Almost, Maine – Dialogue
As Woodleigh celebrates this year’s Language and Literature Festival, we wanted to write an article that described how we have approached the text in this year’s Senior Production.
As you probably know by now, tickets are on sale now for Almost, Maine.
The play centres on people falling in and out of love under the enigmatic glow of the northern lights. It’s a quintessential ensemble piece, created by a series of duologues. Usually, school plays call for a cast of 10 or 11 roles, with four leads and the remaining parts as minor or ensemble. In contrast, Almost, Maine has 19 significant lead roles.
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In most productions, the cohesion of the overall piece is often considered the most important aspect for actors and directors. They generally prioritise the bigger picture when it comes to learning lines. Focus is placed on responding to cue lines. Actors often fall into bad habits of reordering statements or substituting words, rather than speaking the line exactly as it’s written.
The play, Almost, Maine is highly text-driven. This has required a different approach to line learning and delivery. Our priority has been to honour the playwright, and so it has been critical to interrogate the text.
We have realised that grammar, word order, punctuation and italics all hold significant clues to understanding the playwright’s intention. John Cariani has provided specific directions in the script regarding delivery. This allows the cast to recreate the energy of real speech and moments of overlapping dialogue. Commas are employed to encourage pace and keep things moving; brackets often follow partial sentences to specify an unspoken thought. The symbol “>” is also used to show that a character should continue talking and not wait to speak.
The most interesting device in Almost, Maine, however, is the “//”. This shorthand symbol indicates the moment when two people speak at exactly the same time, and their dialogue overlaps. Navigating overlapping dialogue was a first experience for many of us. We were accustomed to the typical back and forth pattern found in standard play dialogue, even though it is a rather unnatural speech habit.
Working with staff, we found that using breath as a cue for each overlap boosted the intensity of the scene. This allowed the natural rhythm of the lines to emerge and the energy, particularly in arguments, to build. Relying on the speech rhythms and natural accents found in each line was also invaluable, especially when these lines had phrasing quirks which made them difficult to speak without getting tongue tied.
Actors have also had to work hard on building their muscularity so that they can resonate all the constants. Although we will be using microphones in the performance, we have learned that mics are not the answer to poor or mumbled speech. Microphones only amplify the sound they are given, making articulation especially important.
The production staff created a Covid contingency plan last year, as they wanted students to be able to have a finished product that could be viewed by audiences. As a result, Almost, Maine was cast late last year, giving the cast the summer holidays to learn their lines.
Working in a completely new way has been tiring, invigorating and rewarding. I know that the skills we are building through this process will help us as Year 12 Drama students, as well as in the future as public speakers. These approaches to dialogue and staging have come with their own share of challenges. However, they have helped us find authenticity and power in our performances…and we can’t wait to share this work with an audience.
BRIDGET RICHARDS & ALEX MATTHEWS Y12
Photographs by Lou Lou Burton Y12