Forest Roberts Theatre Renovated
Recent improvements to Forest Roberts Theatre might not be visible to audiences, but those who spend most of their time backstage are celebrating the opportunity to work with updated equipment in a safer environment.
Technical Coordinator Kimberly Hegmegee (CAPS) said a major component of the project was a new rigging and fire curtain system (the rigging is pictured at left with a hoist in the foreground).
“They tore out the old rigging and replaced the whole thing, from floor to grid, with a new counterweight system,” she added. “If we would have done Beauty and the Beast with what’s in place now, we could have done the lifts – like the beast transformation – without hiring a professional company.
"And if there’s a fire on the stage or in the vicinity, heat-activated links in the system will melt once they reach a certain temperature, causing the fire curtain to drop and smoke hatches to open. We can also drop the curtain manually if we want a solid separation between the stage and audience.”
Hegmegee said the lighting system circuitry has been updated. There is also a new loading bridge – a working platform about 50-feet above stage level that is used to counterweight the fly system, balancing lighting gear or scenic elements. People can make their ascent to the upper reaches via two caged ladders. One leads from stage level to the first deck. The other continues to the second deck, located just below the loading bridge. Hegmegee said the caged, segmented climb upward is much less precarious than the previous alternative: a single ladder spanning the entire distance on the back wall with no protective enclosure. Improved lighting on the decks and grid also helps reduce the risk of accidents while working in elevated areas.
Other enhancements in the vicinity of the stage include a material handling hoist for heavier objects; new drapery comprised of a main curtain, two full-stage black travelers and five borders; 56 new stage lighting instruments; and harnesses and other safety gear.
“The goal was to get up to some standard,” Hegmegee said. “There were no standards in the late 1960s when this theater was originally built. Now there are standards and rated hardware for systems. It’s really a safety issue. I feel a lot better having students work here. I don’t have to hover quite as closely because equipment failure isn’t a concern. Also, students are getting hands-on experience with the most up-to-date gear, so they’ll be able to leave here with a working knowledge of the type of equipment that’s being installed in other venues across the country. It’s deceiving because the theater doesn’t look different when you walk in and sit down, yet it’s not at all the same facility.”
While most of the improvements aren’t obvious to the casual observer, there was one very visible difference greeting cast members this fall: revamped men’s and women’s dressing rooms (pictured right).
“This is the part of the project that has the ‘ooh and aah factor’ because it’s so noticeable and everyone’s excited about it,” Hegmegee said during a brief tour. “These dressing rooms used to have bare concrete floors, 2-by-4 framed-out counters, one switch to control all the mirror lights and hardly any outlets. Now we have shelving above the mirrors, individually controlled lights, plenty of outlets, lockable storage cabinetry, nice sinks with a countertop, and both exhaust systems and acoustic tile in the bathrooms, which we didn’t have before.”
James Panowski (CAPS) said the dressing rooms are a psychological boost for current and prospective students. “Some of the improvements are aesthetic and some are practical. They were long overdue in terms of safety, but we’re grateful that in this era of budget crunching, the project was able to be completed.”