From Scrooge to Sweeney — A Conversation with A Noise Within Co-Artistic Director Geoff Elliott

Published on Nov 20, 2023

Some of the many faces of Geoff Elliott, A Noise Within’s Co-Artistic Director. [Photos by Craig Schwartz]

Elliott discusses the joys, challenges, and endless surprises of making regional theatre in Southern California.  

A Noise Within theatre company has been producing professional theatre for 31 years in the LA area. What inspired you and your Co-Artistic Director/wife Julia Rodriguez-Elliott to create a theatre company like this? 

I graduated from American Conservatory Theatre (ACT) in San Francisco, and Julia was a year behind me. We increasingly were working out of town, in regional theaters, and we decided to give producing a go. We had $3,000 in our savings account. We took that out and used it to produce Hamlet. We were able to put it up in the former Masonic Temple building in Glendale. It was really just an experiment. Was there an appetite for Shakespeare in Southern California? And lo and behold, people came. And we were inundated with resumes from so many talented, trained actors who didn’t have opportunities to do this kind of work anywhere. And it was at that point that we decided there is more here than just one play. There was an appetite from artists and audience. We decided we really needed to create a company committed to doing the great classics of world drama. And that’s what we set out to do. 


You have cultivated a company of “resident artists” who often come back again and again for productions. What do you think is unique about the audience experience inside theatres with this model?  

Julia and I wanted a community. And the first step in creating that community was getting a group of actors and designers together, who were of like mind. Not only were they exceedingly talented, but they were also generous of spirit. These were people who wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves—and that kind of energy is gold. Incredible things can get done when you have a group of people who have a shared mission. And it’s like the pebble in the pond—it ripples out and the audience begins to feel that. They begin to see that they’re watching a family creating art together, and they begin to feel as though they’re a part of the family. Our audience has become invested in these people and the kind of work that they do–observing all of their colors as performers. They get to see them in a new play, with a new director, in completely different periods, often centuries apart. Like how our Puck from Midsummer will be playing Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol. Audiences find these transformations utterly enthralling. 


At what point did A Christmas Carol become this annual Pasadena tradition? 

We finally moved into our home in Pasadena in 2011, and we mounted A Christmas Carol in 2012. We were hoping to create a family tradition for people every year, because it’s one of the greatest stories ever told, concerning transformation and forgiveness, and what the possibilities are for us as human beings. It’s a very important story, because we all have the potential to go from old Scrooge to new Scrooge, on a daily basis, on an hourly basis. Really important stuff. From my point of view, A Christmas Carol is easily as Shakespearean as Shakespeare. It has some darkness to it—it’s a ghost story—but it’s a very bright and beautiful story, ultimately. And it helps us to embrace our common humanity. 


Right after this deeply redemptive character in this holiday classic, you go on to play a more sinister figure of “the demon barber of Fleet Street,” in the darkly humorous musical Sweeney Todd. What might audiences look forward to experiencing onstage?  

This production couldn’t be timelier. The play is essentially about the haves and the have-nots. This play is about a power structure, a systemic power structure that destroys people’s lives—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Everybody is destroyed by this particular corrupt power structure. The great plays are about human beings being passionately pitted either against their environment, or against each other, or against some other power. And an audience member gets to see what happens to a person when they need to survive. All human beings go through experiences in which we feel like, “I’m not going to get through this.” So audiences get to come and watch these great larger-than-life characters, and see how they either get through it, or they don’t get through it. This particular production will be so different from other versions of Sweeney Todd. It is going to be more intimate and close-up. And I believe that our stripped-down version of the play is going to help you see that humanity more. 


You will be playing the iconic roles of Scrooge and Sweeney back-to-back. Is there any common thread between these characters? 

Well, they’re great roles! But when you have a brilliant play or musical, whether it’s Shakespeare or Sondheim, it’s not really about the leads. Every role in that kind of a play is extraordinary in its own way. You can understand everybody’s point of view, whether you consider them a villain or whether you consider them a hero. The great plays allow us to see their humanity. Every actor has to make choices in terms of the context, in terms of the givens of a situation, and what they want. The deeper you go with that, the more watchable and more empathetic these performances are going to be. And there is something that Sweeney has in common with Scrooge actually. They both have epiphanies! It’s just that one heads for the light, and one heads for the darkness. But both of them are easily relatable, because we all have epiphanies. These plays are about human beings. I think the people who are on that stage are going to be completely relatable in one way or another. 


Up next at A Noise Within, the region’s longest-running musically merry holiday tradition returns with A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens, adapted by Geoff Elliott and directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott & Geoff Elliott. Starts December 1 and runs through December 24.

Click here for ticket information.

A Noise Within is located in East Pasadena at 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. For more call (626) 356-3100.

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