The cast members of "Nothing On," the play within the play "Noises Off," includes, in front from left, Rob Gross as Selsdon Mowbray, Sara Kroshus as Brooke Ashton and Mark Schroeder as Garry Lejeune. On the stairs are Sarah Schroeder as Dotty Otley, Abe Mende as Frederick Fellowes  and Bethany Engen as Belinda Blair.
The cast members of "Nothing On," the play within the play "Noises Off," includes, in front from left, Rob Gross as Selsdon Mowbray, Sara Kroshus as Brooke Ashton and Mark Schroeder as Garry Lejeune. On the stairs are Sarah Schroeder as Dotty Otley, Abe Mende as Frederick Fellowes and Bethany Engen as Belinda Blair.
In most plays, the acting may appear to be only "stage-deep"; the audience sees only what is happening on the stage and not behind the stage as actors prepare to enter, change costumes, gather props and other tasks. In a sense, there is a whole other world going on behind the stage. Ye Olde Opera House (YOOH) in Spring Grove is excited to present "Noises Off" - a truly unique theater experience that takes the audience along to see the drama and comedy that not only happens on the stage, but behind the scenes as well.

"Noises Off," according to Stage Agent website, is a comedy-within-a-comedy that captures a touring theater troupe's production of "Nothing On" in three stages: dress rehearsal, the opening performance, and a performance toward the end of the run. Each performance is portrayed from behind the scenes, progressing from flubbed lines and missed cues in the dress rehearsal to mounting friction between cast members in the final performance.

YOOH will be performing this play on April 5, 6 and 7 at the Fest Building with a large, extensive two-story set that includes both the stage and the backstage.

The set

"Some plays are larger than life. There's such a thing as a locational theater where you travel in the footsteps of actors and have to go through the same things they do," explained co-director Rachel Storlie. "In our case, you just have to travel to the other side of the set, so the audience gets to see the play from both sides. In most theaters, they would have the set revolve, so you'd get to see what they want to let you see as backstage, but we give you the real thing! It is a rare theatrical experience for an audience to enjoy this insider's view while they eat, drink and eavesdrop on the process!"

Co-directors Rachel and David Storlie conceived of the unique and extensive set. YOOH board member Lee Hoekstra engineered and constructed the set.

"What a friend we have in Lee," Rachel said with a big smile. "His attentions to detail, volunteer work ethic and concern for our safety has been truly professional! This is a two-story country house with three sets of stairs, eights doors and French windows with 'breakable' mullioned glass. It has to support up to three people on the upper floor at one time, numerous slammed doors, and actors running, hopping, falling down the stairs throughout."

To add to the difficulty of the set construction, it had to first be assembled at Ye Olde Opera House and then disassembled in segments and transported to the Fest Building to be rebuilt again, finally giving the cast a real sense of the freedom and movement that they will have during the actual performance.

The cast

The cast began their read-throughs in mid-January. "It has been quite a challenge for the cast to be at it this long, but we felt it was necessary to get an early start due to the difficulty of the script and the set," commented Storlie. "We have been working extensively on dual character development, since each cast member (with the exception of Tim the stagehand and Poppy the stage manager) has an 'amateur actor personality' for their off-stage communication and behavior, as well as, a well-defined, scripted personality to carry on their role within the 'Nothing On' play."

Cast members for "Noises Off" include many familiar YOOH faces, Abe Mendez as Frederick Fellowes, Bethany Engen as Belinda Blair, Mark Schroeder as Garry Lejeune, Sarah Schroeder as Dotty Otley, Rob Gross as Selsdon Mowbray, Sara Kroshus as Brooke Ashton, David Storlie as Lloyd Dallas, Robin Bartell as Poppy Norton-Taylor and Harvey Goetting as Tim Allgood.

"Everybody has a spectacular role filled with plenty of great one-liners and physical action," remarked Rachel. "From dropped trousers and missing whiskey bottles to dropped lines and psychosomatic nosebleeds - you don't want to miss a single moment!"

A production isn't possible without the support of many that aren't seen on stage. Support also came from Sarah Schroeder as the producer, Sara Kroshus and Rachel Storlie with costumes, Bethany Engen and Jill Bjerke with props, Mary Deters as stage manager, various community members with lighting and sound, and all cast members with set painting and dressing.

Tickets

Friday and Saturday ticket prices of $25 include a three-course meal. With each course, the audience will move to a different location as they watch the production on stage and backstage. The delicious meal includes: mixed greens with roasted beets, walnuts and blue cheese; Selsdon's Drunken Pork Chops with apple brandy chutney, seasoned green beans with cashews and garlic mashed potatoes with country herbs plus a choice of dessert. Coffee and water will be served at each table and a cash bar will be available. Attendees should remember that the bar will only accept cash and no cards.

Sunday's performance is a dessert theater and the ticket price of $10 includes a choice of assorted desserts such as cheesecake with fruit compote, decadent chocolate and light lemon pie. Coffee and water will be served at each table.

Tickets must be purchased in advance in order for the food to be prepared. Tickets are available for purchase at Merchants Bank in Spring Grove and Caledonia, Spring Grove Communications and Oneota Food Co-op in Decorah. They are also available from any cast member and by calling YOOH at (507) 498-JULY. Phone orders must leave information regarding which performance, the number of tickets, and contact name and number for a confirmation call. Phone orders must send in a check prior to the performance in order to secure their order. There are a limited number of tickets; people are encouraged to buy their tickets soon as they are selling quickly.

Choosing the play

While in college and studying in England, David saw "Noises Off." A close friend was acting in it and David so enjoyed it that he vowed to be a part of it at some point in his life.

Rachel had seen the movie version, starring Michael Caine, Carol Burnett, Christopher Reeves and John Ritter, numerous times and considers it to be one of her favorite movies.

While vacationing in England last year, David and Rachel made a point of seeing another production of "Noises Off."

"The performance we saw at Aldwych Theater was amazing. We suffered many strained abdominal muscles and maybe even a cracked rib as a result of laughter!" Rachel mused. "We knew we had to ask the YOOH board members to support a venture with 'Noises Off.' It was presented as an option to perform and passed. We were very excited and couldn't wait to get started!

"If you want a first-rate theatrical experience, a memorable and succulent meal and great atmosphere all combined into one fantastic evening out while supporting the local arts scene, please join us for 'Noises Off'," she added with a big smile. "Do not miss your chance to see the funniest farce ever written!"