Susan Blackwell, Lauren Graham, and More Share Hilarious Onstage Mishaps From Their Summer Stock Days

Seth Rudetsky   Susan Blackwell, Lauren Graham, and More Share Hilarious Onstage Mishaps From Their Summer Stock Days
Deaths gone wrong, broken arms, and landing planes make for some unintended comedy.
Susan Blackwell Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Summer is here and Broadway is going strong. But it’s also the time of year that gives birth to that annual tradition: summer stock! I am a veteran of summers at Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. We did “one week stock,” which means we did a different musical every week for three months! Yes, I did 12 musicals per summer, and I loved it!

There are some hilarious stories that come from summer stock. Alice Ripley worked at the famous outdoor Starlight Bowl in San Diego, built directly under the landing path for the then new airport. Once the amphitheatre was completed, it became obvious that sound of landing planes was so loud that it obliterated any sound onstage. What to do? Well, the theatre set up a giant traffic light in the pit. When the light was green, the show proceeded as usual. If it became yellow, you knew that a plane was soon coming and you needed to prepare. Then when the plane was extremely close, the light would change to red and you were required to completely stop whatever you were doing and freeze in place until the plane passed. Hence its nickname: The “stop-and-go theatre.”

Summer stock is also the place where one group of actors has to play different roles in various shows; some that are appropriate and some completely not. Lauren Graham had to play a 50-year-old woman when she was just 20. That wasn’t the bad part, though. Her character got stabbed in the back and she had to spend the rest of the scene dead—but facing the audience and with her eyes completely open. Throughout the entire run, she tried and tried, but she was never able to keep her eyes open for the full scene. Every time she’d take a quick blink, there’d be a humiliatingly huge laugh from the audience. The Kalamazoo Gazette wrote that Lauren got killed at the end of Act 1, but “one wishes it happened sooner.” Well, at least she got mentioned.

And finally, the hilarious Susan Blackwell from [title of show] did The Mousetrap on a showboat, playing a mysterious murder suspect who was featured throughout the show. Right before opening night, she tripped and broke both her arms. But the show had to go on! So she continued the run with giant casts sticking straight out from her arms and they altered the script with lines like, “Look at her! She couldn’t have done it. Why, she’s broken both of her arms!” Followed by someone else musing, “Unless she’s faking it…” Susan claims that Agatha Christie was not only rolling in her grave, but clawing to get out and stop the production!

In conclusion, enjoy this sun but go see a show in summer stock, too! Be part of the long theatrical tradition!

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