WHEN I WALKED into the Mainstage auditorium of City Rep's downtown Utah Theater on Friday evening, there was a noticably heavy odor of smoke in the air. My gosh, I thought, "Smell-O-Vision" has finally made the transition to live theater!
(Smell-O-Vision was one of movie producer Michael Todd Jr.'s ill-conceived gimmicks from back in the early 1960s and was supposed to integrate various odors into the action on the screen.)But this smell was no gimmick, although "Two African Tales" is supposed to evoke the feeling of sitting around a jungle campfire while two folk tales are presented in traditional African style.
As if being delayed by blizzards and closed roads weren't enough, the Children's Theatre Company of Minneapolis - nearing the end of a grueling series of one-night stands - also had to contend with a smouldering fire on board their semi-tractor truck somewhere between Rapid City, S.D., and Casper, Wyo., where they performed Thursday night before loading up and heading for Utah.
"The show must go on" is an old show business axiom that probably dates back to ancient Greek amphitheaters or maybe even earlier. And it's a tradition that the Children's Theatre Company of Minneapolis certainly takes seriously.
While "another openin', another show" sounds like a lot of fun, sometimes busing and trucking across the country can be more adventurous than a theater troupe originally bargained for.
I called City Rep's office about the middle of the day on Friday just to check to see if CTC was, in fact, on the way to Salt Lake City. Betsy O'Bryant, City Rep's public relations spokesman, said the cast and crew had been stranded in Little America, Wyo.
But, we agreed, folks in Minneapolis are accustomed to blizzards and fierce winter storms, so a couple of feet of snow on I-80 shouldn't deter them.
Thomas W. Parker, City Rep's general manager, said CTC's original plan was to simply load up after the Casper performance and drive straight through the night to Salt Lake City, then sleeping here that morning and setting up the equipment early Friday afternoon. The normal set-up time for the company's intricate array of sophisticated lighting and sound equipment and mural-sized sets is about four hours.
But when the troupe reached Little America, Wyo., they got mixed messages - the Highway Patrol assured them that I-80 was open and passable, but other truckers they talked to said they'd started out, then turned back because of the storm.
Parker explained that they were especially nervous because although their semi is large, it is loaded with equipment and props that are not particularly heavy, so they didn't have the same traction that a truck loaded from top to bottom with furniture or crates of merchandise would.
But after conferring with both City Rep in Salt Lake City and CTC's main office in Minneapolis, they decided to take a chance and come on into Salt Lake.
They arrived about 5 p.m. - then had trouble parking the truck on Main Street because an irate motorist balked at surrendering his parking place. But after battling blizzards and blazes, they weren't about to let a Utah driver spoil things. Eventually, after Parker threatened to summon the cops, the driver left and the truck maneuvered into the parking lane.
Now, in a best-case scenario, Parker said they could've started the show maybe 10 minutes later than originally scheduled.
But then one of the trusses used to hoist props into position broke and they lost another half an hour of precious time in getting this repaired.
I left the Deseret News on a couple of errands Friday afternoon and when I got back to my desk there was a note that said, "The show is on!" So when I went to the theater about 7:45 - in plenty of time for an 8 p.m. curtain - I found the Utah Theater's large, ornate lobby overflowing with chattering children and an assortment of parents and grandparents. Signs taped to the auditorium doors notified the patrons that the show would be delayed because of the late arrival.
As technical crews scrambled to get the lighting adjusted and sound equipment hooked up, cast members were dancing in the aisles - not because they were exceptionally happy, but because the basement was cold and they had to limber up prior to the performance.
The fire aboard the truck, it was later explained, was not caused by one of the CTC crew but apparently by someone in Rapid City who was helping load up their equipment. He'd flicked a cigarette into the back of the trailer, where it ignited a heavy blanket used to pad and protect some of the equipment, but the smouldering fire wasn't apparent until they got down the road en route to Casper. Parker said most of the smokey smell came from a large piece of plywood flooring.
The cast and crew stayed in Salt Lake City Friday night (actually working until 1 or 1:30 Saturday morning striking the set), and then ventured onto Twin Falls, Idaho, for a performance at the College of Southern Idaho.