I thought that I would take a lighter approach to this week’s blog and discuss the not-so-professional subject of stage pranks.
This has proven to be a very popular topic from the huge amount of responses and stories from fellow actors I received on Facebook and Twitter, so I hope you enjoy my top ten – just don’t go getting any ideas!
- Inserting sex noises into the dialogue is always funny, and you can actually be suprisingly subtle with it, if you use it creatively and sparingly. Go and read through any monolgue right now, slipping in the odd groan or lustful shudder, it’s incredibly liberating. For the truly accomplished, try animal noises.
- Fun with food is also a popular one. I remember doing a show where during one of my scenes, the actors behind me were eating a picnic, and would often pick up bits of fluff off the floor and old scraggy lx tape and put them in each others sandwiches. A certain genius of tomfoolery who will not be mentioned by name also told me he once filled someone’s mask with prit stick and tuna just before they had to put it on!
- Messing around with the props is a staple gag. Indeed, I once heard of an actor literally stapling the protagonist’s props to the floor so he couldn’t get to them in time. If you ever have to give anyone a letter or note, it’s routine during a final matinee to slap a bit of porn on there, or an unflattering picture of themselves – it will always temporarily freeze them in their tracks.
- Alienation technique (and I’m not speaking in terms of Brecht). Having been on the receiving end of this isolation stragetgy, it’s actually pretty awful, but basically boils down to completely ignoring a person, looking right through them – rejecting them in the most public arena possible. A difficult one to come back from, although the persecuting group will usually tire of it eventually.
- Secretly passing stuff around is a practice as old as the art of performance itself. The response I got on this topic ranged from eggs, bananas and pennies to dildos, condoms and, more bizarrely, “cooties”. One estemeed collegue told me he had once passed a pair of glasses around a whole cast until everyone had worn them by the end of the play. As with most of these, timing is everything. If you can manage to get a dildo in Hamlet’s jerkin before “To be or not to be” consider yourself a champion.
- The random prop is always a good way of throwing your fellow actors. Responses ranged from a pair of LED framed glasses to a four foot blow up shark. A good friend of mine once turned up on stage on crutches and played the whole scene like he’d just escaped a massive fight. He’d also occasionally turn up in a fat suit, or with a completely different accent. I remember once looking out to see why he hadn’t come onstage and seeing him sat chatting with the audience.
- Play on people’s insecurities for a real dose of psychological bullying. A good prank is to repeatedly glance at their collar with a confused expression, until they panic and think they have spilled something on it. I imagine this works equally effectively with the flies. If you are a real bastard, wait until someone has started getting changed, then hide their costume so they have to go on stage in pants. Sounds far fetched to me, but sources assure me this has happened.
- If you are really cruel you can ad lib, or start saying the other person’s monologue and see how they get out of that one. Or just walk off. Or don’t come on. See how they deal with it.
- Play the “How Did I Die” game. Each of you has to assume the pose of someone recently deceased, while the others try to acertain the cause of death. Another good game for triologues, is to make sure one of you is always sitting, one standing and the other lying down. You can then suddenly hop to your feet or drop to the floor to keep your colleagues on their toes.
- And finally, undisputed queen of the onstage trick Penny Tasker must have a special mention here, just for the sheer volume of stories I received from her or about her, which included flashing your co star, tickling their feet during a particularly emotional moment, hiding coloured dots on props and costumes and in her own words “big loud smelly fart, a classic but the best”. No argument there.
Like a Karate Sensei, I provide you with these tools, so you may never have to use them, but to be aware of their prescence at all times, prepared to defend yourself, or in some cases, to counter attack.
Thanks to Wendy Paver, Shelly Terry, Liam Nooney, Holly Creed, Matthew Quinn, Elizabeth Twells, Connor Mills, David Monk, Camilla Whitehill, Adam Warren, Katie Salt, Chloe Wigmore, Penny Tasker and Jenny Palmer for your contributions.
If there is one thing I have learnt from compiling this research, it’s that I will never ever ever go to a final matinee of any play I am actually interested in seeing!