Lincoln Academy’s One Act cast after winning first place at the Regional Drama Festival on March 12.

The Lincoln Academy One Act play “The Machine Stops” won the Regional One Act Festival on March 11, 2023.

The festival took place at Medomak Valley High School the weekend of March 10-11, one of nine regional festivals around the state. Nine schools participated at Medomak, five in Class A and four in Class B. LA received the highest score of the festival, which qualifies them to move on to the State Class A Drama Festival.

“The Machine Stops” is a dystopian short story by E.M. Forster first published in 1909. The story is set in a future world where people live underground and are entirely reliant on a global machine that provides everything they need to survive. It tracks the fate of a young man who questions the authority of the machine, how he communicates his questions to his mother, and the consequences that ensue.

In order to adapt the story for the stage, Lincoln Academy Theater Director Griff Braley led students through a “facilitated process in which students work in groups and as a cast to devise aspects of the play as they understand them. This starts with studying the text, then setting basic staging parameters, and exploring to find ‘what works,’” Braley explained. “Basically we know it when we feel it and it fits together. Then we run iterations of the work until it all runs seamlessly.”

The resulting play is an ensemble piece, where most of the cast wear identical steel gray jumpsuits and act as part of the machine. Cast members serve as the levers and vocalize the noise of the machine throughout the play, which leads to a disturbing but persistent hum that underlies the performance.

The cast won four awards for acting for sophomores Elias Bassett, Anna Lupien, and Sophia Scott, and junior Benno Hennig. The play also won awards for sound operator (senior AJ Shepherd), light operator (sophomore Annalise Garnett), movement (senior Aowyn Burbank), and stage management (sophomore Calvin Percy).

“Behind each of these awards is an ensemble of people working together,” said Braley. “Sophia Scott wrote, arranged, and recorded most of the original music that AJ played and the cast sang.” In addition, the entire cast vocalizes the noise of the machine throughout the entire 40 minute play, and actors augment built-in theater lighting with handheld lights.

“The difference between our play and other plays is that we wanted to achieve something greater,” said sophomore Elias Bassett, who won an acting award as Kuno’s voice. “That’s not a knock on the other plays, they were great, but what we were trying to achieve was a very tall order. This thing can be summed up in one word… ‘unity’. This was something Griff preached to us everyday that was very difficult to achieve. However, we achieved that on Saturday night.”

“This process has shaped our cast into the most unified form it has been in,” sophomore Sophia Scott, who won an acting award for her portrayal of Vashti’s Voice, agreed. “Our play requires an intense level of focus and willingness to collaborate. The experience of the One Act Festival proved how capable our group is at tackling a challenge under pressure. This win has motivated us to push forward, and continue enhancing our performance to the fullest.”

Maine’s Drama Festival is an annual competition that is overseen, like athletics, by the Maine Principals Association. One Act performances that enter the Festival are rated on acting and production within a specific set of rules. Each play can be no longer than 40 minutes, and cast and crew have five minutes to construct the entire set and five minutes to tear it down after the production. “Lighting and sound can be particularly challenging on the road,” said Braley. “Every theater is different, and one of the challenges is preparing the play in our small Poe Theater and then performing in a space two or three times its size. That is part of the reason we put so much lighting in the hands of the actors this year: so we are not completely dependent on lighting provided by the host school.”

Add to the list of challenges facing the cast that LA has not entered a competitive One Act play since 2019, meaning this group of students is entirely new to the competition. “Going into this, none of us had ever competed in the festival,” said Anna Lupien, who won an acting award for her portrayal of Vashti. “Now I think we know how to carry ourselves more successfully through the process, which will be really helpful for future competitions.”

The LA theater program under Braley’s direction has a long string of victories. Before Covid LA won 13 regional competitions in 14 years. Now, with a 2023 regional trophy in hand, the cast and crew will take “The Machine Stops” to the State Drama Festival, which takes place March 24-25 at Fairfield High School.

“One of the things I have learned is the importance of working together and not giving up when faced with challenges,” said senior Aowyn Burbank, who played one of the play’s narrators and won an award for movement and choreography. “Our cast works as one unit, and that unity is what carried us through Regionals and what will carry us through the next few weeks.”

“This was an incredible win and an absolutely fantastic experience,” said Anna Lupien. “The atmosphere at Regionals was so uplifting and energetic. I hope that States has similar energy!

Before the state festival, the cast will host a performance at Poe Theater that will be open to the public during the week of March 20. Check the Lincoln Academy website for the exact date.