'The show must go on': South Portland actor takes the stage despite fire

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Though his family has been displaced, and nearly all their possessions lost, Mark Calkins will be on stage this weekend in the lead role of a local holiday production.

The Calkins family’s home was destroyed Nov. 25 in a fire ruled accidental by the Fire Department. Calkins, his wife Denise, and their children Sam, 16, and Max, 10, were at a movie at the time, but their two beagles and two cats were killed in the blaze.

On Tuesday, the smell of smoke still lingered in the air around 17 Osborne Ave., where the home sat charred and hollow. Calkins has been in and out of the house since it burned, gathering a few possessions – like Denise’s wedding dress and a few family photo albums – that might be salvageable.

“It’s heartbreaking beyond belief,” he said of entering the building. “My wife still hasn’t been able to go in. It’s gut-wrenching to be there and see everything. That’s the first house we got when we got married. It’s the only house we’ve ever lived in as a family. Everything we’ve built together was in that house.”

The Fire Department was called at 4:28 p.m., just minutes after the Calkins family had left the house to see “The Muppet Movie.” By the time firefighters arrived, the house was engulfed in flames.

“I’d say the building is a total loss,” Lt. Robb Couture said. “The interior, the whole second and first floor, are pretty much gutted.” The department determined the fire started in the kitchen, near the oven. Calkins said that’s right under his son Max’s room.

Calkins said he later found out that his neighbor, Jeremy Brooks, reported the fire. Brooks reportedly went into the burning home twice in an attempt to save the Calikins’ pets. Calkins called his neighbor “an angel.”

“He jumped the fence and kicked in the front door and yelled for our dogs,” Calkins said. “He couldn’t hear them and he went in the back door but as soon as he turned the corner he was faced with a wall of fire. He threw a cinder block through a window to try to get in, but he just couldn’t.”

Calkins is an education technician at Small Elementary School, and said he’s been acting since he was 5 or 6 years old. This winter, he stars in “The Gift of The Magi,” a holiday musical set in 1940s Maine about a couple willing to sacrifice everything for each other.

Although his family is staying at a Holiday Inn while they wait for temporary housing, his youngest son has yet to return to school, and his voice is strained from inhaling smoke, Calkins said he couldn’t abandon the play.

“Theater has always been an escapism in my life,” he said. “The other three actors have put in just as much time as I have to get this show ready. There’s no understudy. It’s live theater, and the show must go on.”

“Besides,” he continued, “my wife and I are living ‘The Gift of The Magi’ right now. The story is two young lovers who give up everything they own for the other person. We’re living that 10-fold.”

CoveLight Productions, the company staging the show, will donate ticket sales from two shows this weekend to the Calkins family, said Michael Tobin, who runs the company.

“We want make sure that the Calkins and their two young boys have the best Christmas during this devastating time,” Tobin said in a news release. “Just imagine, you go to the movies and come home to find everything gone, including your pets. It’s inconceivable what that must feel like.”

Calkins met with an insurance agent Tuesday and said he hopes the process of getting temporary housing comes quickly. He said that while the home is a total loss, he has no doubt he and his family will live at that address again.

He said that losing the family pets and their house is a tragedy, but that he and his family are lucky that no one was home. The fire spread so quickly, he said, and he’s not sure they would have made it.

“We’re so thankful our oldest son wanted to be a kid that day and see ‘The Muppets,'” he said. “Nine times out of ten, he would have stayed home. If he’d done that, this would be a totally different story.”

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or mmoretto@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.

Sidebar Elements

The Calkins home at 17 Osborne Ave. in South Portland was gutted by fire on Nov. 25. The family was at a movie at the time of the blaze, but their two beagles and two cats – and nearly all their possessions – were lost. The Fire Department ruled the fire accidental.

Mark Calkins, right, poses for a photo with actress Leslie Trentalange, his co-star in “The Gift of the Magi.” The show is being performed throughout southern Maine and New Hampshire, with proceeds from the first two nights benefiting Calkins and his family, who lost their South Portland home in a Nov. 25 fire. Tickets are $15 and $10 for the 8 p.m. show on Friday, Dec. 2, at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Kennebunk.On Saturday, Dec. 3, the show moves to The Dunway Center in Ogunquit for an 8 p.m. performance; tickets are $10 and $8.