For Belfast teen, the play’s the thing

Posted May 25, 2011, at 12:39 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — For comic actors, the joke often hinges in the timing.

For one teenage thespian from Belfast Area High School’s Footlights Players, the timing of the group’s next play is particularly important — and not just because the British three-act comedy “Noises Off” is a fast-paced and hilarious farce.

Tyler Johnstone of Swanville expects that the role of stuttering actor Garry Lejeune will be his last in midcoast Maine for some time, as he soon will start basic training with the United States Air Force in San Antonio, Texas.  When asked what he loved about doing theater in high school, Johnstone laughed. “What don’t I like?” he asked. “I do enjoy being the comic relief. How much of a fool can you make of yourself?”

The 19-year-old graduated a year ago from BAHS and still is able to participate in Footlights Players because the group is independent and self-funded, said director Meg Nickerson. This spring marks the first time that the players have done a three-act play. “This is for the die-hard theater kids,” she said. “Just because you graduate from high school, you may still want to do some theater.”

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Johnstone is one of the diehards, having participated in shows through the school and in local venues for the past several years. He said he has performed in the statewide One Act Play Festival all four years of high school, winning awards each time, including for combat choreography and for All-State cast. None, though, may be as memorable as the award he won his freshman year — the “Faux Pas” prize, given for the actor who was best able to cover a mistake.

Johnstone smiled as he recounted his role, in which the short freshman carried a long sabre.

At one crucial juncture, he dropped the sabre. It could have been bad. But in the play he had been fighting an imaginary opponent. “I just blamed it on him,” he said.

Nickerson, who has been directing high school students for years, said that doing theater can help them gain confidence and experiment by playing different characters. “I think that for kids, it’s just another form of expression,” she said. “Even though some of them may be shy, they can be somebody else, and get approval for it.” She said that she is proud of the hard work of the performers and technicians. “Noises Off” is a demanding play within a play. The students are using a revolving, two-level set, and most of them have to speak with both American and British accents.

“I had one director tell me I’m crazy to do this with high school kids,” she said. “I don’t feel that way at all.” She said that she would only have tackled this play with the right cast — and she had it in this group of students. “It’s going to be hysterical,” she said. “It’s amazing. It’s probably my favorite comedy ever.”

For Johnstone, performing in “Noises Off” may be a little bittersweet. Once he starts with the Air Force, he doesn’t expect to have a lot of free time for extracurricular activities such as theater. “Once I’m in the military, it’s hard telling,” he said.

But one thing is sure — he has caught the acting bug for good. “I know that whenever I get back, it’ll still be here waiting for me,” Johnstone said.

“Noises Off “ will be performed at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, May 26-28, and June 3-4, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 29. Tickets are $8, $5 students and seniors. The opening night of Thursday, May 26, tickets will be half-price for all. Performances will be held in the BAHS Gymnasium.

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