Friday, March 23, 2018

Black Box Teens brings focus to local teens

In a time when we hear more and more stories about kids in trouble, the Schoolhouse Arts Center is endeavoring to bring focus and direction to local teens through participation in community theater.  
The Schoolhouse Arts Center, a local community theater and educational organization, has occupied the old Standish high school building since 1989. Over 15 years ago, they converted a large second-floor room into a small theater space to supplement their main theater which seats almost 150. This small secondary theater was intended to accommodate smaller audiences for one act plays, stand-up comedy shows, and kid’s plays.  

A small stage was built then the walls and floor were painted black. It became known as the Black Box, referring to the type of venue it was expected to become. But the Black Box saw little use except as a rehearsal area when the main stage was in use.

But in 2015, a few of Schoolhouse’s teen-aged performers re-discovered the Black Box and decided that it would be a perfect forum for them to develop skills - not only in performing but organizing, directing and presenting their own shows. They revived a theater club for teens known as the Black Box Teens, originally formed by Francine Morin in 2013. They converted the old Art Room into a Green Room (dressing room) for future Black Box performances and painted folding chairs black to create a more professional look in the underutilized theater space.  

But, this was just the beginning. Their long-term plans for the Black Box included lighting and new risers. But those plans required additional funding.

In March 2016, the Black Box Teens organized and produced their first fundraiser which was a cabaret-style show called “Truly Talented Kids”. The show was a great success and generated more interest and support for the teen program. One by one, new teenagers heard about Black Box Teens and joined the group. They began recruiting the support of adults who were impressed by their enthusiasm for the project.  

In 2016 Board President, Cristina McBreairty took on leadership of the teen program as the group began to focus on their long-term goals. When a new lighting system was purchased for the main theater, the old lights were committed to the Black Box. The teens’ enthusiasm for their Black Box Theater became even stronger.  

Local director Jerry Walker was impressed with the enthusiasm and determination of the Black Box Teens and helped them design a new floor plan for the Black Box. In January 2017 the original small stage was dismantled, and lumber was re-used to construct risers. This would enable the theater to accommodate larger audiences. Eventually permanent theater seats, which the Schoolhouse has in storage, will replace the folding chairs. Throughout the project, the Black Box Teens pulled nails from old lumber, helped assemble the new risers and repainted everything black. The new layout provides more flexibility for the space and comfortably seats about 60 people.  

Many of the Black Box Teens have grown up in acting classes and shows at Schoolhouse Arts Center. In addition to their work on the Black Box Theater, many have taken on more challenging roles in recent main stage plays like “Brighton Beach Memoirs”, “Beauty & the Beast” and “Peter Pan”. As their confidence on the stage grew, it led to a desire to learn more about directing, costuming, props, lighting and other technical aspects of theater. 

When the Black Box Teens are not on the stage, they are often seen at the back of the main theater running the lighting and sound systems. They help paint signs, build sets, organize props and assist with costuming for the main stage shows.  

In 2018 the Black Box Teens spent January and February planning their third annual “Truly Talented Kids” show. They conducted auditions and selected which acts they felt were best for the show, as well as organized rehearsals where more experienced members helped new teens understand how to polish their performance skills. The Black Box Teens wrote scripts for their show narrators, Josh Macri and Reid Anderson. They choregraphed dances and organized props and costumes that would be needed for their various acts as well as painted signs for the show and even designed and printed programs.  

“Truly Talented Kids” will be performed on March 30 and 31 in the newly restored Black Box Theater. Board member Danny Gay recently installed theater lights in the Black Box. This will be the Black Box Teens’ first time that “Truly Talented Kids” will be performed with the new lighting system.

The Schoolhouse Arts Center takes great pride in the Black Box Teens.  But they admit that its success is mainly due to the energy and enthusiasm of the teens themselves.  “All that we did was provide them with a place where they can focus their energies and build their own dreams” says project sponsor Cristina McBreairty. “Then we just step back and watch the magic happen.”
In an age when we are bombarded with stories about teens in trouble, this is a refreshing success story of kids on a mission. The Black Box Teens are a beacon of hope for all of us to believe in.  Given the chance to excel and express themselves, our teenagers are capable of wonderful things. They will always be “Truly Talented Kids”. 

For more information about the Schoolhouse Arts Center or the Black Box Teens, please contact Cristina McBreairty or Black Box Teens’ teen advisor Ashley McBreairty at

A group of people standing in front of a crowd

Description generated with very high confidence
Truly Talented Kids 2017

Local Christians seek understanding of Jewish tradition with an Interfaith Passover Seder by Lorraine Glowczak

The Windham Area Clergy Association (WACA) sponsored an Interfaith Passover Seder on Sunday, March 18, hosted by Faith Lutheran Church (FLC) at 988 Roosevelt Trail in Windham. The Jewish Seder was led by Rabbi Emeritus, Joshua Chasan, of the Ohavi Sedek Synagogue in Burlington, VT.
Rabbi Chasan leads the participants in song.

Rabbi Chasan, who now resides in Portland, led 63 Windham area Christians from area churches in
the Jewish ceremony. Participants included members of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Windham Hill United Church of Christ; as well as members from FLC as they joined together to seek understanding by celebrating a Seder meal together.

Seder is a Jewish ritual feast celebrated on the first day of Passover that includes activities such as reading, drinking wine, telling stories, eating special foods and singing. It marks the anniversary of the Jewish exodus from Egyptian slavery more than 3,000 years ago and, as a result, the theme of the interfaith Seder was, “A Celebration of Freedom.”

Unfortunately, many people today across the globe still face oppression and some current Jewish Seder traditions recognize that fact. “Seder is about welcoming the stranger,” Rabbi Chasan explained. “There are people living in Maine who have made their own exodus from tyranny and violence to find their freedom here. To celebrate together like we are doing today is wonderful for our time, because what is at stake for us at the moment - not only in the U.S. but all over the world - is the existence to be free. Violence and hatred undermine our freedom. All of us [Jewish people and Christians] need to come together like we are now with this inter-faith Seder event to celebrate and love one another.”

Ur'chatz or washing hands is part of the Seder ritual
This happens to be the mission of WACA. Since its reorganization last year by Father Tim Higgins, Rector at St. Ann’s, the association has been focused on creating opportunities for people of faith in Windham to come together for worship, prayer and song.

“Each congregation that belongs to the clergy association has taken a turn hosting a special service,” explained Pastor Jane Field of FLC. “An interfaith Seder held during Lent seemed like a gift we at Faith Lutheran, could offer the community. Our church's deep commitment to hospitality, inclusivity and interfaith dialogue made it a natural fit for us. We, at Faith Lutheran and many Christians everywhere, have deep respect and reverence for our roots in Judaism. Jesus was a deeply faithful Jewish man whose last supper before his death was a Passover Meal. Even though the Seder Passover ritual was developed centuries after Jesus was alive, participating in a Seder is one way Christians can remember that the Last Supper occurred during Passover. During Lent (a season Christians are observing right now), we prepare for Holy Week when the Last Supper is commemorated on Maundy Thursday. This year, the Jewish holy days of Passover will begin on March 30 which overlaps with the end of Holy Week for Christians.”

Pastor Field also stated that the clergy association invited Rabbi Chasan to lead the event because seeking to understand a religion different than one’s own is ethical and respectful. She said that it is important to ask someone of another faith to introduce their rituals and traditions. To do so prevents the possibility of perpetuating stereotypes, fostering misunderstanding, or potentially offending those of other faiths.

“Imagine if roles were reversed: Christians would be offended (and rightfully so) if a Hindu, Muslim or Jewish congregation ‘borrowed’ our communion service and held their ‘own’ eucharist using our sacramental liturgy, bread and wine,” Pastor Field explained. “Having someone who practices the faith lead you, answer your questions, and represent that faith tradition gives everyone the chance to learn accurate information, develop mutual and trusting relationships based in respect. In the case of a Seder, it is always best for Christians to be the guest of a Jewish family at their Seder - which is usually celebrated at home - but when that is not practical or possible, then inviting a Rabbi (or a Jewish person well-versed in the tradition) to preside for a group of Christians is absolutely essential.”

The celebration of singing and eating together with the desire to understand the Jewish Seder ritual was enjoyed by all who attended the event. One such person was Paula Smithson from Windham Hill UCC. “The whole experience of the Seder was wonderful,” Smithson began. “The history, the music, the Jewish traditions were all new to me and I am thankful to the Faith Lutheran Church and Rabbi Chasan for providing such an educational, fun time.  And, the fellowship of different churches in Windham coming together is a breath of fresh air. I wish to thank all those who worked to put this together.”
The idea of reaching across human made boundaries to get to know one another more profoundly
provided the thirst to learn more. Curiosity was on everyone’s mind - wondering if the Seder feast would happen again next year. “We haven't had the chance to talk about next year, yet,” began Pastor Field. “But several people did seek me out as they were leaving to say that they really hoped we would have another Seder next year. It certainly would be our honor at Faith Lutheran to welcome Rabbi Chasan back, and to open our doors to people of faith here in Windham who are eager to experience the sacred tradition of an authentic Seder meal.”

Rabbi Chasan sees no issue in the coming together in such a manner with each individual holding a different perspective in regards to truth. “The problem is in ‘triumphalism’ - those who believe they own the corner on truth,” he stated. “No one owns the whole truth.”

As a result, he was pleased to have been invited and asked to lead the Interfaith Passover Seder as well as to be among people of other faiths. To WACA and all those who participated, he offered, “Thank you for respecting the Jewish tradition with your Seder. I am deeply honored.”

Friday, March 16, 2018

Windham Center Stage production of “Willy Wonka Jr.” delightfully whimsical by Elizabeth Richards

At the box office I was handed a golden ticket, which I took as a sign that the Windham Center Stage performance of “Willy Wonka Jr.” would be a fun and engaging experience from beginning to end. I was not disappointed. 
Willy Wonka played by Maggie Hancock

My experience wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to the concession stand, which was laid out like an amazing sweet shop displaying a wide range of Willy Wonka style treats. This elaborate set up was a preview of good things to come - the sets throughout the show displayed the same whimsy and attention to detail.  

The first act moved quickly through the familiar story, introducing Charlie and his family, along with each golden ticket winner. Each character was portrayed in a way that highlighted their unique personalities and allowed the audience to fully understand them. The costumes and props nicely enhanced each scene, and the energy from each performer made up for the fact that at times it was somewhat difficult to hear from my position in the back. intermission, Act Two launched into the tour of the chocolate factory, moving from scene to scene with seemingly effortless set changes. The scenery showed great attention to detail, evoking the excitement and wonder that the tour participants were feeling - and the message each received when disobeying the rules. The show stays true to the original story while moving swiftly through each child’s challenges.  

The choreography was complex enough to be engaging and fun to watch, but simple enough to be well executed by the ensemble. The hard work and dedication of each and every cast member - as well as the adults who worked with them - was evident throughout the show.

“Willy Wonka Jr.” is an ambitious production and the Windham Center Stage didn’t disappoint! The show will run on weekends through Sunday, March 25th, with performances on Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.  Ticket prices are $10 adults, $8 students and seniors. Tickets can be purchased online at or at the door.

“Like Summer in a Jar” – The Maine-Tex Grilled Salsa story by Lorraine Glowczak

Bryce grilling tomatoes for the salsa
If there are individuals who can capture the spice of life in a jar, it is Windham residents, Stephanie Lay and her 17-year-old son Bryce, co-owners of Maine-Tex Grilled Salsa. The Lays, despite overwhelming odds and intense life challenges have found the recipe to success. 
If you have followed their story since their entrepreneurial endeavor began in 2014, you already know the details. Their salsa business – along with their unique lives – have been captured by local and national publications and television stations. And, as of this printing, the Lays are preparing for a documentary that will appear on Netflix. 

If this is the first you’ve heard of them; their story goes something like this:
Stephanie Lay of Texas, a single mother, discovered that her 2 ½ year old son had autism. “At 11:38 a.m. on Dec. 5, 2002, our lives change,” Lay recalls the day Bryce was officially diagnosed. 

Bryce’s experience with autism is on the “painful” portion of the spectrum. To express his frustration, Bryce would slam his body and head against walls, often creating holes in the walls at home. “He has hit his head against the wall, on average, 25 to 30 times a day,” Lay explained. “I have repaired 36 holes in our walls in our home so far. I have become quite good at sheetrock repair.” The anti-psychotic meds never seemed to help Bryce with the self-harming behaviors but more about that later.

A display at the Falmouth Hannafords
The Lays moved to Maine in 2007 with the inheritance her father gave to her. “I worked and lived in Maine in the mid-1990s, and I was impressed with how supportive people here were with one another. Being a single mom with a genetic history of cancer, I wanted to move to a place that was progressive and supportive, due to the fear that I could face the same genetic outcome that my mother and brother faced (both passed away from various forms of cancer when Stephanie was young). I have no immediate family that can be there for Bryce if I were to face my own cancer and mortality. I wanted to prepare him for a successful life alone in a supportive environment that I didn’t necessarily find in my home state of Texas.”

But it has often been stated, life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans. The inheritance that Stephanie was expecting to assist her in building a new life in Maine was quickly taken away, legally, by a former wife of her father, leaving her and Bryce in a financially stressful situation.
In addition to taking care of her son whose needs required her constant attention, Stephanie underwent a double mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She also had to have reconstructive surgery on her breasts while protecting Bryce during his self-harming episodes. She did get the gene for cancer, but she has been cancer free for five years. Between the costs of anti-psychotic meds to help Bryce and her own health issue, she was unemployed and penniless.

Having come from a wealthy family of hard-working entrepreneurs, being destitute was a first for Stephanie. “My grandfather, Buford Lay, is the third cousin of Herman Lay of the Frito-Lay business. Buford owned a machine making factory that made machines for companies like Frito-Lay.” 
Mom and son show their three salsa varieties

Stephanie’s father, a hands-on businessman, figured out how to repair those machines, writing “How To” guidebooks on restoring and refurbishing the aging machines. “My father would come home at the end of a long day with grease on his hands and face,” Lay recalls. “Then on the weekends, he would golf at the local country club. He was all hands-on and down to earth while at the same time, hanging out with the jet-set crowd on the weekends. Our lives were blessed.”

This is where Stephanie takes a deep and thoughtful breath. “I’m the first member of my family who has been on welfare. It has been the darkest period of my life,” she reflects on a time not too long ago. But Stephanie is one who takes the positive high road. “Now, I am thankful for what my dad’s former wife did because it has prepared me to be where I am now.”

“I have been making salsa for 14 years.” Stephanie began. “Bryce loves grilling his own dinner, so one day I added vegetables to the grill for my next batch of salsa. I just happened to post a picture on Facebook of Bryce grilling the vegetables. A friend responded that I should create a business and ordered a jar of salsa. Two weeks later, I had 109 orders, a patent attorney, and Maine State approval for a residential kitchen.” 

Entering their fourth year, the Lays are having a hard time keeping up with the orders. The Maine-Tex Grilled Salsa products can be found at 21 Hannaford Grocery Stores with twelve more stores in the process of being approved. They also provide their salsa at sixty-two specialty shops, four hotels, two resorts and at St. Joseph’s College in Standish.

The Lays also have an order on hold from an out of state company. However, there is one detail that prevents that sale – a commercial kitchen.

“Our next step is to purchase a commercial kitchen,” Stephanie said. She is working with a business and life coach, Nick Kalogerakis, who once owned the Texas Roadhouse chain of restaurants. “He is helping me with a business plan and we are preparing to find funding sources for the next step. I started this company with just $100 in my bank account, so I have faith that all will work out just fine.”

Stephanie and Bryce before a dance
One would believe this story of mother and son would end here, but there is more. Stephanie has created the SPECIAL Foundation for Autism. This organization was created in order to advocate, educate and alleviate some of the stresses of raising a child with autism. The hope is to help parents in Maine navigate their way through therapies, medications, legal rights and financial problems. Lay, who has stepped back from her role on the foundation, which is now in the leadership of Board of Directors, gives a portion of the proceeds to the organization. The foundation creates ways to employ one-on-one aides to work with the people with autism. As her business grows, Stephanie plans to hire people with autism to make salsa.

Bryce is doing well now, refraining from self-harming episodes, having only about five in the past five years. “I had to do something different.” Stephanie explained. “I feared for his safety and the meds they were giving him were not working. For Bryce, medical marijuana brownies and Marinol have been his saving grace.”

Stephanie is also thriving as she writes her own life story. The book, to be titled, “Routine Interrupted (Autism, Cancer, Hospitals and other Adventures)” is currently in the process of being written and edited.

This mother and son duo has certainly found success in Maine-Tex Grilled Salsa – all with a few simple ingredients. But they also have found the successful ingredients to living life well in the midst of unbearable circumstances. Those ingredients are commitment, determination, grit and love – the true spices of life. help the SPECIAL Foundation for Autism fund work programs, one can donate on the organization’s website at To make a donation towards a commercial kitchen for Maine-Tex Grilled Salsa, go to