Posted by Tom Talbott
Introduced by PP Roxanne Cole, we welcomed Aimee Petrin, Executive Director, Portland Ovations (PO). Forewarning the club (and Program Reporter!) that she is prone to talking fast, she hoped to remember the advice of her mother: “Talk slowly, dear.” As Roxanne described, Aimee has boundless energy for the Maine-based not-for-profit performing arts organization, and it was clearly evident throughout her talk.
Aimee is not an actor or a musician. What she does - what she loves - is the connection of the artist to the audience. How the audience responds is the gauge by which all is measured. For Aimee, her left brain is creating events……her right brain is calculating how to manage a $2.5 million-dollar non-profit budget. It’s always “Mission vs Finances.” What is so impressive is the incredible logistics of organizing so many kinds of performances into an array of locations. Typically, an arts organization is going to have one venue to present their work, but PO utilizes all that the area has to offer. Performances are found from the Merrill Auditorium, State Theatre, Port City Music Hall, Westbrook Performing Arts to a host of smaller spaces. Naturally schools are popular locales: USM, SMCC, Bates, Bowdoin to name a few. However, there really are no boundaries or limits - community events have taken place at breweries, churches, supermarkets, and the JetPort! “Moments of accidental artists!”
So how does PO choose an entertainer or group to perform?  Quality, Quality, Quality! This has been the mantra since the organization started in 1931 by the Portland City Council. The goal has always been to see world-class performing artists and musicians, local to international, entertaining in Portland. Aimee reiterated that they seek programs that will resonate with the audience, and that means the diversity of the greater Portland population. A balance that brings a wide range of styles, from classical to contemporary is required.
PO aims to be more than just a “presenter,” simply giving a stage to a performer and standing off to the side. Aimee explained how they will work with an artist, “commissioning and co-commissioning” their work. By example, she spoke of Maine author Dan Sonenburg who composed the opera, “The Summer King.” This story of Josh Gibson, a pioneer of Negro League baseball, was first commissioned by PO at the Merrill, and then, with additional financial support from organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts, has been on a national tour. Another example was the world premiere of “Burnt-Out Wife,” a play written by Maine author Sara Juli, and readying now for a national tour.
Aimee strives to pull back the curtain, go behind the scenes, or go “beyond the proscenium.”  (The proscenium is the structure of a stage that frames the action of the performers.)  O2 “Ovations Offstage” takes performances literally off the stage and into new settings. She likened O2 to oxygen, breathing new life into spaces. A great example was taking over Portland’s famed Victoria’s Mansion, and placing different musicians in each room. If you stood in the center of the stairwell, all the individual sounds came together into one chorus. Aimee also described a Pied Piper street performance down Congress Street, as well as Bandaloop, a “vertical dance” group that brings dance to new heights - performing OFF the side wall of One City Center.  
Did you watch the 2018 Royal Wedding? Yes, said many to Aimee’s question. Did you attend?  No hands. Well you can get a taste of it this Nov 9th when the Kingdom Choir performs at the Merrill. Hear and see the performance of “Stand By Me” performed at the wedding that brought world-wide acclaim.
Our own Portland Rotarian, the late George Crockett, was instrumental in a musical event featuring the Royal Drummers of Burundi, an internationally acclaimed percussion ensemble from the East African country that borders Rwanda. Portland has a growing immigrant population from this area, and George made the necessary contacts and arrangements that brought together 300 local Rwandans for the show. It was a night of great celebration, and yet no photos were taken, for fear that if they made their way back to the homeland, relatives could be identified and tortured.
Where does Aimee see the next 10 years heading? She sees artists as “thinkers” who have a lot to say. Their goal is to spark dialogue. While this is not necessarily new, she does see performances being less staged, less formal in their presentations. Street performances, styles in the “O2” approach, using whatever platform or stage that suits the message will be more common. 
(Photo L-R: Mary Campbell, Portland Ovations Membership Director; PP Russ Burleigh; Aimee Petrin, Executive Director and Artistic Director of Portland Ovations and PP Roxane Cole.)