Center Stage SPOTLIGHT

The Online Journal for Center Stage Playhouse

The Art of the Prank in Theater

comedymasks copyby Ed Bartosik

Right off the bat let me say that I agree with Ida in a previous post that Center Stage was and is dedicated to professionalism when it comes to putting on a show.  However, it was at Center Stage that I honed my skills as a professional theater prankster.  

I first started pranking in a production of Little Mary Sunshine at Fordham University Summer Theater in 1975.  I was just 18 and cast as Yellow Feather.  Mind you, in those days I did not know there were rules to pranking in theater, so the pranks were somewhat crude, always noticeable to the audience, and sometimes a little outrageous.  For example, the backstage techie and I pulled a stunt that was truly amateurish.  During Little Mary’s solo of the song “Coo Coo,” we had strung a 10 pound test fishing line diagonally from the Stage Left upper rafters of the Collins Auditorium to an on stage upper right fly rail.  Using two paper clips attached to a yellow rubber chicken, we hung the bird onto the 10-pound test fishing line and right in the middle of Little Mary’s solo we let it slide down the line.  Only this prop did not slide easily down the line as we had hoped.  “Coo Coo” is a funny song to begin with and the actor playing Little Mary got her share of laughs during the song.  But this time the audience was roaring with laughter as the featherless, scrawny playful fowl began to jerk its way down the line in time with the music right at center stage behind Little Mary about 15 feet above the deck bobbing all the way down to the upper right fly rail just as the actor finished her song.  The prank could not have been better scripted.  The actor playing Little Mary had no clue, but we did tell her once the performance was concluded.  To this day, I am not sure she appreciated our prank.  We got into a lot of trouble, because the director felt it was highly unprofessional (debatable) and the only thing that saved us was that it was the last night of the show.

The rules of a successful and professional theater prank are simple and include:

1. NO ONE SHOULD EVER BE HARMED (mentally or physically).

2. The audience must not know of its existence as a prank.

3. The prank should seem as if it is part of the show.

4. Must be performed only on the closing night of the show. 

This brings me to a prank I pulled off on the last night of Center Stage’s production of Any Number Can Die by Fred Carmichael.  I had a small part and was stage-managing the production that was designed by John Ranavaro and directed by Randy O’Keefe with Sal Longarino as AD.  The cast included Maryanne Travaglione, Jean Carillo, Russell Bourrienne, Judy Goldberg, Irwin (Hesh) Mermilstein, Michael Sabatino, Janet O’Sullivan, Ann Marie Rondinone, Louis Cortese, Patrick Moore, and Archie Bellone.  The property master was Howard Brundage with Christine Misurelli assisting, costumes by Donna Bellone.  

The plot surrounds a lovely young heiress, her two handsome suitors, some wealthy socialites, spooky servants, and two competitive super sleuths who gather in an isolated mansion to hear the reading of a will.  Our set was complete with sliding panels, false walls, and hidden passageways.  At the end of the play, with all the characters left alive on stage, one of the characters hits a note on the piano and out of the sliding panel above the piano falls streams of money thus ending the hunt for the millions hidden in the mansion. 

On the final performance of the play, I decided to open every panel one at a time as the character struck the note on the piano.  Starting from down stage right and traveling along the walls of the set to the money panel above the piano, each were opened a few seconds following the previous panel.  There must have been six or eight panels.  The truly funny part was watching the actors on stage who had no clue as to what was going on follow each panel as it opened empty of money turning around until the final money panel opened and the cash falling out.   

This need to prank during last performances became an art for me in the years after I left Center Stage to pursue a career in theater.  I have successfully pranked hundreds of shows in my career, some very funny and a few absolute fails.  I have a ton of stories.

I am sure many Center Stagers have their own memories of trying to make each other crack up on stage or performed pranks on closing nights.  Another favorite was serving real wine on the last performance of Saturday, Sunday, Monday.  You should have seen Ida’s face that last night. 

Any Center Stagers care to recall pranks or funny mishaps on stage like the time someone was stuck between the back wall of the stage and the turntable wall.  Sal????

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3 comments on “The Art of the Prank in Theater

  1. kikstad
    December 24, 2012

    Funny stuff, Ed! Thanks for the much needed laughs. I remember we pulled some closing night stage pranks during my college days.

    The best was when someone strategically placed a few leftover “nude” playing cards from the props of “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest” in a drawer that a number of characters had to open during a scene in the next play we did. The audience never knew, but it was hilarious seeing everyone’s eyeballs as they gazed upon the contents of that drawer.

    Of course, pranking is a fine art and should not be tried by the comically challenged. I recall a few failures — such as one castmember who shall remain nameless who decided to alter his ONE LINE in a Shakespeare play in the hope of getting a laugh. Unfortunately, the only ones who noticed were his perplexed fellow actors on stage and our director who was justifiably annoyed. 🙂

    — Nick

  2. Liz raucci
    December 25, 2012

    Then there was “Tribute” during a tense scene where Ed Dwyer and I are talking about his illness and low and behold I pick up the picture frame from the mantle and it’s Michael Guy with a mustache like Dick Dastardly drawn on!

  3. Ed F
    December 25, 2012

    I’ve been in the middle of a few of these. On the last night of The Odd Couple my character (Felix) was supposed to take a picture out of his wallet and show it to the Pigeon Sisters (Susan Mirwis and Jean Carillo). The stage manager replaced whatever generic pictures we were using with male pornography. The actors were not thrown and it remained unknown to everyone in the audience, but not the cast and crew.

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This entry was posted on December 24, 2012 by .

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