Student actors with the Urbana High School (UHS) Drama Department will dazzle audiences this fall with their interpretation of the quickwitted, slapstick comedy, “Noises Off.” Once a Broadway show heralded by the New York Times as an “altogether hilarious farce,” the UHS student production will showcase nine cast members and two understudies.
“‘Noises Off,’ an often high school produced show, is in essence a love letter to anyone that has been involved in theater or the directorial process,” said UHS Drama Director Stephen Ward. “It’s one of the funniest comedies ever written.”
An all-out belly laugh-inducing play-within-a-play, Michael Frayn’s acclaimed comedy “Noises Off” gives audiences a seldom seen peek behind the curtain as backstage actor antics play out in hysterical form.
“Act I takes you through a rehearsal, where everything can go wrong. And in Act II, the whole set rotates so the audience sees the show from a backstage perspective,” said Ward.
Now in his 12th year at Urbana High and third year as full-time drama director, Ward talked about his excitement in doing the piece, and also the challenges it posed.
“’Noises Off’ is the most technically challenging show I have ever directed. I always wanted to direct this show, but I had to wait until the right year with the right people,” said Ward, who has participated with the UHS Drama Department for the past 10 years. “It was about finding the perfect puzzle of 11 people who were going to be spending so much time together on the stage.”
Each practice for “Noises Off” lasts two-and-a-half hours, and 11 cast members are eager to perform this November.
“It’s a lot of fun, and just a lot of ridiculousness,” said Seth Hajzus, a senior at Urbana High who plays the part of Frederick “Freddie” Fellowes. Hajzus, now in his seventh and last show with the ensemble, said that participating in theater has helped boost his confidence and develop his leadership skills, too. “I became Drama Club president last year, and I’m captain of my track team.”
Wanting to give more students an opportunity to participate in school productions, in 2017 Ward decided to increase the number of UHS performances to three per school year. The audition process depends on the show, but it generally involves group reads and monologues. Since most of Act II in “Noises Off” is almost entirely done in silence (as the audience watches everything going wrong “backstage”), this year the students were also asked to complete a mime activity to create and tell a story without using any words at all.
“It was actually a lot of fun,” said Hajzus. “My freshmen year we had to mime an entire scene. It felt good to start off miming and build those techniques throughout the years and seeing the progression.”
With unwavering dedication to the UHS Drama Department and to the students’ future success, Ward offers supportive advice to any student wanting to pursue their passion for acting after high school graduation. “Never think that you know it all. Be willing to try everything. Be willing to try every exercise, every activity, every technique, because it will all be a resourceful bank of information later on,” said Ward.
The UHS Drama Department pairs the upcoming fall production of “Noises Off” with a One Act in “Bad Ideas for Bad Television Shows,” which is a show that is shorter in nature (about 30 minutes) and precedes the two-hour mainstage performance. Both performances promise to be so slapstick hysterical and engaging that attendees won’t have the time or even the desire to look at their watches. Like last year’s performance of “The Laramie Project,” ticket holders should note that the fall production of “Noises Off” contains themes and subject matter that are mature in nature.
“Because we are a high school company, we’re able to do shows with a mature theme,” said Ward. “We do tone it down for our audiences and our community, but we stay true to the show.”
As a rule of thumb, the UHS drama director encourages prospective audience members to read up on any show in order to understand the content prior to purchasing tickets.
Cast members are Mackenzie Ford as Dotty Otley; Tyler Crean as Lloyd Dallas; Jack Baumgarten as Garry Lejeune; Natalie Mixon as Brooke Ashton; Seth Hajzus as Frederick Fellowes; Bianca Sanchez as Belinda Blair; Michael Holman as Selsdon Mowbray; Tommy Truitt as Tim Allgood; Zoe Thomas as Poppy Norton-Taylor; Isabella Slyman as Female Swing/Dottie’s Assistant; and Ben Coyne as Male Swing/Tim’s Assistant.
Showtimes are Thursday, Nov. 8, 7 p.m.; Friday, Nov. 9, 7 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 10, 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.uhsdrama.org.