OK. We aren’t perfect. We occasionally drop our props or forget our lines or start on the wrong cue. Fortunately, we are comedy jugglers and have ample drop lines to rely upon or can make the mistakes into opportunities for self-deprecating humor. This blooper was beyond all of that. At First Night Wilmington on the cusp of 1997, we share an event that was clearly our biggest blooper of all.
We arrived at the check in station in Wilmington after a long ride and performance at First Night in Dover. In Dover, we were greeted and escorted to a well-lit, well-suited space for our performance and again greeted by both a Site Supervisor and a professional Sound Engineer to set up and man a sound system for us. Not so in Wilmington.
We were on our own to figure out where to park and how to lug in our equipment. As was mentioned in a previous post, we were happy to be performing at the Christina Cultural Arts Center only to find out that while we were inside the building, our audience was outside, standing in the cold. There was a huge picture window between us and our audience. Fortunately, the organizers realized there would be an issue, so they set up a sound system for us. Unfortunately, we might have been better off if we had used two soup cans and a length of string for communication.
That set us up nicely for what we had to do to keep the audience’s attention. With lots of events and performances happening simultaneously, the fact that they had no seats and were standing in the cold, we knew we had to something special to keep our audience from walking away.
We decided to do shorter shows than previously scheduled. Getting volunteers from the audience would take a combination of sign language and charades expertise since no one could understand a word we were saying through the sound system. (Think Charlie Brown’s teacher.) We figured we had 20 minutes worth of show that included juggling and nonverbal communication and NO talking or at least 20 minutes we could fake our way through.
After searching for a while, we finally found someone who appeared to be a supervisor or at least that’s what their walkie-talkie seemed to suggest. We asked if we could juggle fire. They replied with, “I guess.” That was good enough for us.
For the cards we were dealt, the first show was going pretty well. I prepared the torches. The audience stared in anticipation. Michael nodded and we set the torches ablaze. The crowd on the street swelled as Michael did his thing with the fiery sticks. It was going great. And then…..
The smoke detectors sounded their annoying beeps and the alarm in the building blared. We quickly blew out the torches and started our walk of shame outside. It would have been bad enough if we were the only ones in the building. But, we weren’t. A crowd of about 50 people poured down the stairs. We interrupted a jazz singer, in a beautiful blue satin strapless full length gown, who was right in the middle of a set. She was not happy.
By the time we got outside, most of the crowd had dispersed. With increasing volume, we heard police and fire sirens approaching the scene. Michael tried to tell one of the fire fighters that it was just us who set off the alarm; there was no fire. The man shoved the dude with the knickers and the bow tie aside and went about his duty.
We sat down in an alley, full of embarrassment, trying to decide what we would do for a living after this.
As it turned out, the professionals cleared the building for re-entry, we performed 3 more shows that night (without the fire), and got hired again for the next 5 years at First Night Wilmington.
We don’t juggle fire that much inside anymore except for certain venues. It is ironic that libraries allowed us to juggle fire in their buildings while fire companies did not. Hmmm…
We are fortunate that we have had so many years to juggle together (20 to be exact) and perform for so many and have not once burned anything down.