By Staff Writer Tighe Ratcliffe.
Photo: Dennis Fox / @foxphotoanddesign
Usually when the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Theatre Company (TCo for short), puts on a show, the auditorium seats are filled. But for the show Almost, Maine by John Cariani, things were pleasantly different.
Instead of the normal set up where only the actors get to take to the stage, the whole audience was seated on stage. This gave viewers an intimate, and up close encounter with the characters of the small town of Almost, Maine. The big draw to the show was limited number of seats, but an experience that very few TCo shows have ever offered.
Almost, Maine is a series of short scenes between 2-3 characters at a time that give a brief glimpse of their lives in this small town. There’s romance, bro-mance, heartbreak, and plenty of comedy that had the audience laughing consistently while also pulling at their heartstrings. And because there was the intimacy of the audience being located on the stage, we got to be able to see all of the subtle shifts and nuances the actors got to put into their characters that would have been lost otherwise.
The Torch pulled aside several of the actors as well as the director of the show, Josie Woolson, afterwards to ask them about the show to get an inside look into this fantastic production.
Woolson is a third-year student here at Umass Dartmouth, studying psychology with plans of getting her Masters in Counselling in her post-graduate studies. She is not only the Vice President of TCo, but she has been in three other productions with the company.
But this was her first time at directing here at Umass Dartmouth. Her most notable past roles at Umass Dartmouth were Justice in Rock of Ages and Paulette in Legally Blonde the Musical.
When asked about why she decided on having such limited seating for the show, Woolson explained that: “I wanted it to be a really intimate experience and something that our actors hadn’t really seen before.”
She continued, talking about how the limited seating fosters the intimacy of the production: “I feel like when you’re big stage productions, there’s a separation between audience and stage. And sometimes it can let the audience think it’s a show and get distracted, so they can be on their phones and things like that. Where as like in here, I got to sit in the audience for this for the past two shows and it was just incredible to hear the audiences reactions and watch them lean out of their seats and laugh and cry with everyone. It was just really really great to be able to create an atmosphere like that.”
When asked about the most challenging part of the rehearsal process as the director, Woolson responded with: “I think the most challenging part is always there’s this added element when you are also working with and directing your peers. And because so many of them are so wildly creative and enthusiastic with what they do, it’s both challenging to give direction because you don’t want to overstep or anything like that.
But, it’s also challenging because their all just so amazingly independent and were able to create so many things independently that it was just figuring out the midground between my creativity and theirs. And I think we made a fantastic compromise and the entire show just was an equal effort from everyone.”
Woolson would say that the most rewarding part of directing the show was being able to sit in the audience and clap for her cast. Being able to give back the gratitude that she felt as the director to her actors was the best experience for her.
One of the actresses that The Torch pulled aside, Grace Augello, a senior year illustration major with an art history minor, made her acting debut as Rhonda.
When asked about the process of creating her first character for this show, Augello said: “It was really nerve racking, I read my script a lot, and I watched videos of the scene (Scene 8: Seeing the Thing) on Youtube a lot, and then we just practiced it a lot. My scene partner (David Richards), was really good and has really good energy and I was able to play off his energy. It eventually got better over time.” Augello certainly did a great job, and should be very proud of her acting debut.
The Torch also pulled aside Jamie Doyle, who’s been behind the scenes for 6 years with his high school, and both TCo and 20Cent Fiction Theatre Company here at UMass Dartmouth. He made his first acting debut in a long time as two characters, Steve and Randy, in Almost, Maine.
Along with Doyle, The Torch also talked with David Richards, who goes to URI pursuing his BFA in Theatre. Richards is no stranger to TCo, he worked with the company as ensemble in Legally Blonde, and several lead roles in community theatre.
The actors described their highlights of the show, and the tricks they used to develop two different characters.
Doyle talked about how his favorite part was doing prat falls while on stage, and how he came up with his two different characters. Steve, “was very sheltered, talking only with his brother.” Doyle explained. While Randy was very “bro, county-boy, drives a pick-up truck to work, and likes a nice beer.” “Like Natty-lights,” Richards quipped in.
Richards explained how he likes to find particular “tics” for his characters.
For Easton, Richards explained how he’s a loner so he would cross his arms to make him feel more secure. Whereas Dave was more bouncy, so Richards would stand on the tips of his toes, and he’d stumble a lot more.
Overall, I’d say Almost Maine was one of the best shows that TCo has put on in the last couple of years, because no other show has ever taken an audience directly into the lives of these characters like this one in a long time.