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Priscilla Rand, at 86; connected children with the theater

“Like painting, like playing an instrument, theater is a vital art form,” said Priscilla Whitehouse Rand.Handout/Family Photo

As founding director in 1953 of the Boston Children’s Theatre Stagemobile, which brought plays to parks and playgrounds throughout the Boston area every summer, Priscilla Whitehouse Rand believed it was important for audiences to look at the stage and see faces like their own.

“We feel that when the audience is made up of young children, children taking the roles in the plays is more believable,” Mrs. Rand told the Globe in 1983. “When they see their contemporaries on stage, they have more of a sense of intimacy with the performance.”

As a girl in Maine, she had participated in similar summer theater performances. Turning to directing as an adult, she found it rewarding to discover the potential of youthful participants and watch as they grasped and fulfilled their theatrical roles, her family said.

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“She was very good at that, at bringing out the very best acting qualities in students,” said her son John of Raymond, Maine.

Mrs. Rand, who had lived in Lincoln for more than 30 years, died of Alzheimer’s disease April 25 in Bridgton Health & Residential Care Center in Bridgton, Maine. She was 86 and in the 1980s returned with her husband to spend their retirement years at her family’s farm in Raymond.

“She was so full of life and bounce,” said her childhood friend, Victoria Poole. Invoking the name of the energetic “House at Pooh Corner” character, Poole described Mrs. Rand as “like Tigger.”

Mrs. Rand’s interest in other people allowed her to excel as a leader in theater, her son said.

Along with the Stagemobile plays, Mrs. Rand directed productions for the main stage of the Boston Children’s Theatre, including an adaptation of E. B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web,” her favorite performance. She also directed “The Wind in the Willows” with Lincoln Public Schools, where she taught for several years.

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Performers in Stagemobile plays were chosen from among the children who attended creative drama classes each year at the children’s theater.

“She loved the whole process of organizing the different aspects of putting on that kind of production, getting young kids to appreciate that and appreciate what’s involved,” said another son, David of Barrington, R.I.

Children in the audience were invited onto the stage after each show to meet the performers, who were still in makeup and wearing costumes.

“Some people feel that this practice shatters the illusion of the theater, but the children are so enthusiastic that we wouldn’t want to change it,” Mrs. Rand told the Globe.

The Stagemobile was a large truck that unfolded into a 20-foot stage.

“Like painting, like playing an instrument, theater is a vital art form,” Mrs. Rand said, adding that the children who filled the roles “take classes for the pleasure of acting with others of their age, with performance as a secondary goal.”

The eldest of three children, Priscilla Brooks Whitehouse was born in Portland, Maine. For much of each year, her family lived along the shores of Panther Pond in Raymond. She commuted with her father each morning when he went back to work in Portland.

Her involvement in what is now the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine, which had featured a traveling group that performed at parks around Portland, was instrumental in her decision to help develop the Stagemobile, her family said.

In 1949, Mrs. Rand graduated from Smith College in Northampton. At the wedding of a Smith classmate she met William McNear Rand Jr., and they married in 1954.

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They moved to Lincoln and stayed for 33 years before settling near her childhood home in Raymond.

Mr. Rand died in 1999.

Mrs. Rand taught theater classes at afternoon programs in Dorchester in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She received her teacher certification and taught English at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School by the early 1980s.

Although her involvement in Boston Children’s Theatre decreased during that decade, she never officially retired from the program and was usually the first person in the audience to offer congratulations to the actors and producers, said Pat Gleeson, who met Mrs. Rand through the group.

“She enjoyed that process of working with them and the thrill of seeing them grow and become not just performers, but better people,” Gleeson said.

In addition to her sons David and John, Mrs. Rand leaves a daughter, Louisa Rand Moore of Waitsfield, Vt.; another son, Matthew of Richmond, Vt.; a sister, Anne Whitehouse Gass of South Paris, Maine; a brother, Brooks Whitehouse Jr. of Portsmouth, N.H.; and seven grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday in Saint Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Yarmouth, Maine.

Mrs. Rand was active in the Loon Echo Land Trust, a conservation organization based in Bridgton, Maine. When she was with the Boston Children’s Theatre, she and her coworkers often camped and fished on weekends. At home, she enjoyed tending to her flower garden, but most of all she loved watching children perform.

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Mrs. Rand, Gleeson said, “gave her heart and soul to everything.”


Michele Richinick can be reached at mrichinick@gmail.com.