The Record: Why did you choose the play “Almost Maine?”
Haila VanHentenryck: I read it on a plane after Mr. Isaac Brooks recommended it to me. I really loved it; the stories, the themes, the spaces between the dialogues, the way the characters were listening and not listening to each other really captured my attention. I also thought it would be perfect for a large cast of middle schoolers. It would be challenging enough to push and grow them as actors, but not insanely difficult.
TR: What were some challenges you faced during the production?
HV: I think the fact that they were middle schoolers playing older characters was difficult. We did a lot of exercises and redos of the scene to get them in the mindset and explore relationships as older people and not as middle schoolers. Also, the way the script is written, there’s a lot of interrupting dialogue, lines cut off by another character, or are overlapping. There’s a very specific grammar structure in the play, and that’s hard to rehearse, because you have to know what your cue line is and when to interrupt the person speaking in front of you.
TR: Would you direct “Almost Maine” differently had the members of the cast been adults? If so, how?
HV: No, because even if it was high schoolers or adults, they still would need help exploring relationships. They probably would’ve understood the mature themes more than middle schoolers but the exercises we did would still be helpful to older cast members.
TR: What were some creative choices or differences that you decided on?
HV: We had two guest artists, the costume designers, and they made a decision early on to have each of the characters wear a specific color so each scene had a themed color based on our interpretation on what that scene was saying about love. We also had Orion Lehoczky-Escobar (12) design a beautiful set with the idea of things being ephemeral and not lasting, sort of like a snow globe. We had a clear panel that we did cool light things on so the characters could go in and out to enhance the idea of an alternate reality in the play. In terms of acting, we made some strong choices for pacing. There are a lot of silences in this play, and we tried to make it clear what was going on emotionally so that the kids could act through the silence and not just be waiting for their next line.
TR: Would you have wanted to do anything differently now that the production is over?
HV: I’d like more time. I feel like you always want more time to rehearse in a production. But otherwise, I don’t think so. It turned out really well and I was very proud of the work that the kids did.
TR: Did the cast make this play unique? If so, how?
HV: This cast really grew to love each other by the end and I’m really glad for that. I tried to foster a kind attitude but they just took it and ran with it. They were so supportive and appreciative of one other. Friendships were formed across grade levels, and across interests that will probably last a while. They were all saying on the last night they couldn’t wait to act together again, and it was very sweet.
TR: What should the audience take away from the production?
HV: The audience should take away from the production that life isn’t always straightforward, and love isn’t always straightforward. Sometimes it’s okay to be in the middle of a tense or sad moment, and sometimes things are mysterious and there is no answer to them.
Interview conducted by Staff Writer Vivien Sweet