The atmosphere at Riverhead High School’s Charles Cardona Auditorium was dramatic for all the wrong reasons last Sunday afternoon.
There were just five minutes to go before the Blue Masques’ final performance of “Bye Bye Birdie” when a fire alarm sounded around 2 p.m., forcing the building’s nearly 100 occupants outdoors.
Co-musical director Dena Tishim, who was walking toward the auditorium’s lighting booth when the alarm began to ring, initially thought it might have been accidental.
“We were the only ones in the building, so we couldn’t think of anything that would have made it go off,” she said.
But the black smoke emanating from the back of the high school, visible from the parking lot, quickly confirmed that wasn’t the case. Riverhead fire marshal David Andruskiewicz later determined a fire that was mechanical in nature had broken out inside one of the high school’s portable classrooms.
No one was injured in the incident, but the Blue Masques’ performance was canceled — leaving many cast members, especially the 14 seniors participating in what may have been the last show of their high school theater careers — upset and disappointed.
“I broke down. I was hysterical and probably cried for about two hours that day,” recalled senior Shannon McAlister, who played Kim MacAfee in the production and has starred in every Blue Masques show since her freshman year.
“Initially it made all of us really, really sad that we wouldn’t get to do it at all,” added senior Alex Bowe, who starred as the show’s male lead, Albert Peterson.
Once she informed the confused audience, many of whom had retreated to their vehicles, that the performance had been canceled, Ms. Tishim met up with her cast of 44 at the Riverhead Applebee’s, where the students ordered appetizers and tried to regroup — and reschedule.
“At first I didn’t know what we would be able to do, but once we were able to get into the school the next day, we started talking about where it could fit in the calendar,” Ms. Tishim said.
“Ms. Tishim got everybody together really fast that afternoon and was able to secure [Sunday, Jan. 17] as a redo date,” said co-musical director Jessica Guadagnino.
On Sunday, the Blue Masques finally saw their last performance of “Bye Bye Birdie” come to fruition. Tickets from the canceled show were honored and admission was free to everyone else.
“They are such a great group — the talent is fabulous,” said audience member Edith Niemcyzk of Riverhead, who attended the Jan. 17 performance with her husband, John. “I thought [the fire] was such a shame, especially because these kids worked so hard.”
Members of the Blue Masques, who will next produce “Shrek: The Musical” in April, don’t seem to mind putting in the hard work it takes to pull off one of their shows. They’re just grateful last week’s fire didn’t stifle this one altogether.
“It’s my senior year and this show really, really meant a lot to me,” Shannon said. “I’m really glad we got to do it again.”
Caption: Senior cast members from Riverhead High School’s production of “Bye Bye Birdie” following Sunday’s performance.
Bottom row, from left: Kaitlyn Jehle; Shannon McAlister; Hannah Da’Mes; Megan Brunner; Jessica Nicholson; and Katherine Maslankowski.
Top row, from left: Lauren Schmitt; Chloe Halpin; Jesse Goodale; and Alex Bowe.
Seniors not pictured: Stephanie Burke; Emily Nieves; Sarah Rosenbaum; and Alexis Schmidt. (Credit: Rachel Young)