So you think you can hold a theater art event? It ends up that there are some requirements that the local fire department requires you to meet if the show will indeed go on. Julie Wright and Maddie Winston are stage managers who know what it takes, and they share that talent is not enough. I spoke to them as they were preparing to put on Passing Strange, a Half & Half Productions show. They stated that they have to meet fire code requirements before their launch date. This should be a good thing, for those who show up for entertainment and wish to minimize risks to their well-being can likely enjoy the performance so much more if they don’t fear for their safety. After all, even the Iroquois Theater Fire of 1903 takes up over a page on a Google Search. Other fires where the venues became death traps also abound on the internet, and in the minds of the public.
In the days before the launch of Passing Strange: The Rock Musical About Art, Love, and Family; rehearsals were not the only thing going down at the venue. Two of the managers shared how they were working to get the venue ready to pass muster with the fire department. They shared some of the requirements they have to meet in order to satisfy the city fire code. Some of the critical ones appear below:
Fire Code Requirements
- The venue must have enough electrical circuitry to support the power usages. As Wright explained it, theater lights have to be bright and numerous. She said an electrician has to make certain the circuitry is spot-on.
- All electrical wires have to be covered and secured. Winston said hanging wires just will not do.
- All wood must be painted. The two stated that this includes, but is not limited to the stage, any wooden fixtures, and any props they design.(See pic #1, upper right)
- The fire exits must be clearly marked. Wright stated that if this is tricky, announcements should be made to inform or remind the audience. (See pic #2, upper right).
- Fire extinguishers must be available. Wright stated that no one should have to walk more than 40′ to get a fire extinguisher. She said they are required to have two of them, and that they have to have red and white labels for ease of location. (see pic #3, upper right).
- If any row of chairs includes 19 or more chairs, they have to be zip tied together. Wright explained that the logic they were given is as follows. If there is a fire, scattered chairs won’t impede a quick exit if the chairs are attached as much as they would if they are not secured.
- You have to make certain that restrooms are available and the plumbing is working. Wright stated that one alternative is renting portable restroom facilities, such as port-a-pottys.
- Aisle spaces have to be a certain distance.
Wright explained that when everything is up to code they have a fire inspection, and that they must pass if they are to put on their show as scheduled.
It ends up that talent, a secured venue, perfecting rehearsals and marketing do not a theater production make. Safety, legal requirements and peace of mind are considerations that every city and venue has. Producers and managers need to make certain that they keep fire departments on their radar so that everything goes off without dangers lurking and accidents waiting to happen. Although it’s stated in the industry, one really doesn’t want anyone to come out to their well-prepared production and “break a leg” or encounter other dangers and hazards.