Sunday, October 9, 2011

Emergency Escape Routes Shut Down to Keep Casts Cool

Posted by Bruce Miller
If you happened to be driving down Broad Street not too many days ago, and you noticed it was blocked off to traffic, and you wondered why, here's your answer.

Theatre IV finally replaced the giant air conditioning unit that sits atop what historically was the Little Theatre and then the Maggie Walker Theatre. This is the unit that provides cooling to our dressing rooms, costume shop and rehearsal hall. Fortunately, it was this unit, not the one that sits atop the Empire and provides cooling to the theatre itself, that went on the fritz just prior to the final two weeks of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

There were a couple of cast members who would not agree with me about the "fortunately" part. When the cooling suddenly stopped in the dog days of August, our initial plan was to repair the unit and immediately restore a livable environment backstage. We tried, but were quickly told that repair was no longer possible. The unit was dead; no one of this world was going to be able to bring it back to life.

So we rented a portable air conditioning system that had giant plastic tubes that I could crawl through running down all the hallways, and enormous fans creating gale force winds that were capable of cooling the backstage spaces while at the same time blowing your wig into Kentucky. It was not an ideal situation. But it was manageable, and we thanked our hard-working cast profusely for putting up with it all.

There were a couple folks who wondered aloud why we didn't just replace the unit that had died, as if it were something you could just pop out of a window and toss into the dumpster. The reasons it took us several weeks were:

1 - money (it cost $22,000 and we didn't have that amount just sitting in a drawer),

2 - finding a final resting place for the old unit which was about the size and weight of a '68 Buick, and

3 - getting the necessary permits to close off Broad Street so that we could hire a crane to take down our old deceased buddy and hoist up our new one.

If you've ever tried to close off Broad Street, you know it's not the easiest thing to do. Probably since the Civil War, Broad Street has been THE legally designated emergency escape route that will allow hundreds of thousands of Richmonders to flee whatever and head to Charlottesville. Look out UVA, we're comin'. It takes practically an act of Congress to shut it down. Well, more accurately, it takes about seven weeks.

But finally all the pieces and parts were put into place, including the giant crane pictured above.

So now, all that ominous tubing that looked like something pulled from where IT lived in A Wrinkle in Time has been removed. And if you'd like to come cool down in our rehearsal hall, dressing rooms or costume shop, please, as Lumière and all his kitchen companions would say, be our guest.

--Bruce Miller

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