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Home / Neighborhood / San Gabriel Valley / Pasadena Independent / A Noise Within Brings the Arts Into the Lives of Young People

A Noise Within Brings the Arts Into the Lives of Young People

by Pasadena Independent
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Stands in for Six Characters – Cast in Noises Off Photo by Craig Schwartz

Stand-ins for Six Characters, the Cast in Noises Off. -Photo by Craig Schwartz

By May S. Ruiz

A Noise Within, a classical repertory company in Pasadena founded in 1991 by Geoff and Julia Rodriguez Elliott, aims to produce world-class performances of great works of drama, to educate and inspire the public through programs that foster an understanding and appreciation of notable playwrights, and to train the next generation of classical theatre artists.

Its mission to educate is what led to the creation of the Outreach Program. According to Alicia Green, Education Director, teachers in 19 Los Angeles-area school districts align their curriculum to the theatre company’s scheduled season performances. Students then have the opportunity to experience what they learned in the classroom during the student matinee performance at the theatre, and participate in a post-show conversation with performers.

Alicia said, “We care deeply about bringing the arts into the lives of every young person and strive to do so at every opportunity.”

While it would seem that today’s youth prefers to communicate solely through texting, the reverse is what actually happens once students come in to the theatre. As Geoff put it, “What we found is that young people crave the experience to be part of a live performance. We saw a strange phenomenon — as actors walked by the audience to get to the stage, students reached out to them. They weren’t being disruptive or naughty — they wanted to know that these actors were real, breathing individuals. For some students this is a life-changing event.”

That young people need a sense of belonging and community is evidenced by the exponential growth of their Education Outreach Program since they started bringing them in during their 1993-1994 season. According to Julia, there are now about 12,000 students from 130 different schools, from as far away as Ojai and Victorville, participating in it.

Stand-ins for Flea in Her Ear –Deborah Strang with Cast in The Beaux’s Strategem. – Photo by Craig Shwartz

Stand-ins for Flea in Her Ear –Deborah Strang with Cast in The Beaux’s Strategem. – Photo by Craig Shwartz

Adults are the typical theatregoers, but A Noise Within’s audience spans generations. Asked how they attract teenagers who grew up reading fantasy books, Geoff said, “Shakespeare is the original fantasy dramatist; he created the most fantastical situations on stage. Students learn his plays in 7th or 8th grade but found them dull and difficult to understand. But his works are not meant to be read, they are meant to be performed. When they are well-done and well-directed, the audience can feel what Shakespeare intended them to feel.”

Julia added, “We have a multigenerational audience — at any given time, about 20 percent of our audience is made up of kids. And kids usually are the ones who have the ability to give themselves into the material, while adults get hung up on words they could not understand.”

For some students, watching a play is a novel experience. Echoing Geoff’s remarks about the theatre experience as being transformational for kids, Alicia said, “Many of our students have never been to a theatre before, or seen a live performance. Seeing a page come to life is huge. They can relate to the material in a new, potentially more engaging way. Having the opportunity to interact with the text through on-their-feet study guide activities or in an in-class workshop and then see the show live, followed by a conversation with actors from the show creates an excitement that reading the book in class cannot.”

Stand-in for Antigone –Jules Willcox in Eurydice. – Photo by Craig Shwartz

Stand-in for Antigone –Jules Willcox in Eurydice. – Photo by Craig Shwartz

The 2015-2016 season’s theme of Breaking and Entering, A Noise Within’s 24th, features protagonists who break down walls, enter unknown realms, and search for the truth. As Geoff explained it, “In the context of our new season, breaking and entering can mean getting behind the walls of ignorance, even fear, and summoning the personal courage to step away from old notions in favor of a clear-eyed embrace of a new truth.”

That connecting thread links the six plays: A Flea in Her Ear by Georges Feydeau; Antigone by Jean Anouilh; All My Sons by Arthur Miller; Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare; You Never Can Tell, by George Bernard Shaw; Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello; and entering its fourth season, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, adapted by Geoff Elliott.

A Noise Within is a true classical rotating repertory theatre which, according to Geoff, is unique in L.A. Three different plays can be on stage so someone can experience three very different and diverse performances within a week to a week-and-a-half period. Having a three-quarter stage so that the audience is closer to the performers and becomes part of what’s happening adds to the theatre experience.

This brainchild of co-Artistic Directors, Geoff and Julia Rodriguez Elliott, has seen tremendous success since its inception and Pasadena has fully embraced it as part of its flourishing theatre community. Geoff said, “It has been a fabulous journey and it seems the universe is conspiring to make things happen … to make things right. And we will continue the same mission of ensuring access to a diverse audience. What will change is that we will be better at it. We are now embarking on a Five-Year Plan where we hope to improve our infrastructure and increase seating capacity to make it happen.”

For the thousands of students whose lives will change through exposure to theatre, it’s certainly not much ado about nothing.

Stand-ins for Romeo and Juliet –Alison Elliott and in Paul David Story in The Tempest. – Photo by Craig Shwartz

Stand-ins for Romeo and Juliet –Alison Elliott and in Paul David Story in The Tempest. – Photo by Craig Shwartz

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