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- The Forecaster
SOUTH PORTLAND — Acorn Productions is leaving downtown Portland for a suburban neighborhood in South Portland.
The move to 528 Main St. in Thornton Heights is the result of high rents and limited parking in downtown Portland, along with an interest in reaching a new community, said Michael Levine, founder of the theater education company. Levine said he finally found an affordable first-floor unit after a four-month search.
Levine and Jared Culverhouse, who is director of training, will open the doors to the public from 4-10 p.m. Saturday, March 16 for “Acorn Takes Root,” an open house and silent auction. “We want people to come and enjoy the studio,” said Culverhouse. “I am a big proponent of theater being a community, and we want ours to help us celebrate 25 years of work and getting a new space.”
“We wanted to be more involved with a residential community,” said Levine, who first studied acting at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later with Shakespeare & Company, a professional theater group. “Ultimately, we want to start teaching kids classes again and create a gathering place for our entire theater community to meet up and collaborate.”
With the new location being a 10-minute drive from Portland and two blocks from a 24A South Portland bus stop, Levine is hopeful that core supporters will travel to attend classes. “In previous moves, we lost many people and had to start from scratch,” Levine said.
Acorn Productions has relocated four times in the 25 years since Levine founded the nonprofit educational theater company in 1995 with the goal of teaching ordinary people how to act.
Levine and his Acorn Productions team first held classes on the third floor at 496 Congress St. before relocating to the Dana Warp Mill in Westbrook, where they taught for eight years.
“What we do well is take people off the street and teach them how to act,” said Levine. “The next thing you know, they are getting cast in plays.”
To reconnect with the Portland theater scene, the group decided to leave Westbrook in 2014 and rent a classroom at Mechanics Hall, located at 519 Congress St. There they held acting lessons twice a week— a limited schedule for an increasing number of students and rehearsals.
“It feels good knowing this is our space now,” Levine said as he stood inside the intimate South Portland studio. “It gives us more flexibility in terms of our scheduling and creative needs.”
According to the Maine Theater Collective, there are 30 theater companies based in the greater Portland and Casco Bay area. Of those, 18 are located in Portland, making for a competitive market.
“When we started we did summer camps and classes for kids, and nobody else was doing them,” said Levine. “But now, there are many opportunities for children and theater in downtown Portland.”
In Thornton Heights, there are over 2,000 households with children, according to the 2017 American Community Survey, and Levine’s new landlord, Hugh O’Shea, believes that Acorn Productions will benefit them. “I liked Levine’s idea of having classes for young people looking to develop stage presence,” he said.
Acorn Productions is the only non-performance-based theater company in the greater Portland and Casco Bay area dedicated to acting education. Levine and Culverhouse are confident that the company’s reputation will attract South Portland students and expose the neighborhood to a new clientele.
“I feel like I am good at what I do,” said Culverhouse, who previously taught acting at The New York Film Academy and the Conservatory for Dramatic Arts.
“For me, a brand is the quality of the product it produces, and I am confident in the quality of the product this company has.”
Acorn founder Michael Levine and director of training Jared Culverhouse in Acorn Productions’ new studio in South Portland, where an open house will be held Saturday, March 16.
Acorn Productions is moving from Mechanics Hall in downtown Portland to 528 Main St. in South Portland. It’s the fourth move for the theater education company, founded in 1995.