Cold Water Is Thrown on Comedy

Brandy Snyder, a 21-year-old acting student, is looking for a job to pay off debts exacerbated last weekend after a fire marshal closed her play.

Snyder, a senior at United States International University, had directed a weeklong production of the three-person comedy "The Lady and the Clarinet" in rented space at the Progressive Stage Company in the Old City Hall building downtown.

Saturday night was the last scheduled performance in the run that Snyder had bankrolled with $800 of her own money and a $600 loan. She had expected her efforts to pay off that night when a Los Angeles director was in the audience, as well as a professor from San Francisco whom Snyder wanted to see the work. Critics from two local newspapers also attended.

At 8:30 p.m., half an hour into the 1 1/2-hour performance, fire inspector Don Waldman walked in and ordered Snyder to close the show or be arrested.

Snyder said she was upset that the Fire Department had not closed the theater at 433 G St. either before or after the show; still, she didn't fault them, because Waldman told her he had warned the Progressive about fire violations "hundreds of times."

"This was my first venture out, and it was very upsetting," she said.

Fire Department spokesman Bob Zepeda said Tuesday that two exits are required for the second-floor performance space whenever more than 10 people are in the theater, which seats between 45 and 70. Officials said no one has been fined or cited.

Progressive plans to shift its presentations to the ground floor this weekend, where the Fire Department has said 49 people can safely be seated. The department Wednesday approved the use of the upstairs space for rehearsal and classes.

Zepeda said the department had been concerned about the situation for months, but that Saturday was the first night an inspector had been on duty during a performance.

However, Progressive's producing director, Carlos X. Pena, said that, although fire officials had told him Saturday they wanted the safety of the theater improved, they had no intention of shutting it down.

Pena said the Progressive can't build another exit because the Old City Hall building is labeled a historic site.

Since its opening, the Progressive has been a haven for small theater groups in search of affordable space.

Pena said the Progressive will be back on schedule Tuesday, when it presents the second play in the Teatro Meta's Latino Play Festival in the downstairs space.

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