Like most high school theater departments this fall, the students of Maiden High School in Catawba County had a big decision to make: what play they’d produce in the new school year. The play they picked was Almost, Maine—and that’s when the real drama started.
Almost, Maine has been produced by more than 2,000 theater companies. It’s made up of nine short vignettes that have a different couple in each scene dealing with some sort of issue involving love—falling in, out, for, or away from it.
The students can't practice at a high school auditorium. They actually rehearse at the Hickory Regional Airport.
How these students came to be practicing at an airport is quite the drama, complete with controversy, great debate—and a hopeful ending.
There’s a scene called They Fell. Two guys—who are best friends—discover they have feelings for each other. The scene ends with both of them falling, symbolizing their love for each other.
Maiden High School Principal Robert Bliss canceled Almost, Maine in October for “sexually explicit overtones and multiple sexual innuendoes.” That’s what he said in a statement at the time—he would not return phone calls for this story.
The play’s producer Carmen Eckard believes timing was everything with this decision. She thinks the cancellation was linked to the legalization of gay marriage.
“So gay marriage becomes legal, people get mad, days later the preacher goes to the principal, has a closed door meeting that we aren’t privy to," she says. "The principal came out to say we’re not doing the play. He didn’t offer a discussion about it. Someone was just mad, they were worked up and they wanted to take it out on someone. That’s my opinion.”
Mark Ivey is the pastor she’s talking about. And yes, he did complain to the school.
“We just felt like the public system isn’t the place to promote those kinds of things among teenagers and that was our concern and that was why we applauded the principal for making the decision to remove it from the high school," said Ivey.
Ivey says there are two scenes in Almost, Maine he has a problem with. Both he says promote premarital sex.
The first scene he references is on the racy side. A boy and girl discover they have feelings for each other after a day of riding snow mobiles. Clothes are removed. The two enter a house with the assumption that they’ll discover those feelings in a more…physical way.
And then there’s the other scene. He claims in this scene "two young men fall in love and kiss on stage."
That’s actually not true. There was no kiss at rehearsal and there is no kiss in the script for this particular scene.
John Cariani ,who wrote the play Almost, Maine, says he disagrees with how the school understood the play.
"I think it's a pretty clean play. There is some sexual innuendo but it's very gentle. You can play it as heavily or as lightly as you want to," says Cariani.
He worries that this is more than just a decision to cancel a play and that it could be detrimental to students on a deeper level.
“If you don't allow a play to be done because there's a scene between two men falling in love ,that isn’t going to help any gay youth in the school," says Cariani.
And what makes for acceptable content in a school play? Eckard says there are racier productions in high schools, like Grease.
But this isn’t a sad story. Local community theater people like Eckard have made sure the play will see an opening night.
She led a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $6,605. Playwright John Cariani waved the licensing fees for the play. And local theater members, like director Bill Morgan, have donated their time to help the students.
School cancelation, funding challenges, and controversy aside—the show is going on. The play opens Thursday night and runs through Saturday at the SALT Block Auditorium near downtown Hickory.