Michael Michetti is no stranger to the issues that can develop among actors offstage.
During rehearsals for plays he’s directed in the past, he said he’s frequently worn a T-shirt reminding his actors to “keep the drama on the stage.”
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But while directing PlayMakers Repertory Company’s most recent production, Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off,” he asked his actors to create as much turmoil as possible.
The British comedy is a play within a play that tells the story of a fifth-rate theatre troupe on tour with their destined-for-chaos show, “Nothing On.”
From onstage disasters to backstage romantic drama, “Noises Off” is about everything that can get in performers’ ways, said Matthew Schneck, an actor in the show.
“By the third act, everything in the company has fallen apart,” Michetti said. “Everything is going awry and the actors are trying to cover all the mistakes that are going on.”
The key to staging the chaos was honing comedic precision and timing, Michetti said.
The cast worked to create the illusion of completely spontaneous mayhem, which Michetti said is fundamental to entertaining the audience.
Jeff Cornell, an actor in the show and associate chairman of the dramatic art department, said that the play’s setting in Britain also adds to its comedic charm.
“Brits are funny on their own and actor Brits are even funnier,” he said.
To create the world of “Noises Off,” McKay Coble, a set designer and chairwoman of the dramatic art department, crafted a set stable enough to withstand being slammed and broken, she said.
It also rotates during the second act to reveal the backstage mayhem of “Nothing On” — all within 20 feet of stage space.
Coble said there were moments during rehearsals when some of the play’s events seemed familiar.
“It’s wild because when things are going wrong in rehearsals, we find ourselves having the same experiences that are supposed to be (going) on in the play,” she said.
But Michetti has certainly experienced onstage mishaps of a “Noises Off” degree.
On the opening night of a play that he directed, “Black Comedy,” the second-story part of the stage fell down onto the main stage, he said. Furniture and actors flew everywhere, but no one was hurt.
“The actors found a way to continue on and perform even though there was furniture strewn about the stage,” he said.
This spirit of perseverance among actors is also what appealed to Michetti about the characters of “Noises Off.”
“Despite everything going wrong, they are all buoyed by the most famous showbiz saying of all time, ‘The show must go on,’” he said.
And he believes the characters will charm UNC students, too.
“The play is great for people who think that theater isn’t necessarily for them,” Michetti said.
“It’s fun and a great romp.”
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