Penobscot Theatre sends off Nathan Halvorson, says hello to Bari Newport

Lovers of the Penobscot Theatre Company gathered at the Bangor Opera House Saturday night to wish  Nathan Halvorson a fond farewell, as he ends his tenure as interim artistic director on Monday — and to say hello to incoming artistic director Bari Newport.

To the delight of Halvorson and the entire crowd, the event came as a total surprise to him. Longtime PTC actress Christie Robinson and PTC stage manager Meredith Perry organized a scenes and songs performance from an array of the more than 15 shows Halvorson has directed at the theatre, and managed somehow to keep Halvorson in the dark the entire time. A secret Facebook invite and a series of phone calls and text messages brought nearly 100 people to the theatre — and Halvorson thought he’d be going out for dinner that evening.

“You have no idea how hard it was to not spill the beans,” said Robinson, last seen in “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” a Halvorson-directed show. “He probably thinks I’ve been acting really weird the past few weeks.”

Halvorson, visibly moved by the many friends and colleagues who spoke and performed, had a hard time finding words to describe his feelings about the event. Next week, he returns to the University of Iowa to complete his masters degree in directing — though he’ll be back in May to direct “Xanadu” at PTC.

“I just feel so fortunate to be a part of a community that has so enriched my life in so many ways,” he said. “I cannot express properly how amazing that feels.”

The event also served as a kind of hello to new artistic director Bari Newport, who arrived in Bangor from Atlanta earlier this week, and has spent the past five days meeting people and holding open auditions. Newport and Halvorson met five years ago, at a director’s conference in New York City, and remained fast friends throughout the years.

“I was working in Fort Myers, Florida, and Nathan was on vacation with his family in Florida, and he drove three hours to come see me and stay with me there,” said Newport. “He always told me about Bangor, this wonderful place, as he described it, and the community of people who love the arts and support it with all that they have. I wondered if Fort Myers and Bangor were anything alike, and fortunately, I was right. How could I know that in five years I’d standing next to him, on this stage?”

Performances included scenes from favorite plays like “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife,” “The Underpants” and “Steel Magnolias,” as well as musical performances from “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Falsettos,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “A Year With Frog and Toad” and “The Great American Trailer Park Musical.” Speakers included PTC education and outreach director Jasmine Ireland, PTC board president Cathy Maher, and actors and actresses including Jeri Misler, 10-year-old Nathan Manaker, and 18-year-old PTC intern Mary Clark, who spoke movingly about her experiences as a teenager in theatre.

“I didn’t have a lot of friends when I was younger. I was really shy. I have come out of the shell I was in as a child,” said Clark, who will attend the New England School of Communications this semester. “And I know that’s because of Nathan and theatre and PTC. Who I am today has a lot to do with him.”

All photos courtesy of Tricia Owens Kenny. 

Emily Burnham

About Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native, UMaine graduate, proud Bangorian and a writer for the Bangor Daily News, where she's worked since 2004. She reports on everything from local bands to local food to all the cool things going on in the Greater Bangor area. In her quest for stories, she's seen countless concerts and plays, been lobster fishing, interviewed celebrities, hung out with water buffalo and played in a ukulele orchestra. She's interested in everything that happens in Maine.