Words of Hope in Almost, Maine
Today’s blog post comes to us from Becky Routson, a cast member in KVTA’s upcoming production of Almost, Maine, where she shares her thoughts and experiences in preparing for her role as Hope.
“The cast list is up!” I exclaimed to my husband, sitting next to me at a family party. I quickly scanned the list and finally yelled, “I got it! I’m in the show!” Cue sigh of relief. I then noticed what role I was cast in. “Oof,” I said. “This part is going to be ROUGH.” I was both filled with excitement and anxiety all in the same moment.
Before I go on, I feel like I need to provide a little context here. First of all, I’m ecstatic to be part of the cast of Almost, Maine. Secondly, I’m really grateful for the directing staff and my scene partner, Rob Bishir. They’re all wonderful to work with and have made this a great experience thus far.
To understand my reaction, you need to understand the show a little bit. Almost, Maine is a series of individual scenes all happening at the same time in an itty, bitty town in Maine. The only common theme: love. Although I would describe the entire show as heartwarming, not all tales in Almost, Maine are happy. There are stories of love found, love lost, and really everything in between. If you haven’t guessed it already, my scene has one of those not-so-happy endings. I won’t give it away, but it’s definitely one that tugs on your heart strings. Now, in my own life I’ve definitely had my fair share of not-so-happy endings, but that all ended about 10 months ago. Recently married, I’ve been on Cloud Nine for quite some time. I never thought my happy status would present me with this type of challenge, but in this situation it definitely does.
I’m not an expert in acting, but I do know that in general (we’re talking really general here), there are a few different approaches to use to help you connect with the moment and your character. I’m more familiar with two of these. In one method, the actor connects with the actual physical sensations associated with the emotion they’re trying to convey. As a therapist who practices mindfulness regularly, this method appeals to me a lot. But to be honest, it’s a lot easier said than done. Sometimes I just can’t connect to my body while I’m on stage. So, when that doesn’t work, I use a different method in which the actor draws on experiences, whether real or imagined, that would “conjure up” some emotion to use in the scene. This is where I run into trouble.
My close friends and family will tell you that I’m highly emotional and probably one of the most sentimental people you’ll ever meet. I’m the kind of person who keeps personal greeting cards to look at later and who sobs during television shows or movies. The stories that get me the most are always about a spouse passing away or a failed marriage..something that just really hits close to home. So when I go to rehearsal and try to imagine a not-so-happy ending, inserting myself and my husband in place of the characters that Rob and I are portraying...it’s ROUGH. After my first rehearsal I called my husband on my way home and bawled my eyes out. I just needed to remember that I was still happily married.
See, in my mind, to be a really good actor, you also have to be incredibly empathetic and compassionate. To tell another person’s story, you really need to be able to imagine what an experience would be like in their shoes. Drawing on my therapy background a bit, I think it’s really understanding the difference between sympathy and empathy that makes someone a good actor and an even better person. Sympathy kind of says, “Wow, that must really suck. I feel bad for you.” But empathy says, “Wow, that must really suck. I’ve felt that, and I feel that now, right along with you.” It’s powerful stuff on stage, and even more powerful in real life, in real relationships. Powerful can sometimes equal difficult, but definitely worth while.
I don’t know if I’m a good actor or even a good human being for that matter, but I suppose that’s what I’m striving for. Almost, Maine has challenged me in a lot of ways that I didn’t anticipate, but in the end I’m incredibly grateful for it. In some way, I can relate to Hope, and many of the other characters in the show. We’ve all experienced heartache, and we’ve all experienced joy and love. Almost, Maine is a story of humanity. I think that’s something wonderful to behold. I really hope you’ll join us for Almost, Maine in February. If you’re anything like me, you just love a heartwarming story and a good cry. You’ll find both and more in this incredible work by John Cariani.
Almost, Maine performances will be at the KVTA Studios' Black Box Theatre, 1 Stuart Dr., Kankakee, IL 60901. DATES: Saturdays, February 8 & 15 at 7:00 PM, and Sundays, February 9 & 16 at 2:00 PM. Tickets are available online at kvta.org or by calling the box office at 815-935-8510.