After months of hard work, Scotts Valley High School’s (SVHS) new production “Almost, Maine” is available to stream online until March 7.
SVHS drama teacher Kendra Kannegaard describes the plot as “a collection of short vignettes on love, set in snowy Maine.” The play was specifically chosen as only two actors appear on stage at a time, simplifying social distancing requirements.
The drama teacher said, “‘Almost, Maine’ wasn’t written for a pandemic, but it worked perfectly. It’s about love in all its forms, so we played greatly with distanced love… This whole [production] is a labor of love, which fits well with the show.”
Kannegaard originally hoped to put on a fall play, but “with all the virtual [instruction] we got a little behind.”
Students and staff began work on the production in mid-November, starting with Zoom auditions. At first the drama teacher was apprehensive. Twenty-five students auditioned and they could only cast 14 due to cohort restrictions.
“It was so hard to cast, especially wondering who would be able to show up during Covid… Distance learning has either been the best or really difficult for kids,” she said. “For the latter group, investing even more virtual time was a big ask, but they rose to the challenge.”
As rehearsals kicked off Kannegaard’s view changed.
“The students were so dedicated, I didn’t really have a choice,” she said. “They would’ve been devastated without the show. Seeing their excitement despite the restrictions made me so proud. It’s historic, that sounds so grand and big, but these kids are coming together despite everything to make this art.”
In addition to the 14 actors, another 10 students helped behind the scenes.
While 24 may sound like a large crew, Kannegaard and student co-director, Jack “Arizona” McHatton, worked to minimize exposure risks and adhere to all district guidelines. Virtual auditions led to virtual callbacks, then two weeks of virtual rehearsals. Finally, the students worked through their two-person scenes face-to-face and outside, socially distanced, masked and braving the winter weather.
Only in their final week did the actors move on set. With help from the “incredible SVHS tech team… we transformed our plain-jane Student Union Building into a snowy tundra in Maine,” Kannegaard said.
The community also chipped in, Kannegaard says. After requesting a few props on Facebook, the building was inundated with Christmas trees from residents.
“Even though the community can’t be here in person, these little contributions support us and say so much,” McHatton said.
Much like the community support, students also had to depend on a different style of acting throughout “Almost, Maine.”
“The show is about closeness and being together, these simple things,” Kannegaard said.
“There’s a scene in a restaurant with actors sitting together. Just the thought is bizarre. Through the play, students had to redefine what it means to be close in 2021. The actors must rely on emotional closeness and trust their scene partners to back them up. It’s unlike any other play we’ve done and it’s really inspiring.”
McHatton and Kannegaard had to get particularly creative with regards to physical acts of affection throughout the show. In several scenes, audience members will see a “kiss card,” like intertitles in silent films. Additionally, the play was shot like a film, with many cuts from scene to scene.
For Kannegaard, the best detail of the new medium is, much like the production itself, a higher level of distanced closeness.
“Some kids have grandparents across the country who have never seen them perform and now they can,” she said. “I hope in the future, we’ll continue to do this. Theater is all about connections, community, ensembles coming together. I am so proud of these kids, proud doesn’t even cover it.”
“Almost, Maine” is available to stream starting today and through Mar. 7 for $15 per device. Donations will help future productions and offset costs from the show.