At lot of unique coincidences had to come together before Bari Newport decided to apply for the position of artistic director for the Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor — a position she was awarded late last week, after a nationwide search.
“A lot of things came together to make Bangor seem like the right place to go,” said Newport, 34, a California native. “There’s something about the community that appealed to me on a real, tangible level. And theater is just the nicest, most open group of people. It’s incredibly refreshing. I’m really, really excited.”
For starters, Newport met interim artistic director Nathan Halvorson five years ago, when the two were attending a director’s laboratory at Lincoln Center in New York City; the pair bonded over their shared experiences working in regional theater. Newport’s parents have vacationed in the Moosehead Lake area, so she’s familiar with the state. Her partner, photographer Magnus Stark, was exhibited at the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor. And she’s presently employed as an artistic associate at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia — the place where Stephen King and John Mellencamp’s new musical, “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County,” will have its world premiere next year, directed by Newport’s mentor, Susan Booth. Bangor has been on her radar for a long time now.
“Sometimes life takes you on amazing adventures, and you set out never really knowing where you’ll go,” said Newport, who will start at PTC on Jan. 1. “The process of coming to Bangor has definitely been one of those adventures.”
Previously, Newport was artistic associate/literary manager at the Pasadena Playhouse, associate producer at Horizon Theatre in Atlanta and associate director at Florida Repertory Theatre. As a director and actor, her work has been seen at Horizon Theatre Company, Greenbrier Valley Theatre, American Stage, Cumberland County Playhouse, Florida Repertory Theatre, Sacramento Theatre Company, Westport Country Playhouse and the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Newport holds a bachelor of fine arts from the University of Southern California, where her efforts yielded the creation of the Bill White Memorial Theatre Collection, USC’s first and only theatrical library. She received her master of fine arts from the University of Iowa.
For PTC, Newport has a number of ideas for future productions and community involvement, as well as for the ever-larger role that the education department plays in the theater, under education and outreach director Jasmine Ireland.
“Bringing a historic building like the Bangor Opera House to life is always a really exciting thing,” she said. “The stories that I tell in my work seem to match up with the feelings I get from the town. There seems to be a lot of excitement and energy and imagination present. And companies that use both community and professional actors are always interesting to me.”
Newport hopes to bring productions to the stage that feature strong female characters, and that challenge actors and audience alike.
“Plays like ‘A Christmas Carol’ and ‘Our Town’ get produced a lot, of course, but I think there’s new and exciting things that can be done with them that keep them fresh,” said Newport, who’s directorial debut with PTC will the February production of “Boeing Boeing.” “There are a lot of stories here in Bangor that can be told, in many different ways. I think things like Northern Writes [New Play Festival] can really be a forum for that kind of thing.”
She also hopes to capitalize on and express the hope and optimism she sees in the community, and that she believes can be a compelling element in any performance. She related an anecdote about another show she directed in Florida.
“I directed Terrence McNally’s show, ‘Frankie and Johnny and the Clair de Lune,’ and he actually came to the show. I was terribly nervous,” said Newport. “I told him, ‘You’ve probably seen a million of these,’ and he said ‘Yes, but this was the most hopeful.’ That has always been an inspiration for me.”