BCA's video production 'Almost, Maine' airs this weekend
Published on Tuesday, November 17, 2020
Photo provided by BCA
Berkeley Center for the Arts theater students had just finished their production of Second Samuel when schools had to close because of the pandemic.
That production had multiple viewing dates lined up for live shows, but the cast only got to put on one performance before the doors closed for the rest of the semester.
With social distancing being part of the new normal for the time being, BCA’s theater program had to come up with a new way to put on a performance this semester, which is why Almost, Maine is actually a video that will air to ticketholders on Nov. 20 and 21.
The Berkeley Center for the Arts (BCA) is Berkeley County School District's first arts magnet program established on the secondary level. It is housed on the campus of Goose Creek High School.
The theater program's video for the show has already been completed. This particular performance was directed by Ashley Baker, Assistant Theatre Director for BCA.
The students shot the performance about two weeks ago, all in one day. The theater program hired a professional videographer to capture the performance.
Much of the cast is working from home; the first read-through was done virtually but the students would come into the school to rehearse in small groups and also spent time at home memorizing their lines. They also communicated with each other via Google Meet.
Almost, Maine is comprised of several short plays that explore love and loss in a remote, mythical “almost-town” called Almost, Maine. Twelfth-graders Chris Priest, Jasmine Diaz, Sahmaya Busby, Emily Salisbury and Cappi Horton and 11th-graders Arwen Antaran and Chesney Graham are cast members included in the production.
The couples in the performance have their own situation to overcome, and all of them roughly occur at the same time.
Priest said the production’s title comes from the town’s quirk of not technically being a town.
“In order for them to be a town they have to get organized…and then the town of Almost never really got organized, so they’re just ‘Almost, Maine’,” he said.
Priest said while they knew there wasn’t going to be a live audience, they still had to keep their energy up as if the audience was there.
“So it was just kind of challenging without there actually being an audience there,” he said.
The students themselves have not seen the video yet – and much of the cast is nervous about seeing themselves on camera, even lightheartedly saying they would rather just watch the rest of the cast instead of their own scenes.
They had had varying views on the experience of producing a video as opposed to a live-action performance.
“It is comforting to know that when you mess up, it’s not going to be final…but at the same time, the adrenaline that comes when you know you’re about to perform on stage in front of people, it’s not really there to kind of fuel your performance,” Antaran said.
Graham said she actually found it more nerve-racking in the sense that once a live performance is over, it’s really over.
“With film, I start to overthink, ‘What could I have done better?’” she said.
On stage, Horton said the students tend to feed off of the audience’s energy – like hearing the claps and laughs and overall reactions.
“I think that really is such a difference between performing in person and online and getting recorded,” he said.
Horton added that he thinks it takes a lot of strength to overcome the added obstacle of the pandemic to keep producing the art that the students want to create.
“I think this performance really creates a memory that is better what 2020 has given us,” he said.
A ritual students used to do before every show was something called “heartbeat” where they would stand in a circle and hold hands – and it something the students miss being able to do.
“It was a moment of pure…calm, right before the adrenaline rush of a performance,” Salisbury said.
The play is set in contemporary times and students were able to wear their own clothes for the play as opposed to costumes. The most difficult part was dealing with the story taking place in wintertime in Maine, something South Carolinians do not typically have to dress for.
“I think that was the most I ever sweat in a costume,” Salisbury said.
Photo provided by BCA
Making the video
Many of the students agreed the obstacles have really only brought them closer together.
“It’s shown me so much how we are truly a family because this happened, and we did not let each other go,” Salisbury said.
Since Almost, Maine is about love, there are moments of kissing and hugging. To achieve this with social distancing, Baker actually got in touch with the play’s author, John Cariani, to get permission to make some adjustments: the actors treated the situation almost old silent movie style, where every time there is a kiss the actors instead pause for a second and then go on to the next bit. The video will feature a plaque that will come up during those pauses that read “They kiss” or “They hug.”
“It just tells us what the action was and then the students would move on throughout the scene,” Baker said, adding, “He (the author) was very lovely and encouraging our production…and just happy someone was still doing theater.”
The play was selected before the schools even closed. Baker said with everything going on, it just presented itself as the ideal show to do, because there are only a couple of students on stage at a time.
While the video concept was not what she initially had in mind, the themes and setup became timely.
“It seems perfect to do the show simply and just from the heart,” Baker said, “so I think it fell into place nicely.”
Graham added that focusing on the performance also helped them not think about the pandemic.
“Almost, Maine is just about love, and I think that before this we were in…a happiness drought,” she said. “To be on stage with a play that’s all about love and about being together with someone, I think that really brought us all together again.”
Another over-arching theme in the show is honesty; Diaz said almost every confrontation or conflict in the show comes from a character deciding “enough was enough” and needing to stay true to themselves.
“For most of them, it works out pretty okay,” she said.
The production’s technical student support was limited in order to keep the number of people inside of the auditorium to a minimum. However, there were students who did work behind the scenes for the lights and sound, and there were also students who handled publicity for the film, like taking pictures.
The theater program is hoping to put on the musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown in the spring with a minimal audience. It was chosen because there are six characters in the performance and it can be socially distanced if need be.
“I’m happy we were able stay as much as an ensemble in this scenario,” Baker said, adding, “It is still something we are proud of.”
Lauren Canfield, Director of Theatre for BCA, commended the students on their work.
“It’s a production that despite the fact that it’s not exactly the way we wanted it to happen, it is still the quality that is expected at BCA,” she said. “We’re still proud of the product, it just looks a little different.”
The video will be on-demand Nov. 20-21 and is available for purchase through ShowTix. Each $10 ticket will get the patron one link to view the show at their leisure on either of those two days.