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TBA Online: News & Features: January 2014

The Business of Show Biz: Pranks on Stage

Monday, January 27, 2014  
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By Velina Brown



Q: I want to start the year with a fresh outlook, but I’m still upset about something that happened last year. In my last show, some of my fellow cast members thought it would be funny to put something in one of my props so that when I opened it, I would be surprised...on stage. Well, I was surprised. I was able to pull it together and finish the scene okay, but it took me out of the moment and basically ruined that performance for me. For the rest of the evening, I was wondering what weird prank was coming next rather than being able to live the truth of the moments in the play. After the show, people laughed about the look on my face when I found what they had hidden in my prop. When I said I didn’t think it was funny and to please not include me in their pranks, people just rolled their eyes. One of them even said I needed to get over myself because it was just a joke. Do you think I overreacted?



Actor and career consultant Velina Brown. 


A: No. I don’t think you overreacted. You have every right to expect your props to be exactly as you set them. You have every right to expect to do the show as rehearsed. The pranksters probably didn’t think they were doing any harm and that you would enjoy the surprise as well. Some people like that sort of thing and others don’t. But personally, my main concern, after safety for all involved, is the integrity of the show. So I’m going to get on my soapbox here.

Everyone has their process. As long as it doesn’t adversely affect me or the performance, it’s none of my business what another actor does to "keep things fresh” for themselves. If the leading man’s "character secret” is that the family jewels are in a twisty tie bag of leeches in his boxer briefs, that is none of my beeswax. However, if he wants to put leeches in any part of my costume or props, that’s completely different. My job is to deal with the given circumstances of the play, not the given circumstances of working with a castmate who has gone rogue because he’s bored.

The audience deserves better. I am always dismayed by people who say things like, "Who cares about the audience?” What? The audience is the other character. We are telling the story to the audience. If you don’t care about the audience, why not just stay home and gesticulate around your apartment? The audience is under no obligation to show up. There are so many different things available for people to do with their precious time, energy and money that if they have chosen to come see you it is unbelievably arrogant to take that for granted. Even if you’ve done the show a hundred times, the people in the audience will likely be seeing it once. Give them the show they paid for. Each audience deserves to see the best performance you can give every time. Our best changes from day to day, but whether we arrive at the theatre feeling well rested, healthy and loved or exhausted, under the weather and jilted, our job is to do the best we can every time. Because that’s what the audience deserves.

If you’re bored, dig deeper. Rehearsal periods are so short now, and if the show runs six weeks that’s considered a long time. That’s just not enough time to plumb the depths of a character or a show and then kick back and declare, "I’m bored.” No. Dig deeper, listen more closely, make the stakes higher, be more precise, be more open, but don’t just start horsing around because you are bored. In fact, if you are easily bored by this work, kindly step aside. There are plenty of people who would love to do the role you’re phoning in.

Your fellow actors are your scene partners, not your props.
If you’re doing things to your fellow actors just to entertain yourself, you are treating them like props or objects and not like fellow artists. If there are things you are doing or sharing with your scene partner that you both find enjoyable and beneficial to the work, great! But if you pull some prank on your scene partner and they let you know they didn’t appreciate or enjoy it, "Get over yourself” is the wrong answer. The right answer? "I’m so sorry. It won’t happen again.” Period.

Whew! Stepping off the soapbox now. May you share the stage with only the most focused, talented and generous scene partners in the new year. Cheers!

Velina Brown is an actor and career consultant. Send her your questions at