George Vafiadis, who founded the Acadia Repertory Theatre in Mount Desert, the Penobscot Theatre in Bangor and L/A Public Theatre in the twin cities of Lewiston-Auburn, died Wednesday, March 9, from Parkinson’s disease complications in Bradenton, Fla. The actor, stage director, voice-actor and theater producer was 88.
Vafiadis, who performed as a regular on the HBO series “The Wire” among many highlights from his lengthy career, has been a major force in Maine’s theater world. In 1973, he and local artist and theatrical producer Louis Collier formed a summer stock company called the Acadia Repertory Theatre in the rustic Masonic Hall in the Mount Desert village of Somesville. That troupe has become one of Maine’s longest continually producing theaters (except for a 2020 COVID hiatus). As an offshoot of Acadia Rep, he founded the Penobscot Theatre Company in 1983. And in 1990, he started the L/A Public Theatre in the Lewiston-Auburn area. All three theaters continue to operate to this day and owe their existence to Vafiadis and his commitment to the concept of regional theater production.
Ken Stack, Husson University’s Director of Entertainment Production, worked as an actor and director with George for years. The two worked together on more than 60 theater productions.
“George had an amazing capacity to instill energy and creative passion into the process of making theater. Even in the early days of the Acadia Rep. We were working in horrible conditions. We couldn’t afford to heat the winter theater unless we had an audience,” Stack recalled Friday. “So we would rehearse in our winter coats, which became rather cumbersome when practicing swordfights! But George’s commitment to the story and the emotional line of each character kept us going at a fever pitch. It was this passion that built the foundation of three separate theater companies here in Maine.”
“All of us benefit today from his boundless energy and dedication,” Stack continued. “And his respect for the craft of the actor never waivered.”
Born on Jan. 23, 1934, in Hackensack, N.J., George was the son of Nicholas Vafiadis and Xanthe Mamukari Vafiadis. After his father’s death, the family moved to San Antonio, Texas, where George would eventually study theater at the University of Texas at Austin. There, he worked with legends B. Iden Payne and Francis Hodge, who shaped so much of his 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. That experience 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 theaters 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 lifelong love of Abraham Lincoln, who was to reappear in his professional work for the rest of his life. George also appeared in the film “27 Dresses.”
His love, though, was with the theater 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 theaters and colleges across the country.
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 at the Acadia Rep and was later performed for schools and theaters across New England.
Finally, the white sand beaches of Sarasota, Fla., 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 benefited from his passionate commitment to the world of live theater.
Remembering George Vafiadis
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