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Community Little Theatre president John Blanchette and co-executive director Eileen Messina stop in to talk about COVID's impact on CLT, a special Valentine's presentation, the annual silent auction, and future plans. Listen to the interview here:

1. How long have you been a part of the CLT family?

I have been with CLT since 1989 when I was the rehearsal pianist and pit conductor for West Side Story.

2. How many shows have you been a part of at CLT?

I’ve lost count of the actual number but it’s around fifty.

3. What first got you involved with CLT, and what keeps you coming back?

I had been teaching at St. Dom’s and directed and music directed for the Drama Club. I had just started graduate school and met John Blanchette and Eileen Messina at a Lewiston High School production of Oliver. I also met Scott Powers when we played for Lewiston High School’s previous production of The Wizard of Oz. So all of these people were kind enough to think of me when they need someone for the 1989 CLT production of West Side Story. I was later asked by John to be the music director of the 1990 summer production of 42nd Street. That was my first MD position. Later, I was asked to direct Fiddler on the Roof for a January 1994 production. I keep coming back because of the challenge of each show whether it’s from the development of the actors’ perspectives on stage, the creation of a sound from the orchestra, or just working with a good group of people. Usually, it’s the combination of these three along with many more reasons.

4. When you are not involved in a production, what else do you enjoy doing?

Most people know that I read a lot of books, so that’s a given. I also direct a couple of choirs for the Prince of Peace Parish and play for the services. I also must do the New York Times Crossword puzzle every day!

5. Can you tell us something about you that most people may not know?

I won the Industrial Arts Award in the eighth grade for outstanding student. Now anyone who knows me would find this ridiculous as I don’t know which end of a screwdriver to use to pound a nail.

6. Is there one show (or more) that you could be a part of that you would never get tired of?

There are several that I wouldn’t mind doing for a long period of time. As Musical Director, I wouldn’t get tired of A Chorus Line, Chicago, Little Shop of Horrors, The Fantasticks, and Spamalot. As Director, Avenue Q, Annie, and yet to be done, Something Rotten.

7. Why do you feel theater is an important part of a community?

The theater has always provided a creative outlet for people to either participate on stage in or appreciate from the audience. The process of any production brings people of different backgrounds, talents, beliefs, cultures, and knowledge to work and play together in creating a visual experience from a bunch of lines on pieces of paper. The audience participates as well when it suspends its own sense of reality to allow the performers to take on various roles, whether serious or comical, to break out into song for no apparent reason and dance a number without necessarily moving the show the next logical point. Theater can provide solace and comfort during difficult times such as the one we’re presently experiencing. When this pandemic becomes part of our history, there will be more of a need to get back to the old brick building and put on a show! In fact, I am sure that there are future works being created right now that may someday be presented on the CLT stage that address the present state of affairs.

8. Will we be seeing you again in the future?

Well, before the pandemic hit, I was in line to be at the theatre for most of the next year. As soon as things get back to normal (in 2025?), I plan on being somewhere directing or behind the set, conducting.

Paul G. Caron (Director and Musical Director) with cast members of CLT's 2019 ANNIE!

I love Dunkin Donuts coffee. I have a coffee maker at home and rarely use it because I like DD better. I also try to be frugal because as a single parent with a child in college and another on the way to college, I don’t often indulge myself – but coffee is a must. Every mornin g I have a “Medium- Hot- Regular cream and sugar”.

$2.68 5x a week = $13.40 4 weeks a month = $53.60

But when I think about it, let me be honest – I will grab a cup on weekends also, and if heading to the theater for meetings or rehearsals, I will also grab one, so maybe that 5x a week (including weekends and odd meetings and such) is really closer to 9x a week.

That would make me $24.12/week, $96.48/ month on average.

$1,157.76/ year. No, I’m not writing a blog post about Budgeting, or about breaking my caffeine addiction. I’m writing this blog because of CLT.

I don’t think it’s outrageous for me to say that I may well be the longest continually active member of CLT, having moved here at age 7 and both my parents dived right in, having done theater both professionally and non-professionally for their whole lives. As have I now, and my siblings. During CLT’s 75th Anniversary Gala I speculated that I may well have spent more of my life in the actual CLT building than I have at my own home!

I was a part of the Auburn Parks and Recreation Theater (A.P.A.R.T.) with our dearly loved Judy Walker for 5 years (8-13) – along with some of our best and brightest now. I also taught dance for Lois Camire for years and we did all of our recitals at CLT; I was the building manager for about 5 years as a part time job which meant I was the technician for all outside groups as far as lights and sound, and also had the privilege of cleaning the theater including shampooing rugs and scrubbing toilets and making sure everything was stocked and garbage taken out. When Judy retired from the APART program she handpicked me to follow her, and I continued it for 3 more years till the funding was cut. That was every day from 9am-12pm in summer. When he Summer Youth Theatre started, I was a part of that program until age 22, and we literally spent almost all free hours at the theater as we were responsible for teaching ourselves how to build sets, hang and focus lighting, make props and costumes. We simply lived at the theater. I can’t tell you how many things I missed in school, dances, events, trips, because I’d rather stay and run spotlight, or be in a show, or run props. The things you love are important and the time given doesn’t seem a hardship. As an adult, I have directed a dozen shows here, not counting at other theaters and schools, and have choreographed countless more. The point being, I know this building like the back of my hand. Even to the point of a final, late-nigh walk through of the building the night before the entire west wing was demolished. So CLT is in my blood.

What’s my point? We have the ability now to be recurring donors to CLT, and I am one. (ONE OF ONLY TWO, BTW). Yes, I am a recurring donor, but I realized the other day - quite uncomfortably:

I give more money to Dunkin Donuts in a year than I do to Community Little Theater, where I was raised and formed and where I have raised my own kids.

I have very mixed feelings about this building – as no one has more reason to be sentimental about it than I do, but I am not. CLT is not about this building and if (god forbid) the building was gone tomorrow no one truly thinks the group would disband in our 80th year, after going 60 of those years without a building of our own. I feel at this point, when I am honored to be acting Executive Director for now, that we are in thrall to the building. Our money concerns are no longer about making sure we have the money to produce the level of shows we want, but rather to keep the building standing over our heads. Our workshops on auditioning and stage craft have given way to Community Days where we work on keeping the building façade from crumbling or making sure the basement is up to building codes. There has to be a happy medium.

At the upcoming meeting on March 9 – we have members coming as well as patrons and sponsors, all are invited, and I’m going to put out a contribution basket. Not for HVAC or Community Days, not to go for heating oil or plowing, but for PROGRAMMING. I’d like to get some performers in for concerts and events who are willing to split the door proceeds. Anyone who wants to perform, open mike, trivia, spoken word, let’s do all of those things, charge $5 at the door, one night only for each so as not to interrupt rehearsals, and the proceeds go to future programming. I’m going to call this CLT Spotlight, Let’s see the Groover/McClure Family singers! Let’s see a Trivia night with Nathan White! Let’s see spoken word, open mic, and sing alongs. Toss me your ideas when you toss $5 into that basket ;-)

I’m also going to put out a plea for donors and recurring donors. ANY amount is helpful if you love CLT.

Honestly, I felt ashamed that I pledge more to Dunkin than to CLT.

So I’m going to both ask and challenge people to sign up as a monthly donor:

$10 a month automatically on your debit or credit card. $120 a year (for reference we average about 40 people at our meetings, if everyone gave only $10 per month we’d have an extra $5,000.)

While I’m trying to literally put my money where my mouth is (thanks Dunkin!) I’m asking others to join me in putting our money where our heart is: be a $10/month recurring donor with me.

See you Monday night!

Eileen M. Messina and her daughter, Sophie.

Eileen M. Messina

Executive Director a L/A Community Little Theatre