, former hideout of the infamous Grinch. It’s a chance to glimpse a naughtier side of Seuss! This show’s performances will take place at PTC’s 51 Main Street space; seating for each show is limited to 45.

“What could be a better way to spend an adult-only night on the town than with AJ Mooney as a grown Cindy Lou Who in her glitzed-out, appropriately tacky trailer fully realized in an audience-immersive space?” asked Hobbs. “The story may seem bleak on the surface as Cindy reminisces (and laments) about her unfortunate life journey, but deep down it’s a story of staying strong and finding the silver lining in all life throws at you. Audiences will be filled with laughter and unexpectedly leave with a heart grown a size or two.”

“We’ve been offering ‘Naughty and Nice’ holiday shows for the last few years and this year is no different,” Shepard said. “This is a raucous, laugh-out-loud, bawdy show starting the delightful AJ Mooney as the party girl in all of us who longs for the perfect martini, pigs in blankets and glittery outfits. Even though this is a raunchy show, it has a huge heart. Under all the dirty jokes, musical numbers and rhyming couplets is a woman looking for redemption and reconnection with her family. No spoilers, but it doesn’t disappoint on any level.”

AULD LANG ZING! (December 29-31)

Presented in partnership with ImprovAcadia, this show will let audiences make New Year’s Eve plans with actors who don’t have any. An ensemble of improvisers – Andy Eninger, John Loos, Andy Bolduc, Andel Sudik and Jen Shepard, along with the incomparable Larrance Fingerhut on piano – will take the stage, to provide a unique performance each night – part Hallmark love story, part musical … and completely hilarious!

“PTC will ring in the New Year with a professional cast of ImprovAcadia and Second City alums!” Shepard said. “Using short audience interviews and their quick wits, they’ll improvise a new rom-com musical every night. There will be laughter, singing and what they call, you know … ’the dancing.’” 

Last modified on Wednesday, 20 October 2021 11:51


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