The Journey: Almost, Maine and the Vibrancy of Self Identity

Posted by Brian Thomas


What happens along a student's journey when they are discovering different aspects of their personality? This is one of the questions that surfaces in Proctor’s newest production of “Almost, Maine” directed by Charley Stern ‘08. In fact, Charley’s return to Proctor is also a journey of self-discovery that closely mirrors that of many of the characters in the play he directs. I would also surmise that our current students are inspired by the life lessons of their director as they zero in on creating characters in “Almost, Maine,” a play that depicts a place that is not quite a real place but an “almost” place in Maine. 



Click here reserve free tickets to Almost, Maine.

Recounting his Proctor origin story, Charley and his dad were looking for a prep school in 2007 to complete his final two years of high school after spending most of his time in schools near Chicago. They stumbled serendipitously upon Proctor. Actually, they stumbled upon Mike Walsh at a hockey showcase down in Massachusetts who turned the Sterns onto Director of Enrollment Chris Bartlett ‘86 that summer. The rest, as they say, “is history.” 


After spending most of his time pursuing hockey as a high schooler, choose to give his considerable talents to Proctor and Proctor’s students rather than pursuing a career in his chosen profession elsewhere. This is what his bio reads on our website: Charley earned a BA from Bates College, where he studied Rhetoric, Theater, and English. He then went on to earn an MFA in Acting from the University of Southern California's School of Dramatic Arts. Upon graduation, he worked in the theater and film industries as an actor, director, and writer.


Similarly, Charley’s road back to Proctor also began with another more recent conversation with Chris Bartlett and me last winter when he expressed to us his strong desire to come back to Proctor in some capacity, hopefully to teach drama and do other jobs where needed. Yet, like other alumni who have returned to teach at Proctor, Charley’s story is that of a passion bordering on a calling. Like so many of his other adult co-collaborators who regularly work in Proctor’s Performing Arts Department – Jen Summers, Starr Fair, Joan Saunders, Alyssa Costa, and Seth Currier – a life in the performing arts requires treating oneself, each other, and the students with the same kind of respect that you might give to like-minded working professionals in New York and Los Angeles. 


When asked about what has been the the greatest lesson learned about working with Proctor actors since his return – as opposed to those on Broadway or Los Angeles – Charley believes, “Discovering the essence of the story, connection with their scene partners and audience, and to find a place where actor and the character converge to create a real human on stage. No matter the level, or the starting place, I love the process and I love spending time on the stage with curious, brave actors making theater. Something I’ve been continually learning about Proctor students is how multifaceted they are.” Charley goes on to say, ”Proctor’s commitment to fostering students with different identities and passions has been a joy to experience.”


As Charley infers, like the characters they portray, the student actors in “Almost, Maine” search for a deeper understanding of their identities beginning with the “joy of [the] experience,” trying on a different persona that may not be their own. It looks to the casual observer in the audience that the actors are having a blast and letting it fly with dialogue that darts this way and that, overlapping with each other, like jazz musicians trading fours. The characters the Proctor actors play whole-heartedly see and come to understand life has a way of sending messages to them, sometimes the messages get dumped right out of the sky – as was the case with a lost shoe falling to earth in the middle of a heated argument between husband and wife played by Nora Headley and Patrick “Patch” Athanasoulas. The scene explores the longstanding tensions in a relationship that has seen better days. Watching Nora and Patch is like interacting with a mischievous cupid who wants to see what people get wrong about a situation and about each other. What Charley and his crew of actors get right is that actors need big and small moments to play real moments. When an actor gets those moments, the play transports us to somewhere we’ve never been–or almost.


One of the marvelous things about “Almost, Maine” is that many of the student actors have not appeared in a play at Proctor before, and many have never been in a play, period. After all, just like the rest of the teams who “perform” after school, the hockey player turned actor-director has coached his actors to own what they do, just as if they were in a rink or on a field. 


As Charley emphatically says, “The performing arts are such an important part of a vibrant school and community because of what they do for us as a community as well as individuals. The act of making a play is one of immense collaboration. We all have our roles to play and the group only thrives when we do our individual jobs – part of each of our jobs is being there for our fellow players. Making theater teaches us how to build something from the ground up, how to support one another to do their best work, and how to be brave enough to let ourselves be seen.”


Exploring one’s identity and the nexus of human connection is what’s really on display in “Almost, Maine.” Charley is just passing along what he discovered in exploring his own multifaceted self. 


Brian W. Thomas, Proctor Academy Head of School 

Curated Listening:

For those of us who binged on situation comedies in days of yore, one of my favorite welcome back teacher stories was a television show with Gabe Kaplan, Lawrence Hilton Jacobs, and this little known actor named John Travolta. Just like Charley, when the former student comes back to teach at his old school, you create a theme song. The name of the sitcom is “Welcome Back Kotter.” And, it’s theme song, which was also a huge hit on AM radio back then, can be listened to: HERE.

See more photos from Almost, Maine on Flickr!


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