CARIBOU, Maine — A Caribou native and accomplished playwright is determined to give local children the musical theater experiences she never had growing up in the small town of Aroostook County.
In a county that stretches over 6,672 square miles, only three high schools — Houlton, Presque Isle, and Fort Kent — offer theater clubs. Similar programs have become a rarity in elementary and junior high schools as shrinking budgets mean that academic, athletic and operational spending is prioritized over the arts.
Such is the case in the Caribou School District, which disbanded its high school drama club in 2013 and has never offered a year-round drama program for preschoolers through 8 students.
That’s why CHS graduate Darci Faye has re-established the only non-school children’s theater company in Aroostook, known as Broadway Kids in The County.
In a small but spacious section of 7 Russ St. — a building that partially houses the office of a real estate management company — Faye set up a mini rehearsal studio with individual rooms for vocal and dance practice, group numbers, and to house costumes and props.
Here, 22 performers from first through seventh grade are rehearsing for the musical “Honk Jr,” which they will be performing this weekend. The kids, mostly from Caribou and nearby towns, received their scripts via video after the audition and only met Faye a few days ago.
If the past week is any indication, Faye may have found the next generation of artists from her hometown.
“We started practicing on Sunday and the kids already knew their lyrics and the songs,” Faye said on Tuesday. “I gave them 30 minutes to learn each of the dances, but they only learned them in 10 to 15 minutes each. We’re already practicing the whole show.”
Faye founded Broadway Kids in 2017 and has directed several theater camps, musicals and Broadway revues at the Aroostook Center Mall in Presque Isle. Her venture came after studying dramaturgy in New York City for several years and seeing one of her plays nominated for five awards at the city’s Planet Connections Theater Festival.
Broadway Kids initially met with moderate success, with at least a dozen children performing regularly, but struggled to attract Presque Isle students who already had other theater opportunities within the school district.
In 2019, Faye left Aroostook to attend graduate school in television writing at Boston University, pausing Broadway Kids for several years. Upon her return in 2021, she was determined to revitalize theater opportunities for local children.
The theater company charges fees for participation in the programs.
Although Faye used her high school’s drama club, she said that earlier involvement in theater would have sparked her interest more.
“I was in New York City as a kid and loved everything about it. It’s still my favorite place,” Faye said.
Caribou is a long way from Broadway, but Faye and a dedicated group of former artists and volunteers from Fort Kent to the north and Easton and Mapleton to the south hope to inject a little New York spirit into the county’s youth.
For Presque Isle’s Mia Brewer, 15, Broadway Kids is her way of giving back to a program that has given her newfound confidence.
Brewer began performing with Broadway Kids shortly after Faye started the program. At first, Brewer, who is autistic, was shy and reluctant to fully express herself. But Faye’s casting of her in a leading role resulted in Brewer becoming one of the most regular and outgoing actors of any production.
Most recently, Brewer had a starring role in her high school’s musical production, The Addam’s Family. She credits Broadway Kids with preparing them for bigger productions and is now giving back by helping Faye prepare props for “Honk Jr.”
Most of the students in Honk Jr. had never worked in theater before Broadway Kids, but many have already caught the theater bug.
“I love being on stage,” said 11-year-old Isabella Albert of Caribou. “I definitely want to do that again.”
So far, Faye’s work has paid off. Tickets for Honk Jr. are nearly sold out and she has already revealed plans for after-school classes, Broadway revues, musical productions and weekend Mommy and Me classes for the upcoming school year and summer of 2023.
Faye said she will keep Broadway Kids going as long as local families remain interested.
“It was great to see these kids blossoming already [as performers] and make friends,” Faye said. “Having our new home base in Caribou will really help us reach children who don’t otherwise have those opportunities.”