Elaborate stage sets the comic scene in ‘Noises Off’
By Sarah Moley
The prop-building shop below the university stage where Kerry Cripe, Colorado Shakespeare Festival technical director, has his office is a long room with rows of shelves housing many yellow boxes full of enough nuts, bolts and washers to stock a hardware store; the air is rich with the faint smell of burning wood.
Seated in one of several mismatched chairs that appear to be floating in the middle of the room, Cripe animatedly describes the production of “Noises Off” that the Colorado Shakespeare Festival is staging at the University Theater this summer.
“It’s a farce,” Cripe explains, “which means it’s a lot physical humor and, as you can tell by the set, it’s a lot of entrances and exits.”
Cripe is building a set that, through the utilization of a turntable run by a hydraulic motor attached to a gear by a chain that circumnavigates the perimeter, is designed to rotate entirely around.
“’Noises Off’ is a show about a theater troupe who is putting on a play called ‘Nothing On,’” explains Cripe, “and there’s all this interpersonal drama between the characters in the play.”
On a large table, covered in blueprints and tools, Cripe illustrates his thoughts using a model of the set that demonstrates how the 30-foot-in-diameter, two-story set will rotate to accommodate the needs of the script.
“We get to see the real drama that goes into putting on this play,” he says, “both what the audience sees during the show and what goes on backstage during the show.”
“Noises Off” by Michael Frayn, first performed in London in 1982, is a show about all of the offstage antics that affect an on-stage performance. The play depicts an ambitious director, Lloyd Dallas, and his troupe of mediocre actors who are putting on a bedroom comedy titled “Nothing On.”
Frayn first got the idea for the play standing in the wings of a performance of a farce called “Chinamen”; a show that was, in his opinion, decidedly funnier from the backstage perspective than from the audience’s point of view. So he decided to “write a farce from behind.”
The title “Noises Off” came from the theatrical stage direction that indicates sounds that are meant to come from offstage.
“One of the cool things about this show is that the audience gets to see the backstage,” Cripe says, “but the other cool thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that the technicians working the show, during act two when the actors are performing backstage antics for the audience, get to watch the show that is being performed to the imaginary audience.”
“When the actors exit from the backstage set and go ‘on stage’ they are actually performing the play ‘Nothing On’, behind the scenes of what the real audience is watching” Cripe explains.
“The nature of the play dictates several design elements,” he says. “You have to have this many staircases on the backside, you have to have this many staircases on the front side…etcetera.”
Cripe recalls that he had built the set for this show once before and, due to the demands placed on various aspects of the set and the importance of the placement of doors and staircases, the set is, and has to be, generally the same each time it is performed.
“The real design and creative flare,” Cripe explains, “come from choices in the color palette, the dressing, the treatment and the trim, the furniture choices; that kind of thing.”
Currently, the stage holds the steel framework on which they will build up the set by covering the turntable with plywood and commencing to build the two-story design.
“This,” Cripe stresses, “is not a play that can function without this set.” And, to this end, this play could not function without Cripe and the other technicians who are illustrating their own feat behind the scenes.
“In this show,” he says “more so than in others, the set itself is, in fact, a character in the script.”
In a play written about what happens off stage, Kerry Cripe is certainly a character, and an indispensable one at that, making sure that this play, about screw-ups and technical failures, goes off without a hitch.
Where: University Theatre
When: from June 28 to Aug. 5.
Tickets: $10 to $57.
Box Office: 303-492-0544; the CSF box office opened for phone and walk-up sales May 29.
Tickets online: Tickets are on sale now at: http://www.coloradoshakes.org/box-office/how-to-order-tickets