Although the COVID-19 pandemic has kept patrons out of the Waterville Opera House since March, a show will go on virtually in December with a production of “Almost, Maine.”

The play, written by Presque Isle native John Cariani, was prerecorded on the stage at the opera house and will be available for audiences to stream at home Dec. 4-6 and Dec. 11-13.

“Almost, Maine” follows the love stories of nine different pairs of people on an evening in January when the Northern Lights are visible.

“Each scene sort of has a touch of magical realism, so they could be real stories, but then there’s that touch of magic, that touch of something that isn’t real that makes it interesting,” Tamsen Warner, executive director of the Waterville Opera House, said during a phone interview. “But they (the scenes) are all stories about love — platonic love, people falling in and out of love, heartbreak, people having their first kiss. It’s all loves stories.”

Warner said that the staff at the opera house came up with the idea to do an online performance after enduring months of revenue loss since in-person performances were prohibited in March.

“We had been brainstorming for months about the best way to continue producing and keeping the opera house in our community’s mind,” Warner said. “Of course the pandemic was a big hit to any kind of revenue for the opera house. We have not had a show since March, and we didn’t really have any revenue coming in. And if we didn’t do any shows, it would be difficult to generate revenue through sponsorships.” 

According to Warner, staff at the opera house watched what the rest of the industry was doing to make up for lost revenue.

“We had to wait for the industry to sort of figure out whether or not online theater was going to be a thing,” Warner said.

Tamsen Warner works on the stage of the “Almost, Maine” production at the Waterville Opera House recently. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

The Portland Theater Company is also offering an online holiday show with a production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” available to stream from Dec. 15 to Jan. 3.

According to Warner, safety was another factor staff at the opera house had to figure out before going forward with the production.

“We had to go about figuring out what the best way to keep our performers safe was. A lot of professional theater companies might have the ability to keep 10 to 20 performers in a house and keep them isolated so that they’re not exposed,” Warner said. “But we don’t have that option because we’re a community theater, our performers come from all over the place, and they all have regular day jobs so they’re definitely exposed to lots of other people.” 

Warner said that “Almost Maine” was the best production to choose from because it’s comprised of a series of vignettes that feature just two actors.

“We were able to cast two different actors for each of the scenes, and we decided that the best way to reduce exposure was that we could rehearse and film all of those scenes separately from one another so that we didn’t have a lot of people in the building at one time,” Warner said. “Even further than that, we chose actors for each scene that were already in each others COVID pods or circles so we could really reduce exposure, … so most of our actors are married to one another.”  

Warner said the cast and crew also rehearsed over Zoom during the beginning of the production.

“It’s different, it’s very, very different,” director Debra Susi said. “But it’s worked. We’ve tried to make it work the best that we can under the given circumstances. … What else can we expect out of the arts during a pandemic?”

Susi said that directing from a distance posed challenges.

“The fact that I’m not in the space is challenging. There’s nothing like feeling the energy and watching the process in the room as the actors light bulbs go on or witnessing a genuine moment that happens,” Susi said. “I mean, it’s hard to recreate that on the other side of the screen. Another challenge for a director who is directing online, in addition to not being in the space and witnessing those moments, I think it’s hard for directors to really see how actors can use the space.”

Stage Manager Michelle Sweet said that the production has been a learning process.

“It’s been very interesting. We’ve all been very patient with one another,” Sweet said. “We’re all doing this for the first time. So there’s been a lot of one step forward, two steps back, but then we eventually get on the right track.”

Despite the challenges, the cast and crew are excited to be back on stage.

Tamsen Warner works on the stage of the “Almost, Maine” production at the Waterville Opera House recently. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“This is what we do: We perform,” actor Jeralyn Shattuck said. “No matter how it seems, it feels really good to be acting again.” 

Jeralyn and her husband, Bart Shattuck, are performing in the show together.

“You have to do something even though this is not optimal,” Bart said. “It’s much more exciting and fulfilling to be in front of an audience and getting that feedback, but the need to perform is pretty strong.”

Since the production is streaming online, Warner adjusted the ticket prices to be lower than usual.

“It’s similar to what it would cost to come to the opera house in person. However, the experience isn’t the same, so I wanted to make it a little more inexpensive,” Warner said. “I know that people really wish they were here … but at the same time it’s still costing us the same amount of money to put this production together.” 

Tickets are $20 for a single viewer, $40 for two viewers and $68 for four viewers.

A single ticket for an in-person show at the opera house is typically $24, according to Warner.

A full cast list and summary of “Almost Maine” is available at operahouse.org.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.