David Hanright, left, and Steve Burnette on the stage of their new venture, Maine Repertory Theater in the Pepperell Mill Campus. (Abigail Worthing photo)

Maine Repertory Theater is the latest arts endeavor to put down roots in Biddeford, right in the heart of the city’s downtown in the Pepperell Mill Campus.

Organizers of the company have taken a relatively blank canvas and have embraced the space to create an atmosphere that feels both upscale and intimate.
Maine Repertory Theater was founded by Steve Burnette and David Hanright, both of Saco, who wanted to open a space that would nurture creativity and offer something new to the growing local arts community. The company, which will begin its inaugural year focusing on sketch comedy and improvisational comedy, will offer shows on Saturday nights at 7 and 9 p.m.
“I want people to have the option to do something different. If you have relatives in from out of town, and you want to go out and see something, we want to offer something that isn’t defined by the title of the show,” Burnette said. “I want this to be something that, no matter when you come, there is something good to watch.
Burnette and Hanright are no strangers to local theater. Hanright is the theater teacher at Thornton Academy, and Burnette has previously served as executive director of City Theater for three years.
Burnette has dreamed of opening such a company for a number of years and looked at different venues before finding the mill space in April.
“Dave and I have been emailing about this since 2016,” Burnette said. “I’ve been looking everywhere from Portsmouth to Freeport, trying to find the perfect spot.”
After signing a lease, Brunette and Hanright had to wait a couple months before they could physically move into the space. While they waited, however, Hanright took time to build a model of the space to find the best way to set up and use what they have to work with.
The stage and chairs are set up to nurture an intimacy with actors, with chairs set up curving around the stage in a semi circle, cradling it. In front of each two chairs is a table so guests can enjoy snacks while watching a show. Between support beams at the back of the audience, Hanright will install bar tops to add to the total number of seats in the house, which will be 60 when the bars are completed. To enhance the theatrical aesthetic, harsh fluorescent lighting has been replaced with industrial overheads and large black curtains cover the floor to ceiling windows during a show.
“I’m 6 foot, 6 inches tall, so I tend to design everything with lots of leg room and space in mind,” Burnette said.
A particularly interesting part of the layout of the space is the flexibility of the floor plan, down to even where the stage will be placed depending on the show.
The stage is made of moveable pieces, so while the current configuration lends itself to the sketch comedy the theater will focus on at first, the pieces can be moved to the opposite wall, flipping the space to an area conducive to a theatrical production.
“We want to make sure we can get the most use out of this space and not get tied down to just one format,” Hanright said.
“Without Dave, I wouldn’t be here. He’s good at everything. You can give him a problem or an idea and he’ll find a way to execute it,” Burnette said.
The improv company that will be housed in Maine Repertory Theater is called The American Chamber of Comedy, which finally has its full cast after auditions last week on Nov. 8, and had its first rehearsal on Nov. 12. Hanright, who teaches theater at Thornton Academy, will also be a member of the American Chamber of Comedy, which will be directed by Burnette.
The ensemble also features Dennis Hunt, Doni Tamblyn, Nathan Greene, Meredith Lamonthe-Brustlin, Tuck Tucker, Sam Kuykendall and Mary Boucher.
The company will also host a series of comedy classes, titled “Laugh You,” which will offer classes in three age groups: seventh and either grade, high school and adults. The workshops will meet for 90-minute sessions once a week for five weeks. Registration for the classes is available now until Nov. 17.
“The great thing about this being just our company, without a board of directors, is that we can try out as many new ideas as we want,” Burnette said.
“Sometimes they’ll be hits, but sometimes they won’t, but we’ll be able to make changes and try something new every time we fail. We don’t want to get too tied up in what we want. We want to listen to what the people like, and adapt accordingly.”
Although Maine Repertory Theater is a not a nonprofit, the company will focus on giving back to the community with every performance. A suggested donation of canned goods will be collected with ticket sales for all performances, and the company will donate 2 percent of ticket sales to Habitat for Humanity York County, and another 2 percent to Volunteers of America – Northern New England.
The first performances will be held at 7 and 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30 and will continue to host shows every Saturday after.
For more information about Maine Repertory Theater, visit mainerepertorytheater.com.

Comments are not available on this story.