NHS keeps the energy up with 'Noises Off'
This school year, Newberg High School drama teacher Mike McConnaughey has been determined to challenge his students at just about every turn.
This winter that has meant tackling the behind-the-scenes comedy "Noises Off," a dizzying production that depicts a troupe of actors over the course of their run of performing a play of their own.
Each of the actors in the fully double-cast production are not only portraying characters on the main "level" of the play, but also the roles those characters are in turn inhabiting for the play inside the play, which in this case is a cheeky British sex romp called "Nothing On."
"I want them to have experiences that are widely varied and challenging," McConnaughey said. "They're rising to the occasion for sure. It's very fun, too."
Originally, the script calls for British actors performing a play in their own country, but McConnaughey and student directors Hallie Flukinger and Tess Hartley have made things a bit easier on both the students and the audience by making the characters at the primary level of the play American actors traveling to perform in Britain.
"So when they drop out of character, it goes back to American accents," McConnaughey said. "We've tried to add just that little flavor so it's a little bit different. It makes it a little bit easier for our students to differentiate characters because their speech changes."
The general premise of the play arose when playwright Michael Frayn watched a performance of a different play he had written from backstage and found it much more fun than from the "front." So he aspired to write a farce "from behind."
The plot tracks along with the troupe's run of performances, with the first act depicting opening night, the second act covering a show a month or so in (when things for the cast have fallen apart), and the third act detailing a show near the end of the run (when the actors are beyond done with it all).
"We get to see the characters as relationships degrade, love triangles form and dissolve," McConnaughey said. "We get to see how that affects them on stage and off, and how motivations change with how their characters interact or how what they do when they come off stage changes drastically from one act to another."
McConnaughey has designed a revolving set (in four pieces) with one side depicting the "Nothing On" stage, while the reverse side represents the backstage area for "Nothing On." The backstage set includes windows so glimpses of the "stage" and the ongoing performance of "Nothing On" can be seen in the background as the actual audience follows what the American actors are up to when they're not performing.
"That was very fun to design offstage space that is actually on stage," McConnaughey said.
It's all a lot for Flukinger and Hartley to keep track of, which is why they were happy to split the directing work. On show night, Flukinger will lead the crew in the booth, while Hartley will oversee things backstage (the actual one).
"The actors have been great, working with us to make sure they are getting their characters," Hartley said. "It's an insane show and they've been very patient."
Part of the fun is that through the course of the show, the audience gets a chance to learn what is supposed to happen on stage for "Nothing On" and then see how it goes off the rails.
"We get to peek behind the curtain a little bit of what the actor life might feel like and the chaos that ensues when things don't go exactly right on stage," McConnaughey said. "It's very fun. It is a high-energy show for sure."
The production schedule for the show was also crunched thanks to a busy lineup of shows in Drea Ferguson Auditorium in December, but the entire cast and crew has managed to pull it together.
Actor Braedon Sunnes, for one, is eager to get in front of a live audience.
"Having an audience will be so nice to get that feedback because right now we have this great, funny line and we hear pencils and tapping on laptops as people take notes," Sunnes said. "Once we have an audience, it will be nice to have that flow and have a breath for laugh lines. There's almost no stopping, it feels like sometimes in rehearsal."
The show opens at 7 p.m. Thursday, with 7 p.m. shows Friday and Saturday, as well as on Feb. 15, 16 and 17. Cost is $8 for adults and $6 for students and seniors.
"No matter how we do the show, the audience is going to have to completely pay attention every second, which is good because it will mean they're entertained," Flukinger said. "But if someone falls asleep, they're going to be lost."