Felton-Start Theater begins 50th season with new systems

In preparation for its 50th season, the Fort Hays State University’s Department of Music and Theater upgraded the fly and electrical systems in the Felton-Start Theater, located in Malloy Hall.

Both systems had been there since Malloy Hall was built in 1965.

“It was showing wear and tear,” said Tomme Williams, instructor of theatre. “It wasn’t working as smooth as it should anymore and it was dated in how it was engineered. Over the last 50 years they’ve come up with new ways of installing that not only make it safer, but also make it less noisy and smoother operation.”

The fly system is a system of pullies, ropes and counterweights that enables a stage crew to quickly, quietly and safely hoist components such as curtains, lights, scenery, stage effects and, sometimes, people from clear view of the audience to out of view.

“One of the biggest changes is in 1965, when they put the original fly system in, the arbors on the floor weren’t bolted down to a frame – they were free swinging,” Williams said. “So, when you pulled stuff up and down they would clang into each other and you could hear them out in the audience. Not only does the new system make it safer but it also makes it run a lot smoother with the arbors now bolted down to the floor.”

Felten Start Theatre serves more than 1,000 students each year as a performance theatre and classroom and is also home to FHSU Theatre productions, the Fringe Theatre student group, numerous musical performances, and is one of only three campus spaces that will accommodate more than 50 people. It is an intimate space for smaller productions and is used weekly for university classes.

The fundraising efforts of the FHSU Foundation and the matched funds by the Ross and Marianna Beach Foundation enabled the financing of the $150,000 project.

“It started by getting an analysis of the system done by safety specialists who recommended several changes in order for us to be up to code,” said Benjamin Cline, chair of the department of music and theatre. “Several aspects of the systems were very dated and there were some safety and code violations than needed to be addressed. The only way to do this was to update the system so that it meets modern safety specs.”

“By the end of the Spring 2013 semester we had enough money to do all of the fly system and the battons,” Williams said. “At that time, Dr. Hammond asked us how that went and we told him it went well but we didn’t have enough money to redo the electric system, which was supposed to be a part of that.”

Cline then wrote a second action plan to get the money needed to upgrade the electrical system.

“The new digital dimming system with software now communicates with the new console to control the light ques,” Williams said. “It tells the lights when to go one and off and how bright or dim to be. The light ques can all be programmed when to come on, when to go off and how bright then the controller just has to sit there and hit ‘que one’, ‘que two’, ‘que three’.”

“Everything in front of the stage is now one to one which means operators don’t need to patch the circuit in,” Williams said. “You can put three of these [circuit connectors] into one of these dimmers which means it gives us more flexibility.”

The theater’s 50th season begins with “Hello Dolly” at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 2.

Tickets for individual performances are $15 for the public and $10 for students K-12 and FHSU students and for senior citizens 55 and up. Season passes for all four productions for the general public is $50, for senior citizens will be $30 and for students $25.

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