Maine State Museum combines history, tech and theater for students

Joanna Torow, Maine State Museum's chief educator, provides information to students from Rangeley Lakes Middle School.
Joanna Torow, Maine State Museum’s chief educator, provides information to students from Rangeley Lakes Middle School, who attended the performance by the Marti Stevens actors in the Malaga Island, Fragmented Lives exhibit gallery.

Thanks to Sheila McDonald, deputy director of Maine State Museum, for sharing this article with the Maine Department of Education for publication.

History, theater and technology recently converged in a lively program simultaneously involving eighth graders visiting the Maine State Museum’s Malaga Island, Fragmented Lives exhibit gallery and fourth graders at a remote site at Rockland’s South School.

At the core of the program was the museum’s exhibition, Malaga Island, Fragmented Lives, which shows historical artifacts, documents and photographs that recount the story of a controversial, poor, mixed-race community on Phippsburg’s Malaga Island and the State of Maine’s eviction of that community in July 1912. “The richness of this history, along with lessons about community values, economics, human rights, eugenics, and civic engagement, really inspired us to use the exhibition as a springboard to bring the story of Malaga Island to Maine schools in as many creative ways as possible,” said Maine State Museum Chief Educator Joanna Torow.

“Our first such effort came to fruition in a recent webcast featuring the Marti Stevens Interactive Improvisational Theater,” continued Torow. “The Marti Stevens actors used drama to portray historical Malaga Island residents and possible situations in their lives. The actors then presented conversation-starting scenarios and discussions that dramatically showed emotions, conflicts, attitudes, and motivations. Students were able to see and hear the real-life situations on Malaga Island in new ways.”

Seventeen eighth grade students from Rangeley Lakes Middle School traveled to attend the performance in-person in the museum gallery. Four of the students even performed with the Marti Stevens actors. “Overall, the students loved the whole experience,” said Kelsey Orestis, eighth grade language arts teacher at the school. “The kids who were able to participate in the skits were really taken by the whole thing.”

Twenty fourth graders from South School in Rockland also watched the performance and asked questions of the actors in this first-ever webcast from the Maine State Museum. The technical aspects of the webcast were coordinated by Maine Department of Education staff member Bob McIntire, who also volunteers with the Marti Stevens actors. Alan Fecteau from the Maine State Library provided technical assistance and equipment for the webcast, which was transmitted through the Maine School and Library Network.

The Maine State Museum plans to repeat the program for more classes in March and May.  Information about these performances and webcasts from the Malaga Island, Fragmented Lives exhibition gallery are available on the museum’s website or by emailing Joanna Torow at

In addition to the webcasts, the Maine State Museum is offering in-gallery programs about Malaga Island to visiting school groups, as well as a wealth of teacher and student resources available on the museum’s website.

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