MILLINOCKET, Maine — “Rabbits in the Garden” is the story of Finley Jane, a teenage girl in late-1800s Victorian England sent to an insane asylum for wanting to become a doctor.
Unless Racquel Bozzelli changes her mind, that is.
As the play’s author, the 16-year-old Foxcroft Academy student saw her dark one-act play performed at Stearns High School’s Walker Auditorium on Saturday. Bozzelli tinkered with her play in its four previous stagings but said she didn’t make any changes during Saturday afternoon’s technical rehearsal.
“They say you never stop rewriting,” Bozzelli said. “This is the first time I will see the play performed outside of Dover-Foxcroft, so it will be interesting to see how they react. You just make up the characters and to see them come to life is really exciting.”
The Stearns High competition was among nine 2014 Maine Drama Festival one-act play competitions held statewide by the Maine Principals Association over the weekend. Two winners from each regional festival will perform in the state finals on March 21-22, said Old Town High School principal Scott Gordon, the MPA representative who emceed the shows of the seven high schools that performed at Stearns.
The Stearns auditorium, which had hosted regional competitions in 2010 and 2012, impressed Gordon.
“For a place that was built in 1963, it is a beautiful facility,” Gordon said. “It has been kept in great shape.
The theater troupes of Orono High School and the combined Schenck and Stearns high schools finished first and second at Stearns, said Danielle Waite, the Stearns-Schenck drama director. Orono High won for its performance of “A Beckett Trilogy.” Stearns-Schenck mounted “15 Reasons Not to Be in a Play.”
“I was so happy for the kids. They have worked so hard,” Waite said Sunday. “It has been a tough show physically and I think they did an awesome job. It has been the first time we have made the states in five years, so we are back.”
Joining Orono and Stearns-Schenck in the Class B state finals are Oak Hill, Madison, Fort Kent, Mt. View, Mount Desert Island, Yarmouth, Freeport and Lisbon.
Advancing to the Class A state finals are Oceanside, Falmouth, Windham, Scarborough, Skowhegan, Gorham and Bangor.
Actor-director John Blanchette of Lewiston, one of three competition judges at Stearns, enjoyed the variety of productions.
“You have everything from light comedy to Beckett,” Blanchette said. “It’s a good exercise for the students. They get exposed to a variety of theater experiences that they couldn’t get anywhere else.”
“What’s great is that the kids are totally supportive of one another,” said David Greenham, a drama teacher at the University of Maine-Augusta and fellow Stearns judge. “There are always a few shows that we see that makes us say, ‘That’s why we do theater.’”
Except for their need to whisper instead of shout, the Stearns-Schenck group huddled backstage resembled a football team getting ready for a big game just prior to its performance. The 20 players hugged before the competition’s host technical director, Waite’s husband, Matt, gathered them for some last-minute instruction.
“You guys coming in here, make sure you don’t trip over the cords,” said Waite, who directs the Stearns High chorus. “Don’t walk past the lines [taped to the floor]. And remember, when your show is done, just go offstage.”
The judges reviewed all aspects of theatrical production, including the time it took the groups to prepare and dismantle their sets. So the players had to leave their props for the production’s eight techs to carry off.
“Make sure you don’t have any gum in your mouths,” Stearns-Schenck performer Tanner McLaughlin whispered.
Millinocket resident Rodney Daigle was among the more than 200 people in the audience. He came to the show to see his granddaughter perform, but found himself getting caught up in the drama.
“I think about when I was in high school,” Daigle said. “I think, ‘Would I get up in front of people and perform the way that they do?’ Not on your life.”