Patrick New was thrilled to return to Peninsula Players this season to direct our autumn offering, the charming offbeat comedy “Almost, Maine” by John Cariani. As an actor, Patrick last performed at with Joe Foust in the Players’ production of “Around the World in 80 Days,” both actors portraying multiple characters Phileas Fogg encountered along his journey. Patrons may also recall his performances with Joe in “Is He Dead?,” “Tom, Dick and Harry” and “Escanaba in Da Moonlight” or with Karen Janes Woditsch in “The Uneasy Chair” or “Red Herring.”
As an actor, Patrick has performed in regional theaters across the United States and toured in Roundabout Theatre’s national tour of “Twelve Angry Men” with Richard Thomas and George Wendt. He also toured with fellow Players’ alum Howard Witt in Steppenwolf’s “The Time of Your Life.”
Patrick attended Michigan State University and performed with various Chicago theaters such as the Goodman Theatre and Steppenwolf Theatre. He earned his MFA in directing at the University of British Columbia and returned this season to direct Joe, Karen, Erica Elam and Matt Holzfeind in “Almost, Maine” after directing a production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in Key West, Florida. Patrick took a few moments to chat with me about “Almost, Maine” and here is a bit of our conversation:
Q. What was your first job/experience in theater?
A. I remember my mum taking me to a production of “The Tempest” when I was very, very, young- the storm made quite an impression. My first professional theater job as a member of Actors Equity was ‘Christmas Carol’ at the Goodman twenty years ago. Alden Vasquez was the stage manager for that production and is the stage manager for “Almost, Maine” which is one of the things I love about theater; we come and we go, but we always pick right back up where we left off, like family.
Q. How would you describe “Almost, Main?”
A. “Almost, Maine” is a play that allows us to witness a significant moment in the lives of ten couples on a magical, northern-lights-filled evening in a small town in northern Maine. It’s charming, challenging, funny, and magical and so relatable – I’m certain the audience will feel they know, or some instances are, these characters.
Q. Can you recall the first time you saw the northern lights?
A. I do recall. I was driving in northern Michigan and quite suddenly the sky was almost entirely green and glowing and pulsing. It was beautiful, but I was college-age and I had no idea what was happening – I was convinced that there had been a nuclear/chemical accident of some kind. So not the most romantic of first experiences…
Q. What inspired you to accept the helm as director for “Almost, Maine?”
A. Like most actors/directors I was thrilled to be invited back to Peninsula Players. It’s a truly special place that many of us hold dear. I particularly enjoyed this script because of its tremendous heart. There is an unofficial motto of Peninsula Players: “Love and be Loved,” and I think there is a great deal of that theme at the heart of “Almost, Maine”
(Footnote: In the 1960s a company member painted the words “Love and be Loved” onto the back of the original barn-red stagehouse. When the new stage tower was built, these board were saved and remounted onto the new structure and can still be seen.).
Q. How is the chemistry between the cast of “Almost, Maine?”
A. We have a fairly short rehearsal period at Peninsula Players, but luckily the tremendous talent and familiarity of the cast and crew allows us to start from day one with a level of trust and commitment that takes much longer to reach in other productions. The love and respect we all share opens the door to that ‘chemistry’, which is a beautiful thing to experience.
Q. What excites you about the “Almost, Maine” creative team?
A. From the very first emails many months ago, the designers for this production have been a joy to work with, and tremendously collaborative. There was excitement at each step along the way as ideas developed and expanded and bounced off each other. I think we’ll really be able to show the audience something they haven’t seen before.
Q. How would you describe the story of “Almost, Maine?”
A. It’s a little different in that, while it tells a full story, it does so through visits to different couples in different parts of town at around 9:00 on a Friday evening. All these couples are experiencing a magical moment, some happy, some not, but a moment just the same. They are at a crucial precipice and ‘almost’ to what’s next.
Q. What do you hope audiences take away from the play?
A. I’m certain that everybody who sees this play will have some element in their lives that is an ‘almost.’ We all live with ‘almost’ every day. I hope the show will encourage each audience member to ruminate on where they might have an ‘almost’ and perhaps feel the same magical push that will take them to what’s next…
Q. Why do you think theater is important?
A. I think theater is a vital, vibrant and ever-growing component of our culture. It is story-telling at its most effective and immediate. It is a catalyst of social change and community involvement, and a source of entertainment, revelation, and inspiration. It asks of its audience attention, imagination, thought, and a leap of faith to join a different world for a few hours and experience a new horizon. Theater takes us where we haven’t been before and explores that world- whether it’s a location on a map, a thought in one’s brain, or an emotion in one’s heart.
Q. What play, musical, screenplay, etc. is on your bucket list to direct?
A. There is literally a list in a file on my computer. I would like to direct the entire canon of Shakespeare, which I find so rich and remarkable. I also have ideas for everything from “Jerusalem” to “Rocket to the Moon” to “Moon for the Misbegotten.” Kind of all over the place, I know, but I just love a great play.
Q. What is your next project?
A. I’m going back to teach theater at a small college in Virginia where I’ll be directing in the winter, though I haven’t yet picked the play!
We hope you will join us Patrick’s directorial debut at Peninsula Players! “Almost, Maine,” performs Tuesday through Sunday at 7 p.m., except for Sundays September 17 and October 1 and 15 at 3 p.m. For information or tickets please call the Box Office at (920) 868-3287 or visit www.peninsulaplayers.com. The Box Office is closed Mondays. I’ll see you by the bay, where the sun sets, the curtain rises, the stars shine and the northern lights dance overhead!