Randy Jackson is not the kind of person who can sit back and wait for others to take action to improve the Katahdin region.
That’s why the former Millinocket councilman bought a long-vacant downtown building last year. His dream was to bring some culture to the old town of mills by transforming the property into a 48-seat performance space.
Called the Boreal Theater, it held its opening event last month with a small jazz band and a sold-out crowd. The idea is for the theater to become a space that regularly hosts concerts, plays, art exhibitions and other events.
“Millinocket needs culture,” Jackson said. “A city without culture is a city with an empty heart.”
The Boreal Theater is part of the work Jackson and others in the Katahdin area are undertaking to help transform the area into a tourist destination, allowing its communities to thrive again and attract residents year-round.
The theater building, at 215 Penobscot Ave. in the city center, was built in the 1940s as a haberdashery, according to Jackson. It later housed a clothing store, a card store and a lawyer’s office, but had been empty for 15 to 20 years when Jackson bought it last year.
“It had been closed for many years,” he said recently. “There was no heating, no electricity, no water. It was in a hell of a state. »
Jackson handled most of the renovations himself, bringing the building to life, both inside and out, as a performing arts space.
To help support the theater, Jackson created two retail spaces. They are occupied by Yum Bake Shop, owned by John and Maria Rowe, and the Katahdin Gear Library, a program of the Millinocket Memorial Library that rents outdoor equipment including skis and bicycles.
From left, Boreal Theater board members (L to R) Randy Jackson, Renee St. Jean and Johnny Van Heest attend a fundraising event in support of the Blue Ox’s 48-seat venue at Millinocket. Théâtre Boréal drew a sold-out crowd for its first event last month. Randy Jackson purchased and renovated an empty building to create the 48-seat venue. Credit: Courtesy of Randy Jackson
In addition to creating performance space, Jackson said he also wanted to protect the green space next to the building, which was included with the purchase of the property. He didn’t want a developer to buy it and asphalt it or use it to expand the building.
The theater received a $25,000 grant from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation in Freeport, which was used for renovations. The council is now working to raise approximately $110,000 for lighting and sound equipment. A recent concert at a local bar raised $700 for this cost.
Millinocket’s Brenda Angotti retired last year after teaching music at Millinocket schools for 35 years and now sits on the theater’s board of directors.
“Schools do a great job of teaching the performing arts, but once kids graduate there aren’t many opportunities for them to perform,” she said. . “We are quite isolated here. Few children have the opportunity to attend a Bangor Symphony Orchestra concert or a Penobscot Theater production.
Angotti’s personal hope is that small groups of musicians will visit schools and then perform at the Théâtre Boréal. She also hopes those interested in theater will use the venue to present small-scale productions for adults and children.
“It’s an intimate space that might be better suited for that sort of thing than the big school auditoriums,” she said.
The space is also available for art exhibits, educational programs and functions, and as a community meeting space. Rental information will soon be included on the theater’s website.
The word boreal refers to the northern regions, including the forest regions of northern Eurasia and northern North America.
For more information about the Boreal Theater, visit borealtheater.org or call 207-560-5256.