FREEPORT – Having just signed the lease 10 minutes earlier, Jason Tardy, one half of the performance duo known as the Tardy Brothers, still isn’t sure how to turn the lights on in the former Freeport Factory Stage on Depot Street. After a few seconds of fumbling in the dark, a stage light comes on and Tardy takes a second to inspect the 99-seat theater.

“This is home,” said the 33-year-old Tardy. “My brother and I are really excited.”

The Tardys have named their new performance space the Freeport Theater of Awesome, and inherit most of the furnishings left by former tenant Bud Carlson, who closed the Freeport Factory Stage to take a position as general manager of the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theater.

Carlson said he has high hopes for their success.

“They are probably putting on a more accessible show than the Shakespeare productions I did,” said Carlson. “The Freeport area is hungry for family-friendly entertainment. There’s a huge market and they have the perfect venue and act.”

The Theater of Awesome has its grand opening this weekend with a show they call “AudioBody,” a performance that draws inspiration from the mixed-media styling of the Blue Man Group but with LED lights, electronic jumpsuits, and other visual manipulations. Shows are Friday, March 8 at 7:30 p.m.; and Saturday, March 9, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.

The brothers stress they are family friendly but not strictly “family entertainment,” and offer a show designed for everybody.

The circuitous route home for Jason and his brother Matt, 31, has taken the Maine natives from the Oddfellow Theater in Buckfield to the White House lawn, with hundreds of stops across the country in between. Jugglers by trade, the pair are a highly in demand act for colleges, corporate events and, closer to home, L.L. Bean. They have been featured on the tabloid TV newsmagazine “Inside Edition” and racked up enough glowing reviews nationally to finally be able to cherry pick when and where they will perform.

After growing tired of performing 135 nights a year on the road and both with young families to raise, the brothers realized they needed a permanent location in Maine. A simple search on the classifieds website Craigslist produced just what they were looking for: a small theater in a heavily trafficked town with a lack of evening entertainment options.

“It was too perfect and we were familiar with Freeport, having performed at Bean’s many times over the years,” said Jason Tardy.

The brothers, who reside in Turner, began performing in their early teens under the tutelage of Michael Miclon, a well-known variety entertainer who operated the Oddfellow Theater in Buckfield. Jason Tardy, then 13, started off by juggling scarves and then bean bags until eventually mastering the classic cylindrical clubs most people are familiar with. He had a natural aptitude for the skill and his passion caught the interest of his brother, who joined in an early incarnation of the Tardy Brothers.

“We loved it, it was a passion for us,” said Matt Tardy. “We just wanted to be on stage and perfecting our art constantly.”

Both Tardy boys graduated from high school one year early to pursue their craft, and spent a few years in Maine perfecting their act. After Matt met his future wife in Rochester, N.Y., the duo moved to the area for five years until they began to tour nationally.

“It started out in Ohio and then the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas,” said Jason Tardy. “A lot of colleges coast to coast. Wherever they pay us. I think we’re up to 30 states now.”

Eschewing the services of a full-time agent, the Tardy brothers are self-represented and handle most of the booking on their own. It’s a straight-ahead, occasionally cold-calling style that eventually landed them at the White House for the annual Easter Egg Roll on the famous lawn of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

“This was when George Bush the second was president. We called the White House switchboard and said we were interested in performing,” said Matt Tardy. “They said, ‘Sure’ – after a pretty extensive background check.”

At the White House Easter Egg Roll, the brothers found themselves in the unlikely position as the opening act for teeny-bopper sensations Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers. Even with the president of the United States reportedly in the vicinity, the brothers were most honored to meet Sesame Street’s Elmo and, of particular excitement, David Newell, better known to millions of children as Mr. McFeely, the intrepid delivery man for “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.”

“He walked backstage into our dressing room and yelled, ‘Speedy delivery,’” said Matt Tardy. “He was really cool, such a thrill.”

The appearance brought an unexpected level of notoriety after the brothers were told by the White House that they could not perform with knives, a staple of their act. A casual mention of this to a reporter brought the attention of the Associated Press and eventually the producers of “Inside Edition,” who booked the Tardy Brothers as a ratings draw for their allegedly “banned by Bush” juggling act.

“It wasn’t technically banned. They just suggested we not throw knives around a lawn full of children. Totally reasonable,” said Jason Tardy. “It was great to be on TV, though. I think they followed us with a cat stuck on a tree or something as equally ridiculous.”

Both slight and lanky with what could only be described as a perfect juggler’s build, the brothers engage in a steady stream of fraternal verbal riffing that shares a spiritual kinship with the Smothers Brothers, minus the yo-yo’s.

The duo will still continue to perform outside of Maine, but “for the right price,” they said.

Jason Tardy admits he wants to recreate the intimacy of the Oddfellow Theater, but sees distinct advantages to being in Freeport.

“There really wasn’t a place to go in Buckfield, so you came to see the show and that was it,” he said. “Here people can go to dinner, go shopping, and have a reason to stick around. We can also draw on our local fans that have been with us from the beginning”

The performances, slated for Friday and Saturday nights with a Sunday matinee on tap for the summer, are a welcome addition to the downtown according to Freeport Economic Development Director Keith McBride.

“Having a later night option for locals and tourist is only going to enhance Freeport,” said McBride. “When the sun goes down, it’s a great reason to stick around.”

“People can come here and not worry about the show being appropriate,” said Matt Tardy. “It’s always going to be appropriate, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun.”

Matt Tardy, left, juggles with his brother Jason at their new permanent space on Depot Street in Freeport. Their first show is Friday night.   
The Tardy Brothers – Jason, left, and Matt – on the White House Lawn after performing at the annual Easter Egg Roll in 2006.   

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