YARMOUTH — A half-dozen teenagers, wielding a couple of tennis rackets and a blue umbrella, assembled between a steamer trunk and stepladder and transformed themselves into a giant hiccuping whale.
They were so convincing that the audience could practically smell the briny seas as the Yarmouth Playmakers took to the stage Saturday afternoon at Yarmouth High School. The 50 cast and crew members of Yarmouth High School’s drama club were competing in the finals of the 83rd annual Maine Drama Festival, a statewide competition that results in professional-level live theater pulled off by teenagers.
“We have been practicing since last December, three hours a day, five days a week for three months,” said James Erwin, a senior and co-president of the Yarmouth Playmakers.
The two-day festival on Friday and Saturday pitted the best 17 teams from regional competitions earlier in March, seven teams in Class A and 10 in Class B. Twenty-five hundred student thespians from 79 high schools across the state took part in this year’s regionals.
The finals for the Class B division, which includes schools with 524 or fewer students, were staged at Yarmouth High School while Class A, for schools with 525 students or more, competed at Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport. The event is organized by the Maine Principals’ Association and the Maine Drama Council.
Students presented one-act plays ranging from classics to original student-written productions before paying audiences and a panel of judges. The list of rules was long and strict. The students had five minutes to assemble their sets and five minutes to take them away. If the play ran even one second over 40 minutes, the production was disqualified.
The cast and crew were also judged on acting, staging and technical standards, such as individual performances, ensemble work, costumes, hair and makeup, and sound.
The finals are so popular that the performances are generally sold out. A number of people had to be turned away at the door Friday night at the Yarmouth finals, where tickets went for $8.
The students spent long days preparing. The work for Yarmouth’s play started last summer when director and Yarmouth High teacher Betsy Heid-Puelle, one of only two adults involved in the Yarmouth play, asked senior Amelia French to adapt Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories” into “Josephine’s Stories,” a one-act play. Karl Munroe, a sophomore, wrote the music.
By December, the cast and crew went into full-time production, practicing on weekdays and sometimes on weekends.
On Saturday, the Yarmouth students spent the minutes leading up to their performance doing vocal warm-ups in a classroom while actors from Mount View High School in Thorndike were on stage. The pressure was on to repeat last year’s top finish.
Matthew LaMourie, a Yarmouth senior, waited quietly in his turban and cloak, pondering the multiple costume changes he would have to make between his appearances on stage.
“I am feeling a mixture of excitement and stress,” LaMourie said.
French, ready to go on stage as a peacock, said she wasn’t nervous, just hungry.
“We never eat before performances,” she said.
With just a few minutes to go, the Yarmouth students filed silently backstage, carrying the dozens of set pieces and props that would transform the stage into a Victorian attic bedroom, where Rudyard Kipling, played by James Erwin, would soon be reading his daughter, Josephine, played by Lizzie Hall, the story of “How the Whale Got His Throat.”
Yarmouth’s hard work and whale finale paid off.
Yarmouth walked away with the top spot in its division, and Oak Hill High School in Wales won second place. Gorham High School, which performed scenes from the classic “Mother Hicks,” won first place in the Class A division and Falmouth High School took second place.
Both winners earned the right to represent Maine at the New England Festival in St. Johnsbury, Vt., in April.
Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: