Out & About: Festivals feature music, theater

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It’s festival time in southern Maine, as two summer celebrations of performing arts will open within the week.

PortFringe is a nine-day festival for aspiring playwrights and up-and-coming performance artists. It takes place June 20-28 in four Portland venues along Congress Street.

The 10th annual Maine Festival of American Music will take place June 24-27 in the historic Shaker Village in New Gloucester. It is a yearly summer production of the Portland String Quartet, who invite a number of guest artists to explore and celebrate the roots and origins of American art music.

In the road-to-stardom department, Kalie Shorr, a young singer-songwriter from Nashville, will play in Portland on Sunday. Shorr is originally from Portland, and graduated from Deering High School in 2013.


Portland provides a nurturing environment for experimental theater and cutting-edge performance artists. That’s the take-home message from PortFringe, a nine-day festival of new plays and performance art that runs June 20-28 at four different venues along Congress Street.

According to PortFringe’s mission statement: “We are a by-lottery, non-juried fringe theater festival. We support new, edgy and experimental performance in our city of Portland. We celebrate the imaginative and the weird. We seek to eliminate financial and logistical barriers so that artists can focus on their work (and maybe even make money doing so).”

This will be PortFringe’s fourth year. A total of 54 new works will be presented, usually for two or more performances. Although most artists come from southern Maine, some hail from farther afield. Box of Clowns, for example, will trek across the country from the Other Portland.

Themes for these 54 productions are splattered all over the creative map, ranging from downright silly to dark and depressing. One deals with sexual violence, while another recounts an horrific fire in a New York factory that resulted in more than 100 deaths.

Not all PortFringe artists take themselves overly seriously. Playwright J.T. Nichols has been a mainstay of Portland’s outside-the-box theater community since the early 1990s as the spiritual guru of the Stone Pinhead Ensemble. “We are just like Shakespeare,” Nichols said, ” only worse.”

The PortFringe piece that’s attracted the most attention is Tony Reilly’s “The Coma Monologues.” Reilly is a founding artistic director of the Portland-based American Irish Repertory Ensemble. He and wife Susan, also an AIRE principal, were in an auto accident last December. Susan died in the crash, while Tony lost one leg and spent weeks in a medically induced coma. “The Coma Monologues,” written and performed by Reilly, with direction from Stacey Koloski, will be his theatrical comeback.

There are six different stages in three venues. Portland Stage Company will be the hub of activity. Three different PSC stages will be used: the main theater, the black-box studio and the storefront. Other PortFringe presentations are slated for two Congress Street venues not normally associated with theater: Empire, a Chinese restaurant and music room, and Geno’s, Portland’s venerable rock club. “The Coma Monologues” will be presented at the St. Lawrence Arts Center.

For full schedule and ticketing details, visit PortFringe.com.

Maine Festival of American Music

Maine boasts more than a dozen classical music festivals in all sorts of venues all over the state. So when the Portland String Quartet, led by violist Julia Adams, decided to create a festival of its own, members knew that it needed a unique theme and venue in order to stand out.

That’s exactly what happened 10 years ago, when the PSQ launched the Maine Festival of American Music: Its Roots and Origins. And for historical authenticity, no venue in Maine can rival the 1794 Meeting House in New Gloucester’s Shaker Village, the centerpiece of America’s last living community of Shakers.

The 10th edition of this fascinating music festival runs June 24-27. PSQ members have invited a number of guest artists who will elucidate the creative and spiritual origins of American art music.

Among those is Chris Moore, a nationally prominent virtuoso mandolinist and director of the 317 Community Music Center in Yarmouth. For the past several months, Moore has led a group of 317 students in a Shaker songwriting class. The students will perform their original compositions to demonstrate a musical and spiritual adaptation of Shaker songcraft in contemporary expression in the June 26 evening festival concert.

Other guests who will help explore different aspects of Shaker music are fusion violinist Matthew Szemela on June 24 and composer Kevin Siegfried on June 25.

In the June 27 finale, the PSQ will play a number of American works plus a selection of European pieces that influenced the development of art music in this country.

For full information, visit shaker.lib.me.us/maine_festival.html.

Kalie Shorr

When Kalie Shorr graduated from Deering High School two years ago, her classmates voted her most likely to make a million dollars.

Soon after the last notes of “Pomp and Circumstance” faded away, Shorr started to fulfill that vision, motoring 1,200 miles to Nashville and pursuing her dream of making it big as a singer-songwriter in the ultra-competitive field of country music.

Two years on Shorr isn’t close to making her first million in the country music biz, but she’s made some real progress in honing her creative powers and performance prowess. And this Sunday, she’ll return to her hometown for the first time in two years for a solo gig.

Progress? In February she released her first formal recordings, a five-song EP titled “The Nashville Sessions.” Plus she’s created a buzz in the local community with a weekly live performance at Music City’s Listening Room Cafe, where she is a mainstay of Song Suffragettes, an every-Monday showcase for aspiring female singer-songwriters.

She’s also discovered YouTube as a medium for self-promotion (and doesn’t everybody know that Justin Bieber was discovered via a YouTube video?) where Shorr’s red hair and striking blue eyes underscore the intensity of her songwriting skills.

I’m impressed by the way Shorr’s facile soprano voice wraps around and embraces clever wordplay. That wonderfully Taylor Swift-esque quality is especially notable in “God Sees Everything,” a musical commentary on a young man who leads a double life, and “Roses Are Red,” a lament about lost love with a pleasant pop hook.

I plan to be in the audience this Sunday to check out Shorr’s progress on the long road between Portland and stardom.

Catch Kalie Shorr at 6 p.m. June 21 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Sidebar Elements

Box of Clowns, hailing from Portland, Oregon, is one of 54 theatrical ensembles that will be represented during PortFringe, a festival of new plays and up-and-coming performance artists that runs June 20-28 in Portland.