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LJI:16 thunderclap
Dan took a deep breath.  The lights came up on the clowns doing their thing onstage.  That transition had gone smoothly, even with the quick change, and he could relax until intermission.  

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.***

This was delightful and a great use of the prompt! I really enjoyed how you wrapped so much life and character, dialogue and improv, around your idea!

Thank you! I kept thinking applause for clap, and was glad I could find a way to make that work. The backstage trio are all based on techs I used to work with, though they would not have been likely to make this mistake.

Hehe, oh the memories! I've been backstage on shows like this, too. Great job!

Backstage really is its own performance in a way, just as choreographed and costumed as what people see. Sound cue mishap is always terrifying in the moment, but makes for fun stories.

I love backstage secrets. Great use of the prompt! :)

Backstage really is its own little world, thank you!

My hubs would love this with all the stage references. He was a hell of a stage hand/rigger (he walked the cat walks and ceilings) and ran spotlight for 30 years for the AC casinos. I liked it because it was a great story! ;-)

Hugs and peace~~~

I'm glad you think it's a great story. Your hubs and I would have fun conversations, I was a stage manager at a regional theater for 12 years. Backstage is always a fertile setting.


this was really fun! also silly and inventive and it even feels like there's some backstory.

Thank you! The three guys backstage are based on crew folk I used to work with which helped me find their voices quickly.

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My husband made the suggestion to tell a shaggy dog story that ends in a fart. Not quite the direction I went but the idea obviously stuck. Sometimes our inner 12 year olds have to win. Thank you.

Yay!! Theatre!!

It took me forever to make the connection of the practical sfx for the prompt even though stage management is one of passions.

I would absolutely love to be in a traveling theatre company and this piece really captured that feeling of "the show must go on" immediacy of live theatre that makes it special.

(I once had to run sound for a production of Dial M for Murder, timing the actors picking up a "ringing" telephone on stage was a fun game)

I worked as an aea stage manager for 12 years, so I try to be sparing about telling backstage stories. I never worked on a touring show, that's always been one of my regrets. But the whole "figure something out quick" ethos is a good one.

(The ringing phone queue, ick. I've seen shows where the actor says "hello" into the receiver and then it rings one more time - such a pain.)

Superb take!I loved the idea of backstage improv. Clever use of the prompt.The dialogues really worked for me :)

Thank you so much. I'm glad you liked the dialogue, I was a little afraid I didn't include enough identifiers.

Great tale! One quick aside - the "lead clown" certainly on the Ringling Show, and I'm pretty sure on just about every circus, is known as the "Boss Clown." Minor detail just to add an extra dash of authenticity!

Thank you, and for the aside. I know backstage, but not clowns so that's helpful.

As I read this, I was thinking you must have spent some time backstage somewhere! Great work on that realism and such a fun story to express the prompt!

Heh, my college degree is in theater so yup. Thanks for the kind words.

Oh, man. I was the Props Mistress for our local theater group for nearly 10 years. We had several "make it work" moments similar to this. Good times.


Good props people are to be treasured always, and if you did it for ten years you must have been one of the good ones. It's such a crazy, futzy piece of getting a show together, but so vital.


This is such fun! You had me right from the get-go, and I'm convinced that they used the thunder sheet from then on. Wonderful story! Kudos!

Yay, thank you! Oh yeah, this is the kind of mistake that would end up being in the show from then forward, without a doubt. Those discoveries are part of the fun of live theater.

I had watched a documentary on practical sound effects when I was a kid. This brought back so much memories. Well written too.

I will have to go hunting for that documentary, I bet it's fascinating. Thanks for the kind words.

A fun use of the prompt! I have a soft spot for clowns and for the theater, as well. :)

Thank you. Yeah clowns are always fun, well, unless they're terrifying but those are very different clowns.