'A Christmas Line' at Exeter High Dec. 21 and 22

"Everything is great, going to be great - great," Joe Meallo says in a slightly higher register then usual. He's speaking from the road, a passenger in a friend's car after his "truck blew up." His destination: rehearsal for "A Christmas Line: A Musical Theater Parody and Christmas Extravaganza" (Dec. 21 and 22; Exeter High School Auditorium) The show is the inaugural production of DownStage Centre, the company Meallo and Rachel Neubauer launched shortly after the demise of Patrick Dorow Productions.

It's the growth of DSC that Meallo wants to talk about. The company has secured space for the start of its awaited school programming.

In January, DSC will take up residence at Natural Fitness Solutions, Rte 236, Elliot, Maine, "with lots of classes and a slew of teachers, which is exciting."

Classes will include dance: hip hop, ballet, tap, jazz, theater dance (all levels), lyrical contemporary and Zumba. "So we're shifting into a full dance studio on a smaller scale."

Adult classes in jazz and tap are set for Saturdays. "I love teaching adult dance, it's so much fun," Meallo says. "They don't know what they are doing, but love that it's healthy for them. It's amazing."

Neubauer will teach technical theater, "all elements: theater design, lights, sound, costumes, sets, and the tech aspects."

The longest class is "Acting for Musical Theater" geared toward teens. "We'll explore comedy and drama without the pressure of a show ... that 'learn lines, get off book and you're on stage,'" he says. "It's a non-stressful time with the kids."

Classes start mid- to late-January. A landline is being installed this week, and the website should be ready for registration by the time this prints (Downstagecentre.org).

DSC is also prepping for January auditions for a Teen Musical, (title TBA) held in May.

"We're excited about the space. ... the owners Marcia and Gano Adair are wonderful people," Meallo says. "It's only seven miles from the Portsmouth Traffic Circle, 10 minutes from Portsmouth High. ... It's going to be great."

Truax is Maine's first Beat Poet Laureate

Tammi Truax is the state of Maine's inaugural Beat Poet Laureate, an honor bestowed by the National Beat Poetry Foundation.

The organization contacted Truax and asked if she would accept the two-year position. She was bestowed the title in September.

"It feels wonderful," Truax says. "Recognition is always real nice."

Truax came to the attention of NBPF for her work with Jazzmouth, a former poetry/music festival in Portsmouth, hosting Beat Night for a time, and for organizing and MC'ing the NH Beat Poetry Festival in 2015.

"It's just an honor," she says. "And in turn, a laureate always wants to promote, in this case, particularly, beat poetry to the general public."

The writer is still mulling projects, but is leaning toward hosting another festival, similar to the NH Beat Fest, "except on this side of the bridge."

Truax has "another little bit of exciting news" to share. "For to See the Elephant," her first novel, in verse, was selected by Tom Holbrook as one of two books set for traditional publication through his Piscataqua Press in 2019.

"It's a middle grade/young adult novel," Truax says. "It's a historical novel based on the history of the first two elephants to come to the U.S., and much of that happens to be local history."

A poem from her upcoming book Is featured in the current "PORT smith Journal." (More Truax at http://aintiawriter.blogspot.com/)

And next? "I will be working to get this adult novel written I've been working on for 10 years out into the world. ... It's all done and I'm shopping it around," she says. "I've been working really hard these last few years."

Library's Wizards Ball a success

If you missed the Portsmouth City Library's "The Wizards Ball" on Dec. 7, you missed what might have been the event of the year.

"It went really, really well," Public Programming and Community Relations Librarian Laura Horwood-Benton says. "It was after hours. ... We used all the space, transformed the entire library."

The event featured Hagrid's Hut, and How to Tame Your Inner Werewolf in the Shrinking Shack with Professor Lupin. There was a live Whomping Willow "complete with pool noodles," and the entire non-fiction section was transformed into the Forbidden Forest." Lots of characters appeared, including Professor Snape ( New Franklin Librarian Julia Buck) who proved very successful.

The staff was prepared for 500 to 600 people, Horwood-Benton says. "We had a huge crowd at our previous Potter day in 2016. We knew that Harry Potter has a lasting appeal with all generations, doing anything around the book gets huge numbers."

They were right, and lost count at around 1,000.

"Luckily it was an all-hands-on-deck event," she says. "The vast majority of staff was there and so we could handle the crowd smoothly."

Remnants of the event linger through the end of the month: large portraits of "Potter" characters by John Paul Marmonti on display and a glass case featuring a engaging magizoology display by Reference Librarian Robyn Nielsen "with hand-painted dragon artifacts and ... yes, a bowtruckle."

The city can expect another Potter-themed event in the future, "but it may not be next year, due to the amount of staff time that goes into these events," Horwood-Benton says. "We need to take a break to focus on other things. ... But we love Potter as much as the public does, so we'll definitely do it again."

The upcoming January programs include (but are not limited to) the exhibit "Ten Piscataqua Photographers" and the "highly popular Foreign Policy Discussion Group."

"And we're already starting to gear up for our summer reading program which will be space-themed."

Soldati leaving PHS post

Portsmouth Historical Society Executive Director Kathleen Soldati is leaving her post at the end of the month. Soldati took the position in June 2015.

"I feel like I was able to take the great work Mary Ellen Burke did ... and build on that," Soldati says. "We brought in a stellar staff, and I think we did great programming, with the Tarbell and Fiske exhibits and we've expanded our walking tours; they're now daily. ... I just think it is a very exciting time for the organization."

Also during her tenure, the PDC expanded its third grade Portsmouth History Program to include all city schools. The center also signed contracts with the city for a 50-year lease, and for Portsmouth 400, an upcoming city-wide celebration. "So I feel like I really helped the organization prepare for its future."

"And now what do I want to do? I still want to work, but ... part-time, and find something where I'm not in charge," Soldati says. "I'm in conversation about a number of different things. I hope in the near future to make a decision."

And when not working, "I'll relax. I have four children and three grandchildren," she says. "Literally what I'll do first is fly out to Los Angeles Christmas Eve, and see some of my kids and grandkids."

Actress Carly Souza is back

Carly Souza's last performance in a play was in 2014, in the Back Alley production of "The Vagina Monologues" until recently. She's back, and she's racking up credits as fast as she can.

While Souza was appearing in "Gift of the Magi" at The Players' Ring, she was rehearsing for "The Christmas Carol," which followed at the same venue.

"Yup, they were back-to-back - abutted one another," Souza says. "Yah, that was crazy."

It's been a lot of work, she adds. "But I've found I really enjoy it. What I'm finding is that I can have a long day at work, or just be in a grouchy mood. ... But once I'm at the show and out there, it feels good."

Souza was on stage more in the past, back at Portsmouth High School and later at area venues. Then her studies heated up – a bachelor's degree in Psychology; a 2012 master's degree in Social Work and LICSW (licensed independent clinical social worker) – and left little time.

Also, there was a bit of self doubt.

Performers are often uncertain of their skill, add that to rejections and you question yourself all the more, she says. "That was true for me. and that's part of why I didn't pursue theater for a while."

Luckily, she got a handle on it, inspired by a book by Chrissy Metz of "This is Us," "a plus-size powerful goddess," earned her LICSW, and is working for a clinic that allows a flexible schedule. So, she's back.

Souza has already penned in the next project. She'll perform as Chiffon in Dive-in Productions' "Little Shop of Horrors," directed by Marina Altschiller, at the Hatbox in Concord in April.

"My plan is to continue performing. I came from a family of performers and musicians," she says. "When I wasn't (acting), I felt I wasn't really reaching my best and highest - my soul work - which I think this is."

'Abby Holidays' Dec. 23 in Portsmouth

Abrielle Scharff's "Abby Holidays" at The Book and Bar marks the young musician's first time as music director. "I plan on it being a definite event to remember," Scharff says of the event that will take place Sunday, Dec. 23 at 7 p.m.

"I did a Christmas show last year with me and one other musician," she says. "I thought, while planning this year's event, ... it would be much better if I had all the people in my life that do music so well ... contribute."

So she put together a roster of a "few" friends and family members, that includes her uncle and dad, the Scharff Brothers, Suzie, Fiona, and Ariana Scharff, Julius LaFlamme, Emily Garcia, Sam Robbins, Max Grazier, Annie McLean, Lily Byrd and Zoe Sprankle.

"My little sister (Suzie) and I will be performing 'Silver Bells,'" she says. "Our grandmother, Carol Richards, it's her you hear singing on the original recording with Bing Crosby." (https://www.facebook.com/events/2221773298034955/)

Jeanné McCartin always has her eyes and ears ready for local gossip at maskmakernh@gmail.com.