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'Back in business' | Brunswick High School students return to stage with live audiences

The Brunswick High School Players will perform the play 'Peter and the Starcatcher' for live audiences through Saturday.

BRUNSWICK, Maine — An excited buzz hummed from behind red velvet curtains at Brunswick High School's Crooker Theater Tuesday evening. With detailed costumes and wireless microphones hidden in their ensembles, students waited in the stage's wings for what was to come.

Through Saturday, this ensemble of a few dozen students will perform the play "Peter and the Starcatcher" (a prequel to Peter Pan) for live audiences. It's their first time performing in person since the fall of 2019 before the pandemic made it almost impossible to say "the show must go on."

"I love performing more than anything, and so I'm more excited [for this] than anything I've been excited for this year," Samantha Melquist, a senior who plays Molly Aster in the show, told NEWS CENTER Maine. 

"I feel like the moments when I'm not here, it's just not as good as when I'm here," Jaden Nicita, a sophomore playing Peter Pan, said.

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In March of 2020, Brunswick High School shut down in response to COVID-19, just three days before the opening night of "The Addams Family." That show was eventually canceled. Students met with each other outside and virtually during the following fall to rehearse the play "Puffs," which they ultimately recorded to show to viewers at home. Last spring, students were allowed back on the stage again to practice and perform "The Gondoliers," but they still had to create a final virtual product. 

"The hardest part of being an actor is saying a joke to an empty theater, and no one laughs," Logan Whelan, a junior playing the character Black Stache, said. 

Whelan said he's excited to have audience members see the chemistry between characters, especially considering how much time students dedicate to these productions.

"I did the math a couple of years back, and we put 150-something hours into these shows," Whelan said. 

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"It's going to be enjoyable to have an audience and to hear their laughter, so we're really, really happy about that," said Linda Gardiner, who has been the director of BHS Players for a few years after a long stint as choreographer. 

Gardiner said she's not expecting full-capacity turnout for these performances, but bringing theater back to these kids was important to her.

"I just felt that they needed to be as normal as they could, and they would be missing it so much —  I'm sure they'd be depressed," Gardiner said, later adding, "[This building] feels like home ... so it was wonderful to get back inside."

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In a lot of ways, theater is about more for these kids than just having fun on stage.

"I've never seen a young person who has walked across the stage, said a few lines, sung a few bars to a song, danced a few steps, who didn't walk away a little more confident, a little more self-assured," Michael Millet, the assistant director, said.

He said he's excited for people to be able to enjoy a show and hopefully escape the real world for a few moments.

"The audience wants to come in and see something that takes them out of this real world for a couple hours," Millet said.

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Performances are happening Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets cost $12 for students and seniors and $15 for adults. The money will be used to try to help BHS Players produce "Footloose" in the spring. Audience members and the cast must be masked.