Second Stage offers first chances for UNLV students to work in theater

Callie Maxson as Jackie O in The House of Yes.
Photo: Miranda Alam / Special to the Weekly

It’s an hour before curtain on opening night. There’s a jolly, frantic feeling among the cast and crew as they make the final preparations for the first production from the new student-run theater group, UNLV Second Stage.

Second Stage is the second act for the now-defunct Theatre Student Collective, which disbanded due to attrition last semester. Not to be deterred, 19-year-old sophomore theater major Noah Keeling built Second Stage from its ashes. “I wanted to create more learning opportunities for myself and my fellow students who are so talented, says Keeling, who found that work with UNLV’s professional Nevada Conservatory Theatre was tough for hungry undergrads to land. “[Students] need to cut their teeth somewhere. Learning by doing is so important.”

Keeling threw himself into revival efforts and even received funding from UNLV’s student government. Still, it’s a scrappy enterprise. The students must strike and reset the stage for every performance, because the room is used as a classroom by day. And Keeling commissioned and paid out of pocket for a design student to create custom show posters.

For his directorial debut, Keeling chose the play The House of Yes by Wendy MacLeod. The dark comedy tells of an explosive Thanksgiving dinner in which sibling relationships go too far. “It’s the first play I bought with my own money,” Keeling says of the twisted family drama. He discovered it at age 13, after watching the 1997 movie adaptation of the play starring Parker Posey (as Jackie O, played here by Callie Maxson). “It always really stuck with me—what it says about greed and privilege. There’s really great dialogue; it’s so smart and well-plotted, like a Greek tragedy.”

Second Stage gives Keeling and his fellow students a safe place to take creative risks. “Hands-on experience is beyond important, especially for any sort of fine arts education,” assistant director and graduate student advisor Keach James Siriani-Madden says. “It’s like if you wanted to be in the NBA, but all you did was sit on the bench—that’s what taking acting classes without acting is like.”

For Keeling, who dreams of becoming a sort of Swiss Army knife of theater—acting, writing, producing, directing, singing and dancing—Second Stage, with its two big productions and two variety shows a semester, gives him a chance to do it all, like his idol Tina Fey. “I am not Johnny Jawline, which is every leading man. My [casting] type is more specific, so I had to learn to write, create, produce and direct for myself,” says Keeling, who has worked with most of the theater companies in town.

“Just go and do it, do not wait for an opportunity to drop into your lap,” Madden says. “Noah sure did it, and now he has a play debuting tonight.”

The House of Yes January 25-27, 7:30 p.m.; January 28, 2:30 p.m.; free. UNLV’s Paul Harris Theatre, facebook.com/unlvsecondstage.

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