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Returning to the stage at the CCA

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ORONO – Live performance is coming back to the Collins Center for the Arts.

The CCA, located on the University of Maine campus in Orono, has begun announcing its 2021-22 season. It isn’t the same sort of robust slate that we’ve seen in the past, due to the circumstances of the pandemic and its impact on live performance, but rest assured that there is plenty of quality fare scheduled to hit that stage (and likely more to come).

Formerly known as the Maine Center for the Arts, the CCA has been a vital hub for the performing arts in the region ever since the Bangor Symphony Orchestra christened its stage all the way back in 1986. The iconic building has played host to memorable acts large and small over the years, bringing a wonderful variety of arts and entertainment to our area.

The Collins Center is a foundational piece of the region’s cultural community; for over three decades, they have been a key part of the scene, offering quality programming at affordable prices year after year.

Now, things are going to be a little different this year. Live performance venues are only just beginning to ramp things up again, so things might advance a little more slowly than we’re used to. And we have to recognize that the situation is still evolving, so there may be changes on the horizon.

Still, it’s nice to think about this venerable venue opening its doors and raising its curtain again. The Collins Center for the Arts is an incredible resource, a beautiful space that plays host to a vast and varied collection of performances that we would otherwise have to travel hours to experience. Is the menu a little more limited right now? Sure. But there’s still quite a delectable selection of music, comedy, drama and more in store for audiences.

That’s the real joy of the CCA – it’s not about the stuff you already like (though there’s plenty of that), but rather the stuff that you don’t yet know that you like.

Selections from the season

Bangor Symphony Orchestra

Where else to start but with the BSO, one of the cornerstones of every CCA season?

The orchestra, led by Lucas Richman, spent last year providing virtual streaming shows to subscribers and ticket buyers. But now, they’re coming back to live performance, placing the full orchestra on stage for the first time in nearly two years.

(Note: The BSO will also continue the recording and streaming of their concerts this season.)

The Masterworks series is in full effect, featuring renowned guest artists and music from across the classical music spectrum. Beethoven, Mozart, Copland, Stravinsky, Dvorak – there will be something for everyone.

Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated performance, however, is “The Warming Sea.” The piece – commissioned by the Maine Science Festival – will be making its debut in tandem with the MSF’s return in March.

The evening will combine art and science, beginning with an overview of climate change in Maine from some of Maine’s leading climate researchers followed by a short film of interviews that Lucas Richman had with scientists, researchers, and practitioners in the Gulf of Maine. The BSO will then perform “The Warming Sea,” with visuals provided by artist Chuck Carter. And the evening will end with the opportunity to hear more from Richman and some of the scientists he spoke to about bringing this massive undertaking to life.

Jay Leno

The CCA is teaming up with Waterfront Concerts for this show, bringing one of the most famous names in comedy to Orono on December 5.

Leno is best known for his nearly two decades at the helm of “The Tonight Show,” but in the years since he left the desk, he’s been plenty busy. Not only has he steadily toured as a stand-up, Leno has also developed a number of television projects – including a new one coming this fall, a reboot of the classic game show “You Bet Your Life” – and a variety of other entertainment properties.

It’s an opportunity to see one of the biggest names in comedy history, someone who has been at it for decades and still brings the same insights to the stage. In a time where we could all use more laughter, why not get it delivered by one of the best in the business?

The Choir of Man

Known across the globe as “the ultimate-feel good show,” “The Choir of Man” offers up one hour of indisputable joy for all ages! It’s a party. It’s a concert. It’s the best pub “lock-in” you’ve ever been to.

Featuring pop, classic rock, folk, Broadway and pub tunes, “The Choir of Man” has something for everyone. A multi-talented cast of nine handsome guys combines hair-raising harmonies, foot-stomping singalongs, world-class tap dance and poetic meditations on the power of community in this riotously enjoyable homage to that gathering place we’ve all missed so much over the last year: your local pub.

With a real working bar on stage, come ready to drink in the action. The first round’s on us. Cheers!

Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo

Get up close and personal with some new dinosaur friends this February!

“Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo” includes a menagerie of insects and dinosaurs that once roamed free around the world and are now in daily residence, including a recent zoo addition, a carnivorous theropod known as the Australovenator, discovered in QLD – the most complete meat-eating skeleton yet found in Australia.

With its glorious, laconic, Aussie humor, audiences can get right up close and personal with an amazing array of prehistoric creatures, from baby dinos to some of the largest carnivores and herbivores that have ever walked the planet.

Erth’s dinosaurs are unmistakably “alive,” and mostly friendly, in this fun, educational and original performance, connecting young audiences to the real science of paleontology.

This extraordinarily imaginative work delights audiences from three years and up. Audiences learn how to feed and interact with Erth’s dinosaurs in a once in a lifetime interactive experience. Children can watch wide-eyed from a safe distance or dare to get right up close to these prehistoric creatures.

FLIP Fabrique

While there’s no disputing the high-across-the-board quality of the CCA’s offerings, I’m always going to have a soft spot for a show built around artistic acrobatics.

On the stage, six envelopes contain six mysterious invitations for six strangers. The guests have arrived, but one is missing. What to do while we wait? When renowned performer Jamie Adkins and his friends drop by, get ready for a wild ride!

FLIP Fabrique’s ingenious brand of acrobatic physical comedy makes everyday situations a celebration of the extraordinary. “Six°” explores the sweet madness of waiting, the intricate beauty in a correspondence, unexpected encounters, joyful laughter, and breathtaking feats of acrobatics. But we can’t stop wondering – what if the sixth person, the missing connection – was you?

With only six degrees of separation, we are all connected. That means the performers and the audience are much closer than you think!

Anne of Green Gables – The Ballet

Generations of young people have fallen in love with young Anne Shirley, thanks to the classic novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery. The book has been translated into other media many times – TV shows and movies based on the character are abundant to this day, with the tale of early 20th century Atlantic Canada resonating just a clearly to the youth of the present.

So why not a ballet?

This show is presented by Canada’s Ballet Jörgen, a classical ballet company that aims to make ballet accessible and relevant to 21st-century audiences. It’s a chance to introduce newcomers to this lovely, charming story – as well as offer a different look at things for longtime fans. Expect a graceful good time at Green Gables this April!

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That’s just a selection of what’s coming, of course. You can access the CCA’s full season at their website – www.collinscenterforthearts.org – to purchase tickets or find out more information, either for these shows or others on the slate. And keep checking back for updates – the 2021-22 season is still evolving, so other announcements will be forthcoming as the situation dictates.

A conversation with Danny Williams

I’ve known Danny Williams, executive director of the Collins Center for the Arts, for a long time. He has been a passionate advocate for the arts in general and the CCA in particular for all the years that I’ve known him.

As you might imagine, the past 18 months have been a trying time for the CCA – and for all performance venues. Everyone is navigating uncharted waters, doing the best they can with what they know.

Danny was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions for me via e-mail, addressing the myriad obstacles presented by current circumstances and expressing his thoughts on how things are different and his hopes regarding getting (and keeping) the curtain raised.

The Maine Edge: What are some of the challenges that have come with scheduling in this uncertain time? How have you dealt with them?

Danny Williams: Scheduling (and re-scheduling) has definitely been a challenge. Under "normal circumstances" we are planning our season 12-18 months out, so when restrictions started to relax this past May, we were just starting to pull together things for the '21-'22 season when we would ordinarily be nearly done. We knew that this season was going to be different in that we wouldn't have the entire season pulled together all neat and tidy in such a short time frame, so we decided to announce shows as we confirmed them. 

TME: In what ways will seeing a show at the CCA potentially be different for audiences this season? Will there be any changes with regard to how your performances are presented? Livestreams or recorded shows for home viewing, that sort of thing?

DW:As of right now, we are looking at a lighter fall than usual. A month ago, I was pushing to fill in some of the holes, but as I sit here today - and given the trajectory of the Delta variant - a lighter performance schedule for the early fall seems warranted. The Bangor Symphony Orchestra is offering a livestream option as part of its season. 

TME: It’s a unique and difficult time for performing arts venues of all shapes and sizes. Obviously, the lack of live events was the most significant, but are there other issues involved that the average audience member might not consider?

DW: At the end of the day, our primary concern is how can we present live performances while at the same time keeping everyone safe and comfortable? And remember, it's not just the audience, we have to be concerned about staff, crew, volunteers and the performers as well. And for us, in addition to national and state guidance, the CCA falls under University of Maine System and University of Maine guidance all of which can vary slightly. 

TME: What are a few of the shows/events that you are most eagerly anticipating this season?

DW: At the risk of sounding trite, we are just looking forward to presenting anything that has a live audience. However, there is one show that has some special significance. The first show cancelled after we shut down in March of 2020 was a co-promotion with Waterfront Concerts of Martina McBride. It was a complete sell-out and there was a lot of excitement surrounding her performance. That is why we are so excited to have her rescheduled for March 26, 2022 - two years and two weeks after her originally scheduled performance. 

TME: How will new additions be folded into the schedule? And what are some of the challenges that come with having to slot in shows individually rather than en masse?

DW: We will announce our shows as we book them. Typically to subscribers first, then to the general public. It's a little bit more work to do them one or two at a time, but it gives shows that might not otherwise receive attention some time in the spotlight.

TME: Are there any upcoming yet-to-be-announced shows that you might want to hint at, even if you can’t share them outright?

DW: Nothing specific, but we are definitely working to add more shows to the season.

TME: Thoughts on the state of venues in general here in Maine? What has it been like navigating these waters?

DW: It may sound like a cliche, but live entertainment was among the first to shut down and has been among the last to come back. And really, we won't be back until the general public feels comfortable sitting indoors shoulder to shoulder. We are so much further ahead than we were a year ago, but not quite as far along as I had hoped. It's going to take some time, but we will get there.

Last modified on Wednesday, 11 August 2021 07:03

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