Brewer teacher Rich Kimball heads new kind of theater troupe

Posted July 26, 2010, at 11:51 a.m.

It’s the mark of a good teacher when his or her students still want to learn and work with them, even after they’ve graduated and are done with school. Rich Kimball’s students feel that way — so much so that they’re spending part of their summer vacation working with their former Brewer High School drama coach on a new show.

Kimball and company have formed a new theater troupe, the Imagination Workshop, dedicated to providing high-quality children’s theater featuring experienced area actors. The Imagination Workshop will perform “The Frog Prince” at 7 p.m. July 28-30 and at 2 p.m. July 30-Aug. 1 at the Next Generation Theatre on Center Street in Brewer.

While there are a lot of opportunities for area children to perform in one or more of the many theater camps in the area — Penobscot Theatre, The Grand and the Next Generation Theatre are offering theater camp shows this week — there’s nothing in the way of adults performing for kids.

“We’ve tossed the idea around for several years,” said Kimball. “We’d always wanted to do something with our older, more experienced actors. There’s really no one in the area that is doing theater for kids, by adults, and there hasn’t been for some time.”

Imagination Workshop has been rehearsing at Brewer Middle School, but will take the stage at the Next Generation Theatre this Wednesday.

“We love that space. It allows for really intimate, interactive shows,” said Kimball, who also is a member of the area improvisational comedy troupe The Focus Group, which performs once a month at Next Generation. “It’s really ideal for a family show like this.”

The script for “The Frog Prince” is adapted from an earlier script Kimball put together a few years ago, for a proposed Brewer High School production. The new version is a lean 60 minutes, jam packed with jokes that manage to be both kid-friendly and still funny to adults.

“That’s the ideal thing, really, that you can entertain both kids and parents,” said Kimball. “Warner Bros. cartoons, and Pixar now, they all have those two levels of humor.”

In the show, the Prince (Jamie Bartol) and his manservant, Henry (Jacob Joy) encounter a scary witch (Abby Hayward) who curses the Prince with froghood. Princess Bernadette (Tess McLaughlin) strikes the famous deal with the Prince — get my golden ball out of your pool, and maybe I’ll be your girlfriend — but the Prince may in fact fancy her sister, the bookish Gwyneth, instead (Erika Cote). The maid Bridget (Jillian McNally) and an annoying animals rights activist (Angela Patterson) from PETAL (People For the Ethical Treatment of Amphibians in Literature) highlight the action, and Kimball acts as narrator.

Bartol, McLaughlin, Cote and McNally are all former students of Kimball’s, and Joy is a junior at Brewer High School. Bartol and Cote just finished their first years of college, and McLaughlin and McNally just graduated from Brewer. The chance for them all to work together on a show again was too irresistible to pass up.

“I’ve been in shows with everyone since I was in sixth grade, and I’m so happy to be able to work with everyone again,” McLaughlin said. “We’ve developed such a level of trust and friendship over the years. I’ve been in so many shows with everyone. We feel like pros, kind of.”

The busy schedules of high school and college students are hard to manage — but it’s a testament to Kimball’s leadership skills and the strong bonds of friendship between the actors that they made time for this show.

“I make time for the things I love,” said Joy. “You can’t pass up a chance to get together with everybody one last time.”

Performances of the Imagination Workshop’s “The Frog Prince” are set for July 28-Aug. 1 at the Next Generation Theater on Center Street in Brewer, with 7 p.m. shows Wednesday through Saturday and 2 p.m. matinees Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $3 for children and $5 for adults.

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