The roots of the Maine Drama Festival can be traced to the formation of the NE Drama Festival in 1929. That year seven schools responded to the invitation to come to Pawtucket, RI. In 1930 eleven schools entered plays, and in 1931 there were twenty-one. With interest increasing, the directors involved decided to begin individual state festivals in order to choose two entrants from each state to participate in the New England Festival.
Photo by Rick Kimball
When individual festivals began in 1932, Morse High School principal, Arthur Scott of the Maine Principal’s Association (then the MSSPA) and Professor Stanley Smith of Bowdoin College administered the first, with Regionals at Morse, Winslow and Orono – and the finals in Bowdoin’s Memorial Hall. From a pool of approximately 25 schools, South Portland High School and Hebron Academy were eventually selected to advance to New Englands.
With the exception of 1943 when WW II forced a cancellation, the Maine Drama Festival has continued uninterrupted for over 50 years. From 1935-1966, Bowdoin’s Director of Dramatics, George Quimby, devoted himself to the coordination of the Festival. When he retired, administrative duties fell into the lap of the Maine Principals’ Association Drama Committee.
In 1970, the Maine Drama Council was formed. Its membership made up of directors participating in the annual Festival, the MDC assisted the principals with the administration for the first few years until 1977 when the State Principal’s Association chose to leave the NE Council and to divest itself of all NE- sponsored activities. The MDC requested that they be able to run the entire Festival with continued financial sponsorship by the Principals’ Association. This arrangement existed throughout the 1980’s, while the number of schools entering continually increased. Following a marathon 1987 state finals of 14 plays, a three-tiered system was instituted in 1988 where seven Regionals selected three representatives each who competed at two “semi-finals” – each choosing five schools to go on to the finals. The advantage was that more schools advanced to a second level, but the disadvantages of scheduling an additional weekend and other complications never gave this format a chance.
With the number of schools in the Festival increasing, administration became more difficult. Traditionally, the chairperson of the Maine Drama Council, with input from the MDC Governing Board (then six, now twelve members) handled the selection and assignment of sites and judges. In 1990, the principals hired a coordinator to assume administrative duties. At the same time, the MPA decided that the three-tiered system was not successful and instituted the current system of two divisions with small or new programs in Division 2 and the well-established ones competing in Division 1.
Currently, the MPA Drama Committee, the Festival Coordinators and the Maine Drama Council work together to produce the annual Maine Drama Festival and Competition involving nearly 80 schools and over 2000 students each year.
Some information from “A History of the Maine Drama Festival” by John Stuart III (UMO 1976)