By Morgan Nalley
Almost spring. Almost the weekend. Almost, Maine. Thursday night’s showing of Almost, Maine by John Cariani, presented by Valley City State University Theater, was a packed house. Audience in seats and Actors on set, the production was under way for the second weekend on the VCSU campus.
According to the Almost, Maine website the story is set on a cold winter’s night, in a small town in Northern Maine. With Northern Lights overhead in the sky, many residents of Almost, Maine are found “falling in and out of love in the strangest ways.”
This production wasn’t that of your typical proscenium stage or thrust theater experience, as listed online by Primer Theaters. Instead, it was produced as a promenade production, where the audience was up close and personal with the set and characters of each scene. All audience members were within just feet of the action and moved from scene to scene as the set changed location throughout the production.
“I liked the fact that you got to be up close to the actors and really feel like you were almost part of the play,” said audience member Dalton Locke.
Some scenes were in hallways, some in larger rooms, and others were outside as the audience watched through the window. This experience wasn’t only unique for the audience members, but for the cast and crew as well.
“They are truly acting – not performing. The performances outdoors separate the actors from the audience,” said Director Jenni Lu Russi. “They are focused on their characters’ interaction, and aren’t responding to audience reaction. The scenes that take place indoors are in an intimate setting which requires the actors to maintain that focus. This is very challenging.”
The casting list consisted of 11 actors: Jolene Woodbury, Ben Kietzman, Kimberly McLagan, Zach Johnson, Preston Teske, Hannah Isakson, Sarah Biggers, Jenna Pommerer, Phil Godel, Gerry Huss, and Katy Spears, many of which played more than one role during the production. “To prepare for the production you need to have commitment, and you as the actor need to be able to work as a team with the other actors,” said cast member Jenna Pommerer. Scene after scene the cast members made it a tough act to follow as they told one love story after another.
“Every production brings a new experience and my favorite part is always creating a new family,” said cast member Katy Spears. “During the rehearsal process I loved the part where we were waiting to start rehearsal, and as a cast we joked around and got a chance to goof off a little.”
VCSU theater prioritizes students’ growth in the field of theater, so a lot of decisions as to what takes place with the planning of the production are made by the students. Almost, Maine provided an opportunity for students to experience contemporary theater, while also learning that they can create theater without a stage or even a big space.