Odor at PPAC performance of ‘Phantom’ leads to evacuation, but show goes on

December 1, 2013

PROVIDENCE — Malfunctioning pyrotechnics at Friday night’s performance of “The Phantom of the Opera” at the Providence Performing Arts Center caused a sulfurous odor and prompted theatergoers to evacuate, according to J. Lynn Singleton, president and chief executive officer.

For the capacity crowd of 3,100, the incident followed an hourlong delay of the start of the show, caused by an unrelated computer problem.

The incident occurred at 10:25 p.m. when “one of their pyrotechnic devices didn’t fully discharge as normal,” said Deputy Assistant Fire Chief Daniel J. Crowley. The incomplete combustion generated more smoke than was intended and smoke drifted into the third-floor balcony, he said.

Singleton said a sulfurous odor resembling gunpowder, rather than smoke, caused people in the third balcony to leave. The incident occurred during the second act, just after the “Masquerade” number.

Said Crowley, “Patrons saw the smoke and started self-evacuating.” There was no alarm, and “no one told them to leave,” he said. When they were noticed, other patrons began following them out.

The house manager realized that people were coming downstairs in the dark, so he had the house lights turned up, according to Singleton. Because of the configuration of the theater and the air movement, the odor was obvious in the third balcony, he said, even though people at stage level did not detect it.

“It was a very organized exodus,” Crowley said.

Because pyrotechnics were being used, firefighter Matthew Randall was on a private-duty detail at the theater, one of a standard number of three fire safety experts assigned to the show, according to Singleton. Randall called on his radio for a Fire Department response.

“It was reported to [Randall] that they smelled smoke on the third floor,” Crowley said.

By the time fire trucks arrived, the problem had dissipated, he said, and “we allowed the show to go on.” The interruption lasted about 20 minutes.

The curtain went up for the show at 8:30 p.m., an hour later than the scheduled start, because the computer that makes pieces of the set move on stage had to be rebooted, according to Singleton.

Singleton said PPAC has elaborate fire safety precautions, inspired at least in part by the deadly Station nightclub fire in 2003.

In addition to three fire safety personnel and sensors, PPAC has a “water deluge curtain” that would descend in case of fire on or behind the stage. A “wall of water” would be created between the fire and the crowd, Singleton said. The domed ceiling also would open to expose fans to exhaust smoke, he said.

For the few people who did not return after Friday’s evacuation, Singleton said, officials will try to give them seats for another performance. They should call (401) 421-2787.

Article source: http://www.providencejournal.com/breaking-news/content/20131130-odor-at-ppac-performance-of-phantom-leads-to-evacuation-but-show-goes-on.ece


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