All about the numbers …
Local fans of student theatricals can always count on catching some of the annual Maine Drama Festival competition, as Oceanside High School in Rockland is a regular regional site and Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport often hosts a state final. But this year, it all happens one weekend: both schools are hosting one of the state’s nine regionals Friday and Saturday, March 10 and 11.
Having two Midcoast regionals is unusual, said Camden Hills’ Thomas Heath, a longtime festival participant wearing the Maine Principals’ Association Sites Coordinator hat for the first time. But a regular southern Maine site, Thornton Academy in Saco, wanted a break after hosting five consecutive years.
“Not everyone is me and wants to do it every year,” Heath said during the February vacation week. “If I took a year off, my food service people would string me up by my toenails! We are conditioned to host here.”
Heath is replacing Rick Ash, who served as the Maine Principals’ Association’s MDF coordinator for some 20 years. Ash chose the state final sites this year, but the regionals were up to Heath and, well, he needed one more site.
“It’s not ideal travel-wise, but it opens up some possibilities to see some new schools, both for us and for Oceanside. It was just a matter of numbers,” he said.
Ah, the numbers. The drama festival, in which participating schools square off with one-act plays, attempts to create an arts competition along the lines of a sports one, so there are class divisions and a time clock and a series of objective criteria for an arena more attuned to the subjective. It starts from a bit of a square peg/round hole place, but the “drama kids” love it … and a number of the adult directors and coordinators — including Heath, a Medomak Valley alum — have come from their ranks.
“It’s remarkable how many of us taking over at the schools are former one-act kids. Kailey Smith, the director up to Lawrence, was All Festival Cast her senior year at Madison, went off to Emerson College, got a degree in theater education, came back and now she’s the vice president of the Maine Drama Council and the other Maine rep on the New England Drama Council with me,” said Heath. “We’re both former festival kids who apparently weren’t smart enough to run while the running was good!”
Setting up the statewide festival involves a lot of math. The first set of numbers determines which class a school competes in, and that’s a number that fluctuates. For the 2017 fest, Class A is for schools with 525 students or more; and Class B is for schools with fewer than 525. Once schools have signed up, the calculating begins.
“We try not to do a regional with fewer than four schools in a class, and there are nine regionals. If you do more than five schools in a class, then two schools advance [to the finals]. So we try to keep it at four or five … the magic numbers are 36 and 45,” said Heath.
When the registration dust had settled, however, there were 48 Class B schools. When that happens, the usual move is to create one regional that is all-B. And since there are so many Class B schools in The County that have to travel down anyway, Stearns High School in Millinocket is the go-to.
“Once we’ve picked the all-B site, it’s a question of filling out all the others … We start at the outlying regionals — MDI, Skowhegan, Oxford Hills — and fill them up, and then you sort of work your way in,” Heath said. “It’s like driving in Boston, you work your way in a spiral into the center.”
That center turns out to be Morse in Bath; Heath said there are 20 schools that could get there in an hour, “So they wind up getting whoever is left over.”
Of course, more than mileage plays into the decisions. Heath said there are always conflicts of personality or conflicts of travel or “we can’t possibly go there because this school is going there,” even if it’s not the host school. But it’s much more common to get a request to be sent to the same site as another school. Some schools share tech directors, for example. And sometimes, the request is for a more personal reason.
“There was a parent working the festival with one school who has a kid who goes to a different school in the fest, and so wanted them both at the same site. You get a lot of requests like that,” said Heath.
He said such special requests are accommodated as much as can be, as long as they are made by December. But if fulfilling one means another school has to drive two and a half hours, “then it’s not happening.”
Admission to the Midcoast Regionals is $8, $5 for students and senior citizens, per session. Play order is subject to change.
Camden Hills High School, Route 90, Rockport.
Friday, March 10, 6 p.m.
• Thornton Academy, “As You Like It” (A)
• George Stevens Academy, “The Arabia Nights” (B)
• Medomak Valley (A; see story)
Saturday, March 11, noon
• Mount View, “Midsummer Night’s Dream” (B)
• Winslow, “Sea Change” (B)
• Bucksport, “Chamber Music” (B)
• Waterville, “Chemical Imbalance: A Jekyll and Hyde Story” (A)
Saturday, March 11, 6:30 p.m.
• Camden Hills (A; see story)
• Lincoln Academy, “Electra” (B)
Oceanside High School, 400 Broadway, Rockland.
Friday, March 10, 6 p.m.
• Wiscasset, “Desperate Housewives of Shakespeare” (B)
• Erskine Academy, “Hush Little Celia” (A)
• Boothbay Region, “The Audition” (B)
Saturday, March 11, noon
• Cape Elizabeth, “There Will Come Soft Rains” (A)
• Lewiston, “72 Hours” (A)
• Vinalhaven School (B; see story)
Saturday, March 11, 5:30 p.m.
• Searsport District, “The Cost of a Drive” (B)
• Oceanside High School (A; see story)
So why is the aforementioned Thornton Academy traveling all the way to Camden Hills? When the sites coordinator needs to fill out a regional, he or she puts out a call for volunteers. In this case, the just-out-of-hosting school decided a trip to the Strom Auditorium, usually a state final site, was something to treat its troupe to.
“Yarmouth went to Millinocket one year because we didn’t have another B school to fill it. Now, Yarmouth to Millinocket is not closest for anybody, but they could afford to send their kids to spend the night at the one hotel that’s left in Millinocket,” said Heath.
So far this year, complaints have been minimal, he added, knocking on wood, because while he had helped Ash with the task for years, “I’m the one who gets the blame this year!” And one of those special requests came from his own cast and crew.
“My kids threatened to boycott the festival if I didn’t get Medomak here … maybe the fact that [director] Matt Kopishke at Medomak, I was the best man at his wedding? And [longtime director] Nancy Durgin is my most favorite crazy lady in the entire world? Somehow that connection has formed,” said Heath.
The bond is so strong that during the fall musical season, which is so compacted that local schools rarely get to see each others’ productions, more than two dozen of Camden Hills' cast and crew members went to Waldoboro on the one night they could to see Medomak’s show.
“I can’t take the credit for that, the kids set it up,” said Heath.
Having two Midcoast regionals means there will be a chance for a number of troupes to interact for the first time.
“We’ve got some new blood, especially the B schools coming here. I know Griff [Braley] at Lincoln Academy, but I don’t know the directors of any of the other four B schools, they’ve never been here before, so it’s a chance to meet some new directors, and I’m looking forward to it,” Heath said.
Oddly enough, having regionals at both Oceanside and Camden Hills also offers the opportunity to see the same play done by two different schools — both Camden Hills and Erskine Academy are doing Joseph Wallace's psychological study, “Hush Little Celia, Don’t Say a Word.” Don Zolidis is another playwright whose works often show up in competition, as do plays by Alan Haehnel and Lindsay Price.
Because of the competition’s constraints, there is a bit of a cottage industry for short plays suited for festival presentation. But there also is many a “cutting” — i.e., a portion of a larger work or even an entire play cut down to one-act length. Mount View will bring such, a scene from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” to Oceanside; and Searsport will bring a student-written play, one of eight around the state.
“There are a lot more student-written plays this year … and Rockland’s doing an original [director-and-cast-written] show,” said Heath. “I have to hope they advance to states, because otherwise I’m not going to have a chance to see it.”
From Greek tragedy to Oscar Wilde, every piece presented has to toe a new timeline this year. Length has long been set at 35 minutes with a five-minute grace period, but this year, the rules have changed.
“There’s still five-minute set-up and five-minute strike, but if they go 35 to 40 minutes, it’s a five-point deduction; over 40 is still a disqualification,” said Heath.
And as coordinator, he will be fielding calls and texts from the other sites in regard to rules. Every site except Morse will have an MDC rep on site, and in theory, he or she should be able to answer any question that comes up. Morse’s MPA rep is Deb McAfee, “who’s been doing this forever and a day, so is pretty familiar with the rules,” said Heath.
“But every now and then, some situation creeps up that they say, I don’t know how to handle this, so they call either myself; or Maura Smith from Skowhegan, who’s the president of the Maine Drama Council; or Steve Ouellette from Gardiner, who’s the chairman of the MPA drama committee,” he said.
Sometimes, something occurs that leads to a new rule. Such was the case in 2009 when Ellsworth brought a cutting of “Metamorphoses” — Mary Zimmerman’s famously aquatic take on Ovid — to Rockland … and its water pump broke.
“So now we have a rule, only five gallons of water … no 55-gallon drums of water! And no animals — I don’t know why that rule was made,” Heath said.
Other regulations stipulate the composition of the cast, an MPA-eligible students-only requirement that put the kibosh on a school that wanted to do a play with audience participation this year; strict parameters on the use of music; and more. Whether a school puts its set up in view of the audience or not is its choice; Heath said he is a fan of the open curtain set-up, while his longtime tech director, Colin Sutch, “always wants to have the Big Reveals.” Audience members should remember that once any play performance begins, there is no entering or exiting the auditorium (except in case of emergency) … and that schedules are subject to change.
Indeed, it has happened that a school simply doesn’t show up at its regional. More often, schools drop out earlier in the year for a variety of reasons. Locally, North Haven Community School has pulled out of the fest, its high school population down to just over a dozen. This day, Heath was scrambling to fill up the Bonny Eagle regional in Standish, which had been scheduled to host three of the five schools to drop out vacation week.
At press time, more than 2,000 students from 75 high schools will take part in the 86th annual Maine Drama Festival. There will be plenty trodding the boards at the Midcoast regionals; Camden Hills' own one-act, which will go up Saturday evening as is host school tradition, has a cast of 21, directed by Heath with lots of assist from professional Everyman Rep’s Paul and Jennifer Hodgson.
“Katie’s graduating this year, so it might be their last, unless they decide they love it so much,” said Heath. The couple’s daughter is serving as Heath’s assistant director.
The first time Heath helmed the school’s one-act, 12 students auditioned; this year, 38 turned out.
“We’ve built the one-act into something people want to be a part of. I actually cast 23, had two drop,” he said. “Cutting 15 — it’s painful! But if you make it to states, do you want to take that many kids on a bus to Falmouth?”
The Camden Hills thespians will have plenty on their hands aside from their play, being host to eight other schools. Each visiting troupe gets its own classroom to serve as green room and all-round HQ. Each also gets a 55-minute tech rehearsal.
“We shut the auditorium down just for them, which gives them a chance to check our lights, aim any specials they want to do and spike their set,” said Heath.
“Spiking” involves placing bits of tape on the stage floor to guide crew members in erecting the set and actors in their blocking. Heath said there are never more than six shows on the stage at one time; his crew peels up shows that have gone on after each session and, “Luckily, we have lots of different-color tape.” Getting so many troupes and their sets on and off is something the Camden Hills crew is used to.
“We’re pretty fortunate here, the Strom is so fantastic. They load in from the hallway, they do their tech, they go into the black box; they come back from the black box, do their five-minute setup and strike back into the hallway,” he said.
The school’s generously sized stage is certainly a draw for directors.
“Griff said as soon as they found out they were coming here, their set design doubled in size,” Heath said.
There is another specific-to-Camden Hills element of the Maine Drama Festival students from around the state look forward to. Most sites hold a dance between the final show Saturday night and the awards ceremony; Oceanside is among the schools that offer some kind of theater arts workshop during the day. But at Camden Hills, between the afternoon and evening play sessions, there is the cross-dress relay.
“We bring down a bunch of the dresses from the costume loft; the guys put them on and they have to do these activities, like put your forehead on the baseball bat and spin three times, wheelbarrow race, things like that,” Heath said. “The gals put on sports coats and do the same things, but that’s not near as funny to watch.”
Heath said the silly tradition goes back a long way, back to when he was a student at Medomak Valley — “My first regional was March 12 and 13, 1997, I remember it exactly” — but he did not bring it to Camden Hills. It was already in place when he took his job as technology coordinator.
“So this is my 20th year, as a student, volunteer, technical director, tech director for Camden, director for Camden,” he said. “I think there was one year in there when I missed the festival, but every other I’ve been, even if just to watch — and usually multiple festivals, because I go to states, too.”
There’s nothing like it, he added, even as he was pulling strings to make the schedule work. Making a drama fest regional, or state, weekend work at Camden Hills, however, is a given, thanks to a dedicated cadre of students, faculty, parents and community members.
“After the last performance is done in here, I turn it over to Jane [Self], and she deals with the judges and getting our local festival wrapped up,” he said.
Still, things can get pretty crazy when this many drama kids converge. But thanks to one of the current students, Heath has a touchstone.
“Every time I forget why I do it, I’ve got that video my student Anna Christie shot, doing ‘Charlotte’s Web’ last year,” he said. “Evan Yandell says, ‘I finally found my people!’ and it’s like, oh yeah, that’s why we do this.”
Following is information on what and who Camden Hills, Medomak Valley, Oceanside and Vinalhaven are bringing to the regionals; for the details on the Belfast, Searsport and Mount View entries, see the feature in last week’s paper (linked below). Regional results will be posted Sunday, March 12, on villagesoup.com and on the Maine Drama Festival’s Facebook page. At each of the nine regionals, a panel of three judges will decide which performances advance to the state finals, to be held March 24 and 25: Class A at Falmouth and Class B at Yarmouth.
Camden Hills Regional High School Robert Carrol and Anna Christie lead the “Hush, Little Celia” cast, which also features Sol Caponigro, Tatum Dowd, Erica Durkee, Cullan Hamilton, Emma Jordan, Myles Kelley, Elaine Landry, Cora Maple Lindell, Sam Maltese, Jack Nathan, Andy Pitcairn, Lindsey Reilly, Kara Robak, Eliza Robinson, Rebekah Schade, Robyn Walker-Spencer, Brad Watts, Nick Watts and Becca Westbrook.
Ileana Adams and Jacson Mooers handle lights; McKenzie Hilt, costumes; and Jade Densmore, Althea Gibbons, Erin Kozielec and Clara McGurren the hair and makeup. Stage manager Quinn Kelley helms the running crew of Thomas Akselsen, Natalie Kunzinger, Miranda Marsh, Chris Shields and Ryan Shields. Eliza Robinson designed the set, which was constructed by Thomas Akselsen, Mason Bloomquist, Tanner Castellano, Natalie Kunzinger, Miranda Marsh, Eliza Robinson and Ryan Shields.
Medomak Valley High School (Waldoboro)
The Medomak Valley Players will present “Shuddersome: Tales of Poe,” Lindsay Price’s adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s famed “Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Raven” and “The Masque of the Red Death.” Student directors Juno Buendia and Antyna Gould are supervised by Heather Webster and Matthew Kopishke, who also serves as tech director. Their cast features Zac Cushman, Richard Kinney, Allison Lupien, Emily Lupien, Eileen Monroy, Noah Dean, Rose Hickey, Wyatt Sykes, Quinn Ashmore, Ryan Andrick, Hailie Brown, Somerset Ganz, Elizabeth Flanagan, Elly Shelmerdine, Nate Andrews and Ella Grant; plus a corps of “Shudders,” including Amber Hagin, Cameron Leach, Lydia Simmons and Sarah Harvey.
Danica Juntura and Matthew Kopishke did the set design and Juntura did lights, as well, with Josh Hagin on sound. Costumes are handled by Elizabeth Prescott and Kerry Watts-Weber, with hair by Mindy Gould and makeup by Eileen Monroy, Danica Juntura and Hailie Brown. Alum Matt Blazek is credited with mentoring the troupe.
Oceanside High School
Oceanside Theatre will premiere an original one-act titled “Nuggets!” The script was conceived, written and directed by Alison Machaiek and the ensemble of 14. The slapstick comedy features a crew of lady pirates led by Captain Killigrew, played by Haylie Witham; the “Miss Fortunes” have taken Admiral Richard Grenville (Nathan Hersom), and his betrothed, Lady Rebecca (Chanel Courant), hostage. The crew of the ship Squirrel, led by Captain Lash (Reagan Billingsley), attempts to highjack the Miss Fortunes and claim one of the hostages as their own. Admiral Grenville tries to negotiate with both crews in an attempt to convince them to put aside their differences and join him in serving the Queen as Privateers, or “legal pirates” (it’s a government job).
The ensemble of Lady Pirates is rounded out by Shannon Ripley, Myla Ferland, Brianna White-Ortiz, Sadie Thompson and Ella Finger. The men’s ensemble includes Coby Dorr, Jack Freeman, Mitchel DeFrate, Titus Kaewthong and Elliot Spear.
Technical director for the regional is Oceanside’s David Johanson, while student crew chief for the festival is Zackary Robinson. Light design and operators are Kalli Grover and Sara Dorr. The running crew includes Samantha Berry, Bradley Nystrom, Hunter Dinsmore, Lily McVetty, Meredith Mitchell, Sam Atwood, Josef Berger, Lauryn Arsenault, Gabby Simmons, Casey Benner, Sierra Beal, Casey Pine, Sam Townsend, Jenna Conant, Amber Johnston, Kaydin Frederick and Kimmy Roman.
The island school’s theater program is currently helmed by Medomak alum Chloe Keller, who recently returned to the area after years of theater work, most recently in the People’s Republic of China. She said that her troupe’s entry — “Brilliant Traces” by Cindy Lou Johnson, which examines the broken lives of two strangers snowed in at a cabin in remote Alaska — is “rife with pithy dialogue.”
The intimate show features Molly Jo Wentworth and Jackson Day. Frank Osgood is handling lights. As usual, the school’s performance is timed so its community can come to the mainland and return via ferry.
A&E editor for Courier Publications, LLC
(207) 594-4401/4407, ext. 115
Dagney has been providing Courier coverage of the local arts scene since 1985 and has helmed the multi-paper A&E section since it debuted in 2003. She has been a local performing artist, community and professional, for more than 30 years and spent a decade writing, producing and announcing on-air for several Midcoast radio stations. When not in the NewsNest, Dagney likes to be in motion.