Friday, March 7, 2014
By Juliana L’Heureux
Biddeford's fourth annual Spring Festival – La Fete du Printemps – will kick off March 23 with a performance by Josee Vachon at Biddeford City Theater on Main Street.
Susan Poulin, left, John Maxson and Rhea Cote-Robbins in Biddeford.
The weekend-long Franco-American cultural festival will include live performances, cultural presentations, literary readings and youth involvement from Biddeford High School and St. James K-8 students.
“We want to provide cultural programs to attract Franco-Americans from throughout Maine to our activities,” said John Maxson, president of Societe St Jean Baptiste De Bienfaisance and one of the festival organizers. “Our momentum for the programs is picking up speed.”
“I love doing this for the community," Maxson said.
La Fete du Printemps was the featured subject of an episode of “Our Town,” a community access cable TV program hosted by Roger Hurtubise, of Biddeford, to be broadcast several times leading up to the festival’s weekend events. The episode includes Maxson and two festival performers, playwright and actress Susan Poulin of South Berwick, and writer Rhea Cote-Robbins of Brewer.
Poulin will perform her original play “Pardon My French” on Saturday, March 24th at 7:30 p.m. at Biddeford City Theater. In the autobiographical play, Poulin describes her often humorous journey attempting to reconnect with her primary French language, which she spoke until she was 3 years old. Every tutorial aid and gimmick available were used by Poulin to help recall the French she once knew, even hypnotism. Eventually, her dialogue closes the loop by connecting her primary French language to her heritage.
To research the play, Poulin returned to her birthplace in Jackman to ask her aunt questions about the family’s history. Her queries brought out stories she previously never knew about, especially how her grandparents moved from one place to another in Maine to find work in the mills.
“Like every family, my own is full of wonderful stories, but we have to ask the questions to find the information,” she says.
Cote-Robbins recalls speaking French with her family who lived in the Franco-American section of Waterville called “Plaines.” She is author of “Wednesday’s Child,” a memoir about growing up Franco-American. She’s the editor of “Canuck and Other Stories."
At the festival, Cote-Robbins will be among authors reading their work at North Dam Mills and she will also exhibit her hand-made collages at Biddeford’s MacArthur Library on Main Street. Each collage is an original composition designed around a Franco-American cultural theme. For example, one theme is a tribute to her mother, who worked as a quality inspector in Waterville’s mills.
Maxson is particularly pleased that young people are involved in the festival. Biddeford High School students Victoria Eon and Ben Cote wrote a bilingual play, "Generations," that will be performed Sunday by St. James School students. High school students are also organizing a Franco-American food exhibit.
The festival will close with an encore presentation of “Generations,” followed by an old fashioned soiree where participants are encouraged to bring their own instruments.
For more information, and a schedule of events, go to www.lafeteduprintemps.org