Monday, January 18, 2010

Old Elks fire curtain reveals original artwork

Regular readers know that Courier coverage of the Elks is a regular feature here, and indulge me. This piece appeared over the weekend.

Cindy couldn't know that her lead --

For nearly 100 years, the asbestos fire curtain stood as a safeguard between the sometimes-combustible activities on the stage of the Elks Opera House and the people in the audience.
-- draws a chuckle from every theatre professional who's worked the Elks.

The fire curtain, known in theatre parlance as the asbestos, is a required system in every theatre since the 1903 Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago, which in killing 600 theatre patrons brought in many new rules for theatre safety systems and procedures. Asbestos systems are designed to bring the curtain down automatically to contain fire on the stage. They can be triggered manually as well.

Until it was taken down a few years ago, the Elks asbestos had been frozen and inoperable for at least twenty years and probably a lot longer. The Elks Theatre (is not, never has been and never could be an opera house) was almost exclusively a movie house for many decades, and so didn't need a working asbestos until Yavapai College took it over in the late '80s. The college never provided the funding to bring the theatre up to code, and so this and many other systems remained in neglect through the Prescott College period (when I rejected it as a venue for the Shakespeare Festival as unsafe) and the City's takeover.

The City's plans for "renovation" have so far not publicly included the necessary equipment and safety-system upgrades to pass a state inspection and open legally. I hope the City's not going to be surprised by this.


coyoteradiotheater said...

Soooo, if someone attempted to sing opera there's another safety mechanism that goes off?

Steven Ayres said...

That's not really a problem, as everyone leaves the theatre at speed without further motivation. The drag is that they always want their money back.