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Longest running children's theatre in nation gets a new home in Portland

It's the longest running children's theatre in the nation, and it has a new home.

PORTLAND, Maine — Maddy's Theatre in Portland has been wowing audiences with its children's plays for nearly 100 years. 

The theatre, formerly known as the Children's Theatre of Maine, was founded back in 1924 by the Junior League of Portland and has had many homes since its start. Its newest location lies within the Children's Museum of Maine at Thompson's Point

Its stage and seats have been adapted to bring audiences even closer to the performance. The theatre's artistic director, Reba Askari, said this gives guests a unique viewing experience and makes them feel like they are part of the show. Askari also said the theatre was designed specifically with families in mind.

"So often we think of theatre's as this place where you have to be really quiet or you have to sit really still and watch. That's not who we are at all," Askari said. "We have a giant climber that you walk by before you come to the theater, and we purposely don't open our house early so that kids can play on that climber and get some energy out. We have a soundproof viewing gallery built into our theater so that if if somebody has a crying baby or if somebody needs a place to cool down, there's a room that is totally soundproof, and it's a great place to watch the show."

The theatre also comes equipped with a teaching tech-booth, designed with young learners in mind who are looking to dabble in work behind the scenes. During the shows, Askari said they usually have two teens running the sound and light boards.

"We really want young people, teenagers, running our boards so we wanted to build a teaching tech booth," Askari said. "We actually have a technical coordinator on staff who is just so overjoyed and excited about teaching tech theatre."

Over the years, the theatre has put on hundreds of productions. 

In its early days, the theatre was known to pack up its set and travel by truck to Portland's Eastern Promenade and West End for children to enjoy performances. 

In 1949 performers took their show all the way to Central Park in New York City. 

"That must have been just mindblowing for those young actors," Askari said.

The theatre was officially renamed "Maddy's Theatre" in 2020 and opened to the public that summer, when it debuted its new digs with a one-person show called Balloonacy. 

The new space was named by Madeiline Corson, who was a longtime board member of the theatre. She named the theatre after her mother who bears the same name and performed in shows at the children's theatre as a child.

All of these memories are on display in photographs outside of the theatre's entrance.

Askari said something that makes the theatre unique is the age range of performers and the learning that takes place between them. 

So what else makes this place special?

"I think it's the community and the people that we're attracting with each play," Askari said. "That's the actors that audition and the designers that come out of the woodwork and say, 'God, I'd like to build a bunch of puppets', and then it's also the audience," Askari said. "And we have kids that come once, twice and three times and stand outside afterwards, asking the actors for audience for autographs. It's that light bulb of inspiration of like, 'I want to do that. Can I do that?'"

They hope that inspiration leads to another hundred years of celebrating Maine's arts community and the talented crew that makes it all possible.

 Askari said the theatre just received $150,000 from the National Endowment of the Arts to put toward its mission. That includes paying performers who come to the theatre which is almost unheard of on a local performance level.

"We're truly a place where families can come to create really special memories, to feel inspired, to feel like it's a place for them." Askari said.

If you would like to visit Maddy's Theatre or learn more about its upcoming production of "The Year of Frog and Toad," click here.

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