Reflection on “Almost, Maine”

Well, I haven’t written in a while, which typically translates to, I’ve been doin’ a show.  In this case, the show was “Almost, Maine” by John Cariani, directed by Janine Christl for Fresno City College.   I designed the lighting and scenery, Deb Shapazian did the fun costumes, and Jeff Barrett the moving sound design.    

Here is what Donald Munro said of my work in his review:

“Christopher R. Boltz’s scenic and lighting design is wonderful. Three tall dark screens, each depicting spindly trees painted in white, can slide from side to side, opening up spaces for scenery to fit in. Whether they’re interiors (a living room, a bar table) or exteriors (an inviting front porch, a field covered with snow), these set pieces offer a unified sense of texture and proportion that gently and effectively insinuates the audience into the look and feel of this small town.The Northern Lights themselves pop up now and then to glorious effect, and Boltz’s lighting design subtly picks up on the image, often bathing a scene from the side with a mild, comforting green glow.”

Well Yippee for me.   I think the set was nice, and I was rather proud of some of my lighting.  This review, however, is much longer, and includes more praise than I typically get from Mr. Munro.   I am certainly not complaining — it is nice to read nice things of oneself.    However nice my work on this show is, it is not better (in my opinion) than many other shows I have done.   (In fact the concept was sort of stolen from two of my other shows.)   

Why did I steal?   Well the original set idea was cool, but too expensive and heavy.   At a production meeting, I developed a new concept, sketched it, and then overnight drafted it.  It was functional. It was pretty.  And it was far from perfect.  Sitting in the audience at the closing performance, I saw at least three things I should have done — each of which would have made the scene changes more elegant, faster, and saved money.

What I think I am most proud of on “Almost, Maine” is my crew.    They had a tough job.   There was a fair amount of set, and a a large amount of props, and oh yes, it snowed.   There was a lot to do durring the show.   The crew stepped up their game.   The worked together, and with very little leadership from the faculty.  The organized additional rehearsals of the scene changes.   The worked out better traffic patterns back stage.   AND if the show had run another 2 weeks, would have made the scene changes truly art.   I would have liked the changes to go smoother and quicker, but what I liked more was that several of my students stepped up and became leaders.    Students that I thought (or feared) were just in the production class to earn 3 units really cared about the show.   They promoted the show, they talked about the show, they took their work on the show very seriously.  And that, in many ways, is what college theatre ought to be about:  How much learning and growth happened within the students, regardless of what any reviewer says.

I’m also proud of the cast.   Janine, our wonderful director, took a large cast (19!) and made a town come to life.    Many of the cast were in their first college show, and had a lot to learn, bad habits to break, performance skills to master.   They did.   Some grew more than others, and maybe some had farther to go than others.   The most amazing thing I saw was the incredible growth I saw between the first run I watched, and final dress.  AND THEN, to my amazement, there was growth between final dress, and the final performance of the show, eight days later.

“Almost, Maine” is a production of which I am hugely proud.   It may be one of the most educational shows we have done since I have been at City College.   And this great work, is work that is hard for an audience to perceive.    Audiences see the finished product (and in this case, the finished product was pretty good), but they can’t (nor should they) see what went into it.   But in educational theatre, what went into is the most important thing.


Monday is light hang day.  That means I have to see the entire play before I draw the plot (hopefully tomorrow).    The director hasn’t scheduled a run through until next week, so I’m spending this week (well Monday through Wednesday) in the rehearsal room.   Designers don’t usually see much rehearsal process.   I’m enjoying myself a lot.   This also happens to be the week they get to move in to the actual theatre  (I love that about college theatre, you get the space much earlier than in the pro world).

Watching the actors adjust to having some (but not all) the set pieces, and being in the real space is energizing.  They are so excited!     It is always my goal to do the best work I can for the the cast (after the performance I attended last Friday, I am utterly disgusted with audiences!), but being in a regular rehearsal with the cast makes this imperative even stronger.

Almost Maine is in many 11 small play-letts rather than a full play.   The scenic design has, I think, done a lot to unify them visually.   The upshot of this is that I am considering doing 11 light plots.   11 little tiny light plots.   And then trying to cram them all in one theatre.    In the end the realities of the number of dimmers, and the number of lighting instruments at my disposal will probably negate that idea — I’m already thinking that all the “exterior” scenes will have to share a light plot, leaving maybe the interiors each with a unique look.  But each scene is special.   I have radically different ideas for each one, and with the set, and the play as a whole, that might be ok.

I see the last three tonight, and then I have to figure out the lighting.

The disadvantage to seeing the show not all at once is that I can only have half formed ideas at the moment.  When I see the show all together, my brain very neatly breaks everything down.   At the moment, my mind is saying:  what if this, what if that, will that work here, or there, or ….   And its distracting.

That said, I’ve so enjoyed the experience of being in that sacred space: the rehearsal.  The cast, and management and direction teams have all been very welcoming of a stranger in their midst when the show isn’t ready yet.   Some scenes didn’t have the blocking fully completed.   The actors are still exploring moments.  And for many shows, I could put the light plot off one more week, wait until the run through and not have a problem.   The downside on this show is that some of the lighting requirements will take some time to arrive, and I won’t know what I need until I see the show, and every day of delay risks the equipment not arriving by tech.

So this week is dedicated to lighting…. I’m still getting the last 2 major set pieces constructed.   Then painting and decorating….  The prop list is getting under control.

This should be a beautiful show.