Crystal Lake improv performer crafts ‘Shutter Speed’ drama

April Noel’s comedy troupe headed to St. Charles

"Shutter Speed" by April Noel

Crystal Lake playwright and actress April Noel admits she was always the child who could recite “an entire episode of ‘Fraggle Rock’ – voices and all.” When her stepfather, Woodstock Opera House’s Mark Greenleaf, entered her life, she learned her “weirdness” had a special place in the world: on the stage.

Her “big break” was the role of Deborah Sue in “Bye Bye Birdie” in high school. Later at McHenry County College, Noel studied literature, music theory and theater. From there, she went on to do roles locally in “Noises Off” (Poppy), “A Christmas Carol” (Mrs. Cratchit), “August: Osage County” (Karen) and “The People vs. Friar Laurence, The Man Who Killed Romeo and Juliet” (Juliet) before becoming involved in a few indie productions for YouTube, Amazon, television and films. Noel also has filmed one of her own pieces, a short titled “Monthly Subscription,” which should be out this summer.

Being a fan of the improv show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” led to Noel’s 2018 Williams Street Rep Improv involvement and, in 2020, the creation of the troupe Any Suggestions? Improv with her husband, Brian (“and I swear we are not the reason the world shut down”).

Noel began writing the play “Shutter Speed” in 2022 because of a “scene in my head that wouldn’t go away.” It was also the first script she could visually see on a stage.

The first read-through occurred in November 2022; the final edited draft was finished on Aug. 29, 2023, and the first official stage reading was on Sept. 17 at Steel Beam Theatre in St. Charles. Noel also received notification of copyright approval on the same day as the read-through.

"Shutter Speed" by April Noel

The title “Shutter Speed” came from an inspiration linked to her father’s 1972 Canon camera; the shutter “suspends time, holding the moment which burns the image into the film … how many times do we wish we could just suspend a moment, hold it and burn it into our memory?” Noel was motivated to tell a story that an audience could relate to; a story to acknowledge that they are not alone with their thoughts and life experiences. Her biggest challenge was to write “truthfully and naturally.” She confesses the hardest part about writing was the dialogue, and was to write it “right.” When the characters fight, cry, smile or laugh, “there is a reason.”

"Shutter Speed" by April Noel

Noel agrees her biggest joy was to watch and listen to the actors reading her drafts as they poured themselves into the characters, and expressed their passion for what she had written; in many ways, there is a bit of Noel in every character. “The characters you create deserve all of the truth of the story to be told,” she said.

In “Shutter Speed,” there is a good deal of anger and sadness, but ultimately it is about love; love between Raina, the daughter, and Richard, her father; love between Raina and her friends, Nadia and Bram. There is also a subtle coming-of-age story, and a recognition of who you truly are and want to be in life. Raina wants to be a professional photographer like her Uncle David. Raina’s father disapproves and wants Raina to be an architect like himself. Moreover, he is worried because Raina has an aortic valve issue. There is an unveiling of a complicated relationship between the father and his brother, David, all related to the world of photography.

Sitting in the audience for the September reading, I realized that all journeys have secrets. As a theater reviewer, I recognized that “Shutter Speed” was an engaging drama with natural and appropriate characters and an interesting development of plot. Noel adeptly communicates, and she has a genuine, dramatic instinct.

Noel’s improv troupe is scheduled to perform at Steel Beam once a month until June, including Saturday, Feb. 17. And there is a second read-through of “Shutter Speed” scheduled for Feb. 24 at The Other Side in Crystal Lake. Noel has discussed the world premiere of “Shutter Speed” returning to the Steel Beam stage where it all began. This play certainly deserves a place at the theater table.

• Regina Belt-Daniels has been in love with the theater since the first grade. She has appeared on stage and backstage in many capacities ranging from performer to director all across Illinois. She recently directed an adaptation of “It’s a Wonderful Life” for Elgin Theatre Company, and currently is directing the Steel Beam Theatre benefit production of “Love Letters” in St. Charles.

IF YOU GO

• WHAT: “Shutter Speed”

• WHERE: The Other Side, 135 Beardsley St., Crystal Lake

• WHEN: 1 p.m. Feb. 24

• INFORMATION: the-other-side.org/events/shutter-speed-a-stage-reading-at-tos

• WHAT: Any Suggestions? Improv

• WHERE: Steel Beam Theatre, 111 W. Main St., second floor, St. Charles

• WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 17; monthly shows through June

• INFORMATION: 630-587-8521, steelbeamtheatre.com, www.facebook.com/AnySuggestionImprov