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Theater

Prop Malfunction: What Do You Do When Your Gun Doesn't Go Off Onstage?

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Mon, Aug 27, 2012 at 3:57 PM

click to enlarge Terrell Tilford and Noel Arthur - ED KRIEGER
  • Ed Krieger
  • Terrell Tilford and Noel Arthur

Now playing at the Lost Studio on La Brea (and running through Sept. 9) is Elmina's Kitchen, Kwame Kwei-Armah's drama about three generations of West Indian males, set in a rough London neighborhood.

There's a crucial moment in the stage play when -- SPOILER ALERT --

someone is shot. Yet, on opening night, actor Noel Arthur's prop gun initially failed to discharge on cue. The audience held its collective breath for a tense ten seconds or so as the actor tried to re-cock the gun. He succeeded, the gun eventually made its loud report and someone fell to the floor.

So here's a question. What should an actor do if their prop gun refuses to go off?

We did a mini-poll among theater types and received an interesting series of responses.

Here were some of the suggestions:

1) Never rely on a prop gun -- always use a sound cue.

Not bad, but synched timing could be tricky.

2) Use the gun to bludgeon the character who's meant to die.

Sure, the Agent 86/Get Smart approach couldn't hurt. (Maxwell Smart always threw his weapon at his opponent once he ran out of bullets.)

3) Yell "BANG!"

Riiiiight -- and risk the entire audience dissolving into giggles and ruining a tense moment. I don't even think hollering "Blam!" or "Ka-pow!" would be any better.

4) Have the character whip out a knife and use it.

This may be the best idea of them all, especially considering that in this play, the audience had previously learned that the character pointing the gun (a criminal) carried a knife.

Bottom line -- props sometimes fail to function. That's something the play's director, Gregg T. Daniel, knows well.

"That prop gun had been giving us problems and so we replaced it," he explains. "We had tested it three or four times that afternoon and it worked fine. But in performance, it didn't work. I was just hoping that if he [Arthur] continued to pull the trigger, one of the blank rounds would go off."

What ended up happening was that one of the other characters discharged his gun to create the effect. "It was a tense moment, but somehow I knew it would be resolved. Moments like that in theater are so wonderfully alive!"

Daniel adds, "We do have a contingency plan in place now -- a sound effect of a gunshot - but there's nothing like the live sound on stage."

So, what do you think the actor should have done? Please leave a comment or tweet your reply to @LAWeeklyArts.

Read our review for more info on Elmina's Kitchen.

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