Love blossoms backstage for ingenue Niki Harris (Katie Blodgett) and Lt. Frank Cioffi (Ryan Drummond) in CURTAINS at Foothill Music Theatre.
Love blossoms backstage for ingenue Niki Harris (Katie Blodgett) and Lt. Frank Cioffi (Ryan Drummond) in CURTAINS at Foothill Music Theatre.

By Ande Jacobson.

Honoring the convention of not reviewing previews, this is explicitly NOT a review. It is, however, a true story about a rather unusual preview of the now-open production of “Curtains” at the Lohman Theatre on the Foothill campus.

After seeing Foothill Music Theatre’s preview of “Curtains” on Thursday, 21 July 2011, an old theatre superstition came to mind: “a bad dress rehearsal will make a great opening,” or something similar. “Bad” doesn’t necessarily refer to the performers, or their performances, it can also apply to happenstance, or things beyond the company’s control. This was the case with FMT’s recent preview.

During dress rehearsals, many things are still being refined prior to opening. Whether paid or not, a preview is a dress rehearsal with an audience, an important part of the process since audience presence changes a whole raft of things including sound balance, timing owing to audience reaction, and real estate and staging if it’s a particularly intimate space. The “Curtains” performers needed an audience to finish the preparation process, and they had one that night – and a very appreciative and interested full house at that.

“Curtains” is a comedic, backstage musical murder mystery, and for the purposes of this story, the details are irrelevant. What does matter, as is true with most murder mysteries, is that once you get pulled into the story, you want to find out, well, who did it.

For a while that night, the odds were not in the audience’s favor. After some sound problems at the top of the show, which are not uncommon during tech week, the performance continued until, late in Act 2 during a big production number, the fire alarm went off.  At Foothill College, this is a particularly disruptive occurrence because when a fire alarm goes off anywhere on campus, all the alarms are activated. Hence the sirens blared within the theatre and from every other building nearby. During the number, it seemed to be a part of the story, but once the music stopped, the stage manager instructed everyone – audience, cast, crew, and band – to calmly, quickly, leave the theatre. Of course, this happened before the solution to the crime was revealed.

Since the alarms on campus don’t go straight to the fire station, but instead are routed through an outside alarm company, it took several minutes before a fire truck arrived on the scene.

Everyone milled about the parking lot near the Lohman Theatre hoping that they could all go back inside to finish the show. The parking lot is located down two very short flights of stairs from the theatre. A large landing separates the two flights.

After close to a half hour following the evacuation, with fire fighters still inside the theatre, the cast of “Curtains” gathered upon the landing, and one cast member called to the audience, asking them to congregate on the lower flight and below. From that point, owing to the resilience and ingenuity of the actors, the cast performed the rest of the show a cappella (by necessity since the band was largely electronic, and their instruments were still inside the theatre). With only the costumes on their backs, and no props since those too were inside the theatre, the cast finished the performance, fully staged in the small space, stopping twice to let firefighters through, revealing the solution to the mystery, and running all the way through their curtain calls.

The very appreciative audience cheered with excitement, and the tired, but proud cast members, took their bows and returned to the theatre to shed their costumes before leaving to get some well-deserved rest before their official opening the next night.

This was a preview those in attendance will not soon forget, and if the superstition holds, the company of “Curtains” should be in for a very solid run.