Student production challenges creative, technical ingenuity

Student production challenges creative, technical ingenuity

Story by M.V. Moorhead

wn111613Even in these cooler months,
Tempe seems pretty far away
from rural Maine. But playgoers
can get a breath of cool wintry New
England air at Almost, Maine, this
year’s first production at the Marcos de
Niza High School Little Theatre. They’ll
even get a few glimpses of the aurora
borealis.
The play, written by the actor
John Cariani, debuted at the Portland
Stage Company in 2004, had a brief
run Off-Broadway in 2006, and
has since become one of the most
frequently produced high school
plays in the country—it’s said to
have recently
overtaken
Shakespeare’s
Midsummer
Night’s Dream in
that regard.
It’s a
romantic comedy
or, rather, a
collection of nine
short, eccentric
romantic
comedies on the
theme of “falling
in and out of
love,” all set in
the tiny title
town—fictitious, although playwright
Cariani hails from the far-northern
Maine town of Presque Isle, which
translates as “Almost an Island.”
Between these sketches, projected
images of the aurora borealis, the
famous light phenomenon normally
seen only by those at arctically high
latitudes, are used as a transitional
device.
The show plays Thursday, Nov. 14
through Saturday, Nov. 16, and again
Thursday, Nov. 21, through Saturday
Nov. 23, in the Marcos de Niza Little
Theatre, 6000 S. Lakeshore Drive in
Tempe. All curtain times are 7 p.m.
After the opening night
performance, audience members who
want another cool treat may meet the
cast of Almost, Maine at nearby Yoyo’s
Neighborhood Yogurt on Guadalupe.
Mention Marcos de Niza while
ordering, and part of the proceeds from
your purchase price will benefit the
school’s Choir and Drama Program.
After the Thursday, Nov. 21, show,
the cast and crew will be at the Dairy
Queen at Rural and Elliot, and the
same deal will apply.
I recently had the chance to learn
a bit more about Marcos de Niza’s
Almost, Maine from the director,
Patrick McChesney.
Wrangler News: Tell me about
why you chose Almost, Maine.
Patrick McChesney: Usually
we do larger shows that have name
recognition and use the large stage for
the performances. However, this year,
due to complications of scheduling and
the desire for something different, I
decided to choose a play that could be
performed in the drama room (a.k.a.
The Marcos de Niza Little Theatre).
While reading the play, I found
myself getting pulled in to the many
plots presented through the various
vignettes. I love it when I read plays
and I can either emotionally connect
to the story or begin to envision the
production elements of costumes, sets,
etc. I loved the author’s style.
WN: Are your actors attempting
New England accents?
PM: We decided not to create
characters that were “backwoods”
Maine or use New England accents
because the playwright requests
that anyone producing the play be
respectful of the characters by treating
them as everyday individuals. He did
not want the characters to be over the
top or cliché. However, since they do
live pretty far away from “civilized”
areas, we did take some costuming
liberties since the citizens of Almost
would probably not be fashion
templates.
WN: How are the aurora borealis
effects being accomplished?
PM: We plan to use audio visual
projections that we purchased from
a company called Drake Creative,
that created different aurora borealis
looks for each scene in Almost, Maine.
They are very cool. In addition, when
getting the scripts, rights and royalties
from Dramatists Play Service, we also
secured the rights to use the composed
music by Julian Fleisher that was
created for this production. Ultimately,
we hope to entertain the audience with
a lot of sensory experiences.
WN: In light of recent
controversies, I’m wondering how you
handle judging the appropriateness of
a play for high school students?
PM: When I first started at
Marcos de Niza some years ago (13 to
be exact), the principal sat me down
and we discussed the themes and social
issues that could be or should not be
presented at a high school…
at least our high school.
We came up with a list of
“no-no’s,” and that list is used
every time I select a show.
Although theatre is
usually a place that can
represent real life, and many
times pushes the envelope
of social issues to teach or
preach, the high school stage
should be a place for young
people to produce quality
works and learn the craft
to grow individually and
professionally.
We have a conservative
audience and, frankly, many
plays are just not appropriate
for young children, so I have
to be mindful of content and
plot.
Plus, most of the colleges
and universities will give
young actors that exposure if
they decide to pursue theatre.

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