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Gwen Beal: From Almost Nothing To “Almost, Maine”

On her 1st day of school 4 years ago, Gwen Beal auditioned for Staples Players’ fall show, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

She didn’t get a role.

But instead of marking the end of her Players career, it was the beginning.

Assistant director Caley Baretta asked Gwen to sit in on a rehearsal. Though intimidated — Caley was a well-known junior — Gwen said “sure.”

She was hooked.

She interned with Caley for the spring production of “Twelve Angry Men.” She continued to work with — and learn from — Caley as a sophomore.

As a junior, Gwen was on her own.

Gwen Beal, working hard on the set of “Almost, Maine.”

Now — less than a month from graduation — she’s reached the end of a very enjoyable and creative 4-year Staples Players career. “Almost, Maine” — a serio-comic collection of whimsical tales about the joys and perils of romance in a small Maine town — is set for this Thursday, Friday and Saturday (May 24, 25 and 26) in the Black Box Theatre.

It’s a clever, intriguing play — one of those you-may-not-know-it-but-you’ll love-it shows. It’s also a fitting capstone for Gwen’s career.

“To think that I saw maybe 2 Players productions before I got here. And now it’s become the biggest part of my life,” she marvels.

Actors get all the props applause, but a role like Gwen’s is crucial to any play’s success.

“It’s so rewarding to watch a scene grow,” she says. “We shape it the way we want. It really is ours. Mr. Roth (David, the director) oversees things, but in a lot of ways we’re really on our own.”

Michelle Pauker and Bryan Gannon, two of the stars in “Almost, Maine.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

From casting suggestions to helping block and run scenes — plus nitty-gritty but very necessary work like handling dinner — an assistant director can make or break a show.

Gwen learned her role by “stalking Caley. I saw everything she did. There’s no textbook to read. Everything is trial and error.”

Once, Gwen forget an important binder. She got yelled at — and never made the same mistake again.

She’s excited about “Almost, Maine” because the cast and staging are so intimate. “Everyone has a story to tell, but the scenes are short. You don’t have much time to get the whole character across.”

Everett Sussman (left) and Clay Singer discuss the world in “Almost, Maine.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

It’s not easy for a high school actor to play an adult going through a divorce. “That’s so beyond our experience,” Gwen says. “But it’s so rewarding to figure out how to do it, and do it right.”

Some days are blissful. Others are freak-outs. Yet, Gwen notes, “when you figure everything out, there’s no feeling like it.”

Right now, she feels “bittersweet. I’m totally in denial that on Saturday, I’ll be all done with Players. This experience has really shaped me as a person. I’ve learned to talk to adults, technicians, older Players and peers. I’ve learned so much about people.

“My entire high school experience would have been different without Players.”

And all because an older student asked casually, can you give me a hand?

(“Almost, Maine” will be produced in the Staples Black Box Theatre this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 24, 25 and 26, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for senior citizens and students. There is also a 4 p.m. performance on Saturday, May 26; tickets are $5 for senior citizens and students. Click here for reserved seats.)
Click the YouTube arrow below for an “Almost, Maine” trailer:
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