For South Tahoe High School Artistic Director Nannette “Niv” Niven, timing is everything.
It’s especially crucial for the theater department’s upcoming production of “Noises Off,” a frenetic play that Niven calls “the funniest show you’ve never seen.”
Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off” is an English farce that breaks traditional boundaries between the audience and the actors. It’s a play within a play that lets the audience feel like they’re in on the action, according to the STHS director.
“It’s my favorite comedy. I love that it’s about putting on a show, I love that the audience gets to learn the lines,” Niven said. “I love it as an audience member because I know what is supposed to happen.”
The first act is set at a dress rehearsal for the fictional show, called “Nothing On.” Act Two portrays a live performance that eventually devolves into chaos before the curtain is pulled. In Act Three, the audience sees tensions strain among the fictional actors as they near the end of the performance’s 10-week-long run. And thanks to the construction skills of Niven’s husband, Drake, STHS’s two-story set rotates 180 degrees to show the calamity that ensues backstage.
It’s a fast-paced show where one forgotten or mis-spoken line can lead to the same disorder that befalls “Nothing On.”
“The play is so complicated particularly for high school actors because of the timing,” Niven said.
The solution? Lots and lots of repetition. If one of the students hasn’t perfected their role in a scene, Niven said she’ll make them try again. And again. And again. The cast has practiced about three hours per day, four days per week since January, and Niven said they’re ready for the spark that a live audience ignites.
The nine-person cast applied makeup and donned costumes Monday night for the week’s first dress rehearsal. All the students — many of whom have worked with Niven before — all agreed “Noises Off” was a crazy, difficult — yet fun — play.
“It’s so fast. You drop a line, you mess up the whole show,” STHS Kora Link said as she prepared to go on stage as the middle-aged actress Dotty Otley who plays Mrs. Clackett in “Nothing On.”