Out & About: Showcases for Maine creativity

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Two outstanding showcases of Maine creativity top this weekend’s arts and entertainment activities.

Biggest and longest-running is the Maine Playwrights Festival, which starts April 15 and runs through May 2 at the St. Lawrence Arts Center in Portland. It’s a production of Westbrook-based Acorn Productions. All plays are new works by Maine authors.

The Portland Conservatory of Music is hosting its second Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival with three concerts on Saturday and Sunday. All the pieces scheduled are new compositions by Mainers.

And Philip Hamilton’s Voices, a powerful a cappella ensemble, will take the stage at the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus, hosted by Portland Ovations.

Maine Playwrights Festival

Nobody in Maine has worked harder to proselytize the gospel of theater and stagecraft than Mike Levine, former impresario of Oak Street Theatre and longtime director of Westbrook-based Acorn Productions.

One of his most interesting theatrical projects is the annual Maine Playwrights Festival, which starts this week and runs through May 2.

Twelve new plays, all by Mainers, will be presented in rotation at the St. Lawrence Arts Center. The featured work is a full-length play, “Solitary Dancers,” that will be performed four times during the festival. Written by Jan Paetow and directed by Levine, “Solitary Dancers” is described as a “painful black comedy about three middle-aged people and their eccentric approaches to life.”

Five short plays are packaged as “Program Two” and six more comprise “Program Three.” Plays range in length from five to 30 minutes, and each program will be presented four times over the course of the festival. Julie Goell will direct Program Two; writers include Laura Emack, John Rizzo, Kathy Hooke, Michael Kimball and Delvyn Case. Harlan Baker will direct Program Three; writers include Hugh Aaron, Bruce Pratt, Jefferson Navicky, Blaise Titus, Michael Tooher and Eric Worthley.

The festival culminates May 1 with a marathon performance of all 12 plays. The following day will be devoted to 24 hours of performance. This latter is free, made possible by a grant from the Maine Theater Fund.

The Maine Playwrights Festival started as a series of dramatic readings in the old Acorn School for the Performing Arts on Congress Street. Since that time, Levine and Acorn have presented 74 plays by 49 different authors at a variety of venues, moving to the St. Lawrence in 2005 where the festival continues to make its home each spring.

Several plays developed at the MPF have gone on to success elsewhere, most notably Carolyn Gage’s “The Poorly-Written Play Festival” and Michael Kimball’s “Actual Glass,” both of which were invited to festivals in New York City after their MPF debuts.

Call Acorn at 854-0056 for the complete schedule.

Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival

For the second year in a row, the Portland Conservatory of Music is organizing its Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival. Three concerts are planned for April 17-18 and the program is entirely devoted to Maine composers.

Best-known is Elliott Schwartz, longtime Bowdoin College professor (and a friend of mine for more than a decade).

“The first contemporary music festival held last year was a great success in every way, so the conservatory decided to make it an annual event,” Schwartz says. “The festival will be a great vehicle for showcasing the creative talent in this state.”

Portland Conservatory of Music, 202 Woodford St., presents three concerts of contemporary Maine music: April 17 at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and April 18 at 7:30 p.m. Call PCM at 775-3356.

Philip Hamilton’s Voices

Portland Ovations’ 2009-2010 season is winding down, with the next-to-last performance taking place this Friday with the appearance of Philip Hamilton’s Voices, an a cappella ensemble with an incredible array of repertoire and vocal skills.

The music of Voices combines the influences of an international variety of vocal tones and techniques, such as Tuvan throat singing, Congolese mouth-clicking, Balinese monkey-chanting and hip-hop’s beat-boxing. Styles include doo-wop, barbershop quartets, Gregorian chants and work songs from several nations.

Portland Ovations presents Philip Hamilton’s Voices at 8 p.m. April 16 at Hannaford Hall, 88 Bedford St. on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Sidebar Elements

Chris Hoffman, left, Karen Ball, and Randall Tuttle will perform “Solitary Dancers” in this year’s Maine Playwrights Festival.