By Dale McGarrigle
Special to The Weekly
A piece of fabric ubiquitous to Maine creates the backdrop of a now prize-winning play by an Orono playwright.
“One Blue Tarp,” by Orono playwright Travis Baker, was recently named Best Play for the State of Maine in the prestigious Clauder New England Playwright Competition, presented by Portland Stage Company.
For winning this honor, Baker, an adjunct English instructor at the University of Maine, will attend the awards ceremony May 18 in Portland.
“I’m planning to wear a sash made out of blue-tarp material that says Maine on it,” joked Baker, 42.
The plot at the heart of the eight-character play will ring true to many Mainers.
David Stillman believes it’s his right to have a big pile of junk under a blue tarp in his front yard. This is an affront to Gail Pritchard, a woman from away who wants to transform the small coastal town of Clara into her vision of what such a place should be.
Stillman defends his right by sitting on the pile: “His position is ‘You can get the tarp by pulling it out from under my cold, dead body,’ ” Baker explained.
Like Pritchard, Baker is a transplant to Maine.
He was born in South Boston, but moved to Houston at the age of 5. He grew up there, moving to Savannah, Ga., for art school for two years at age 18, then returned to his hometown, where he discovered his calling.
He started writing plays at age 22, after taking a playwriting workshop at the University of Houston with Edward Albee (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff?”).
“He was the one who told me I should be a playwright,” Baker recalled.
Following Albee’s advice, Baker moved to New York City to become a production intern with the Signature Theatre Company, where he worked with such luminaries as Arthur Miller, John Guare, Horton Foote, Adrienne Kennedy, and Sam Sheppard.
“It was an amazing education,” Baker said. “I did everything I could to be in the theater.”
After 10 years in New York, Baker and his wife, Holly Twining, moved to Maine in 2004, so that he could earn his master’s degree in English at the University of Maine in 2006. (The couple now have two boys, Zane, 7, and August, 3.) He added a master’s of fine art degree from Connecticut’s Fairfield University in January. He has previously taught at Unity College and Eastern Maine Community College.
Through the last two decades, Baker has written 15 plays, some of which has been read and/or produced in New York, Houston, Los Angeles, and Maine. He’s just completed his first novel, “Texas Sky,” which is “sitting on agents’ desks, waiting to be read,” he said.
Baker got the idea for “One Blue Tarp” while teaching at Unity, during the long drive down Route 202.
“I wanted to write a play for Maine and wanted to write a fun play,” he explained. “Most of the plays I wrote while in New York were fairly dark comedies. While driving to Unity, I would listen to Dale Duff’s sports talk show [then on WZON]. They were talking about the new D-League team in Portland, which had been named the Red Claws. Someone joked that it should have been named the Blue Tarps. I thought that that was a good symbol for the other part of Maine that the tourists don’t understand.”
The play got its first reading as part of the Northern Writes Reading Series at Penobscot Theatre Company at 2010 and was also named a semifinalist for the prestigious Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Workshop in 2011.
Baker plays in a pickup hockey game on Thursday nights, and he can’t wait for his fellow players to see “One Blue Tarp.”
“There’s a pretty broad political spectrum there, but this is a play that everybody can relate to,” he said.
What does winning recognition from the Clauder Competition mean for Baker?
“It will make a great introduction when I submit to theater companies and agents,” he said.
Baker is busy shopping around “One Blue Tarp.”
“I’d like it to start in Maine,” he said. “Hopefully, there will be some news about a production pretty soon. I have some good leads, but I don’t want to jinx it.”