Founder of Acadia and Penobscot Theatres dies at 88

PTC is sad to announce the passing of our founder, George Vafiadis.  George was a creative force that gave Bangor and Maine a great legacy of two theaters.

George Vafiadis – actor, stage director, voice-actor, theatre producer and founder of three Maine theatre companies passed away at the age of 88 on Wednesday, March 9, 2022 in Bradenton, Florida from complications caused by his struggles with Parkinson’s disease.

George was born on January 23, 1934 in Hackensack, New Jersey to George Nicholas Vafiadis and Xanthe Mamukari Vafiadis.  He and his late brother, Nicholas lived there until their father’s death in 1944. The family then moved to San Antonio, Texas where George would eventually study theatre at the University of Texas at Austin, and work with theatre legends B. Iden Payne and Francis Hodge, who shaped so much of George’s views on theatre production and ensemble acting.  Later he would continue his training by studying with Dimitris Rondiris at the Greek National Theatre in Epidaurus which inspired him, throughout his life, to share the power, clarity and beauty of the classic Greek tragedies from his ancestral home.

As a professional actor, George worked for dozens of regional theatres across the country including the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Theatre Impact, the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Cleveland Playhouse and the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival.

His film and television work began with a broadcast of The Rivalry produced by David Susskind for his series, Esso Repertory Theatre, and originally staged by the Cleveland playhouse.  This was a dramatization of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and began George’s life-long love of Abraham Lincoln, who was to reappear in George’s professional work for the rest of his life.  George also performed as a regular on the HBO series The Wire and was seen in the film 27 Dresses.

But his love was with the theatre and especially the classics, from Sophocles to Shakespeare.  He would go on to perform in over 100 plays as well as produce and direct another 80 in regional theatres and colleges across the country.

In 1973, George set his sights on Maine and, with local artist and theatrical producer, Louis Collier, formed a summer stock company called the Acadia Repertory Theatre in the rustic Masonic Hall of Somesville on Mt. Desert Island.  This theatre has become one of the longest continually producing   theaters (with the exception of a 2020 COVID hiatus) in the state.  In 1983, George founded the Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor, as an offshoot of the Acadia Rep.  The Penobscot Theatre is now enjoying new life in the Bangor Opera House.  And in 1990, he started the L/A Public Theatre in the twin cities of Lewiston-Auburn.  All three theatres continue to this day and owe their existence to George and his commitment to the concept of regional theatre production.

One of his favorite accomplishments at the Penobscot Theatre was the creation of a foreign director program, presenting plays mounted by European directors; Patrick Laffin (Abbey Theatre, Dublin), Vasek Simek (Prague, Czechoslovakia) and Dame Joan Knight (Perth, Scotland).  George exchanged directorial duties with Joan Knight and traveled to Scotland to direct The Gin Game in 1988.

When the average artist would perhaps start to relax and reflect, George chose to enter into another career as a voice actor, recording audio books, including the complete and unabridged King James Version of both the Old and New Testaments, and Lincoln’s Letters, both of which won the national audiobook of the year award. His love of Lincoln led to his writing and performing Mr. Lincoln’s Public Opinion Bath, a full-length, one-person show which premiered back up in Maine at the Acadia Rep and was later performed for schools and theaters across New England.

Finally the white sand beaches of Sarasota Florida called and George and his wife, Katherine Knowles retired to this community in 2013 where both of them continued to contribute to the world of the performing arts, she as a grant writer and he as a guest lecturer and author, having completed his autobiography, A FLAME – The Fire of a Stage Actor.

George is survived by his loving wife, Katherine, sister in law, Elaine Vafiadis and by countless artists and audiences who have benefitted from George’s passionate commitment to the world of live theatre.

A memorial service will be held later this spring at the Acadia Repertory Theatre in Somesville, Maine.  In lieu of flowers it is requested that donations be made to the George Vafiadis Society planned giving fund hosted by the Penobscot Theatre Company at https://www.penobscottheatre.org/be-a-flame/ or by contributing to the Acadia Repertory Theatre at P.O. Box 106 Mt. Desert ME 04660.

 

“George Vafiadis was Zeus incarnated. A larger than life force who, through Herculean perseverance, tenacity, vision and an unyielding belief in the power of story to unite and uplift a community, created three theatre companies – all of which continue to exist today.” -Bari Newport