Fog machine triggers fire alarm, interrupts Hunchback’s opening night


Gabe Schaner

A fire truck arrives at Whitman as Hunchback company members and attendees wait outside. Fog machines triggered the fire alarm, delaying the show’s opening night halfway through act one.

By Jack McGuire and Gabe Schaner

At around 8:10 p.m., before the end of the first act of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Whitman’s fall musical, synthetic smoke machines triggered the fire alarms in the auditorium. Following initial confusion, members of the cast, tech crew, pit orchestra and audience evacuated the building into the parking lot, where they remained until the fire department came around 25 minutes later.

The smoke machines created a buildup of smoke in the hallway behind the stage near the dressing rooms, which set off the alarm. In rehearsals, the crew didn’t use the machines to their full extents in an effort to preserve the fog for the show.

During the show itself, the crew used strobe lights, so at first many audience members thought the fire alarm’s blinking lights were intentional; however, they soon realized that a potential emergency was occurring.

“I knew pretty soon on that it was an actual emergency, but I didn’t want to get up because the show was going great,” English teacher Matthew Bruneel said. “I felt bad watching the performers on stage realize also that it was an actual concern.” 

The period when the fire alarms went off was chaotic and confusing, various cast members said.

“We saw the flashing lights, but we weren’t sure what was happening, so we finished the number and then exited,” said senior Matthew Millin, who plays Clopin Trouillefou. “It was just kind of a frantic scramble to figure out what was happening and what we were supposed to do.”

Company members were also disappointed that there was a disruption in their performance.

“It’s a shame that we had to stop our momentum,” said junior Eli Blanks, who plays Quasimodo. “It was the best we’ve performed since we’ve been running the show.”

Hunchback resumed as planned once the fire department left and continued without further interruption.

Director Ian Anthony Coleman said that there was nothing they could do to prevent the alarms from going off, and that the interruption was a “part of live theater.”

“I’m so proud of my students regardless,” Coleman said.

The musical will also take place Friday, November 22 and Saturday, November 23 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium.