This is the first in a series of interviews with the cast and director of 1st Stage’s production of Noises Off. Meet Director Doug Wilder.
Why did you want to direct this show at 1st Stage?
Sometimes at night, when I’m sitting alone on my couch with a half-eaten pizza and an unwatched episode of Breaking Bad, I like to think of myself as an ‘artist.’ And the kind of artist I want to be is the kind of artist who helps the world fill itself with joy and compassion. Noises Off is such a wonderfully funny play, and in a part of the country where we are constantly dealing with protests and politics, sometimes what we need is a nice long bought of laughter.
What is it about the play that made you want to direct the show?
It’s an amazing challenge, and shows that are the biggest challenges often turn into the best farce, I’m excited to watch people laugh and enjoy themselves! (Assuming they do).
Introduce us to your cast and the characters they play. What do you feel they will bring to their performances, and why were they the perfect actors to play these roles?
There are 9 wonderful performers in Noises Off, a great mix of DC veterans, and a few folks making their professional debut, or not far off from their professional debut.
Dylan Myers is so specific as Gary, bringing a constantly motivated and very funny presence to the show. His moments of anger and fear in acts two and three are some of the best moments in the show.
We were so lucky to get Melissa Graves as Belinda. She’s brought so much kindness and warmth to the role and to the rehearsal room. Belinda is a little on the gossipy side, and the gleeful way Melissa plays these moments is a wonderful addition to what could be a very snarky character.
Kathleen Akerley brings such a professional mindset to her work as Dotty, and drilled all of her comic moments until they became wonderfully sharp and consistent laugh moments for us all.
The role of Vicki is hard to cast because finding a good enough actor to play her lack of intelligence and spacey nature while still making her fun and loveable is so difficult. But Blair Bowers is such an intelligent and distinct performer, and she’s brought something really wonderful to the role. And I hope I don’t get too many curses from my girlfriend or her boyfriend to say she definitely has the right… assets… for the part.
Mario Baldessar is Selsden, and is a farce veteran, and it’s so clear he knows how to connect with an audience. He played with so many options for comedy during rehearsal that I doubt you’ll ever see his performance the same way twice, but I can guarantee he’ll always get every laugh in the script.
Zachary Fernebok brings his wit and wonderful sense of dry comedy to the part of Freddy, and you can really believe he’s the neurotic worry-wart that Freddy is. He’s always willing to play with any actor, and try any note.
Matthew Pauli is bringing such great depth to Lloyd, a role that can easily become an anger train. He is also a trained clown, and his help making jokes a little more clear has been invaluable in the rehearsal room.
For Jason Glass, this is only his third or fourth professional role, but he’s so physically capable, and so excited about his part, and that excitement is perfect for Tim, who is working so hard to always save the show.
Our Poppy, Kate Karczewski, is making her professional debut in the show, and it’s really great to be there at the beginning of what should be a long career. She’ll be fun to watch.
Introduce us to the designers and how their work will help bring your vision to the stage. How has their design changed since the first meetings?
Steven Royal’s set is absolutely gorgeous, and he’s solved so many problems this show can typically encounter. First Stage has a great, wide, and deep playing space, and Steven’s set manages to use every bit of it, especially in the rotation.
Erin Nugent really had a great eye for the period we were setting Nothing On, the play within the play. Her costumes are colorful, fun, and really help bring excitement to each of the roles. For some reason, I’m very tickled by the burglar costumes. I just find them so interesting, and Phillip’s pants are a real crowd-pleaser.
Jason Schlafstein found us a ton of 70s novelty music to help us keep the audience in the right spirits for the show. There is a fantastic big band McDonald’s song everyone should be on the lookout for, and his execution of our circus/novelty/English theme was really inspired.
Brian Allard knew exactly what this show was, and he really did some nice work bringing accents and fun to each act. Noises Off is pretty stagnant in that it doesn’t really deviate too far from its base looks, but Brian brought nice life to the play.
What did you know about Michael Frayn before you became director of the show and what have you learned since you have become involved in this production that has surprised you?
I’ve always loved Michael Frayn’s work. I first got to know it while I was reading his excellent translations of Anton Checkhov’s work, and then grew to love Copenhagen (I was a bio-chem major in school), and Democracy. I find he always has an interesting way to access the material of his plays, and his wordplay is fantastic.
Which character in the play is most like you, and why?
Mario Baldessari, who plays Selsden, the other day said that the rehearsal process always seems to mimic the play. And in this process, he couldn’t be more correct. In that regard, I’d have to say I feel like Lloyd. But I’ve had plenty of experiences where I’ve felt like Garry, who is just always on the short end of the stick with other actors making him improvise his way through the play, or Tim (Especially with my work at The Conservatory) where I’ve been up for 48 straight hours building the set, and directors are still making constant demands of me. Either way, although each character is a little broad, they all are people that anyone who has ever worked in the theater can recognize instantly.
Which scene is your favorite and why? Which one is the funniest?
There are so many funny and favorite scenes in the show. There is one moment I like in Act Two which was a last minute find in rehearsals where Tim comes out the hero over an irate Garry. You’ll have to see it to know which one!
What scene or scenes has/have been the most difficult to direct?
Act Two is a very difficult beast. All of the action has to be choreographed like dance to make sure the audience knows where to place focus and the actors don’t fall down the stairs (by accident). We definitely were forced to spend the most rehearsal time there, even though it’s only about 25% of the show. But I think the results are speaking for themselves in terms of the clarity we’ve found and the humor it invokes!
In this show the actors have to keep moving all the time. How did you find the right timing?
Actually, it’s surprising how much this isn’t true. The actors are forced to run around the playing space quite a bit, and I’d be doing a disservice to them to pretend their work isn’t exhausting, but constant movement from each performer would turn the action into chaos. Each performer has time where they are the featured action according to what the audience needs to focus on, and that became the focus of our direction. Each person is taking focus and they are giving focus through active listening and stillness.
Thanks for your interest in the show! Join us for a great night of laughter at the theater!
Doug Wilder is absolutely thrilled to direct one of the funniest plays of all time at 1st Stage. Doug is the director of education at the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts, as well as a graduate of its three year conservatory program. He also co-runs the film and theater production company Crash of Rhinos with other very talented folk. Most recently, Doug directed the Director’s Award winning Disco Jesus and the Apostles of Funk for the Capital Fringe Festival and the resurrection for the fall Fringe Festival. In the Washington DC area, Doug has directed over 20 for various theaters plays, including Actors Repertory Theater, Wayside Theater, Imagination Stage, Charter Theater, and The National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts, and has acted in over 50 productions.
Making Some Noise: Behind the Scenes of 1st Stage’s ‘Noises Off’: Part 1: Director Doug Wilder.
Making Some Noise: Behind the Scenes of 1st Stage’s ‘Noises Off’: Part 2: Mario Baldessari (Selsdon).
-Making Some Noise: Behind the Scenes of 1st Stage’s ‘Noises Off’: Part 3: Matthew Pauli (Lloyd).
–Making Some Noise: Behind the Scenes of 1st Stage’s ‘Noises Off’: Part 4: Kate Karczewski (Poppy).
–Making Some Noise: Behind the Scenes of 1st Stage’s ‘Noises Off’: Part 5: Blair Bowers (Brooke).