Red Deer College theatre students are off to a wonderfully creative start this fall with their first production of the season – Almost, Maine by John Cariani.
Directed by Calgary-based Kevin McKendrick who is also an accomplished performer, producer, teacher and arts administrator, performances run Oct. 15th-17th and Oct. 20th-24th in Studio A. Curtain is 7:30 p.m. There are also a matinees set for Oct. 17th and 24th at 1 p.m.
The story revolves around a few folks from the community of Almost, Maine.
As the synopsis reads, one cold, clear, “Friday night in the middle of winter, while the northern lights hover in the sky above, Almost’s residents find themselves falling in and out of love in the strangest ways.
“Knees are bruised. Hearts are broken. Love is lost, found, and confounded. And life for the people of Almost, Maine will never be the same.”
McKendrick said Almost, Maine is the most-produced play in North America.
“I think that’s because it’s nine stories about love that concern young people. I don’t think there is a character over 35 or 40 in the play,” he explained. “Each character also has an equal amount to say which is hard to find, to find that balance for scene study.”
As to the plot, some of those love stories aren’t immediately successful – or successful at all.
“Some are unrequited, others are love stories that have been going on for a decade or so,” he said, adding that the play’s sensibilities remind him of the 90s TV series Northern Exposure. “There are similar types of relationships. It’s also a community where everybody knows everybody else. And everybody knows everybody else’s business.
“So on this one Friday night, deep in the middle of winter when the Northern Lights are dancing, nine stories of love happen.
“Another thing that is charming about it is that every one of the nine stories has an episode of a kind of ‘magic realism’, where something totally illogical, something that you might believe could not possibly happen in real life – actual happens.
“And it’s completely part of the characters’ lives at that moment,” he said.
“It’s whimsical and magical – every scene has a little whimsical, magical moment that the audience doesn’t see coming.”
McKendrick said that playwright Cariani’s script is powered by his exemplary way with words, in a time when, “Young people in particular and society in general don’t value the spoken word to the same extent that we once did. The way scenes are constructed, and the use of figures of speech – it’s a great teaching tool for actors but it’s also a very evocative way to bring a play to life.”
Meanwhile, the cast numbers 11, and McKendrick has enjoyed the experience of guiding the young, talented troupe as they explore the nuances of Almost, Maine. Studio A, with its more intimate, smaller setting, lends itself nicely to the nature of Almost, Maine as well.
“It’s a kind of spot I would prefer to work in – a lot of my work in Calgary is done with smaller companies so we aren’t in large venues that seat 500 to 700 people.”
As the play has taken shape, McKendrick also noted that he enjoys the collaborative process. “I don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, but I have to recognize the smartest ideas.
“So I like to foster that idea of ‘let’s create stuff collaboratively, but I’m going to be the final filter taking it towards performance.
“To be a director, you have to be a curious person – you have to be curious about what makes the world work. And one of the joyful parts of this job is that every time you take on a play, you learn a little bit about another world,” he said.
This particular production will also be set up with audience members seated on three sides of the unfolding drama.
“So they can see each other across the stage which is also part of this idea of ‘this community is part of our community’,” he explained.
“The challenge is, can we get the audience to forget that they are in a theatre, and to get them lost in the story. When that happens, that’s the magic of theatre – where the audience’s imagination takes over rather than us, you know, bombarding them with scenic elements and special effects, etc.”
McKendrick directed Lend Me a Tenor for RDC several years ago, and has shared his experiences and talents via many teaching opportunities and events locally as well. He’s long had a desire to work with RDC’s theatre studies again.
“I also love working with this age group because they aren’t set in their ways – and they certainly aren’t jaded.”
For tickets or more information, visit www.bkticketcentre.ca or call 403-755-6626.