It was recently that I tried to explain to Maya how the freedom of speech excludes such circumstances as yelling "Fire" in a theatre. Could you imagine what it would be like to evacuate a theatre packed with a panicked audience?
In actuality, everyone calmly stood up and headed for the exits simultaneously. Perhaps there would have been more pandemonium if someone had started yelling? Although, I don't think the example pertains to the instance when the stage curtain bursts into flames.
Tonight we attended the Shanghai Circus at the Star Theatre in Merrillville. About 40 minutes into the show, smoke slowly started billowing onto the stage. I'm sure many people thought, as did I, that it was a smoke machine, a special effect. I found it unusual that much of the smoke was near the ceiling, not the floor. And, it seems the stagehand half way behind the curtian with the fire extinguisher caught the eye of more audience members than the dozen, beautifully adorned acrobats center stage spinning multiple plates in each hand.
The audience was calm and confident that one short spray from a fire extinguisher had kept us all from harms way. Then, flames. It was surreal to see fire in a theatre as the stage curtain ignited. The fire alarms were fairly subdued. I see, in hindsight, probably intentionally. I looked and Darrin and said, "I think that means that we need to leave the building." The reality hit everyone concurrently. I was grateful to have the not-so-good seats that we did. Darrin grabbed the hands of our young daughters and their two friends and firmly stated "Stay with me" as we ushered them from the second to the last row and out to the parking lot in one short minute. I was also happy to have gotten to the car and out of the parking lot before a traffic jam had ensued.
News reports state that everyone made it out safe.