Half hour to curtain. We actors were finishing off our vocal warmups on the theatre floor. A sold out house was streaming into the lobby, the pre-show wine and conversation buzzing. This was to be the closing night performance of David Mamet’s RACE, my theatre company’s play that had sold out several times during its run in Vancouver and been so well received by local theatre critics and audiences. The collective energy in the building was crackling and the cast and crew were hyped for one final go at this sublime piece of theatre.
I guess the show was just a bit too hot.
7:35pm. The fire alarm starts to ring. Our first thought, of course: false alarm. Then, the technical director notes smoke at the back of the building. The cast exits into the back alley, the audience is cleared onto the front sidewalk as fire engines stream in.
8pm. Fire alarm is off, sprinkler system has done its work and the fire was quite far down the complex on the west side, so cast is cleared to re-enter the backstage area and the audience re-enters the lobby.
8:05pm. Actors are in the midst of getting into wardrobe, back on an emotional high, chuckling over the last minute hiccup after an otherwise incredibly smooth and serendipitous month of production.
8:10pm. The front of house manager enters the green room and informs us that water from the sprinkler system is leaking into the theatre.
The show is officially cancelled. Our disappointed audience is told en masse in the lobby. The cast and crew are stunned and walk around the theatre in shock for several minutes.
I’ve gone through loss and severe trauma in my life, so my “yardstick” is fairly well notched and my perspective, I hope, is fairly centered on where this incident stands in the big picture.
I was devastated.
What should have been this:
Ended up being this:
6 months bringing this project to fruition, working full time to raise money, assemble cast and crew and create the experience that was so loved by the audiences and it dies at the last minute. It felt like a cruel joke. As I sat and looked at this scene, I thought of the ensuing insurance claim that would drag out for weeks, months, our little indie theatre company trying to recoup the $2000-$3000 lost on this last night. Essentially, most of our profit and modest honorariums from the show, gone.
I’d be arguing endlessly against lawyers, ironically, after spending 3 weeks playing a ruthless one onstage. Poetic justice, life meets arts and all of that ethereal blah blah.
Then one of my character’s lines came to me:
Jack: “Okay. What do you do on dead ground?”
Henry: “On dead ground, fight.”
And it was evident to the whole company. We were not going to go out like this. No. Fucking. Way.
Fast forward through the excruciating logistics of the last 48 hours. Hit the stop button and check out the most beautiful mixed tape imaginable.
We are going to stage two more showings of RACE. Thursday December 6th and Friday December 7th at 8pm.
All of our audience members from Saturday night have been welcomed back to either night. The whole company has juggled their life plans for the next week. One of our cast members has sent their family ahead on Christmas vacation and we’ve dug into the budget to pay for them to fly and re-join their family after the last show.
The angel on top of this hastily constructed Christmas tree – we are donating 15% of all ticket proceeds from these shows to the Family Services of the North Shore Christmas Bureau. They are selecting a family on our behalf and two sold out shows would result in over $400 going to fund this family in need at Christmas time. Before our new closing night, we’ll be doing a pre-show announcement and cheque donation to the bureau onstage prior to the performance.
We’re turning Mamet fear into Christmas cheer. How oddly mismatched and like life, how beautiful in its chaos.
These two additional shows are a symbol of the human spirit. Of the ability to take our misfortune and transform it into fortune for another. And of the will to define ourselves and “go out on our own terms”. Mamet would not approve of the corny cliches, but for the moment, in all due respect, he’ll just have to go fuck himself.
This blog/email/press release is going out far and wide. I urge you to share it. I urge you to come and see this fantastic show and to be a part of what will undoubtedly be an amazing experience, one for the books.
It truly is a wonderful life.
Tickets and show information at www.mitchandmurrayproductions.com/home/race
$20 discount rush tickets at the door. Thursday December 6th 8pm and Friday December 7th 8pm at Studio 16, 1555 West 7th Avenue, Vancouver.