Cast and crew of “I Am Lewiston” receive a standing ovation after their performance at Olin Arts Center at Bates College in Lewiston on Wednesday evening. The show was presented by Tree Street Youth of Lewiston. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

LEWISTON — Talk about pressure.

Tree Street Youth Program Director Megan Guynes, left, gives Sulekha Abdow a high five to help pump her up before she went on stage to recite her poem “Anxiety and I” during Wednesday night’s production of “I am Lewiston” Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

Before the Tree Street Youth performers took the stage Wednesday night, the executive director of the program stressed the importance of the event.

“We are a representation to the world on what community should be,” Julia Sleeper-Whiting told the performers, sponsors, friends and family gathered at the Bates College Olin Arts Center. “This is personal. This is our home we’re talking about.”

And so began Tree Street’s fifth annual “I Am Tree” show, and if any of the performers had the jitters, it didn’t show.

“Not nervous at all,” said Hassan Hussein, who moments later would be doing a lively dance number in front of hundreds packed into the auditorium. “I like being on stage. I like chilling and having fun. I like being in front of people and doing what I like to do.”

Shafea Guhat didn’t look nervous, either, and it’s a good thing because the 17-year-old’s high-speed dance to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” brought the audience to their feet and filled the auditorium with thunderous applause.

Guhat would later perform a number with several smaller girls — the youngest just 6 years old — and the response was equally raucous.

More than a dozen individual and group performances highlighted the show, which was designed to serve as a fundraiser and community-building event.

“It’s a great opportunity to see the youth performances and to share in their artistic experiences,” said Paula Marcus-Platz, chairwoman of the Tree Street board. “It’s also an opportunity for the community to interact with the youth. We really try to bring everybody together.”

The event also features original artwork from the Tree Street youth. Those who performed onstage were more or less given free rein to express themselves.

“The kids pick the theme,” said Faye Luppi, vice chairwoman of the board. “They chose ‘I Am Lewiston’ because they wanted to showcase what’s good and what’s important about Lewiston.”

That theme became evident at once. One performance began with Nurto Ibrahim, a 2012 graduate of Lewiston High School, sitting down in a chair and describing the experience of a young immigrant girl coming to the city for the first time. Trouble speaking the language, uncertainty about the future, distrust of her peers.

When Ibrahim was finished, Rachel Desgrosseilliers came out and sat in a chair to describe the experience of a young immigrant girl coming to the city for the first time. As a girl, Desgrosseilliers spoke mainly French and, as it happens, experienced many of the same troubles Ibrahim had described.

Sulekha Abdow tries to stay calm as she waits to go onstage to recite her poem, “Anxiety and I,” at Olin Arts Center in Lewiston on Wednesday night. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

Both women ended their performances by high-fiving one another and declaring “I am Lewiston” into their microphones. It was a declaration that would be repeated many times throughout the night.

Before the show began, Sleeper-Whiting, the founder of Tree Street Youth, warned the audience that there would be extreme highs during the show, but also some somber moments.

“Do You See Me: Hannah’s Tribute” presented one of those solemn moments. In the performance, the daughter of Donald Giusti described the loss of her father while photos of father and daughter together were displayed in a slide show.

Giusti died last spring as the result of a fight near Kennedy Park.

For the most part, the performances were high-energy and cheerful, even as they pushed various messages about life in Lewiston. Near the end, in a performance called “All for One,” Hussein did a peppy dance with a group of younger boys and not one of them looked even slightly nervous. At Tree Street, youths are accustomed to working and playing together.

“This is not our first time,” Hussein said.

Tree Street board member Betty Robinson, who participated in a skit early in the show, said the enthusiasm on display Wednesday night isn’t just a once-a-year affair. The Tree Street center on Howe Street, she said, is almost always filled with youthful energy.

“It’s infectious,” she said. “I can’t go in there without coming away smiling.”


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