Footlights brings black-box theater to Falmouth

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FALMOUTH — Director Michael Tobin is convinced his new theater is blessed.

The Footlights, an intimate 70-seat theater that opened this fall, resides within a space that formerly held a Martha Stewart showroom and, more recently, Ocean Community Church – a legacy that bodes well, in Tobin’s estimation.

“I have Martha Stewart and God on my side, so how can I go wrong?” he joked.

Tobin, a 30-year veteran of greater Portland theater, is mounting his second production at Footlights since its grand opening in September. “The Gift of the Magi,” a Christmas-themed musical set in 1940s Maine, will open in early December. It is just one of six productions scheduled for this holiday season.

The season kicks off Friday, Nov. 29, with a two-night run of “Parents Night Out,” starring Maine-based comedienne Karen Morgan, who is “calling Footlights her new home when she’s not on the road,” Tobin said. Morgan plans to invite Maine comics to the stage once every month, with the first event, “Holiday Hilarity,” debuting on Dec. 10.

“We’re thrilled to have her, because she has such a reputation – she’s nationally known – so it’s great to have someone of her stature in our new venue,” he said.

The venue is disarming. From its entrance at the rear of 190 U.S. Route 1, the white cinderblock facade seems more like an auto-body shop than a cultural center, but the interior space is transportive. There, rich maroon walls and seat risers give way to a vastly different scene.

In theater parlance, the space is known as a black box theater — small, intimate and somewhat experimental. The front row literally rests on the stage.

“It’s very intimate,” Tobin said. “That is really our niche – the intimacy. That’s what our audiences are loving.”

Kari Presnell, an actor with 20 years’ experience in Portland, performed in the theater’s inaugural production, “It’s Just Sex,” in early September.

“I thought (the audience) would be too close,” Presnell said. “I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, this is just going to be too odd.’ But when the lights are up, they’re in black and you don’t really see the people. But it’s lovely to have them that close.”

Actor Marc Calkins sat in the Footlights audience during that run. He said he enjoyed the experience of being so close to the action, to be able to see all the details in the set, the props, the actors’ expressions and more.

“As an audience member, I love that. I like to be close enough that, if someone is sweating on the stage, I’m in jeopardy of getting wet,” he joked.

Calkins is starring alongside Presnell in “Gift of the Magi,” which was adapted by Tobin from a short story by O. Henry and runs Dec. 5-22. In total, five actors will breathe life into 14 characters.

The show will be an immersive experience, Calkins said.

“It’s going to be decked out with Christmas lights. Everything will be sparkling and the smell will be Christmas,” he said. “From the moment they walk in the door to see this show, the audience is going to have an experience that will enwrap them. They’re not just going to sit and watch a play, they’re going to be part of a play.”

Tobin said he will direct occasional in-house productions, but the theater is designed for broader use.

“It’s a venue for local theater groups and performance artists, because there’s such a lack of space, even in Portland,” he said. “The spaces that are available are either booked solid or, in some cases, not affordable for smaller groups.”

Tobin has been working in theaters for more than three decades. He directed his first play in 1981, he said. Technically, he is the business owner, but he prefers the title of booking manager.

“I don’t want this to become my theater. I want this to become everybody’s theater,” he said. “I just happened to come up with the idea.”

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Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.

Sidebar Elements

Director Michael Tobin, center, watches as actors Kari Presnell and Marc Calkins rehearse a number from “The Gift of the Magi,” a Christmas-themed musical set in 1940s Maine that runs Dec. 5-22 at The Footlights, an intimate, 70-seat theater that opened this fall on U.S. Route 1 in Falmouth.

Cast member David Murray sits in the front row during a rehearsal of “The Gift of the Magi,” a Christmas-themed musical set in 1940s Maine that runs Dec. 5-22 at The Footlights.