Laughter From The Trenches

Art Shulman


I'm a new columnist to Better Lemons, and a very lazy one at that. I really want other folks to write my column for me.
The column is designed to feature true and humorous stories occurring in theater, and while I have a few stories of my own, what I'm looking for is other theater-folk to contact me with their stories. They can do this by calling me at 818-782-4252 and telling me verbally about the event, or writing it up and emailing it to me.
It's up to the contributor to tell me if he or she wishes to have their name attributed to the story.
The first column, which you are reading now, consists of stuff I know about. But I hope readers will contact me to let me know about humorous stuff that they know about. There's only so much funny stuff that's known to me. So I need your help.
Then, here we go:
In one of my plays, THE $4 MILLION GIVEAWAY, the actress Renee Gorsey was shown mid-play in the bathroom on stage, sniffing cocaine through a straw. A few days later, in real life, Renee the actress was shopping at Costco when a woman who had been an audience member came running over to her pointing and shouting quite excitedly and loudly, "I saw you last Saturday. You were sniffing cocaine last Saturday. You were sniffing cocaine. I saw you!"
Nearby shoppers stopped and gawked. And heard all about Renee sniffing cocaine. Renee, taken aback, started to walk away, but the woman followed her, and continued even louder, "I saw you sniffing cocaine. I can't believe it seeing you at Costco. You were the woman I saw sniffing cocaine."
Renee finally made it to the parking lot, leaving her cart behind.
Sometimes it's not so rewarding to be noticed by your adoring public.
The play SPAGHETTI & APPLE PIE is set in a New York City tenement apartment in the 1950's. In the middle of one performance at Group Rep a lead actor, played by Stan Mazin, receives a key telephone call. The booth played the phone ringing, but whoever was in charge of setting the stage had forgotten to set the telephone, which was still in the prop box backstage. But the crucial phone conversation had to take place.
So, thinking quickly, Stan opened the front door to the apartment, pretended to look into the (unseen) hallway, and asked with some annoyance to the rest of those on stage, “Who put the telephone outside the front door and in the hallway?”
He then proceeded to go offstage into the imaginary hallway, and carry on the conversation, speaking especially loudly so the audience could hear.
One event which happened to me personally occurred when I was performing a 15 minute monologue, HEAVENS, where I played a very observant Jew, with side curls. While I had a beard at the time, the side curls were pasted on.
About a minute into the monolog I noticed something different from when I rehearsed the piece. Specifically, a long strand of hair was in my mouth.
What do you do when you are performing a monologue, with all eyes on you, and you have a long strand of hair in your mouth? Do you complete the monologue with that hair for fourteen more minutes, or do you pull the hair out, inch by inch while your eager audience watches your every move? If you do the latter, how do you do it without breaking character.
And what do you do with the hair once it's out? Put it in your pocket? Toss it on the floor? Hand it to a member of the audience? (Obviously not the latter, though it did cross my mind at the time.)
I took the easy way out. I kept performing.
Come to think of it, I didn't consider it very funny at the time, and I still don't. I don't know while I'm even writing about it. This column is supposed to be about funny stuff.
OK, you waggish theater-folk out there, I'm done for now. But shortly I need to hear from you with your true and funny stories: 818-782-4252, or via email.

Art Shulman is a playwright who also sometimes directs and acts. Most of his acting is in his own plays, but the directors swear it’s because he acts good, and not because the director is told that if he or she wants to be hired that Art is attached as an actor. Art has written many full-length plays – comedies, dramas, and dramedies -- and asserts that he has had more new original full-length plays produced in the LA area over the past decade than any other playwright. (Of course, he may be exaggerating or lying, but so far no one has shown up to prove him wrong.) In addition to plays, Art has written a self-help book on relationships, a western novel set in the 1820’s, a children’s book, and a musical. He stopped writing graffiti just after his bar mitzvah.

When not involved in the theater world Art is a professor at California State University, Northridge.