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“Almost, Maine” production coming To Drake Theatre

“ALMOST, MAINE” will debut this weekend, after months of rehearsal. Students will be playing multiple roles, which for some was difficult to master PHOTO courtesy of Megan Riordan

Where the world is in short supply of kindness, associate professor of theatre arts and director Michael Rothmayer brings “Almost, Maine” for its glimmer of positivity and optimism. Drake Theatre brings this tale of a chilly, moonless Friday to the stage from Nov. 16 to Nov. 18 at the Performing Arts Hall in the Harmon Fine Arts Center.

“Almost, Maine,” written by John Cariani, debuted in 2004 at the Portland Stage Company in Portland, Maine. It’s a romantic comedy that follows nine couples in their journeys through love and loss in the mythical town of Almost. While the original features four actors, Drake’s production brings on a cast of 19. 

“This show, more so than most, is a little disjointed since it is comprised of multiple scenes that take place over the same 10-minute time period in different locations in a single town,” Rothmayer said.

Sam Serritella-Smith, a senior studying acting and public relations, witnessed the theatre students buzzing when Rothmayer pitched “Almost, Maine” to them last year. She hadn’t known too much about the story at the time. Fast forward more than six months later, and she said it’s one of the biggest stage productions she’s taken on in the pursuit of her dream to become an actor.

“The standard for acting majors for the auditions is two monologues, one comedic [and] one dramatic, and the actors only get a minute and a half,” Serritella-Smith said. “I was trying to find something that could capture those themes of ‘Almost, Maine’ while still being concise.”

Serritella-Smith plays two characters: hot-headed Gayle, who’s navigating a fresh breakup, and Hope, a much brighter lady who returns to Almost to reconnect after moving away years ago. Most of the cast are taking on two characters, some even three.  

Two different personalities is plenty to compartmentalize for Serritella-Smith. It’s also her first play with a live audience since high school because, during the pandemic, the world could only absorb the arts through a digital screen. Since Gayle and Hope are featured in different acts, she says she has enough time to slip out of one character and into another as the show runs on.

“The director really encourages us to do this emotional preparation, which is thinking of different moments in our lives that prepare us [for] that level,” Serritella-Smith said. “It’s coming up with angry moments in my life, doing heavy breathing, feeling my blood boil, so I can get into that hotheadedness.”

It’s also the first time Rothmayer has worked with an intimacy coordinator for a Drake play. Since hugging and occasional kissing are involved, he thought it was necessary to have a professional in the room. 

An intimacy coordinator is someone who takes notes on the students’ boundaries — what Serritella-Smith described as red, yellow and green zones of their bodies. The intimacy coordinator takes the time to understand the actors as people before fleshing out the actions taking place on stage.

“It’s a great opportunity to have that kind of experience during college, and it’s much-needed when you’re hearing about these awful things actors have been through because the intimacy coordinator is not understanding those boundaries,” Serritella-Smith said.

At 6 p.m. on the weekdays, as moonlight signals the evening and students begin to wind down, rehearsal begins for the cast and crew of “Almost, Maine.” The actors warm up for ten minutes before Rothmayer and the stage managers announce preliminary notes to the actors as they jump into-scene. 

 

Griffin Snow, a musical theatre major and the stage manager of “Almost, Maine,” arrives 15 minutes early at every rehearsal to put the props and set together as the actors trickle in. He’s in charge of tech rehearsals, calling cue-to-cues and coordinating board operators. He is also the liaison from the cast to the designers to any and all company members.

“The stage manager from the last show, ‘WINGS,’ just told me that this week will be the hardest one,” Snow said. “The stage managers are going to have to stay after rehearsals and go over the information over and over again. And it becomes mentally, emotionally taxing.”

But, Snow said  it’s rewarding to see the show come together when the cast and crew has worked this hard for this long. It’s a tricky line to walk, when most of the people he’s working with have been his friends since his first year, and yet the process has been conflict-free. He gets to witness their work ethics in ways he hadn’t before.

“Something that I’ve kind of learned in this process — the little things go a long way,” Snow said. “The little jokes here and there and just trying to keep things lighthearted has been really helpful.”

The set, designed by computer science and theatre design major Joe Barnard, features the ground rows of wooden flats resembling fake trees, emulating the look of a forest. The sky will be comprised of different layers of fabric with lights projecting through them to mirror the region in Maine where the Northern Lights are visible. 

“I think the show really shines in its simplicity because it gives the audience more to mentally interact with and find for themselves,” Snow said.

The cast has just wrapped up beat work, a process where they break down the lines sentence-by-sentence or word-by-word to explore their meaning, intent and effect on the audience. As the play is about to face opening night, they’re piecing the acts back together, doing full-run throughs with technical elements.

And they’re almost at the finish line.

“I sincerely hope the audience will leave the theater happier than when they came in,” Rothmayer said. “The scenes that make up this play run the gamut of different emotions but overall offer hope that there is love and happiness in the world if we allow ourselves to be open to it.”

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