Youth theatre is blooming in Aroostook County, thanks to a 2007 Caribou High School graduate who honed her theatrical skills in New York City and brought them home to inspire local youngsters.
“I always loved theatre, but there’s not a lot here,” said Darci Caitlin Faye, 28, who graduated from the University of Maine at Presque Isle last December. She said while high school and middle school students have great programs to encourage acting, she noticed a gap in opportunities for elementary aged students.
She offered her services to the after-school program at Wintergreen Arts Center in Presque Isle.
“It’s just uncanny how she showed up,” Dottie Hutchins, Wintergreen executive director, said. The center had been exploring potential for a theatre program. “Darci appeared literally out of the blue.”
After a six-week program last fall that introduced children ages 5 to 12 to theatre, some for the first time, Faye and Hutchins decided to offer a 12-week program starting in January and culminating in the production of a musical.
“We are Monsters” is the product of their efforts. Opening at 7 p.m. on April 14 in UMPI’s Wieden Auditorium, the 45-minute production directed by Faye will debut 20 central Aroostook children singing, dancing and acting. Additional performances are scheduled for Saturday, April 15, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
“It’s great to give little kids what I didn’t have,” Faye said. “Sports here are a big thing, but not every kid is good at sports. It’s good to have an alternative. It’s fun to do theatre with younger kids.”
Madelyn Waugh, 8, a third grader at Zippel Elementary School in Presque Isle, told Faye she was born to perform and wants to do it professionally. “She takes it seriously,” Faye said. “She’s a good singer.”
Waugh performed in the Wintergreen Arts production of “The Ugly Duckling” last fall and previously in the “Duck and the Old Woman,” produced by Project Explore.
Waugh plays a girl named K.C. in “We Are Monsters.” She told me this week that the play teaches that “It doesn’t matter if you don’t fit in. Even if you’re different, we’re all the same. We can be all friends, play together and have fun with each other.”
Shelby Robinson, 7, a second grader at Mapleton Elementary School, is one of the youngest cast members. In her debut as a baby werewolf, she says the play has taught her that “monsters aren’t scary.”
As opening night nears, all the young actors are full of energy. When they get off the SAD 1 bus that delivers them to Wintergreen after school, “they are singing the songs, scripts in their hands,” Faye said.
After a snack, they are ready for their two-hour rehearsals, grades 1 through 4 on Monday and Wednesday, grades 5 through 8 Tuesday and Thursday.
Four Presque Isle High School students assist Faye with the production. Aaron Swanson serves as music director, with Tom Watson and Sawyer O’Donnell as assistant music directors. Emily Sjoberg is choreographer and UMPI student Alexandra Kruczek is Faye’s assistant director.
“The high school students are unbelievable,” Hutchins said, describing how the children are drawn to them. “And Alex is outstanding — in a league of her own.”
Created by Beat by Beat Press, “We Are Monsters” is an award-winning play that Wintergreen was able to obtain at a discount from the independent company. The cast members are humans, monsters, werewolves and vampires, with some actors playing more than one role.
The human kids sneak into a monster cabaret where they discover vegetarian vampires and rock ‘n roll werewolves. Adversaries at first, the kids and monsters discover the importance of friendship.
“They [see] they are more alike than different,” Faye said. “That’s the message of the show.”
With Swanson playing the piano, the cast members have learned to read music and sing. He also brought in friends who play guitar and drums to form a small pit band.
“It’s a great experience for the kids — an exciting first experience,” Faye said.
“Darci has led all this,” Hutchins said. “She knows how to write and put up a play, how to promote and make all the pieces work. It’s amazing what she can get people to do.”
Faye studied playwriting for two years in New York City at the Off-Broadway theatre company Primary Stages’ Einhorn School of Performing Arts.
“I must have attended 100 plays,” she said. “I moved eight times in two years and sublet three apartments in Manhattan.”
At the National Student Exchange in Stony Brook, Long Island, she discovered playwriting and determined “that’s what I want to do.” There she began writing the play “Infinitely Yours” that recently was nominated for five awards at New York’s Planet Connections Theatre Festival, including Outstanding Playwriting of a New Script.
A good friend of John Cariani, a Presque Isle High School alum who is now an actor and playwright in New York, Faye was touched that he came to her show before the matinee of his own performance in “Something Rotten.”
She was also moved when four New York Equity actors took the bus to Presque Isle last October to act in a benefit performance of “Infinitely Yours” to raise funds for the Hope & Justice Project during Domestic Violence Awareness Week.
Founding president of the University Players at UMPI, Faye has staged eight shows in a little over a year: three full-length plays, three Broadway revues, one talent show and a 10-minute student playwright festival that included her own 10-minute play titled “Just Wait.”
At Wintergreen, Faye teaches not only acting, but also script writing, set building and costume design — all aspects of “the process of getting their creation from the page to the stage,” according to a news release announcing her selection for the part-time position at the center. Plans for the summer include a theatre camp for actors aged 5 to 18.
“I am very honored and excited,” Faye said of her new adventure in the County. “This could very well be where their passion starts.”
Sponsors for “We Are Monsters” are Wilder’s Jewelry, Dwight’s Barber Shop, Swanson Law, KMH Music and Morning Star Art & Framing.
Shoppers at the Aroostook Centre Mall on Saturday, April 8, will be able to see a brief preview of the play at 6 p.m. in the food court.