You Never Know

Jack Rushen

  • OnStage Connecticut Columnist

I’m a real theater person.  Have been since I was in high school.  I studied, paid my dues, and even got professional work.  When I got to act in Equity theaters, I was under the impression that everything would be smooth and professional at all times.  Not so.  Things happen. 
In 1982, I was performing at Long Wharf, one of my first union gigs.  The play was “The Doctor’s Dilemma” by Shaw. 

This particular Sunday matinee started off well, until the end of the first act, where smoke was suddenly wafting out of the heating vents.  As it got more and more dense, the house manager stopped the show and had the audience evacuate the building. 

Long story even longer, it turned out that the heating system was off kilter and emitting steam.  Lots of steam.  An incredible amount of steam. I was expecting people to change into towels.  

The problem was fixed and the confused audience was herded back into the theater and the house manager explained what happened.

Actors entered, lights went up, and the play resumed.  All was well…or was it?  It seemed that one of the audience members called the fire department without telling anyone, and in the silence of drama inside the theater, a fire truck pulled up, sans the siren and lights. 

As the play went on, a fireman (with axe, oxygen, helmet, and jacket)…was walking in the lobby.  He heard loud dramatic voices, and flung open the door that lead to the stage.  Maybe this was his chance to be a hero, so he rushed down and stopped at the edge of the stage where five actors in 19th century costumes stared him down.  The fireman looked uncomfortably to the audience, muttered “shit,” and tip-toed away sheepishly. 

The adventure was over and the rest of the play went well, but I was trying to figure out a way to have this guy come out for the curtain call.

The program really should have read like this: 

  • Mr. Danby – Lewis Casson 
  • Sir Patrick Cullen – William Farren 
  • Louis Dubedat – Harley Granville-Barker 
  • Dr. Blenkinsop – Edmund Gurney 
  • Nervous Fireman—Joey Santoro

Last I heard, Joey quit the fire department and is now studying at the Strasberg Institute in New York City.