RUMFORD — Author Monica Wood of Portland has plenty of experience with paper mills. She grew up in Mexico, across the Androscoggin River from the Rumford paper mill.
“I’m familiar with that mill,” Wood said. “When I was younger, they used to send us into the mill as part of a field trip. We got a tour of what the mill looked like and how it worked.”
On March 31, Wood and nine others were granted permission to tour the mill, now named Catalyst, as research for Wood’s play, “Papermaker.”
The play is based on her earlier novel, “Ernie’s Ark.” It takes place in fictional Abbott Falls, Maine, and is about two families involved in a strike at the local paper mill. One is the chief executive officer’s family, the other a striking worker’s.
The play will make a five-week run beginning April 21 at the Portland Stage Co.
Among those invited on the tour were four of the six actors in the play, the sound designer, director Sally Wood, the videographer and a photographer.
Wood said many of the actors on the tour had never been in a paper mill and were impressed by its grandeur.
“There was almost a sensory overload when they walked into the mill,” Wood said. “They said that the air almost had a texture to it. It really is an overwhelming place at times.”
The tour was meant as an opportunity for “character research” for the actors, Wood said. Afterward, she said she saw a difference in the performances of Peter Albrink and Justine Salata, two New York actors who were hired to play the roles of Jake and Emily, respectively.
“You can tell that the tour affected the way that they approached their characters,” Wood said.
The sound designer was also a part of the tour, Wood said, and as a result, he discovered new sounds to include in the play.
“In order to transition between scenes, the sound designer decided to use some of the sounds that he heard at the mill,” Wood said. “Instead of musical refrains or songs, there’s going to be the sound of the machines inside of the mill.”
Wood said after she finished writing her novel, “Ernie’s Ark,” she felt she had more story to tell.
“I never felt I was finished with the characters in ‘Ernie’s Ark,’ which is a book of mine that came out in 2002,” she said. “What it is is linked stories about three different families in a little paper mill town that’s on strike. So there was this one character who was the CEO of the mill, the owner of the whole thing, that I never felt I was quite finished with. I kind of just started with him, and it just became a play.”
Wood said the two main characters in “Papermaker” are the man who owns Atlantic Paper Co. and a striking mill worker. It’s these two families that unexpectedly meet face to face through circumstances she won’t reveal.
Wood said she found writing a play much easier than writing a novel.
“For one thing, I love to write dialogue,” Wood said. “That’s the only fun I really ever have writing. In a play, that’s all you get. All you have is dialogue to tell the story. You have no narration, no description. Everything has to come through with what people say, so it was a lot of fun to write.”
“Papermaker” will open April 21 and close May 24 at Portland Stage Co., 25 Forest Ave., Portland.
For more information on how to get tickets, which range from $37 to $47, visit www.portlandstage.org/show/papermaker/.