Twelfth Night will make my third educational tour with Theater at Monmouth in less than two years. There are certainly less time- and labor-intensive acting opportunities out there, so it follows that something truly special keeps drawing me back to this job in particular. Maybe a few things.

1. The people that are Theater at Monmouth are amazing! Whether it’s the administrative and artistic staff, the beautiful people that comprise the board of trustees or the dedicated patrons who return to Cumston Hall year after year, there’s nobody here who doesn’t love this establishment and believe firmly in its purpose and potential. They sense the magic of it.

Max Waszak as Hamlet and Grace Bauer as Gertrude in the 2012 tour of Hamlet.

Max Waszak as Hamlet and Grace Bauer as Gertrude in the 2012 tour of Hamlet.

2. We should all be so lucky to see the state of Maine when we happen to be driving a twelve-passenger van (with four seats removed to make room for sets, costumes and props). You wake up at 6am to get on the road by 7am to make it to a school by 8am, so you can put on a show at 9am and all you have to do is look out the window to know it was worth it. I’ve been lucky enough to perform in scores of towns from York to Limestone and the absurdity of the natural beauty here is like nothing else. It’s addictive. It never bothered me that I’d gone 25 years without seeing a moose, but when I finally did, driving back to Monmouth after a day of workshops in Rangely, I thought, “What have I been doing with my life? How many Americans have not seen a moose and how do we fix that?”

The spectrum of magnificence is so vast in this state that I don’t need to ride the waves at Popham or watch the sun set from the top of Cadillac Mountain to experience it. I’m lucky enough to be housed with a very supportive community member on the edge of town. On my way to show that beautiful property to a friend one night I pulled over on the narrow bridge that crosses the southern tip of Cobbosseecontee Lake and we got out of the car. We looked up into the night sky and gazed more stars than I’ve ever beheld in my life. It looked as though a child with a jar of silver glitter had gained access to a Jackson Pollock painting before it dried. We were mesmerized. Since then, I’ve stopped there every night, shut off the engine and headlights and just sat. I marvel at the big dipper to my immediate left, I study the pile of twinkling dust that defies gravity and I listen to the calls of the water birds and the soft splashes of unknown creatures.

3. My father is a teacher and I never imagined I could find joy in such a profession. The truth of the matter is that the response we get from students is the most rewarding aspect of this endeavor. Our director, James Noel Hoban said yesterday, during our first rehearsal, “Audiences are smart!” Student audiences are proof of this. Few of our school audiences are allowed to decide whether or not to see our show and though they must be there in body, they can be wherever they choose in mind and spirit. As soon as we walk out from behind the drop, they make a decision about how much mental energy (if any) to devote to our story. They read us in the instant and we read them right back. The only thing more satisfying than the energy of those who are engaged by our storytelling is that of those who checked out and were compelled to rejoin us.

At times, I’m concerned that the world that’s been created for our young people is inescapably two-dimensional, but then we are given proof that they are listening and want to be part of our story. In last year’s tour of Hamlet, the roles of Claudius and the Ghost of King Hamlet were played by the same actor. After one performance, we came out from backstage for a post-show discussion during which a student remarked, “My favorite actor was the one who played the ghost.” Then he asked, “Where is he?” This student was so engrossed by the play that he believed there had been another actor in the company that played the ghost. These tours consist of stripped-down productions in which storytelling has to come first. When students are happy to become swept up in the action despite minimal set and costumes and fluorescent lighting, they let us know that our service to the text is true and that our purpose in these communities is strong. Just one reason I keep climbing back into that van.

—Max Waszak