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What Happens on Opening Night – When the Tornado Sirens Go Off?

by Jerome Weeks 25 May 2011 9:55 AM

If they’re smart, they evacuate the theater. But at the Fort Worth Opera’s opening night of ‘Hydrogen Jukebox,’ they had to do it twice.


They evacuate the theater. I think, legally, insurance-ly, they have to.

But Tuesday night at Fort Worth Opera‘s opening of the Philip Glass-Allen Ginsberg chamber opera, Hydrogen Jukebox, we had to evacuate it twice. It was evident that the company, wisely, had prepared for the possibility. The black-box Sanders Theatre at the Fort Worth Community Arts  Center — where the production is being staged, rather than Bass Hall — holds only 99 people, max, so it was hardly Operation Overlord.

But still, it was reassuring to see how everyone snapped to their tasks. When the white safety lights went on in the middle of the first act, conductor Steven Osgood stood up from his keyboard and announced that because of the tornado alert, we should, please, exit the theater. And immediately outside, we found opera company volunteers and staff already in place guiding us downstairs — to the basement (where, it just so happened, the FWO company has been rehearsing). After 10-15 minutes, we got the all-clear and tromped back up and Osgood picked up at the beginning of the song that had been cut off.

During intermission, some of us stood outside on the Center’s cafe porch and watched the black thunderheads bash and flash. All very appropriate — almost comically so — considering the very first words sung in Hydrogen Jukebox are from Ginsberg’s Iron Horse:

Lightning’s blue glare fills Oklahoma plains / the train rolls east / casting yellow shadow on grass / Twenty years ago / approaching Texas / I saw / sheet lightning / cover Heaven’s corners / Feed Storage Elevators in gray rain mist / checkerboard light over sky-roof /same electric lightning South / follows this train / Apocalypse prophesied — / the Fall of America /signaled from Heaven

Of course, the stuff about Apocalypse wasn’t exactly reassuring — especially when, intermission over, we had to tromp back downstairs. The sirens had gone off again. News reports this morning indicate three major storm waves crashed through North Texas last night, so we were probably lucky we had to do the same routine only twice. After 10-15 minutes we returned to our seats. All told, everyone seemed to take the proceedings in good spirits — if any of this rattled the performers, they didn’t show it.

And then, those of us from Dallas got to head back home at 11 pm — driving into what look liked a towering sky-wall of lightning.

A show couldn’t ask for more when it comes to inducing a real, grip-the-steering-wheel feeling of impending doom.