Door Math, Farception, and laughter induced headaches

Director Mark Bellamy and Set and Lighting Designer Anton De Groot talk bringing Noises Off to Life

Mark Bellamy, Director, and Anton de Groot, Set and Lighting Designer, had their work cut out for them when tasked with bringing one of the best farces ever written to Theatre Calgary. A farce in itself is complex. But when you think about Noises Off, it’s a farce within a farce. Or ‘Farception,’ as Mark coined it. 

“In a typical farce, there’s one character who’s the centre of a cyclone, standing in the eye of the storm, and the rest of the world revolves around them,” said Mark. “In Noises Off, it’s about actors in a play, where everything goes wrong. It’s a farce about a farce. .It’s organized chaos.” 

Mark, considered one of Calgary’s masters of comedy, took a great deal of time and research in his prepartaion. And a lot of that work was collaboration between himself and Anton, as the set also plays a vital role in the show.

“It’s driven by circumstance and events that spiral out of control so you have to be very specific when you create the physical world around it, and the set needs to function in a very particular way. That’s when Anton and I had to work very closely.”

Anton shares it was one of the most technically complex sets he’s ever worked on, specifically because of the amount of doors on the set…which is 10. And come Act II all doors are in use.

“I had to take a different approach than I usually would with this set. My process generally starts from the abstract to the concrete. For Noises Off, it was the opposite. Everything has to be set up in a certain way. If we take liberties with the physical structure or bones of the set, then we could very easily impede the staging.”

But wait, isn’t this a play about a play where everything is supposed to go wrong? Have we lost you yet? It goes back to what Mark was saying about organized chaos. Anton has incorporated the doors on set to make that chaos work on the stage.

“The doors need to be where they need to be because it’s baked into the dramaturgy of the piece.”

Much of the creative team’s preparation for this show was about door math. Both Anton and Mark say that the door math was the most interesting thing they had to figure out. Which way does each of these 10 doors have to open? Where does this character have to come out? When that character comes out, what door do they exit? Mark shares he spent about half a day figuring out how the doors open. Then, he had to track the decisions made throughout the three acts of the play to make sure it worked.

“For Noises Off, I had to develop a completely different process than I had ever used before. With this show you have to be very particular about the staging, it’s just like a choreographed dance on the stage.”

With the hard work of the cast and creative teams, Anton and Mark are excited to hear and see the joy audiences experience.

Mark admits that he started going home with headaches during rehearsals from too much laughter, which is the best kind of problem to have, so he wants to share that with the audience.

“There’s so many experiences you get in theatre, but this is about laughter. Releasing everything in your life to watch what’s going on stage with these people getting into horrible situations and how hilarious it can be.”

Both Mark and Anton reflect that getting here was collaboration in its purest form. They had a great base to start from with a classic script by acclaimed playwright Michael Frayn. Along with a talented team of Calgary artists, they have realized this comedy to its great potential.

- By Heather Oliver