November 13, 2018
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Midcoast storytime show airs local talent nationwide

BELFAST, Maine — Backstage at the Belfast Free Library during a recent taping of Belfast Community Television’s children’s program, the scene was energetic, creative and more than a little chaotic.

That week’s two young guest stars, Jane Irish of Morrill and Judson Thomas of Montville, both 9, were making a joyful noise as they got ready for their moments of community television fame on the local storytelling show “Once Upon a Time.” (Not to be confused with the popular prime-time ABC show of the same name.)

“Quiet on the set!” Ned Lightner, the station manager for BCTV and the director of the program, exclaimed from behind his video camera.

And with that time-honored phrase of the show business world, the cameras were rolling and the talent jumped into gear. “Once Upon a Time,” co-hosted by local musician Jennifer Armstrong and Belfast children’s librarian Erica Rubin Irish, is a half-hour show featuring songs, movement games, special performances by child guest stars and stories read aloud. It’s broadcast to about 2,000 households in Belfast, but the audience doesn’t end there. It’s also shown on other community television channels around the country.

“I think we’re one of the few libraries in the country doing it,” Rubin Irish, a longtime participant in area community theater who also happens to be Jane’s mom, said this week. “You have to have someone who’s a children’s librarian who is also willing to put themselves out there as a song-and-dance man. It’s not a traditional library thing to do.”

The show’s largest audience is in Tampa Bay, Florida, where 250,000 people can watch it. It has also been picked up by community television stations in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Massachusetts, according to Lightner, who said some of the elements of the program are not specific to Belfast.

“The program could probably be shown anywhere in the United States and beyond,” he said. “Each of the presenters has their own distinct energy. Together they’re a nice, magical combination.”

Rubin Irish, who started the show in early 2013 when she was the children’s librarian at the Carver Memorial Library in Searsport, said she, Lightner and Armstrong have produced 13 shows in the last seven months. The show has been a true community project, as Belfast-based set designers John and Elaine Bielenberg volunteered to build the set and the children who are the special guest stars come from nearby towns.

“Not everybody can come to storytime at the library,” Rubin Irish said. “This way we’re bringing it to them. I’ve had some nice feedback from people who say their kids watch every show.”

Her favorite part of “Once Upon a Time” is the guest stars.

“I wanted kids to see kids their own age or a little bit older than them perform and be inspired,” she said.

As Judson got ready to play a well-rehearsed piano fanfare on the grand piano in the Belfast Free Library’s Gammans Room, his mom, Erika Latty, said he has been looking forward to being on the show.

“He’s very excited,” Latty said. “He likes performing.”

Jane Irish, who practiced a lot before she played and sang “Rockin Robin” on her ukulele for the show, said she thought the experience was great. Her favorite part was watching her friend Judson play the piano.

“I loved it,” she said of the taping. “It was really fun.”

When asked if other kids who like performing might enjoy being on “Once Upon a Time,” Jane did not hesitate.

“Yes, they would,” she said. “They would love it, too.”

To watch “Once Upon a Time,” visit vimeo.com/album/3476245.

 


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