You might have been sitting in a theater last Thursday night enjoying Crash! Boom! Pow! or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf or in the outdoor amphitheater watching the Papillion-LaVista musical Annie Get Your Gun.

And you might have been home by the midnight hour when Friday came and cast a shadow over the very word theater as it appeared on television screens in bold headlines: Theater Shooting. Aurora Theater Tragedy. Massacre in Theater Nine.

Many in that Colorado cinema crowd were willing to believe, at least for a few seconds, that The Dark Knight Rises included some live effects in the form of a black-clad, gas-masked figure tossing canisters. Then automatic weapon fire and the screams of bloody victims ended that brief illusion.

Later we’d learn that the costumed figure had donned red hair and fashioned himself Batman’s nemesis, The Joker. Not a grinning Jack Nicholson but a grim Heath Ledger in role-playing that cost a dozen lives and 58 injured.

And left his booby-trapped apartment with loud techno music blaring from midnight to 1 a.m. If you’re asking what any of this has to do with the art of theater, of course the answer is “nothing,” except that this time was different than other horrors that slapped us awake.

I got up in the same mountain cabin where the first morning news one September showed an airliner crashing into the World Trade Center. I was in Omaha preparing to teach an evening seminar in mass communication when the shock of Columbine aired.

Since then, we’ve become almost accustomed to facing new horrors in schools and tall buildings. But we can still pray not to become familiar with massacres in theaters.

I found it a bit offensive when a police chief felt it was necessary to tell Coloradoans to feel safe going to a theater.  We didn’t stop flying or attending schools, and we won’t stop going to theaters, although some of us don’t feel drawn to midnight openings.

So enjoy the Shelterbelt where comic book heroes with red hoods rather than bat ears save the day, or check out the Circle Theatre where George and Martha cross verbal swords. Or drive over to Council Bluffs where Chanticleer Community Theater offers a youthful version of an old favorite, Fiddler on the Roof Jr., or motor out to Manley where the Lofte Community Theater joins in the 50th anniversary celebration of Singin’ in the Rain.

If the special effects are generous enough, you might even get a refreshing splash.

Cold Cream looks at theater in the metro area. Email information to

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