Creation Completed reunites to save Opera House

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NORWAY — One is a local medical doctor. Another an educator at an international school in South Korea. Others are a former music teacher, a Harrison selectman and a retired postal worker.

But in the late 1960s, they were young musicians tearing up the stage at the Norway Opera House. They covered 1960s British and American rock groups, such as The Animals, Vanilla Fudge and Jefferson Airplane.

They called themselves Creation Completed.

Now, almost 50 years later, Alan Bean, Bill Holden, Rob Baker, Dave Ryerson, Karan Shaw Bracy and Annie Somers have reunited for a one-time street dance to raise funds for the Norway Opera House renovation project.

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The street dance will be held in Town Square across from the Opera House on Main Street from from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29. Tours of the Opera House will be provided prior to the street dance from 5 until 6:30 p.m.

The band is expected to draw Oxford Hills high school alumni and others from New England and beyond. It will feature songs from the set lists it played in its heyday.

The concert will help offset the estimated $4 million cost to renovate the second-floor performance space at the 1894 Norway Opera House, now owned by the Norway Opera House Corporation. Corporation officers say the majority of the money for the project will be raised through grants and state and federal historic tax credits, but about $1.5 million must be raised through local donations.

Although the event is free, donations are requested to help with the restoration project. Vendors for the dance are also encouraged to apply for permits through the town.

For decades, the Grand Ballroom of the Opera House was the center of Norway’s social events, such as dances, plays, graduations and military ceremonies. But following years of neglect, the building fell into disrepair. In September 2007, water from a broken sprinkler pipe partially collapsed the roof and poured through the building, destroying several first-floor stores. The horn of the building’s decades-old Gamewell fire alarm blasted over and over.

The building, which stands at the heart of the National Historic District, was wiped out. The two remaining first floor retail stores and a restaurant were vacated. As the sheer magnitude of the situation became evident over the following months, the building was cordoned when officials feared it might collapse under the weight of snow.

It took another six years, a $200,000 donation from Selectman Bill Damon and his wife, Bea, and prolonged court action by the town to reclaim ownership of the building from a mostly absent owner. It also took a $1 million-plus stabilization and renovation effort to bring the building back to life.

It now sports upscale first-floor retail shops and there’s community-wide determination to ensure the building’s survival.

“It seemed pretty majestic. Larger than life,” David Ryerson of Oxford said as he recalled attending dances and other social events in the building. The member of the Class of 1972 once owned the Colonial Coffeeshop in the Opera House.

The reunion has brought back memories for all band members.

“I remember playing ‘House of the Rising Sun’ in the first set at the Opera House and being nervous, my first time on a real stage and such a big room,” said Annie Somers of Vermont, a 1974 Oxford Hills High School graduate. “We were playing for a dance of fellow classmates, many of them older than I was, and many whom I didn’t know.

Somers, who initiated the reunion, was the youngest member of the band.

“I remember hoping that I wouldn’t make a mistake,” she said. She wore a miniskirt, her brother’s new off-white shirt and a red overshirt that she secretly borrowed from him.

She had just graduated from eighth grade at Oxford Hills Junior High School in Paris when she signed on to the band.

Somers said she first heard the band when her oldest brother brought band founder Alan Bean home. Her mom allowed him to blast his electric guitar in the living room.

“Alan played ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ and ’25 or 6 to 4,’ loudly. It made a big impression on me. I’d never seen a lead guitarist play live before,” Somers said. “We were lucky in how supportive our parents were.” 

Her dad let Creation Completed practice at his large electronics factory on Alpine Street in South Paris on Sundays.

“We could make as much noise as we wanted to there,” she said.

Her dad helped the band build speaker cabinets and he bought Somers her first keyboard.

“I had to pay 20 percent of what I earned at gigs back to him to learn responsibility,” she said.

When the band wasn’t practicing at the factory, they were often at Bean’s parent A-frame house in North Norway.

“It was out in the middle of a field, no one around anywhere. We set up on the deck and played outdoors to the whole view and sky. Total freedom to be as loud as we wanted. I think we liked loud back then,” she said.

Bean, Class of 1970, owner of Baked Beans Recording Studio in Harrison and a medical doctor, remembered the first time he played the Opera House.

He was 6 years old and a kindergarten student at Norway Village School when he danced with an opera troupe on stage.

“When I heard the applause, I was hooked into a lifetime of performing,” Bean said. “I performed in annual minstrel shows throughout elementary years and played summertime dances with our band in the late 1960s.”

He went on to be a lead guitarist with Iron Horse and played with Molly Hatchett, Lynyrd Skynyrd, .38 Special and Garajh Mahal.

Bean wasn’t the only one to be smitten by the Opera House.

“I remember playing several times in the Opera House and have clear memories of attending dances and listening to bands there as a young aspiring musician,” said Andy Whitney. He joined Creation Completed as guitarist in 1971 when Bean went away to college.

Now headmaster of an international school in Seoul, South Korea, and summering in Harrison, his job required him to return to Seoul before next week’s performance.

Most of the band members recently had a chance to go into the Opera House with Brenda Melhus, a member of the Opera House board of directors. It was both fun and humbling, they said.

“I have so many wonderful memories of the Opera House,” said band member Karan Shaw Bracy, Class of 1971 and a Cape Neddick resident. “It was quite painful to see the condition that it is in now. It just took my breath away and brought me to tears when I saw it recently.”

Bracy, who works as a special education tech for the York School Department and has continued playing in bands with Holden and others, said she is looking forward to the reunion.

“I truly hope that we can help to raise some money to put toward bringing the Opera House back to its beautiful self so that others can enjoy and can have the wonderful memories that I have,” she said. “It has been a blast to get together with Creation Completed members. I have to say that we are sounding pretty darn good, and I hope that lots of people come and enjoy listening to a blast from the past.”

The band has created a GoFundMe page at www.gofundme.com/norwayoperahouse to raise more funds for the restoration project. With a donation of $200 or more, donors will be buying a seat in the 
balcony, said Opera House Corporation member Brenda Melhus. The donor names will either be on the chairs or on a wall plaque depending on the type of chairs purchased.

Tax exempt donations can also be made on the Norway Maine Opera House website: www.saveouroperahouse.org or checks can be mailed directly to: Norway Maine Opera House, PO Box 271, Norway, Maine 04268.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net

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