SANFORD, Maine — Patrick Dempsey — Hollywood star, Maine native, and advocate for people struggling against cancer — visited Sanford on Friday, April 12, taping two episodes of “The Nite Show with Danny Cashman,” posing for pictures with adoring fans, signing autographs, and touring the video production studio at the new Sanford High School.
Dempsey got a standing ovation after Cashman called him onto the set of his talk show on stage at the Sanford Performing Arts Center. Among those applauding: several local nurses, dressed in their scrubs, there to see the man nicknamed “McDreamy,” after the character he played on the popular medical drama, “Grey’s Anatomy,” on TV.
Cashman asked Dempsey, who grew up in Turner, how much of Maine has stayed with him as he has made his way through Hollywood, starring in movies and other productions for more than 30 years now.
Dempsey replied that, like a lot of young Mainers, he desired to break free from the state and see the world in his earlier days but now cherishes his home turf and enjoys returning here often.
“I love coming home now,” he said. “You forget how beautiful it is here. You start to appreciate it more.”
Dempsey said he played assorted sports while growing up and even tried to get into clown college. The college did not accept him.
“Clearly, it wasn’t my career path,” he said.
Dempsey has at least one skill he can showcase if ever he finds himself under the big-top: he told Cashman he can juggle. Sure enough, Cashman produced three apples, prompting Dempsey to take center stage and juggle them for the audience.
Cashman asked Dempsey for the latest in his motion-picture career.
Dempsey replied that “Hurley,” a documentary he produced about racecar driver Hurley Haywood, is currently available through streaming. The film was written and directed by Derek Dodge.
Dempsey is also one of the producers of “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” a comedy-drama due in the theaters this September. He told Cashman that he also will be appearing in “Devils,” a thriller he recently finished shooting in Rome; when reporters later asked him about his role, he smiled and said in this film he plays a villain.
Cashman and Dempsey also discussed a subject close to Dempsey’s heart: improving the quality of life for those who are struggling against cancer. Dempsey’s mother, Amanda, passed away in 2014 after battling ovarian cancer for 17 years.
In 2007, Dempsey approached Central Maine Medical Center and expressed interest in creating a local cancer support center. That idea would become The Dempsey Center, which opened at 29 Lowell St. in Lewiston in 2008. Recently, a second site opened at 778 Main St. in South Portland.
According to its website, www.dempseycenter.org, the center offers “quality-of-life services at no cost to help people manage a cancer impact emotionally, mentally, spiritually, or physically.”
Medical treatment is not provided at the facility, but evidence-based complementary therapies — such as acupuncture, Reiki, massage, support groups, and assorted programs and workshops — are available.
“We don’t treat the disease,” Dempsey told reporters on Friday. “We treat the person.”
Thanks to grants, donations, and fundraising, these services are offered for free.
In 2009, Dempsey also started The Dempsey Challenge, an annual biking event — not “a race, but a fun ride,” as Dempsey told Cashman on Friday night — that raises funds for the center. Dempsey participates in the event every year. This year’s Challenge will be held on Sept. 28 and 29.
Brett Williams, the director of the Sanford Performing Arts Center, said more than 700 people attended the “Nite Show” tapings.
Williams worked with his friend, Ryan Peters, the rapper known as Spose, to bring Cashman and his show to Sanford. Peters is a member of the performing arts center’s advisory team and once appeared on Cashman’s show; he suggested to Williams that the program would be a great fit for the SPAC stage.
New facility, new experience for students
According to Williams, Peters introduced him to Cashman and, following several conversations, the host’s production team visited the local performing arts center and liked what it saw. The auditorium, which opened at the new high school in December, had every technical amenity the show needed to tape there.
Williams said that the show brought “tremendous educational value,” both to Husson University students, who serve as the show’s primary production crew, and to students in teacher James Harmon’s video production class at Sanford Regional Technical Center, as well.
“James’s students were able to work in every area of production during the taping on Friday,” Williams said. “It was an unheard-of educational opportunity.”
Williams said he learned that Dempsey would be Cashman’s guest about three weeks before the show taped and about two days before it was announced to the public.
“The hardest part of my job is keeping secrets — and this was a big one to keep,” Williams said. “I couldn’t believe it at first.”
Williams said he is thrilled with how the whole experience went on Friday night.
“Every show we have hosted to this point has flexed the SPAC’s muscles in a new way,” he said. “This show felt to me like a ‘coming of age’ event. We’ve been working furiously behind the scenes for years to make sure the new theater would be able to host events of the highest professional level, and the ‘Nite Show’ taping felt like the actualization of all our planning.”
Williams said that, since the performing arts center opened in December, he and his staff and volunteers have been “gently accelerating, strategically pushing each of our systems with increasing technical difficulty with every performance.”
“We’ve got the pedal to the metal now, and the sky is the limit for the SPAC,” he said.
Cashman taped two episodes of “The Nite Show” on Friday. For the first show, announcer Joe Kennedy introduced Cashman as a “distant cousin of Broose D. Moose and Boomer,” the mascots of the Sanford Mainers baseball team.
For his guests on the first taped program, Cashman welcomed Ben Guite and Alfie Michaud, two members of the University of Maine’s hockey team that won the national championship 20 years ago, and comedienne Jody Sloane. Dempsey was Cashman’s only guest for the second taping.
The first show will air this Saturday, April 20, and the second one, with Dempsey, will air on Saturday, April 27. In southern Maine, the shows will air on FOX 23 at 10:30 p.m. and on WGME CBS 13 at 1 a.m. Cashman and his crew often travel to tape their shows but primarily record them in Bangor.
Harmon described the experiences that he and his students had in meeting Dempsey and in helping with the production of the two shows as “awesome” and “eye-opening.” The students were involved in much of the production, arriving at the performing arts center early on what was their first day of school vacation.
They attended meetings, helped unload and set up equipment, and worked in the video operation rooms of the mobile broadcast truck. Some students even got to operate “Camera One” during the actual tapings of the shows.
“When you watch the program, any time you see a full shot of the guest and the desk, one of my students was holding that camera,” Harmon said.
Harmon added that the whole experience definitely had an impact on his students.
“During the day, my students were amazed at what they were seeing going up around them, at all the amazing equipment and organization they got to see in motion,” Harmon said. “They were also proud to have been a part of the taping, and to have gotten a backstage view of the production.”
Harmon said he is seeking ways for his students to help the Dempsey Center with any video-production needs and opportunities it may have.
“SRTC Video Production is an extremely capable group of videographers,” Harmon said. “We have skill, creativity, problem-solving, and a bunch of students who care about what they do,” he said. “If we can support the work of the Dempsey Center, that would be an awesome opportunity for us.”
Harmon said Dempsey stopped by his classroom and studio for a few minutes.
“We talked about cameras, lenses, and lighting, and what my students are capable of, and Mr. Dempsey seemed genuinely excited and engaged,” Harmon said. “It was fairly quick — maybe five minutes — but it was such a cool, unexpected moment.”
During his interview with local reporters, Dempsey praised the new high school, which opened in October.
“The school is just amazing,” he said.
Cheryl Camire, of the Sanford High School Alumni Association, attended the tapings on Friday night and also got to meet Dempsey afterwards. Camire said the evening highlighted the local partnerships, leadership, prestige and state-of-the-art technology associated with the Sanford Performing Arts Center.
“It was really neat to see so many people in our community, including students, at the event, but also to see a diverse group in the audience from other parts of the state of Maine, who remarked, repeatedly, how impressed they were with the facility and with the quality of a live television show recording,” she said.
Camire said meeting Dempsey was “fabulous,” adding that Dempsey was gracious and said he enjoyed the tour of the school that history teacher Paul Auger, a volunteer that evening, provided him.
Cashman also had kind words for Dempsey during his interview with him.
“Thank you for what you do, and for representing Maine the way you do,” Cashman said.