MOUNT DESERT — George Vafiadis, a veritable Johnny Appleseed of theater, died last week after devoting the majority of his 88 years to the stage, as an actor, director and, here in Maine, the founder of several professional theater companies, including Acadia Repertory Theatre in Somesville.
After losing his father when he was 10 years old, Vafiadis developed his passion for the stage in San Antonio, Texas, where his family had moved after his dad’s death. He went on to study theater arts at the University of Texas in Austin, where his ideas on acting and theatrical production began to take shape under the mentorship of theater legends, B. Iden Payne and Francis Hodge. He later traveled to the cradle of classical theater and his own ancestral roots in Greece to train with Dimitris Rondiris at the Greek National Theater in Epidaurus. Eventually, Vafiadis would bring this training and his strong convictions about ensemble acting, character development, attention to detail in direction and production, and his passion for all of it to Maine. But first he had a couple of decades of acting to pursue on stages throughout the U.S. in film and television.
While still a working actor, Vafiadis arrived on Mount Desert Island the summer of 1973. Here he found several flourishing young music festivals but noted a dearth of theatrical fare. This was rather surprising considering the island community’s past support of summer stock in Bar Harbor and enthusiasm for its high school’s excellent productions, directed by another Greek American with a passion for theater, George Demas.
By the following summer, Vafiadis and MDI artist and entrepreneur Louis Collier had managed to raise enough funds to hire an ensemble of professional actors, assemble costumes and props and lighting, build sets and rent a space.
The first season of Acadia Repertory Theatre opened with a production of “The Subject Was Roses,” at the intimate little Masonic Hall in Somesville. Almost 50 years later, Acadia Rep continues to herald the summer season for local folks and summer visitors with its excellent and varied dramatic fare.
For many theater goers, summer just isn’t complete until a murder has been solved in Somesville.
The second summer of its existence, a young actor from St. Louis named Ken Stack joined the Acadia Rep. ensemble which, as it turned out, changed both his future and ensured the future of the rep company.
“I learned so much from George” says Stack, who now teaches theater at Husson University. “He brought clarity, verve, gusto and commitment to every moment on stage.”
When Acadia Rep proved to be a success, Vafiadis made it a year-round enterprise by finding a venue in Bangor to offer a winter repertory season as well.
In 1983, Vafiadis raised enough money to buy the Memorial Hall theater, handing the reins of the Somesville theater to Stack and fellow actor John Erikson, to devote his energies to what he re-dubbed The Penobscot Theatre Company.
When, after a couple of decades as artistic director of Acadia Rep., Stack began to focus on his teaching career, a couple from Minnesota, Andrew Meyer and Cheryl Willis, picked up the banner and are looking forward to flying it again this season.
Like its big sister, PTC continues to thrive and expand its offering at its most recent home, the Bangor Opera House.
One might think having established two theater companies in the state as well as supporting and collaborating with the many community theater efforts that were blossoming in Ellsworth, Blue Hill and Bar Harbor, Vafiadis might have settled in for the long run and eventual retirement. But, no, he had more theatrical seeds to sow. In 1990, well into his 70s, he started the L/A Public Theatre in the twin cities of Lewiston-Auburn and found a new outlet for his performing talents in voice acting, recording such audio books as the unabridged King James version of the Bible and “Lincoln’s Letters,” both of which won the national audiobook of the year award.
Vafiadis and his wife Katherine retired to Sarasota, Fla., in 2013 where he completed his autobiography, “A FLAME – The Fire of a Stage Actor.”
“The point is… if you have a passion, follow it,” is a phrase Vafiadis often said but more importantly lived by and encouraged others to embrace.
His success is evidenced every time the curtain rises on a new production in one of his three theaters in Maine, or others his protégés have created elsewhere in the world, and those that are still just the seed of an idea waiting to be realized.
A memorial service will be held later this spring at the Acadia Repertory Theatre in Somesville. Donations may be made to the George Vafiadis Society scholarship fund hosted by the Penobscot Theatre Company at www.penobscottheatre.org/be-a-flame or by contributing to the Acadia Repertory Theatre at P.O. Box 106, Mount Desert, ME 04660.