Deertrees Theatre, “the playhouse above Harrison,” celebrated its 80th year with a 1930s-themed anniversary reception and variety show attended by 130 supporters.

“I grew up as a child coming to Deertrees Theatre, and it changed my whole view of life,” said board President Kathleen Leslie, dressed in period attire. “This just expanded my horizons.”

“Tonight is a celebration and a thank-you,” said Andrew Harris, artistic and creative director. “We’re trying to recapture moments that probably played out here.”

“Memories about the building continue to flood in year after year,” Harris added, introducing two men who were part of the Deertrees community in the 1950s.

“I had the greatest summer in 1950 that I ever had,” said Gerry Smith, who was a groundskeeper and janitor at Deertrees for $35 a week.

Allen Denison laughed about getting a bit part in a play in the 1950s despite his heavy Maine accent, since all other boys in the area had the same one.


In addition to the personal memories, the birthday bash was a musical walk down memory lane with performances ranging from opera to a barbershop quartet, from Broadway to ’70s hits.

“Eighty years is a long time to be a working theater,” said Susie Pepper, who wowed the anniversary audience singing Broadway tunes. “It’s a great thing to be able to continue the tradition.”

The dressing room walls have autographs from performers from over the decades, including the golden years of 1939 and 1940 when theater producer Bela Blau bought a different Broadway cast to Maine each week.

“Every time I walk in the door with my band, I feel a warm welcome, not only from the people who are here, but also the ghosts of the performers who have been here,” said singer-songwriter Don Campbell.

Deertrees was built on an old deer run in the Lakes Region, and, in its early days, the back of the stage could be opened up for a truly authentic forest backdrop.

“When they did a pastoral opera, you could see outside,” Harris said. “Rumor has it that the barn doors at the back were the inspiration for the final scene of the 1954 film ‘White Christmas.’ ”


By the mid-1980s, the building was abandoned, and the local fire department was considering burning it for practice. But a small group of people bought the property for a dollar, began renovations and, by 1990, had reopened the theater.

“It was a real labor of love to see how far it has come,” said historian Nancy Eaton. “It’s enchanting. And the buildings are all wood, so the acoustics are extraordinary.”

“It’s so rustic, it feels like music belongs here,” said pianist Kelly Muse.

“There’s a lot of history,” said former employee Emily Kenny. “And every year it’s getting better.”

Deertrees had its biggest summer season yet, with 42 different performances in eight weeks.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer from Scarborough. She can be contacted at

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