Smile Politely

Art mimics life: Noises Off! at Parkland Theatre

Noises Off! is described as a satire of a play within a play, where a hopelessly unprepared cast is rehearsing a play called “Nothing On” and it, hilariously, shows the mishaps, miscues, and mistakes of the actors on and off stage. Since its opening in 1982, Noises Off has been performed a number of times, even being made into a film in 1992.

I love plays, and I especially love plays that specifically make a satire out the rehearsal and production process. Having done theater for four years in high school, I understand the problems that typically plague both actors and the production staff, and to take those and transform them into hilarity as done in Noises Off! promises to be entertaining.

To give me some insight on how a theater puts on a play about theater, I chatted with the play’s director, Christine Sevec-Johnson, about Parkland Theatre’s journey of bringing Noises Off! to life and their own ups and downs along the way.

Smile Politely: Noises Off! is described as a satire of a play within a play, where a hopelessly unprepared cast is rehearsing a play called “Nothing On” and it, hilariously, shows the mishaps, miscues, and mistakes of the actors on and off stage. Since its opening in 1982, Noises Off has been performed a number of times, even being made into a film in 1992. What is your take of the play, and how have you adapted it for Parkland Theater? Have you been able to deviate from the original story line at all?

Christine: My take on the play is simply to bring to life the brilliant writing. This play is very complex and funny, yet very specifically mapped out. The author, Michael Frayn, provides everything the company needs to realize the production – rich, identifiable characters, comedy of situation, comedy of language, and enough physical humor to keep any acting company fit for the duration. The task for our company is to bring our energy, patience, focus and imagination to the demands of a brilliantly crafted and hilarious play.

Our production at Parkland does not deviate from the script at all. As theatre artists, we greatly respect authors and their meticulous choices in crafting plays. Every word, every punctuation mark has been chosen for a reason. And it is our responsibility to take the script as written, and bring it to life.

We do have an actress playing a role that was originally written for a male. Other than that, we’re setting the play in present time, and the design team has interpreted the specific needs of the set, costumes, lights, sound and props beautifully and effectively.

SP: As a director, what do you consider to be your most important role in bringing Noises Off! to life and making sure it’s accessible to audiences? Has this been a difficult process?

Sevec-Johnson: I believe my most important role is to map out the complex choreography of the play, and to shape the hills, valleys, and momentum of the play. I cannot stress how extraordinarily complex it is! But it is as funny as it is complex.

The difficulty, or challenge of the process, has really been meeting the needs of the complexity of the play, and supporting the actors in knowing where they go and what they do at any given moment. There are 8 doors on the set, and countless props. And the props all need to be in specific places at specific times. Keeping track of character movement and prop placement, frankly, was crazy!

SP: How long have you been rehearsing, and how has the cast worked together during rehearsals? Has rehearsing been a relatively smooth process?

Sevec-Johnson: We started rehearsal on October 4, 2015. The cast has been brilliant from the start. Really super talented people, working beautifully together. It’s been a real joy to watch them breathe life into the characters and the play. The actors constantly surprise me and inspire me.     

We had some unfortunate circumstances arise however, and two original cast members had to leave the production and be replaced. So we’ve had to rehearse in two new actors with 7 days until Opening. It’s been stressful, but everyone is managing brilliantly. And our new company members are astonishingly wonderful!

SP: When did you hold auditions for Noises Off! and what were you looking for in your actors during the casting process?

Sevec-Johnson: Auditions were held in late August. I was looking for actors who could deal with the language, the humor, and the comic timing required by the play.

SP: What do you think will be the funniest moment for audiences? How have you and the cast worked to bring the humor of Noises Off! to the stage?

Sevec-Johnson: It’s difficult to site any singular moment as being the funniest. There are so many of them! Each character has numerous moments of hilarity. Perhaps some of the situations in Act II could be deemed as the funniest. I don’t want to describe anything so as not to give anything away!

We approached the humor from truthfulness. It’s a farce, not a cartoon. Therefore I felt it was important for the actors to develop dimensional and believable characters. The rest of the humor comes from honoring everything the playwright has given us – very specific action, and wonderfully written dialogue.

SP: What do you hope your actors, and the audience, will gain from the show?

Sevec-Johnson: I hope the audience gains pleasure, laughter, delight, escape, and appreciation for this very talented cast, design team, and running crew.
I hope the actors gain confidence in their ability to play this material. Having realized this demanding piece will prepare them for every farce or British comedy they encounter in the future.

SP: Lastly, what has been the most enjoyable part for you in directing Noises Off!, and on the flip side what do you find to be the most difficult aspect and how do you work to overcome those difficulties?

Sevec-Johnson: The most enjoyable part of this process has been working with my very gifted cast. Getting to know them as actors and people has enriched me as a person and as a theatre artist. It’s been very inspiring to watch the actors grow into their roles and embrace the challenges of this play. I never tire of going to rehearsal and watching them. This is one production that I will be very sad to see end.

Certainly the most difficult part of this production was losing two cast members so late in the rehearsal process. Thankfully the production was in very good shape when our new cast members came to us. There is really nothing else to do but soldier on in these circumstances. It’s an opportunity for everyone to put their best selves forward. We’ve had to practice extreme professionalism, meaning exercising patience and generosity of spirit, maintaining focus, and simply being kind to and supportive of one another. I’m proud to say that we’re triumphing, and looking forward to a vibrant and successful run!

Noises Off! will be held at Parkland College in the Harold and Jean Miner Theater. Shows run on November 12th, 13th, 14th, 19th, 20th, and 21st at 7:30 p.m., and November 22nd at 3 p.m.

Ticket prices are $15 for adults, $13 for students and seniors (65+), $9 for youth (12 and under), and $11 each for groups of 15 or more. Opening night, Nov. 12th, is “pay what you can night” where each indivdual sets their own ticket price. Thursday, November 19th all tickets are half- price. 

More information, and to make a reservation, can be found on the play’s website.

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