Take a Trip To 'Almost, Maine,' With School of Acting Grad Students

“There is nothing like taking the audience on a journey,” said Amanda Casarella, a final-semester M.F.A. acting student cast in the School of Acting’s graduate performance of Almost, Maine. “The willingness of the audience to jump into the story with you is palpable to the actors on stage. You don’t get that immediate response when you’re working in front of a camera.”

From March 17–19, five M.F.A. students and one undergraduate will transport audiences to a midwinter night in the titular town, so far north it’s almost in Canada. Beneath the Northern Lights, eight couples demonstrate the myriad ways love can be discovered, bungled and lost. John Cariani’s play intertwines the realistic and the mystical into a compelling journey that neither performers nor audiences can resist. Having been produced by more than 2,500 theater companies in the United States since its debut in 2004, Almost, Maine, qualifies as one of the most frequently produced plays of the past decade.

“It is a beautiful romantic comedy, both heartbreaking and joyful,” said director Lena Hart. The subject matter puts universal, yet usually private, emotions on display. And there’s no highbrow language behind which to hide.

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 10.03.32 AM

“All these characters are showing a vulnerability that I don’t usually let people see,” said M.F.A. student Anna Krieg, who will graduate in May. “These people are simple, and the dialogue is written like people talk. I think everyone can connect to the show because they have either been one of the characters or seen one of them in their lives.”

Another draw for Hart, who selected the play, was the opportunity for the actors to portray multiple roles. Performers will play three or four characters each. It’s a test of range and preparation. To channel multiple characters within a single play while applying due care to the nuanced material requires a deliberate approach. “I have been exploring different walks, different ways to hold my body and different pitches for my voice,” said Valerie Compton, a second-semester M.F.A. acting student.

The rapport between actors is a point of emphasis for Hart, who is directing an Academy performance for the first time. “Lena asks that you play an action on your partner and touch them with your words with every line,” said Compton. “It really helps me to stay connected to the other person on stage.”

For theater actors, it’s an invaluable skill. “You can tell from the audience’s immediate physical and vocal responses how convincing you are,” Hart said. “It’s very good practice staying free and focused on your scene partner in a high-pressure environment.”

Connection drives the success of a live performance, and all parties present share accountability. Already, director and actors have formed strong bonds. “There is a tremendous level of trust I feel in working with Lena,” said Casarella. “I can honestly say she has changed the way I approach acting.”

Witness theatrical synergy powered by trust, skill and humanity live onstage at 466 Townsend. Showtimes are 8 p.m. on Friday, March 17 and Saturday, March 18, and 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 19.

See one performance, or see them all. No two will be the same, because no two audiences are identical. “It keeps the material fresh because when new people see it, they have a different reaction to it,” said Krieg.