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Fifty years after two former Bangor theater groups, the Bangor Savoyards and the Bangor Civic Theatre, merged into one organization, that resulting group — Bangor Community Theatre — is setting the stage for a comeback.
With a newly reinvigorated board of directors, a permanent creative home at the Bangor Grange, and a new mission to provide affordable theater for people of all ages and backgrounds, Bangor Community Theatre is starting its 50th season with a play that’s a love letter to local theater.
“Moon Over Buffalo,” a farce written by Ken Ludwig (“Lend Me A Tenor”), will be staged Nov. 15-17 and Nov. 22-24 at the Bangor Grange. The play, which premiered on Broadway in 1995 in a production starring Carol Burnett, tells the story of George and Charlotte Hay (Blane Shaw and Marty Kelley), two actors performing “Cyrano de Bergerac” and Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” with a repertory company in Buffalo, New York, in the 1950s.
George and Charlotte think they are going to get the chance to audition for a Hollywood movie, but everything both backstage and onstage manages to go wrong as they attempt to prepare for the movie’s director to come see their shows.
The director of “Moon Over Buffalo,” Irene Dennis, who is also board president for Bangor Community Theatre, said it’s a play that resonates with the theater group.
“It’s a show within a show, and it’s set in a remote northern city,” Dennis said. “It’s really about the love of theater. And it’s absolutely hilarious.”
Bangor Community Theatre was founded in 1969, after two longtime area theater groups — the Bangor Civic Theatre, formed in 1951, and the Bangor Savoyards, formed in 1953 — decided to join forces. Though it has technically been around for 50 years, the group’s roots stretch back nearly 70 years.
For decades, Bangor Community Theatre’s mission was to produce one big musical each year, allowing just about any local person with an interest in theater to get involved. By the 1980s, those productions could see 50 or more people in the cast of iconic shows including “The Music Man,” “Guys and Dolls” and “Carousel.” There would be hundreds of individual costumes in each show. Production costs could exceed $20,000. Showgoers would fill venues as large as what is now the Collins Center for the Arts in Orono.
By the mid-2000s, however, those massive shows started to become unsustainable.
Funding became harder to come by. Fewer people showed up for auditions. The last big musical produced was “Kiss Me, Kate” in 2005, with the group’s focus then shifting to smaller productions. For a few years around 2014, Bangor Community Theatre didn’t produce any shows.
The group never disbanded, however, and in 2015, it partnered with the Bangor Grange to find the group a permanent home to both rehearse and perform in. The Grange, a charming early 20th-century building located at 1192 Ohio St., has a 50-seat, handicap-accessible auditorium on its second floor, with a full stage. The building has long been a hub for the region’s farming community and for the residents of North Bangor.
Dennis is also keenly aware of the Grange being in direct proximity to the Capehart neighborhood — something she and the board view as an asset.
“We are right in the backyard of one of the largest neighborhoods in Bangor, so it is really important to us that we serve them,” she said. “The cost of a theater ticket can be prohibitive for some people, so one of our missions is to keep ticket prices low, and to produce family-friendly content so everyone can come.”
In that sense, little has changed about BCT’s mission in its 50-plus years of bringing theater to the Bangor region.
“We just want to bring the magic of theater to everybody, whether you’re in the audience or onstage,” Dennis said. “You just can’t replicate the experience of live theater with anything else. Just being in a room with people, sharing that experience, is something we all should get to do.”
Tickets for “Moon Over Buffalo” are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $5 for kids 12 and under, and are available on the BCT Facebook page or at the door.