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Connecting arts and culture with community.

The Waldo Theatre

 The Waldo Theatre is a world-class jewel in Midcoast Maine, approaching its 90th anniversary. Hannaford has supported The Waldo Theatre through the Hannaford Helps Community Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good Programs.

Tell us about The Waldo Theatre.

The Waldo is working to engage, enrich and entertain our community. We view our theater as more than simply a performance and movie venue. Through its programs, the Waldo seeks to enhance the region’s cultural offerings for its residents, particularly its youth, and improve the quality of life for all.

The theater began in 1935. A lumber dealer in New York City who had long-time ties to Waldoboro, Maine, decided it would be a great idea to build a state-of-the-art movie theater in Waldoboro. Because of his New York connections, he commissioned an architect named Benjamin Schlanger, who had contributed to architectural works like Lincoln Center, the Sydney Opera House and Radio City Music Hall.

They designed this building with a Greek revival front and an art deco interior. It was finished and opened in 1936, and the acoustics are excellent because of how well it was designed. At the time, it was considered one of the best small theaters in America. Since opening, the theater has been run sporadically. In 2006, the building was donated to the Waldo Theater Organization, which operated until 2014. Unfortunately, the operation wasn’t sustainable. Unoccupied, the building fell into disrepair; there were terrible holes in the roof and water leaks everywhere. It was placed on the list of most endangered historic places in 2017. To save this fantastic building, a group of local volunteers raised the money to preserve and renovate the facility to return it to an operable theater.

The vision is to build community through the arts in the greater Waldoboro area.

The renovation work was finished, and we were ready to open and start offering programming in 2020, just in time for the pandemic. Things, of course, were adjusted, and some virtual programs were offered. The renovation included a state-of-the-art digital projection system so that we could live stream. Finally, in 2021, we could schedule our first live performance since the building was repaired. Now we’re offering films of all kinds, including free family films on the weekends. The vision is to build community through the arts in the greater Waldoboro area.

What services do you provide to the community?

The Waldo Theatre offers all kinds of performing arts, films and art exhibits in our lobby gallery. Educational programs are a large part of the services we provide to our community. We are in the second season of offering programs both in school and after school. Our education director, Mia Branco, is a skilled and talented educator. She leads our small team conducting all the education programs, working in classrooms and getting kids engaged from grades 1 to 12 with theater education and acting classes.

This fall, we started offering after-school programs for kids. The enrollment and enthusiasm, along with additional grant funding, will allow us to continue and expand those programs. Our adult acting classes filled up very quickly. Workshops like these give everyone in the community a taste of how magical belonging to a theater group can be. 

What sets your organization apart from others in your community?

The theater looks to partner with the schools to bring extracurricular art activities to kids. Schools offer many sports opportunities, but many students aren’t sports-driven; it just isn’t their thing. It’s so interesting because there are many direct parallels between sports and performing arts. You’re working as a team with teammates. You must be good at your position and contribute actively. And you create bonds and learn to collaborate toward a common goal. Sports and theater are seemingly different activities with many comparable benefits to the participants. As long as every student can learn and play in a way that appeals to them, that is essential. We are here as a resource to provide in-depth performing arts experiences for those students who need something different.

Tell us a story that illustrates your organization’s good work.

As a community, we’re hungry, especially post-pandemic, for a collective experience connecting with others. An excellent example of that happened the Friday after Thanksgiving. We screened a sing-along to The Sound of Music, the classic 1965 version with the lyrics on the screen. Over 150 people attended, and everyone had an absolute blast, singing along and dressed up in costumes. We had incredible prizes for our costume contest donated by several local businesses. It was an inexpensive, fun and different event that was so well received that we’re planning to do the sing-along with Grease in May.

We also had an excellent sold-out performance a few weeks ago of Bass Extremes: Victor Wooten and Steve Bailey. They are incredible bassists and educators from the Berkeley School of Music in Boston. We partnered with the Midcoast Music Academy, who invited their students, along with the public, to attend a free Master Class prior to the performance, and over 90 people attended. Victor and Steve engaged the audience with discussions, demonstrations, and a Q&A. It was so amazing to see the level of engagement, not only in the master class but also in the performance itself.

The performance was a sellout, with nearly 300 in attendance. Seeing so many people come out for something as relatively obscure as bass players was terrific, and it excited me about the range of possibilities we have in front of us.

One of the things I plan to do moving forward is to reach out to the community and find out what people want to see. What will interest them and bring them out as we build our programming? What is the perfect combination of things we can continue to offer affordably to the community but compelling enough that people will come out to the theatre? It’s about finding the right balance.

What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?

The arts education initiative we’ve been working on is an enormous achievement. Over 70 kids in local elementary schools have been participating in our in-school and after-school theatre education programs. The offerings have been so well received by students and teachers that we are expanding from three to five in-school programs. To have a kid who’s shy or whose parents have tried with no luck to find something extracurricular their child will enjoy, try our programs, and then say, “I think I found my place,” is just great to hear.

What do you want people to know about The Waldo Theatre?

We are here, we are open and we want people to be involved; we want to cultivate community through the arts. We encourage everyone in the Waldoboro area to attend a performance or a screening, become members and volunteer. It’s not always about giving financially; it’s about being involved and giving your time, energy, ideas and enthusiasm. We have a small staff, and as we build our programming, we must also build our capacity. It takes a lot of effort, but it’s also a lot of fun. The Waldo Theatre is committed to keeping ticket prices reasonable and having a good range of interesting performances. Our goal is to engage, enrich and entertain the community.

We encourage everyone in the Waldoboro area to attend a performance or a screening, become members and volunteer.

How will you use the funds raised from the Hannaford Helps Community Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good Programs?

Although the theater has been renovated, we still have things to do. Some finances go to the theater maintenance. Most of the funds raised in the Hannaford Community Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good Programs will go to our performing arts programming. These funds will help with absolutely everything: theater engagement, education programs, maintaining the facility and overall helping to increase our capacity.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

The Waldo Theatre is available to organizations or individuals for private rental. For example, we’ve rented several times for birthday parties: they select the movie, and we take care of the projection.

We want to become a community resource, a gathering place and a contributor to the greater good of Waldoboro.

Susan Hodder is Executive Director of The Waldo Theatre.

Published January 24, 2023.