Brian Noffke - the home-grown, self-taught co-founder of Acting Up Productions - keeps an intense pace. An equity actor seen on stage at IRT, the Phoenix and Beef and Boards, Noffke produced ten shows for Acting Up in the two years since its founding. In that time, Acting Up has gained a reputation for quality performances and interesting season choices on a shoe-string budget. The company's production of The Underpants, a farce about indecent public exposure adapted by comedian Steve Martin from the 1910 German original, opens April 12 at Theater on the Square. I caught up with Noffke, who studied at Marian College without finishing his degree (he's not a "school person"), at TOTS prior to an evening rehearsal.
NUVO: So would you say you're self-educated?
Brian Noffke: Mostly. I observe a lot. I observe designers or directors when I do shows at IRT or wherever. Most of my experience is hands-on. In college, I'll be honest they didn't really teach us much. What I learned in college was the history of theater, script analysis, costume design and technical stuff.
NUVO: How did Acting Up Productions start?
Noffke: It came in a period of self-reflection. I was burned out. At Footlite I'd done 77 shows in 16 years. I lost jobs, girlfriends, health. Then I met my business partner, Beth Williams, during a production of Fiddler on the Roof in Greenfield. We became friends, and started talking over several months about my dreams of owning a theater company. And, boom, we both had a little bit of money and decided let's just do this. We fought on and off between Indianapolis and Greenfield. We chose Greenfield because it was an untapped market.
NUVO: It was surprising to hear that Acting Up Productions was setting up shop there.
Noffke: We both live in Greenfield, and it was something we wanted to try. Beth really talked me into it; I wanted to do Indianapolis, but I caved. I said let's try it for a couple of years. It hasn't been very successful. Since the first day we moved in we have had nothing but problems with the people in Greenfield. So we're no longer going to be there. All of our shows will be in Indianapolis.
NUVO: Acting Up Productions does a lot, including a full season of shows and theater classes. How do you support yourself? Is this your full-time gig?
Noffke: Yup. It's what I do. I'm also the associate lighting designer at Theater on the Square. Mind you, I only make about 20 percent of what I'm actually worth. But as part of my salary they let me have this space [TOTS Stage II] for free and costumes and props and anything to borrow. I light a ballet every Christmas, and I live on a shoestring, seriously. I pinch pennies.
NUVO: Do you feel that your work suffers because of the intensity of your pace?
Noffke: I hope not. I am an intense individual, but I don't think that the work suffers because I won't stop until it's perfect. What I think suffers is my personal life and my health. I don't sleep; I don't eat well and I smoke cigarettes. I don't think it has suffered, but there are times when it maybe suffers for other people.
NUVO: How so?
Noffke: After we did A Steady Rain, Sam Fain and I were having a beer. We were talking about me doing lots of things for every show. He said there was this one rehearsal... We had just finished a scene, and he went on to a section about his character. I literally got up from my seat, walked to a lighting instrument on the floor and started adjusting it in the middle of the run. Once I see something needs to be fixed, that actor hat comes off and the designer hat goes on. It offended him, and I felt terrible for leaving an actor like that. That was a downfall in me, because he needed me to be there for him.