Yarmouth coffeehouse brews student creativity

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YARMOUTH — In a small town, there can be limited options for kids after school or on weekends. 

Yarmouth High School junior Eavan O’Neill saw a need for creative space where teenagers could gather and share ideas. So she decided to create her own.

“I personally think Yarmouth needs this because our school is small and very structured,” O’Neill said of the teen coffeehouse she started in December. “We don’t have a lot of time to relax and express ourselves.”

O’Neill started The Millhouse at Studio B, the official name of the coffeehouse, with the assistance of Rhonda Birkbeck. It takes place at the Studio B music studio owned by Birkbeck and her husband, Ben, on Bridge Street.

Studio B was started in 2011; Ben Birkbeck now gives piano lessons to about 60 kids a week. The music studio also hosts events, including family improv nights, which take place at Amvets on North Road and often brings in hundreds of people.

Rhonda Birkbeck said the coffeehouse is a great addition to Yarmouth because it provides teenagers with a safe and constructive activity.

“We all know that in small towns that if there’s nothing to do people will find something to do,” she said. “This is something safe and productive to do.”

The first coffeehouse took place before Christmas, and O’Neill said she hopes to hold the second one in a couple of weeks. The events are held on Thursday nights, and the first one drew 25 people and lasted two hours. Small snacks and refreshments are provided.

The coffeehouse is for high school students, who can choose to perform or just sit back and watch. O’Neill said people at the first gathering played guitar, ukulele, and piano, and a band performed. People also read their own poetry.

O’Neill said people can do any kind of performance they want. She said the coffeehouse is for different types of creative expression.

“I used the term ‘creative space’ to let people know that it could be whatever they want,” she said.

People also brought pieces of art to display and talk about. Birkbeck said one person brought a collage they had created that focused on the issue of bullying.

“The art itself was a great way for conversations to start,” Birkbeck said.

She said the coffeehouse, as well as Studio B in general, are places where people can perform and express themselves without fear of ridicule or judgement.

“It has the quiet feeling that it’s a safe space,” Birkbeck said.

O’Neill thought of the idea for a coffeehouse in December when her mother, a member of the community outreach team at the First Parish Congregational Church, mentioned she was trying to think of a something for young people to do in Yarmouth. 

O’Neill’s mother is a friend of Birkbeck, which gave O’Neill the idea to use Studio B to host the coffeehouse. Birkbeck said she and her husband were very happy to let O’Neill use the space.

“Anything that has to with positive personal expression is what we’re about,” she said. 

Birkbeck, who has children in the Yarmouth school system, said she has received “an overwhelming response” from parents who are happy their kids now have this creative outlet.

“As parents we seek for our kids to do well, but there’s always part of us that wonders if we’re doing enough to let their true selves come through,” she said.

O’Neill said many people who attended the coffeehouse told her afterwards that they enjoyed the freedom that came with the event.

“I got a lot of positive feedback and kids were happy to have something creative to do outside of school,” she said.

O’Neill said she hopes she can attract more people to the next coffeehouse. A date hasn’t been set yet, but Birkbeck said people looking for more information about the coffeehouse should keep an eye on Studio B’s Facebook page.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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Last month Eavan O’Neill, left, started a teen coffeehouse at Studio B, owned in Yarmouth by Rhonda Birkbeck, right, with the hope of giving young people a creative space to express themselves.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.