Everything about the theater stories that I have or will tell you is true. Each story come from my own personal theater experience....except this one. The person who told it to me, said that it was true but I have never been able to confirm that, so it probably isn't true; which is too bad, 'cause it's a great story!
It is possible that the story may only be funny to people who have actually been in a show on stage in front of an audience. I don't know, if anyone doesn't "get it", I'm not sure I can tell why its so funny! Let me know and I'll try to explain the joke. Anyway, here it is:
Supposedly, the first family of the American stage, the Barrymores -- Lionel, Ethel, and John, were starring in a play on Broadway. And, as happens with even the best actors, the three of them were on stage, when disaster struck! All three "went up" on the lines in a scene where they were sitting at a table playing cards. ["Going up" on your lines, means the actors cannot remember what comes next, a truly terrifying situation for an actor.]
So, Lionel, John, and Ethel, continued to play cards in silence while they each tried desperately to come up with the next line so that they could move on. I'm sure there was some sort of sotto voce communication going on between them, but for whatever reason, they couldn't fix it because none of them could remember.
I have had this happen to me on stage, it is the most horrible feeling of helplessness in the world....well, at least in the theatre world! Your mind just goes blank and the harder you try to remember, the worse it gets!
Well, these fine actors continued with the card game a bit longer until finally, John stood up at his place at the table and began to stretch as someone might do after sitting too long. The other two remained at the table, looked at each other in confusion, but continued the game. John walked to the back of the set where a window was located. He lifted up the window and poked his head out, looking very much as though he was enjoying some fresh air.
Of course, what the audience could not see was that the Stage Manager was crouched below the window with the script in hand. He was desperately giving the line to Mr. Barrymore. At that point John drew back into the room, closed the window, stretched a little bit more, then went back to his place. He sat down, picked us his cards then said very softly for the ears of his siblings only, "It's not my line."
I just love live theater!