Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Strange and Scary Experience

Last night I went to see Book of Mormon, the new musical on Broadway by the creators of South Park and Avenue Q. It was awesomely, wickedly funny! But had some redeeming social merit as well, I thought.

The only bad thing during the first act was that the seats seemed remarkably small and thus uncomfortable. When I commented on that to my friend, he laughed, and said, "maybe it's you that got bigger. The seats seem the same to me as always."


So by the end of the first act, I was really ready to get up and move around. The fact that we had an enormous cheese-based meal at Artisinal, just prior to the show, probably contributed to my discomfort -- the full belly plus the girl plus the tiny seat. I didn't really need the restroom, but figured it would be a good idea to go, anyway, so I made a beeline for it, as much as a pregnant woman can make a beeline for anything.

The back of the theater, moving towards the bathrooms, was crowded, and got only more so as I walked. The masses of people were moving more and more slowly, until finally we ground to a halt, as more and more people poured out of the aisles and down the stairs... and there didn't seem to be any movement at all towards the one staircase that led to the bathrooms. There was one guy, who seemed to be a fellow theater-goer, who was standing up higher than the crowds and who was sharing the occasional instruction with the crowd ("men's room that way, women's room the other way,") but mostly we were all just standing there, not moving, and most people seemed to not no which way to go.

All of the sudden, I just couldn't be there any more, and started to panic. The sight of the crowd growing ever larger, and with no visible escape route just completely freaked me out. It seemed so darn dangerous. Perhaps because of being a health care provider, or maybe it's just my personality, but I'm very sensitive to public health violations. I muttered to someone near me how dangerous this was, that it seemed like a clear fire hazard. Another woman heard me, and told me to follow her back out of the theater to the hotel bathroom next door.

But I wasn't focused on needing the bathroom, but on my growing rage at the danger of the situation.

Still, I started to follow her back out.

As the crowd eased up, I saw a woman with a headphone on, clearly an employee of the theater, and went over there. I'll admit I could've been nicer, but I had been in full-on panic mode, and my adrenaline was pumping.

I told her, "that's a fire trap over there! you have to do something!"

"Ma'am, we have the same situation every night. It's fine."

"No, it's totally not fine. I am fucking eight months pregnant, and I couldn't move, and no one knew where they were going, and it was terrifying! That's a fire hazard!"

"I'm pregnant too. And it's not a fire hazard. If there was a fire, we could open all the doors to the outside." (Note to the rest of you, she may have been pregnant, but she was sure staying well back of the crowds... so how could she appreciate how bad it was?")

"So then open all the doors!"

"We can't do that. It's fine. It's just a full house. It's fine."

"It's not fine. It's a fucking fire hazard."

"Ma'am, please stop cursing at me."

At this point, I walked away. I leaned over the railing of the back of our seats (we were in the back row) and squeezed my friend Scott's shoulder and said, "I need you. Please meet me at the end of the row."

He met me by the tiny lobby, and I said, "It was so crowded, and I couldn't move, and nobody knew where they were going." And I burst out crying, in shaking sobs. My teeth were chattering, my whole body was shivering.

He was a bit bewildered, but the security guards were very nice, and told me to go next door to the hotel bathroom.  My friend Emily followed us out to the lobby, where she saw me wiping my eyes, and was entirely sympathetic, and took charge of getting me next door.

A few minutes later my teeth stopped chattering.... but I will admit the rest of the show was ruined for me. A shame, as it was truly a great theater experience. But wow, pregnancy trumped it. What a strange experience. I've never been claustrophobic before. This was like my conscious brain just shut down and I went to some primal place.

Anyone else experienced this?

(I think I read on someone's blog recently that this happened to her when her subway car got stalled and it was crowded and she was very pregnant. Strangely comforting to know that I am not alone. I don't think I've ever sobbed in public before.)

(I'm still mad about the danger, though I guess I overreacted a little, given that I was able to get out of the situation when I needed to. After the show, I apologized to the theater manager for cursing, but said that I will be calling in a complaint to the fire department, that it was certainly unsafe. While continuing to be defensive -- how hard would it have been to say, "thank you for sharing your concern, I am going to look into it," even if she was lying??? -- she gave me the business card of her boss. I've already left her a message. We'll see if I am organized enough to call the city to file a complaint. I hope so.)


  1. Oh that is so scary, shame on the theater for not being proactive about safety. I had the full body shakes and sobbing after my fender bender. It was not a typical reaction for me so guess it was also a fear response. Sure got everyone's attention maybe it is a survival mechanism. Hope you are feeling better.

  2. I am really glad you complained. Too often nothing is done until people end up dying/ and or being trampled - and then everyone pretends that they are surprised. Even small crowds can be surprisingly dangerous. Good on you!

  3. Ok, I really want to give you some comforting words, but all I can focus on is cheese at Artisinal. Yummy! Did you have wine, too, or just the cheese?

    I am glad you complained!