Judy, Mickey, Susan, Dean, and the Boothbay Playhouse

Posted Wednesday, June 8, 2011 in Culture

Judy, Mickey, Susan, Dean, and the Boothbay Playhouse

The Boothbay Playhouse, located on Route 27 in Boothbay.

by LC Van Savage

BOOTHBAY – It’s not exactly a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movie with them shouting, “I know, kids! Let’s put on a show! We’ll use the barn in the back!” But it is maybe, with a few small differences, just a little.

Susan Collins Domeyer had a great job in New York City in the first half of the 1980s.  She was born in Illinois, came to The Apple, became a designer and illustrator of paperback book covers, and she was very good at it. Susan Domeyer, you see, is an artist, the kind who sells paintings, the kind of artist people like because they can understand the paintings and get their messages. 

“I had a relative who lived here in Maine,” says Domeyer, “and I realized I could really live anywhere and do my work because ‘Express Mail’ – which is now called ‘Overnight’ or ‘Priority’ – was available, so I could send in my work easily.” 

“So in 1985 I came to Maine to see that relative and like thousands of others who’ve come here, fell immediately in love with all of it; the coast, this area, everything Maine. I decided to move up here for one year because back then, I loved moving around and living in different parts of the country. I wasn’t married, I had no reason to stay anywhere, but it didn’t take any time for me to know that I loved Maine and didn’t want to leave. I stayed in a little rental place out on Southport Island for three years, got a dog, stayed another year, and then my golden retriever (Curry) needed some medical work done. I took her in to see the local veterinarian and the local veterinarian was Dean.”  

Did bells and whistles start blasting through Susan’s head? “Not at first,” she smiles. “But there was an 'aha' moment when we really noticed each other, and the rest is history." They married in 1991, and now are the very proud parents of daughter Devin, 15, and son Cole, 18.

Susan and Dean Domeyer

Susan and Dean Domeyer

Their two kids had gotten involved in theater arts through the YMCA program, which would rent the existing BB Playhouse, to put on youth productions, one or two a year. 

“I was involved for about two years when the playhouse went on the market,” says Susan. “Dean and I realized it could be lost as a theater forever. We thought about buying it but it just wasn't practical for us.” 

In the meantime, Dean’s office downtown was becoming too small, and he began looking for someplace nearby to build a new animal hospital. The Playhouse property included a large empty lot, and when they realized that it would be the perfect site for the new animal hospital, everything began to fall into place. “Was I sitting home thinking ‘Gee, I guess I’d like to buy and run a summer music theater’?  No I was not, but things were beginning to kind of click together, then even more together, and we made the jump.  Dean built a new hospital and I took over the Boothbay Playhouse.” Suddenly, Susan was a theater owner. It's the biggest, hugest job she ever had and likely ever will. It’s 24/7. “I think about the theater and what needs to be done all day and I dream about it at night,” she laughs.

Even with her past experience at the Boothbay Playhouse, she really had no idea what was coming. The building was built as a theater in 1937, and it ran as a theater until 1975. Then it was a bar, then Miss Daisy’s Petting Zoo, a stable (the stalls below the theater have been turned back into dressing rooms) and a venue for weddings. "I still get a lot of calls for that,” Susan laughs. “No, we don’t do weddings!” 

Has the Boothbay Playhouse always been called by that name? “The name did change a little over the years. Oddly, the place was built as a theater, became a barn and then came back as a theater again.”  After so many incarnations, The Boothbay Playhouse is solidly named and has become solidly attended.

“Maybe it was a good thing that Dean and I didn’t know all there was to know about running a summer theater,” says Domeyer. “I honestly don’t know if we’d have taken it on.  I did have one very experienced person to go to for advice: Ginny Bishop. If I hadn't known that she was committed to working with us I don't think I could have envisioned doing it. She has directed most of the shows we have done to date."

The young Domeyer family has made the wonderful old place sing. They fixed, they painted, they tore down and built up. They had to learn the business from the ground up with few to teach them. They bought the barn aka zoo aka bar aka playhouse in November of 2005 and put on their first production the following June, “Annie Get Your Gun.”

“Scared? When the lights came up for the very first time on our very first performance, I was panic-stricken,” says Susan. But the show went off without a hitch, and with a very few hilarious exceptions, the plays have been hitch-free ever since.

Dr. Dean Domeyer built a spanking new veterinarian’s office and surgery next to the playhouse, the Boothbay Animal Hospital, so the couple can see each other often, when there’s time. And that’s the key word: “time.” This couple works year-round for their theater. Dean works hard at the playhouse with Susan when he’s not on duty, with his partners tending to local creatures with problems. He’s a sleeves-rolled-up kind of guy, and takes on any job needing doing, and that includes acting, and soon, singing in the upcoming "eusical the Musical."  (Yes, he had to audition just like anyone else.)

Susan Domeyer has no wish to ever take on an acting role at the playhouse. “No,” she says emphatically. “I’ll do anything else, but perform? No.”

In the weeks before a play is set to run, it is quite astonishing to watch Susan Collins Domeyer stand in one of the Playhouse’s huge rooms off to the side of the theater with literally hundreds of costumes hanging from racks, with all the actors lined up ready to get costumed. Up until this time, Susan has spent more hours than she’d ever be able to count online and chatting with costume people from everywhere to get all the costumes ready for the actors – who come from all over the U.S. Some stay at the cast house, located on the Playhouse grounds. These resident actors get summer jobs in Boothbay during the day and perform at the Playhouse in the evening. Other cast members drive from the surrounding communities to be a part of the productions.

Cast House

The Cast House

Susan, who seems to never get rattled and who does have a well-developed funny bone, calls each of her actors by their names, never forgetting any of them. She reaches into that morass of costumes, pulls out the exact one, tells the actor to go try it on. They do, they return, they are set up with a seamstress employed by Susan and alterations are discussed. And best of all, they all get done in time for the show to start. When that gang of hopeful Thespians appear on the stage of the Boothbay Playhouse, there are no crooked hems, no unironed shirts, no “my-mother-made-it-just-last-night- at-our–kitchen-table” look. Costume, make-up, lighting, sets – all are as dazzling and accurate and brilliant as a Broadway show would be.

Will you be expecting to see Susan peeking from the side curtain? Don’t bother to look. She’s in a small room off to the left-hand side of the stage, where, like an octopus on steroids, she is running the lights, answering whispered questions, sneaking looks at the house – all this after she’s spent the previous weeks calming jittery actors, running the box office, repairing everything, designing and painting sets, finding props, selling ads for the programs, cleaning the huge old theater including bathrooms, printing and cutting the tickets, printing and folding the programs, scraping gum from under the seats ...

gum sign

... paying bills, tending to her family, running her home, running this show all the while preparing for the next one, and thinking up shows for next year. But Susan will be the first to say and with true conviction, “We thought we could do this, we had no idea how much work and learning there would be, but you know that saying, ‘Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.’ ”  If that’s the case, then Susan and Dean Domeyer, despite the hours and hours, have not "worked" since they decided to purchase and renovate the marvelous old Boothbay Playhouse. 

“It did need a lot of renovations,” says Domeyer,  “We couldn't make it like it was in 1937, but we came as close as we could. We had to build risers to fix the audience sightlines, we built a raised stage, we tore down walls to bring back the wing space on either side of the stage, we fixed the 'fly system' so that we can raise and lower scenery, added a costume shop and props room, and in a nod to modern times we installed air-conditioning."

They did have some “maps” to follow. The interior of the building is covered with old photographs of the Playhouse during all its incarnations. One is compelled to stare at those photos, to compare, to feel pleased that the charming old place has remained the charming old place. Huge posters of upcoming plays adorn the walls of the lobby (referred to as the Gallery by the actors because of the paintings that often hang there). In the six years since Dean and Susan took over the Boothbay Playhouse, they’ve put on some pretty impressive shows: "Into The Woods," "Little Shop of Horrors," "The Secret Garden," "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," "Beauty And The Beast," "Honk," "Alice In Wonderland," "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."

They have created a magical place in Boothbay Harbor, and they’re turning people away. So many audience members are repeats that if Susan or Dean leave any of the little details out, (for example, at the start of the show where Susan plays scary music and raises the trembling, then shaking, impressive chandelier to get it out of the way of people viewing the play,) people will complain! 

I know the rules of feature story writing; writers are not supposed to write about his/her personal experiences with their subject. Balderdash. I want to tell you that I’ve been to that wonderful summer theater and it is quite simply fabulous. It’s warm and welcoming, the grounds are gorgeous, lots of parking, the whole ambiance is one of great anticipation, joy, the show starts actually on time, and everyone is clearly thrilled! The intermissions are long enough to get to the bathroom and back to your seat with no rush, there are good cookies for sale too and soft drinks, water, beer, wine and snacks, and new this year is Susan and Dean using a caterer.

My advice to you is to go there, see their marvelous productions, you’ll pay a tenth of the price of seeing it on Broadway and it’ll be just as good. Better! And I promise, everyone leaves the wonderful, enchanting Boothbay Playhouse happy, usually humming, singing or whistling the great tunes they heard.

Susan and Dean Domeyer put on the whole shebang, soup to nuts, nothing is overlooked. Judy and Mickey?  All they had to do was sing, dance and act. Susan and Dean? They do a whole lot more. Everything in fact. Go there and prove me right.

Here’s how you do it: 

Ticket Price:
Adults $20
Children 12 & under $17

Available at:
The Playhouse Box Office
(June - August)

Off season phone

2011 Schedule

June 23, 24, 25, 29, 30
July 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9
8 pm

One matinee
Saturday, July 2
2 pm

You don't have to be a kid to love it! Now one of the most performed shows in America, "Seussical" is a fantastical, magical, musical extravaganza! The composers, Tony Award winners Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, have lovingly brought to life all of your favorite Dr. Seuss characters in a show that took Broadway by storm. You will laugh, you will cry, you will cheer as the powers of friendship, loyalty, family and community are challenged and emerge triumphant.


July 13, 14, 15, 16, 19,
21, 22, 23
8 pm

One matinee
Saturday, July 23
2 pm

Nunsense became the second longest running musical in off-Broadway history. The plot lends for great laughs: Five out of 52 nuns remain alive at the Little Sisters of Hoboken, where their cook Sister Julia, Child of God,
accidentally killed the rest with her vichyssoise. Upon discovering the disaster, Mother Superior decides the convent will raise the funds needed to bury the nuns by putting on a show. What ensues is an audience-pleasing fun-filled evening filled with song, dance, and"the humor of the Nun."


August 3, 4, 5, 6, 11, 12,
13, 17, 18, 19, 20
8 pm

One matinee
Saturday, August 13
2 pm

Set in New York City, this romantic comedy is considered by critics to be the perfect musical. "Guys and Dolls" soars with the spirit of Broadway as it introduces us to a cast of vivid characters who have become theater legends.... Sarah Brown, the upright but uptight "mission doll," out to reform the evildoers of Times Square; Sky Masterson, the slick, high-rolling gambler who woos her on a bet and ends up falling in love; Adelaide, the chronically ill nightclub performer whose condition has been brought on by the fact that she's been engaged to the same man for 14 years; and Nathan Detroit, her devoted fiance, desperate as always to find a spot for his infamous floating crap game.


September 14, 15, 16, 17,
21, 22, 23, 24
8 pm

One matinee
Saturday, Sept. 24
2 pm

Diplomacy is complicated by romance, with lyrics and music by Irving Berlin. A musical comedy that pokes fun at politics - foreign and domestic alike. Ambassador Sally Adams (a role originated by Ethel Merman), with slim credentials, is sent off to administer in the tiny duchy of Lichtenburg. It's not long before her down-to-earth, typically undiplomatic manner has surprised and charmed the local gentry, which in turn catches the attention of the Prime Minister.







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