Wednesday, January 16, 2019     Volume: 19, Issue: 45

Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on March 14th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 2 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 19, Issue 2

Santa Maria Civic Theatre tackles difficult stage comedy with 'Noises Off'


Even as he does an interview to help promote the new play at the Santa Maria Civic Theatre, actor and director Cody Fogh is busy working.

At the moment, Fogh, a UC Santa Barbara film school graduate, is painting the stage floor, holding a phone in one hand and a brush in the other. It’s been like this for nearly four years for the actor and director, who moved to Santa Maria with his wife 10 years ago. He saw a performance at the theater, which led to an interest in getting involved, and now he has starred in five productions and directs his fourth show this year.

'Noises Off,' which runs at the Santa Maria Civic Theatre through March 25, features an ensemble cast playing dual roles for a play about the backstage antics of a production called 'Nothing On.'

“There are times when I’m sitting here working on the set and looking across the stage at people age 6 to 60,” Fogh said. “Every one of them is doing something. If they can’t use power tools, they’re painting. If they don’t want to paint, they are sweeping. No one is getting paid or even asking about it. They want to make this happen just for the thrill of watching it unfold.”

For the Civic Theatre’s latest project, Fogh (who is also vice president of the board) directs Noises Off, a comedy production which proves the Civic Theatre has come along way in its evolution as a home for community theater.

Noises Off is considered one of the most physically taxing and demanding productions in the history of live theater. Written in 1982 by English playwright Michael Frayn, Noises Off successfully ran for five years in London’s West End. Frayn conceived of the idea for the play while watching a production of one of his earlier plays from backstage, deciding the controlled chaos of a live show was ripe for comedic skewering. The play had a successful run on Broadway and was also turned into a 1992 film starring Carol Burnett, Christopher Reeve, and Michael Caine among others.

The play features a backstage look at a performance of Nothing On, the play-within-a-play, which the audience only sees from behind the stage. It features a lot of bawdy sexual jokes and involves women and men in various stages of undress carrying absurd props. Noises Off dives into the backstage drama and inner workings of the relationships of the actors and people trying to put the show on.

The play is an exceptionally tricky production to stage. Almost every moment of it hinges on perfect comedic timing. Miss one cue and a joke falls apart completely. If a set piece doesn’t move when and where it’s supposed to, it can start a disastrous chain reaction that can ruin key scenes. To say that it’s an ambitious undertaking for a small community theater is an understatement.

The Santa Maria Civic Theatre’s production of Noises Off explores the script penned by English playwright Michael Frayn in 1982. The play is a comedy about the personal relationships of actors and crew seen from backstage.

“It’s one of the most difficult shows for a stage actor to do,” Fogh said. “Especially Act II, because a lot of it involves no words. You’re just waiting for your vocal cue to do your action. And it all has to happen at exactly the right time for it to be funny.”

Originally another theater member had volunteered to tackle the notoriously arduous work of bringing the play to life (Fogh said he was happy to take a backseat, knowing how difficult it would be). But when the director dropped out of the production to take a job in another city, Fogh found himself with the daunting task of taking the helm.

One of the biggest obstacles was a lack of a stage plan. With the theater running other productions, the stage wasn’t available for Fogh and his team of actors to practice the notoriously tough blocking and action for the play. So, he did what any good actor would do—he improvised.

“We met in the theater lobby, and I marked off parts of the set,” Fogh said. “We didn’t even do our lines, I said let’s just walk through where we need to be just to get that part down. We did that for almost a month.”

He also had the cast watch the 1992 film production to get an idea for what the final outcome should look like. It wasn’t until February when Fogh finally got a chance to start construction on the elaborate set.

'Noises Off' runs through March 29 at the Santa Maria Civic Theatre. The venue is located at 1660 N. McClelland St., Santa Maria. More info or to purchase tickets: (805) 922-4442 or

“It was difficult, but the cast is amazing,” he said. “It’s a small pond here, and we have a lot of big fish. I see a lot of raw talent and people that can be shaped when people come in [to audition]. We’re blessed that we have that and a venue we can be creative in.”

Talent is the key to the successes that the group has had in the past few years.

Santa Maria Civic Theatre Board President Sally Buchanan said the theater also pushes itself with bigger and more ambitious goals each year. In 2019, they plan to debut three musicals, a challenge for any small theater troupe. The Civic Theatre also added a script-reading committee to the organization this year.

“We have worked very hard to up the professionalism of our productions,” she said. “Unfortunately what I find is that there are so many people in our community who still haven’t heard about us. They think we’re PCPA and we’re not. A lot of people don’t even know we exist.”

For the participants at the Civic Theatre, it’s all about the thrill of performing or putting on a live show (much like their fictional counterparts in Noises Off). But Fogh notes that a big part of what drives the team is the need to highlight what makes their community special.

“We’re forgetting that there is this other form of communication called live theater,” he said. “It can really bring communities together, to see their friends and their teacher and their plumber up here on stage doing something. It’s inspiring.”

Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose keeps the noises off. Contact her at

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