Merger combines Children's Museum, theater

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PORTLAND — The nation’s oldest operating children’s theater has officially become part of the Children’s Museum of Maine.
Officials said they hope the combination, announced Dec. 17, will allow the organization to continue to entertain and educate children in all aspects of theater.
Although the theater has been operating out of the museum on Free Street for more than a year, the boards of the two organizations only recently voted to merge. In order to do so the theater group was legally dissolved, according to museum Executive Director Suzanne Olson, and became part of the museum. The merged organizations will be known as the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine.
The theater was founded in 1923 by the Junior League. It is a theater for children by children, Olson said.
She said the museum is committed to rebuilding a young theater group and audience, and will continue with current programming while adding classes and a theater camp.
Reba Short, artistic director of the Children’s Theatre, will now be part of the museum staff and work full time leading theater programs.
In recent years the Children’s Theatre has had a hard time finding a home. After reviewing its options two years ago, its directors decided to move the group into the museum.
“The theater has been looking for a home for a long time,” Olson said, adding that she made overtures during the past four or five years about a possible partnership. When the theater decided to move in a year and a half ago, the two organizations realized quickly that they made a nice match. Negotiations concerning the merger began late last winter.
According to Olson, part of the merger agreement adds a few members of the theater’s board of directors to the museum board.
The merger has also opened discussions about the future of the museum’s physical structure. Olson said that while the current arrangement works well for the theater program, the board is talking about adding a new theater in the near future, probably in an addition to the building.
“It’s totally the right size for right now,” said Olson. Plays and theater programs currently take place in the museum’s Dress-Up Theater, located on the bottom level of the museum. It’s an open space that Olson compared to a “black-box theater” with seating for about 60 people.
The Children’s Museum is in its 32nd year of operation and is at 142 Free St., next to the Portland Museum of Art. For more information about the museum, the theater and upcoming programs and performances, go to kitetails.com.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net.

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