By: Nick Blaszczak, Student Journalist
BANGOR – Located in the heart of Husson University’s campus, stands a performance arts venue that draws masses for education and entertainment. With its sleek modern contemporary look, fixated with a curved roof, the Gracie Theatre serves as an outlet for people in the Bangor community to relax and decompress.
The Gracie Theatre opened in 2009 and is named after Grace McCollum, the granddaughter of longtime Husson trustee Hilda Hutchins McCollum. The spacious facility houses 500 seats, 335 in the orchestra (lower level) and 165 in the balcony.
Shortly after opening its doors to the public, ‘the Gracie’ quickly became the centralized hub for student plays and performances.
The theatre’s premiere production was West Side Story that debuted in October of 2009. The full-scale Broadway performance was a smashing success that put the Gracie on the map. According to Walters-Storyk Design Group, Husson director of community and student engagement Julie Greene said the facility has blown her away.
“It has exceeded all of our expectations in terms of hosting professional performances, and providing audiences with a comfortable, elegant and eminently accessible entertainment venue,” said Greene.
Entertainment production majors have come to appreciate the area’s rehearsal hall, orchestra pit, recording booths, scene design and construction area, and the 50-seat Black Box Theatre.
Husson’s campus radio station, WHSN 89.3 fm, makes use of the Black Box Theatre to put on a yearly rendition of Edgar Allen Poe’s Tales of Mystery & Imagination. The award winning old-time radio drama features voice actors, live effect performers, and a pianist.
Student performances aside, touring artists and theatre shows have paid a visit to the Gracie. 2012 marked the inaugural season of outside performances; the year featured renditions by Second City Improv Company, Jennifer Holliday, the off-Broadway classic Potted Potter and Deer Camp, the Musical.
In 2013/14, the Gracie played host to a wide variety of performers including: jazz pianist Dan Tepfer, opera singer Richard Troxell, NPR host Christopher O’Riley, Paul Reiser and the theatre show Forbidden Broadway. The successor in the forbidden series, Forbidden Hollywood the smash hit musical comedy of the movies, came to the Gracie this year.
The Husson Student Activities department has worked diligently over the last few years to bring in quality entertainers to the Gracie at affordable prices for students. Comedian and native of Bangor, Bob Marley has made annual treks over to the Gracie for nights filled with laughter. As a special way of closing out the semester for students, the student activities department books a main event to perform at the Gracie.
In 2015, Saturday Night Live actor and stand-up comedian Pete Davidson did a set. This year, the main event featured country music star Canaan Smith. The 33-year-old singer-songwriter put on a concert for students with hit songs like “Love You Like That” and “Hole In a Bottle.”
From a talent standpoint, the Gracie has evolved from solely in-house presentations to an expansion including outside artists/shows. However, at its core, the technical component has remained largely the same.
Students from the New England School of Communications (NESCom) utilize the facility to employ their knowledge and skills of digital audio, sound mixing, lighting, and filming. The theatre is capable of feeding live performances into NESCom’s mobile production truck for live broadcast to local radio, TV, and online purposes.
One production that NESCom students are actively involved in is The Nite Show with Danny Cashman. Since 2010, NESCom has assisted Cashman in producing the late night talk show but 2014 marked the first year that the show was taped at the Gracie. Prior to the relocation, the show was taped at The Next Generation Theatre in Brewer.
The partnership with NESCom has proven to be invaluable for students who gain a multitude of experience in prepping and executing for the show. Students hold many responsibilities for the show including audio, video, setup, writing, lighting, and editing. The list of duties for the show highlights how students are becoming well-rounded and versatile for work in the communications field.
According to David Fitzpatrick of the Bangor Daily News, NESCom video production coordinator John Easton says students are the backbone of the show.
“[We] train them and let it become Danny’s and the students’ show. Ultimately, the students do all the work, pre-production, execution, post-production and distribution to WABI and WPXT. When they reach that level, that’s pay dirt,” said Easton.
In addition to the learning opportunities that come with productions at the Gracie, students also benefit from the facility’s (attached) Beardsley Meeting House. Named after former Husson President William Beardsley, the multilevel space contains multiple classrooms and a top of the line computer lab.
Courses in the meeting house typically consist of general education studies such as history, humanities, and mathematics. The meeting house also houses a wide office space for faculty and staff.
The Darling Atrium links the Gracie and the Beardsley Meeting House together, the open area contains numerous tables and chairs so as to provide a quiet studying space for students. The Darling Atrium also holds the box office for will call and ticket purchases.
As the spring semester comes to a close at Husson University, the lineup of shows at the Gracie begins to dwindle too. Three shows headline the final performances of the season: Jesus Christ Superstar, Marc Cohn in Concert, and Los Lonely Boys.
Jesus Christ Superstar is the final major presentation from Entertainment Production students. The show is a rock opera musical loosely based on Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’s last week alive. The production chronicles Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem and ends with the crucifixion. Tickets for the event are still available and can be purchased at the door, 90 minutes prior to the start of the show. Admission is $3 dollars for students and $5 dollars for the general public.
Marc Cohn in Concert is an American folk rock musical performance. Cohn is a Grammy winning singer-songwriter known notably for the song “Walking in Memphis.” Cohn’s 25th anniversary tour is a celebration of 11 songs including: “Ghost Train”, “Silver Thunderbird”, and “Perfect Love.” Tickets for the event can be purchased online or at the box office. Admission ranges from $39 dollars to $56 dollars.
Los Lonely Boys is a concert consisting of three brothers who derive their music from rock, blues, Tex-Mex, conjunto, and tejano. Guitarist Henry Garza, bassist JoJo Garza, and drummer Ringo Garza Jr. will storm the stage for a night of culture and music. Tickets for the event can be purchased online or in person at Mark’s Music in Brewer.
For more information regarding all events at the Gracie, those interested can visit the venue’s website or call the box office at: (207) 941-7888.
Between school work, athletics, and employment students are caught in a bit of a balancing act. As students handle the pressures of everyday life, the Gracie has become an outlet for stress relief.