7 in your Neighborhood: Andersonville

December 4, 2011 (CHICAGO)

It is a twist on "Mister Bluebeard," which was the acrobatic show being performed at Chicago's Iroquois Theatre in December of 1903. The newly built downtown theatre was among the grandest of its time. It turned out to be the site of one of the worst tragedies in history.

"A piece of lighting equipment sparked on stage at the top of Act II and they had hundreds of set pieces above the stage," said playwright Jay Torrence. "And when the lighting sparked, it caught on one of the set pieces and started the fire."

About 600 people died in that fire. Ryan Walters plays the role of comedian Eddy Foy.

"He came out on stage and he encouraged people to stay calm and also to remain seated and that sort of added to the disaster because people were trying to escape and that was very dangerous, but they also sat back down and the fire happened," Walters said. "So, it was really an interesting message for me about forgiveness in the script and about asking for forgiveness."

Leah Urzendowski portrays Nelly Reed, a 13-year-old aerialist who played a fairy in the show.

"At the end of the show, she flies down over the heads of the audience," Urzendowski said. "Her arms burst open and she throws carnations all over the upper gallery balcony and that was her role in the show, this big just gorgeous moment at the end. The sadness is that Nelly was the only performer to die."

Torrence points out that "Burning Bluebeard" does more than just recount the details of that fatal day. It also imagines the emotions of the performers on stage.

"It's mostly an apology written to our audience and to that audience," Torrence said. "A performer's heart is to bring joy to a room and on that day, that didn't happen."

One of the changes that resulted from that fire was lighted exit signs in all theatres. You see that all over the world today.

"Burning Bluebeard" runs now through Dec. 30, which would be the 108th anniversary of the Iroquois fire.

For tickets or information, visit www.neofuturists.org or call 773-275-5255.

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