County Characters: Joe Lugosch’s “Forays into Wonder”


Joe Lugosch pictured in Edgecomb’s Peapod jewelry store on January 11. Lugosch bought the business from his mother and designed new pieces that add his own twist to the store’s classic aesthetic. (Photo by Bisi Cameron Yee)

Joe Lugosch has been mentioned 38 times in the pages of the Lincoln County News. That’s what happens when a person grows up in a local theater.

Lugosch has performed in over 70 productions at the Heartwood Theatre, Lincoln Theatre, Waldo Theater and the River Company. Not to mention the number of productions in Chicago.

Lugosch was dramatically born on Thanksgiving Day, his head caught at an angle that prevented delivery. The young doctor originally present was untrained in the use of forceps to correct the baby’s position and transferred Ronna Lugosch to Pen Bay Medical Centre. There, a more experienced doctor who had given birth “in the middle of the 20th century” was able to wield the forceps with the necessary skill.

Joe Lugosch “fired like a bullet”.

After all that, Joe Lugosch said he was a very quiet baby and a shy kid. He grew up on the Bristol-Bremen municipal line at Round Pond, playing in the woods, cycling, building toy battleships in his father’s workshop. He said he felt lucky to be born before technology took over everything. He had years to develop his imagination.

He and his friends would go to the shore and bombard each other with periwinkle or into the woods where thorny chestnut trees were the preferred ammunition. They collected bottles and cans and brought them to King Ro’s redemption center and used the money to buy penny candy at Granite Hall.

In fact, he got a job there in high school, with access to all the penny candy he could want. “There’s one thing about penny candy – no matter how much you eat, it never satisfies,” he said.

When Joe Lugosch wasn’t with his friends, he spent time with his mother at her studio in Camden, the mecca of designer jewelry at the time. He said he was the kid who hid behind his mother’s legs when strangers were around. But this reluctance did not last.

When he was 12, he went with a friend to audition for a production of “The King and I” at the Lincoln Theater. It started as an opportunity to hang out with a friend and ended as a chance to be part of a community. He played Guard Number Two and lobbied for some extra stage time. “It’s exciting up there,” he said.

Joe Lugosch is a graduate of Lincoln Academy, where he had the opportunity to work and be mentored by Heartwood Regional Theater Artistic Director Griff Braley, who was also a teacher at the school.

In high school, Joe Lugosch worked on what would become his profession. He learned the value of digging into a tough character at Heartwood and showed his voice in musicals at the Lincoln Theater.

He took a sabbatical year in the Czech Republic, not yet ready to commit to university. His family had visited Prague when he was eight, and the experience stayed with him. He learned the language, made friends, and enjoyed a world completely different from anything he had ever known, a world of hills, valleys, and rivers he called “lush and beautiful.” And the performer in him was fascinated by how American cinema and music were perceived by a different culture.

Joe Lugosch studied theater at Ohio Wesleyan University. He worked hard in the courses that interested him: theatre, sculpture, botany. Not so many others. He regrets it, and a return to college at some point is a future goal.

He moved from Ohio to Chicago, a city full of opportunities for actors. Chicago was a known entity – his mother’s family was from the area and he visited his grandmother on several occasions.

He worked in short films and web series and supported himself with occasional carpentry and a job at Trader Joe’s. But he couldn’t find the roles that filled him, the character work he wanted. And even though he loved Chicago, he hated living there. He preferred what he calls “the brutal honesty of the East Coast people.”

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He took a four-day trip to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and realized he needed to be in nature to live his life more holistically. “I needed to breathe.”

When his mother invited him to fill a vacancy at Peapod Jewelry, he returned to Maine where he found more fulfillment and opportunity than he expected. He was able to draw on the lessons learned in his father’s workshop and during his sculpting lessons to create his own version of his mother’s classic peapod design.

His first piece for the store was a Pumpkin Lantern inspired by Damariscotta’s Pumpkinfest. It sold exceptionally well and boosted his confidence; he had more to offer than just polishing jewelry.

When Ronna Lugosch retired in 2019, he bought the business. Then came COVID-19.

Joe Lugosch sees a sort of silver lining to the pandemic. He said it gave him time to not only rethink his life, but also reassess the business.

He didn’t have the same skills his mother brought to Peapod Jewelry. She had carefully developed the tourist trade that flowed down Route 1 while feeding her local customers. During COVID, these strategies were more difficult to implement.

Joe Lugosch focused on expanding the online aspect of the business: updating the website and focusing on social media as a way to attract new customers.

As for jewelry, again, Joe Lugosch had another skill. He brought a fresh take on his mother’s classic design, informed by the problem-solving ability and engineering-based design know-how he learned from his father.

“I’ve never been able to exactly match elegance. His sculptural work is amazing,” he said of Ronna Lugosch’s designs. His own work draws on the underlying aesthetic of Peapod Jewelry and offers an approach that often draws inspiration from clip art designers who take complex concepts and simplify them to their most essential parts.

Joe Lugosch has an older brother in San Francisco and a two-and-a-half-year-old nephew named Ronin who is “going to take over the world.”

He’s engaged to Katie Riley, and they plan to finally tie the knot in July after postponing their wedding due to COVID. The couple recently adopted Spidey, a three-year-old miniature schnauzer.

Joe Lugosch plans to star in spring productions at the Heartwood Theater and the Lincoln Theater. He is already hard at work memorizing lines. And one day he hopes to get the chance to play his dream role as Sweeney Todd.

“Life can get blurry. That’s why it’s important to take small breaks, forays into wonder,” he said. “When you see the same thing all the time, you forget to see the things that are beautiful.”

(Do you have a suggestion for a “County Characters” subject? Email [email protected] with “County Characters” in the subject line.)

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