Dan preferred touring even though the first show in a new city was always nervy for stage management. He liked the extra complexity of fitting the same show into different spaces. Touring fit neatly into his whole philosophy of theater, “it all looks the same from backstage”. Of course, every show looks different from the front, and this vaudeville-like show with clowns and singing interspersed amongst the story was quickly becoming a favorite.
The clowns usually did some improvisation before the final scripted bit and Dan was moving to the downstage wing to listen when he noticed some frantic movement further offstage near the prop table.
“What do you mean it’s not here? Where else would it be?” whispered Elizar.
“I don’t know. Atlanta?”
“You can’t seriously think that we…”
“It’s not in the box,” whispered Al. “And I didn’t pack your practical sound box in the last load out.”
“Neither did I, that local intern kid must have put it somewhere else. We have to keep –“
“Gentlemen, what’s the issue?” Dan asked.
Al, the props master, pointed at Elizar, the backstage sound tech. Elizar glared back and said “The squeezebox is missing.”
“And we didn’t notice this until minutes before we need to use it in the show why?”
“The practical sound effect makers are props -” Elizar started.
“They live in a props box, but I was told in very clear terms that they weren’t to be on my prop shelves or tables, they were special, and sound would take care of them.” Al retorted.
Dan sighed. The weird cross-over responsibility of practical sound effect makers backstage had been a pain in his ass from the beginning, but the director and sound designer liked the authenticity they added. The company had done a partial run-through of the show that afternoon after load-in had finished, but they were short on time and Kelley the lead clown wasn’t feeling well so all of the clown bits had been skipped.
“You’ve both looked everywhere obvious?”
Al and Elizar nodded uncomfortably.
“We need to improve our load out and in protocols and have a conversation about which pre-show checklist all the sound makers need to be on, but that can happen after the show. Right now, they’re expecting to hear a loud squeezebox offstage left to button the scene shortly, any suggestions?”
The three men stood backstage and heard Phil say “My stomach feels strange, do you think it could be something I ate?” which was the start of the final bit, the one that ended with Kelley holding Phil down while he farted so emphatically he nearly blew himself offstage. It was a lovely bit of physical comedy, but without the sound cue it wouldn’t make much sense.
“Umm… I could make a fart noise with my armpit?” offered Al.
“Not loud enough, Alfred. What else is in the sound box?” asked Dan.
Elizar ran the few feet to the open road box and looked inside. “Chimes won’t work, the bike horn is too corny. We could drop the glass-box.”
Al shuddered “That sounds painful, not funny.”
“What about that?” Dan pointed to the thin metal sheet suspended by the rail.
“I think if you don’t do something you might explode” Kelley said from onstage.
“We’re out of time, use it.” Dan said.
“If YOU think so” Phil said. Then the cue line, a very quiet “oh dear.”
Elizar shook the thunder-sheet slowly at first, and then for all he was worth. It was a rolling, booming sound and Dan could already hear the lead actor complaining that the thunder in the Act II storm didn’t ordinarily sound like that.
Dan looked out at the stage and saw Kelley and Phil extending their physical bit to match the different sound, and at least one glare directed offstage. Finally the thunder finished reverberating through the theater, and the clowns were collapsed on the stage. As the lights began their fade to black the audience burst into wild applause.
***This is fiction, though I have been backstage on a show that used a thunder sheet, they are cool and nothing you want to stand next to while in use. LJ Idol rolls on, you can read other talented folks' take on Thunderclap here.***