As the 50-year-old Hackmatack Playhouse gets set to raise the curtains on a summer production that celebrates family, art, and community, principles the rural theater has upheld since its founding, the Guptill family is announcing this will be the final season of theater at its Berwick, Maine, farmstead.
S. Carleton Guptill opened the theater in 1972 with a production of “Ten Nights in a Barroom” and the playhouse will close with a production of “Smoke in the Mountains,” featuring a handful of the hundreds of actors who have performed on the stage in a barn during its five decades.
Since the early 1900s, summer-stock theater has had a rich history in rural American culture as a place for young theater professionals to showcase their talent in pastoral settings for visiting urbanites.
“A half-century of live theater is a significant accomplishment” said Michael Guptill, executive producer of Hackmatack Playhouse and Carleton Guptill’s son. “We are proud to have been a part of rural Americana, creating a place where Maine farmers, future Broadway stars, touring folks from away, and even a former U.S. President could all be a part of the summer-stock experience.”
Hackmatack Playhouse is uniquely located in a converted dairy barn on the Guptill farmstead, which has been in the Guptill family since the late 1600s. Guptill recalls that his dad, Carleton, while pouring cement for the theater floor, tinkered to get the floor pitch just right. Knowing very well that as much as there needed to be a slight incline for stage viewing, there couldn’t be too much incline. His zany idea to convert the long standing dairy barn into a live theater venue could have well been a flop and the pitch still needed to make it possible for the return of the cows, and the flow of their manure.
In 1972 Carleton was a beloved history teacher at Oyster River High School in Durham, NH with a passion for theater, community, and the arts. Always whistling a tune or making up a jingle, Carleton left teaching to spend the remaining years of his life committed to his backyard theater; entertaining its guests, and creating a rare and special space for the arts; an unconventional dream that became a continuing legacy even after he passed away in 1995. Carleton would have been ecstatic to see his theater go on for 50 years, a tradition carried on by his family and theater professionals from the greater seacoast area and beyond, who have contributed to the theater’s genuine charm and authentic spirit.
During 50 years of musicals, light operas, and plays, Hackmatack has continued to accomplish the goals laid out by its founder, Carleton, to be a theater that advances the arts in rural Maine while providing affordable entertainment for families and visitors. The theater has produced hundreds of musical shows and plays and has been a quintessential slice of Maine summers.
David Kaye, a former artistic producer of Hackmatack Playhouse, remembers fondly the years he spent involved in the theater.
“They say nothing lasts forever, but when it comes to Hackmatack, I am reminded of playwright William Saroyan, who, when the end was near, was quoted as saying ‘Everybody has to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case.’” Says David Kaye, who is now a UNH Professor of Theater, “but in reality, Hackmatack is an exception and will indeed live on. The hundreds and hundreds of actors, the tens of thousands of audience members, will forever keep fondly a magical moment of summer theater in that old barn alive and well in their hearts. I know that will be the case for me.”
Hackmatack Playhouse will celebrate 50 years of live theater in one of America’s most unique summer-stock venues. It will continue to share the values of what has made Hackmatack a community pillar for the arts for half a century with the production of “Smoke on the Mountain,” which runs from July 29 to Aug. 20.
“We welcome new guests,” Guptill said, “along with patrons of the arts, community members, and long-time friends for one last summer night of music, laughter, and charm inside Carleton’s homegrown playhouse.”