Presentation Theater officially shut down this fall following safety inspections.
“It is shut down!” Joshua McDermott, director of performance spaces for the College of Arts and Sciences, said in an email.
Presentation Theater, host to organizations like ASUSF College Players and Vitality Dance SF, has closed indefinitely while it undergoes a review to meet fire and work safety codes, according to McDermott.
McDermott believed a fire safety review by the University was necessary for the safety of the workers and performers using the space because the theater has not undergone a major review and renovation since 1993.
“An independent company that is familiar with fire safety for movie theaters and performing arts stages determined that some behind-the-scenes systems were not fully functional,” Craig Petersen, director of facilities operations, explained in an email.
Presentation Theater, according to Petersen, is up to date on “main-life safety inspections for fire alarms, sprinkler systems, elevators, fire extinguishers, and other systems that are integral to any of our buildings.” The fire safety review was needed specifically in order to assess theater-related systems, such as lighting and rigging equipment.
Petersen added that the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), a state agency to ensure safe working conditions nationwide, listed “some items” as violations to specific worker safety codes. One such item Petersen referred to was “a tall ladder, affixed to the stage floor and running up into the overhead rigging.” He explained that Cal/OSHA would find a problem with such a set up, since the current safety standards would require a protective cage wrapping the ladder.
“Once safety issues were identified, USF acted quickly to minimize risk by closing the Presentation Theater until the full extent of the problem can be determined and upgrades implemented,” Petersen said.
Peter Novak, department chair and co-founder of the Performing Arts and Social Justice program, in an email explained which specific items needed to be updated in terms of fire safety. Novak listed several, including fire curtains, fire doors, and vents. “All of them need to be working to ensure the safety of the audience, the building and the performers,” he said. “Currently, they do not function as a working system. That’s the primary reason for the closure.”
“All of them need to be working to ensure the safety of the audience, the building and the performers,” he said. “Currently, they do not function as a working system. That’s the primary reason for the closure.”Peter Novak
Novak also said that the fly system — the series of riggings above the stage where scenery, lights, curtains, and other pieces can be maneuvered or operated using ropes and counterweights — is “antiquated.” Without an upgrade, Novak explained, the system “can not be used in its current form the way that it is designed to work.”
When citing other issues with the theater, Petersen mentioned that the door-closing mechanisms were not “fully functional” in the event of a fire.
As of right now, the closure is temporary, according to Petersen, Novak, and McDermott. However, McDermott explained that after going through the initial inspection of the theater, it was clear that the work needed to make the space safe for performing would take at least several months.
“At this point,” McDermott said, “we are just hoping we can make the necessary improvements to the space and get it back into use as soon as we can.”
The renovation includes three components, according to Petersen. The upgrade will provide an estimate to secure “behind-the-curtain” events (such as showing movies, hosting classroom lectures, graduation events and guest speakers), ensure safety during performances, and design the space to resemble a “state-of-the-art performing arts facility.”
Although the updates will ultimately improve safety, the theater’s closure impacts organizations that rely on it for performances, events, and meetings.
“I felt super shocked at first, because the Presentation Theater has always felt like a constant presence in my life at USF.”Lillian Froio said over text.
Froio, the executive producer of ASUSF College Players, said this closure impacts nearly all of the organization’s events. Normally, the College Players put on the Rocky Horror Picture Show during the fall semester and an annual musical during the spring. The closure also creates a roadblock in finding an alternative location, since Froio explained that PASJ and other departments have priority over student organizations (such as the College Players) when reserving spaces for an event.
“We were not told a lot of information about why the theater had to close,” Froio said. “We heard different things about fire inspections, asbestos curtains, and fly systems. It would be nice to know exactly what needed to change in the theater to see if there was anything the board and members could help with, because many of us are willing.”
The Department of Media Studies will also be affected by the closure because of their annual Human Rights Festival, according to department head Susana Kaiser. The festival is usually held in Presentation Theater, and will have to find a different venue. “I think it is horrible, but if the theater has to go through repairs, there is nothing you can do,” she said.
Although there is no set date of completion for the theater’s updates, Petersen emphasized that the University is committed to providing a safe environment for faculty, students, and guests.