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Unique connection between science and the arts helps revive Auburn theater

Two of the people involved in running Community Little Theatre have scientific backgrounds. One is an epidemiologist, and the other is a veteran nurse.

AUBURN, Maine — Mid-week on the first day of December, Community Little Theatre in Auburn is quiet, save for some construction work to repair its decades-old façade. The empty dirt parking lot is nothing new, though. For 20 months, the stage inside of this historic building has been quiet because of COVID-19, but soon, that will change.

On January 13, 2022, CLT will launch its 82nd season of main-stage shows like "Let It Be," "Disaster," and "You Can't Take It With You." For the community here, a revival couldn't come soon enough. That's why the backgrounds of two behind-the-scenes leaders have been so essential.

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"For me, arts and culture are such an important part of a community," Tim Cowan, the president of CLT's board of directors, told NEWS CENTER Maine. He has been in this role for a couple of months but has deep roots as a patron of CLT. He also works a day job as an epidemiologist with MaineHealth and has been tracking COVID-19 developments since March 2020, at first working seven-day weeks. 

"It's been very busy. It's wearisome to have to be looking at this daunting and not very happy data sometimes," Cowan said, noting that his workweeks are now about 50 hours long.

Cowan also isn't the only person involved with CLT who uses the arts as an escape. Artistic director Celeste Philipon has been a part of the theater with her husband for about 30 years. She has also been a nurse for more than four decades and has worked on the frontlines of the pandemic by training physicians. 

"When you have multiple deaths in a day, it's really, really hard. It really does wear on you after a while," Phillipon said, relaying the experiences of some of her fellow nurses. 

Phillipon said CLT is a creative outlet that she craves.

"The science part of my brain works all day long, and then the other side of my brain gets to play," said Phillipon.

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The actors and actresses who flock to CLT's stage during the season are equally excited to see the program up and running once again. A number of them have been performing at the facility for years — and during the pandemic, it was very missed.

"To be apart for so long and then come together and just be able to sing and have fun together with music that we all know and love. It's really awesome," said Julia Groover, a 14-year-old who has been doing shows here since she was six years old. 

Lorraine Giasson is another actress taking part in "Let It Be." She said this is only her second show with CLT — she performed in the production of "Annie" in 2019 before the theater shut down — but she already feels a bond with the cast and crew.

"The two shows I've been in, the people, the cast, everyone was wonderful. They made you feel good about what you were doing. They encourage you," Giasson said, later adding, "You develop more of a family feeling when you're in theater and acting with other people."

These performers are also excited to welcome audiences back into the venue to witness their hard work. "Let It Be" is a show about the Beatles that uses all music to tell the story. The January performances will be the first. Glenn Atkins, a CLT member since 2003, said he thinks people will enjoy it, and he believes that the connection factor is the power of theatre. 

"You want to entertain people and make people laugh, make people cry, all those things," Atkins said. "[You want to] bring out all those emotions, so when they leave the theater, they have something to talk about for a few days."

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COVID-19 precautions will be in place during the shows. Audience members will be required to wear masks in the theater and will have the ability to social distance with open-ended seating. Cowan said there's also an improved fan system that will better ventilate the space, and the goal is to make sure all actors and actresses are vaccinated. 

"I'm equally as passionate about making sure our communities are safe and healthy, as I am for the productions that are going on here," Cowan said. 

"Let It Be" begins its run on Jan. 13 at 7:30 p.m. You can find out more about CLT's upcoming season here