What-You-Can, for the Fam’

By Dagney C. Ernest | Mar 20, 2019
Kattam and His Tam-Tams offers hands-on experience with the percussion instruments of Africa, the Middle East and India.

Rockland — The Strand Theatre became a nonprofit five years ago and, under the direction of Jessie Davis, began working with Midcoast schools in addition to screening films and presenting live music for the community at large. On Friday, March 22, that endeavor adds a new component: Pay-What-You-Can family performances.

Opening the Strand Family Series will be Kattam and His Tam-Tams, a Montreal-based artist who spreads the rhythms of Africa, the Middle East and India all over the world. Kattam Laraki-Côté uses a wide variety of hand percussion instruments, and a shoulder-sitting monkey, to share his own Moroccan heritage and more. His hour-long show starts at 6:30 p.m. Friday. The price? A Pay-What-You-Can sliding scale ticket of $0, $5, $10 or $20.

“It's up to you, and there's no restrictions on any of those tickets — it's all general admission,” said Strand Education Program Coordinator Brittany Parker.

The idea is that folks who can afford a higher ticket price can choose one with the knowledge that by doing so, they're helping subsidize someone who may not be able to afford it.

“We just wanted to make sure that the shows were accessible to all income levels,” Parker said.

The series’ shows are underwritten by Rockland Harbor Hotel, the pharmacy at Pen Bay Medical Center and The Riley School. So why not offer free admission?

“We wanted to try out this structure, because I think it's important to say that this experience does have monetary value,” Parker said. “But we also understand that that's not possible for everyone right now.”

Parker is a theater-making and musical artist herself, a familiar face to Strand audiences from her appearances with MDI’s Barn Arts Collective and her own Bee Parks and the Hornets. When her time Down East was coming to an end, she spoke with Davis and one thing led to another.

“I let her know that I was making this change and was looking forward to what was next and it got us talking about, well, what if the Strand were next,” Parker said.

Since becoming executive director in 2015, Davis had introduced education programs that brought students from a host of Midcoast schools to the theater for free matinees, as well as bringing visiting artists to the schools. Since last fall, Parker has been giving the education and family initiative more structure.

“For instance, we sent out a guide to educators this year to let teachers know which programs they could take part in, and they just email me to sign up. We have 15 schools around the area that will be attending our student matinees,” she said.

They include Islesboro Central School, where Kattam and His Tam-Tams — the latter a reference to the weekly drumming picnic in Montreal’s Mount Royal Park — will spend a day this week with the island school’s sixth- and seventh-graders. The next day, ICS will join some seven other schools for a free student matinee.

“For some schools, it's the fifth-grade classes, and for some it's the second grade or the seventh grade, so it's all across the age groups,” Parker said.

The geography is broad, as well. Parker contacted RSU 13, MSAD 40, the Five Town School District and St. George MSU about the new Strand Family Series, but any school — or homeschool collective — is welcome to participate, at no cost. Visiting artists in the series commit to three events: a school visit, which may be a meet-and-greet or a workshop or even preparing something to perform; a free school-day performance at the Strand, to which students are bused in; and an evening public performance for families. The latter runs an hour or less and have the Pay-What-You-Can sliding scale admission.

“These are really meant to be an experience for families, something that Jessie has always tried to do, and that's important to me, too,” said Parker. “It's not just a show for kids, you know, it's a show that everyone in the family, no matter what age you are, can come to and enjoy and experience together. And then you can talk about it afterwards.”

The Strand Family Series is debuting with several shows over the next two months, but next year will take on a regular pattern of several shows spread over each half of the school year. After Kattam and His Tam-Tams (see the link below), the series will premiere a new show by Parker that was workshopped last year in Bass Harbor. “The Adventures of Miss Susan,” a multi-media puppet show, will be presented Thursday, March 28, at 6:30 p.m.

Inspired by a real librarian in Southwest Harbor, “Miss Susan” begins with Parker in the title role … until something shrinks the librarian down to the size of her beloved books.

“So then we work with very small puppets and use a video live feed to follow her adventures through the books,” said Parker.

Rather than schools, this production will partner with Rockland Public Library. Parker will bring the puppets to storytimes during the week, and the library will have books set up in the lobby the night of the show.

Next in the series lineup will be “The Magician’s Assistant,” a solo show by physical comedian Mélissa Smith, who helped Parker workshop “Miss Susan” and has been a regular Barn Arts collaborator. That show is set for Saturday, April 6, at 11 a.m.

“It is just a hilarious one-woman clown piece, she's amazing,” said Parker.

This school year’s series will conclude Friday, May 3, at 6:30 p.m. with Bee Parks and the Hornets, a high-energy pop-rock concert that inspires young people to get up and move. Parker, a composer and member of the Blake Rosso Band, combines her considerable musical and theatrical chops in this project.

The series opener will be setting the entertainment bar high. Parker said she first saw Kattam and His Tam-Tams at the International Performing Arts for Youth conference in Philadelphia. She described his concert as fun, interactive and multicultural. And while Kattam’s work is driven by hand percussion, he uses the 21st-century standby looper pedal to create intricate songs.

“You’re like, wait, there's just one person up there — how's he doing that? It's really going to be a blast,” she said.

For advance tickets and more, visit rocklandstrand.com or call 594-0070, ext. 3. To contact Parker about Strand/school enrichment options, send email to brittany@rocklandstrand.com.

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