Page images

which the voice can reach ; "the one,” he says, “ being (independently of the space behind the back of the speaker) & superficies of 11,385 feet, and the other of 4003." This, he thinks, will compensate for the absorption of sound consequent on the number of the audience, the woollen garments they wear, and the state of the atmosphere, and would ensure a good hearing in every part of the house.

2967. According to the author's statement, he recommends that the distance from the front of the stage to the back wall of the boxes immediately opposite should be about 54 feet; in the old Drury Lane it was 74 feet, and in the old Covent Garden Theatre, built about 1730, it was 54 feet 6 inches. In the Opera House, built by Vanbrugh, it was 66 feet. At Milan it is 78 feet. At the old San Carlos, at Naples, 73 feet; and at Bologna, 74 feet. The distance in the late Covent Garden Theatre was 69 feet 8 inches, or nearly 16 feet more than it ought to have been. How, then, can people wonder at not seeing and hearing in such theatres? See also the Table given in subsect. 2958.

2968. In an opera house the band as it were sustains the voice, and the spectacle of the ballet is more addressed to the eye than to the understanding; but even in that the theatre is universally too large for the pleasure of those who appreciate properly what is transacted in the scene. It is satisfactory to know that the theatre, which in our introductory remarks was selected as a model, should coincide in the main points here in question with Mr. Wyatt's project. We are not certain whether he had visited it, but are certain that if he had he would not change his opinion.

2969. In respect of vision in a theatre, there can be no question that the semicircle gives the best chance for the whole of the audience; but the objections to it are, that it requires that either the stage opening should be of inconvenient width or that the size of the house should be too small. It is therefore, without modification, inadmissible. It is on this account that the ellipse, the horseshoe, and other flat-sided forms, have in later theatres been adopted, though it is manifest that a large proportion of the audience, says our author, “must be placed with their backs inclining towards tbe scene, and that in all of them (if the house be not of extremely small dimensions) the front boxes must be at a great distance from the stage; for in proportion as the sides shall approximate each other the front must recede, provided the circumference be not varied." The summing up of the question on this head is thus given by Mr. Wyatt: “There is no object connected with the formation of a theatre which, in all its bearings, is of more importance than that the part of the house which faces the scene should be within a moderate distance from the stage. Unless that be the case, it is obvious that a very large proportion of the spectators must be excluded from a clear and distinct view of that play of the features which constitutes the principal merit of the actor in many of the most interesting scenes." Mr. Wyatt does not believe that the height of the ceiling injures or affects the sound of the voice in the lower parts of the theatre, and observes that it must in every theatre " be much too high to act as a reverberator or sounding board to the lower parts of the house." But we do not agree with him on this point, and think we could refer him to more than one theatre in the metropolis which is defective in the conveyance of the sound from this cause alone. Besides this, we do not feel quite certain that the diagonal line drawn from the actor to the upper tier of boxes should not be the regulating distance, instead of the horizontal one which has been mentioned above.

2970. The following inelude many of the late suggestions for improving a theatre for the public, with those named in the former edition of this work. The mode of securing an exit free from fear, as well as from actual danger, has not been sufficiently faced ; to provide against the disastrous results of a panic is a work of greater physical difficulty than to render a building fireproof. For a stage manager to appear every night and explain the available means of egress, the attendant at special doors to shout "here” on being named (and then to vanish for the rest of the evening), might satisfy some persons. The paramount consideration is a sufficiency of exits. Ingress and egress should be provided on each side of the house, so that whatever doors, passages, and staircases are placed on one side, there will be corresponding ones on the other. The spectators are thus divided and pressure avoided. The various tiers may in large theatres require more than one exit. It is important to prevent two crowds meeting in the street, such as the pit and the gallery, for the pathway becomes blocked. The difficulty on the ground floor is not great.

A“ crush" room and waiting room are wanted, where those having carriages may wait, and those who are going to walk should be let out clear of them.

Whenever two passages meet, by which an exit takes place, from that point onwards the passage should be double the size, in order to let the crowd pass easily. The passages and staircases should be made direct, so that the crowd need not hesitate or stop the way at all. Large balls and staircases give rise to much lounging about, which is bad. Angles should as much as possible be avoided, as well as steps in passages, for which no excuse can be offered.

Sloping corridors have been advocated, but these are not praticable in some localities.

2970a. Every opening should be instantly and always practicable. All obstructions should be forbidden by law. Doorways ought not to be less than 6 feet wide, and the doors in most cases are best made sliding, or should open both ways, whether made of wood, wrought iron, cement, or terra-cotta. Messrs. Chubb have lately invented a clever contrivance for dispensing with an attendant at extra exit doors, consisting of a super imposed spring panel on the inside of the door, in which the lock is embedded; with a slight pressure the double doors fly open outward, and it is impossible to open them from the outside except by a koy. Another invention is Walker's now safety and escape door, consisting of an inner frame of a door which will open outwards, the usual outer frame opening inwards. Present doors can be adapted to the invention.

29706. Two stone or cement staircases to the galleries are essential, although one need only be used as an entrance. The staircases for the upper parts should be as wide and as easy as possible. Staircases should never be less than 5 feet wide (some writers say not more than 3 feet wide), the steps to be all straight, no winders, 12 inches in the tread, and not less than 64 inches rise. They should be square, and be formed along an enclosed wellhole, if any; no windows should be permitted. A series of staircases absolutely disconnected with each other has lately been urged; the only doors on to it being at the top and bottom; an iron hand rail on each side. It has also been suggested that " there should be an equal number of steps to each flight, say thirteen for headway and space; the half-landing should be elliptical, every door should open both ways, and folding, with an easy fastener. All these, in any case, ought to be provided in new buildings, and as much as possible in old buildings” (W. H. White, F.S.A.) In large staircases, which consist of a centre and two side flights, the central one should be equal in width to the two side flights together. In calculating the width, regard should in some measure be had to the number of persons which the part they serve will contain. The broad, long gallery stairs at the Italian Opera House, Covent Garden, with the door near the top, show a good arrangement; they serve a double purpose, being at once a stairs and a waiting-hall. Communication with the wardrobe and the property rooms should be effected only by iron spiral stairs.

2971. The “crush room" or saloon at the Italian Opera House, Covent Garden, is situated at the top of the grand staircase, and forms an ante-room for all those passing to the boxes. At each end of the room are refreshment bars, to which all classes can thus resort, to the exclusion of none. Proper cloak rooms, with lavatories and water-closets, and refreshment rooms or bars, are necessary adjuncts. The various rooms required for the different departments will differ in every theatre, and the architect must obtain this information from the manager, before he sets to work. Near the orchestra is a waiting. room for the musicians, with cupboards for their instruments and coats, lavatories, &c. The music library should not be far away. A painting room over the ceiling of the audi. torium was formerly usual, also at the back of the stage, where the artist can paint against the upright wall. The carpenters' shops are near to it. The property and armoury rooms must be near the stage; and a very well ventilated property shop. The theatre at War. saw is said to be very complete in its wardrobes. The dressing-rooms for men and women should be kept apart; the tailors' and dressmakers' shop and wardrobes just above them, and fitted with lifts to send costumes up and down. Supernumeraries' and soldiers' dressing-rooms are also required. A large magazine near the stage, to keep the stock, scene cloths, and wings, properly fitted with racks and grooves, to stow them a way in good order. Green-rooms, or waiting-rooms for men and women, so that no one should be on the stage who is not immediately concerned in the acting. The passages to have plenty of swing doors to prevent draughts. Propor apartments for firemen, hall porter, and housekeeper; kitchen and cellars; rooms for the manager, secretary, treasurer, chorus and solo practice; and lavatories, &c., throughout the house. A box office is usually provided near the chief entrance. Large and dry cellarage is a desideratum, in which to stow unused properties.

2971a. With the exception of the dressings and interior ornaments of the building, it would be possible, though perhaps somewhat inconvenient, to erect a theatre, though not perhaps absolutely fireproof, yet very secure against fire. Small theatres can be constructed of concrete and cement and terra-cotta, from its rude form as common brick, to stair treads; all the finishing touches would be of the ordinary materials of theatre building. Iron should never be depended upon except as a stiffener, and then buried in concrete. Stone should be excluded. Floors to be of cement floated on concrete, such as Wilkinson's improved granite concrete, having arched under surface between iron girders; also with iron i joists forming a parallel landing about 6 inches thick for landings and corridors; and for paving, &c.; steps can be formed of it singly for fixing, or formed in situ with moulded or plain sofite. As a matter of primary importance, the auditorium and the

stage, with its accessory apartments, should be, as far as possible, two distinct stractures, by making the wall between them of brick or concrete of sufficient thickness, aud carrying it considerably above the roofs; it should have as few openings in it as possible, and all of them should be fitted with fireproof doors.

29716. The proposed iron curtain or door to this opening, as at the Prince of Wales's Theatre, has been taken exception to, on the grounds that it is cumbersome, costly, absorbs heat rapidly, and is slow in working. A single plated curtain may be liable to buckle and to become a sheet of red-hot metal. At several theatres Messrs. Clarke, Bunnett & Co. have made a curtain of two screens of wrought iron plate fth of an inch thick, having an air space of 6 inches between them. The framework is formed of longitudinal and transverse T and angle iron, with external channel iron frame perforated, so that a current of air is continually passing between the two screens. The top portion of the curtain is riveted to double wrought iron girders, secured to the head of an hydraulic ram, which, with the cylinders, are fixed and bolted to the proscenium wall, which varies in thickness from 14 to 18 inches. The movement of the curtain occupies about 30 seconds, in ascending or in descending; it is caused by pulling a lever, and the curtain stops automatically as it reaches the stage level. The lever can be worked from the stage or in the box-office, where it would be under the control of persons remote from the fire. The new iron curtain for the Comédie Française, by M. Edoux, can be set in motion from various parts of the theatre.

2971c. A simpler form of curtain is composed of asbestos, at a less cost. At Manchester it has been applied at the Queen's Theatre, and at the Comedy Theatre. At the latter, the curtain runs in an iron groove closely fixed to each side of the brickwork. Being used n ghtly in place of the green curtain, it is constantly in working order, and can be dropped instantly. As to the curtain invented by Max Clarke, Mr. Emden considers that the silicate cotton, with which it is lined, has “no texture,” and would consequently be liable "to sink down and become dense at the bottom of the curtain, while the top would be thin" and inefficient. He also considered that “no curtain has been invented which, in the ordinary theatre, would readily cut off the auditorium from the stage for more than a limited time.” Messrs. Jones, however, state that with “a curtain properly constructed and lined with silicate cotton, the auditorium would be cut off from the stage for any length of time"-say a whole week (British Architect, March 30, 1888). A fireproof curtain put forward by Capt. W. E. Heath is described as “ to be of asbestos cloth quilted on a strong canvas, rolled on a roller over a narrow tank of water, and in unrolling it passes under another roller at the bottom of the tank, thus rising perfectly saturated.” A further description is given in the Proceedings of the Inst. of Brit. Architects of February 23, 1888, p. 174; and in the Architect, February 17, p. xiv. of Supplement.

Sufficient has perhaps not been said in this work as to the use of silicate cotton or slag wool, a pure mineral fibre, manufactured from iron slag, and quite incombustible. The best non-conductor of heat or sound yet discovered; as a non-radiator of heat or cold it is well established ; and acts well in preventing the transmission of rarefied air, and arresting the spread of fire. It may be applied in a loose or natural form, as packing; woven with yarn or wire into sheets and strips; or felted in conjunction with wire netting, and put on similarly to ordinary felt. One ton will corer 1800 square feet of one inch thickness. It has been referred to, s.v. Pugging,” par. 22 17. The adrantages of this useful material are well described in the British Architect, April 6, 1888, on the reports of W.H. Stanger, F.C.S., with the experiments on its fire-resisting qualities.

2971d. Johnson's patent fireproof wire lathing, by which any partition or ceiling is rendered practically fireproof. Metal laths, on Edwards's patent, for use in the construction of fire-resisting ceilings, partitions, and doors. With his dove-tailed corrugated iron sheets (Hyatt's patent), for the same purpose, partitions are formed of Portland cement, concrete, and iron only two inches thick, the metal being completely protected. The “ fibrous plaster" slabs of Wilkinson and Co., and of Hitchens, are intended for lining walls, ceilings, and floors for fireproof purposes, as noticed par. 22466. Fireproof flooring of various sorts are noticed par. 19031. et seq.

297 le. Wood can now be protected by various paints, for which reference can be made to the previous chapter, s v. PAINTING. Among them are, Asbestos fireproof paint, also water-resisting ; colourless fireproof liquid “antiflame" for fireproofing fabrics; also a fireproof stain. Griffith’s pyrodene fireproof paint is stated to render wood of all kinds and fabrics absolutely flame-proof by being simply soaked with it, and can be applied by anyone (par. 2273;). It was supplied to the Manchester Exbibition, 1887. Sir Seymour Blaino's fireproof paint was used (1887) at Edward Terry's new theatre in the Strand.

2971f. The flimsiest material, as canvas, bangings, dresses, gauzes, &c., can now, by some solution, or by chemical treatment, also be rendered incapable of bursting into flame.

The chemicals now most commonly used for this purpose are alum, boras, phosphate of soda, sal-ammoniac, and tungstate of soda (a“ fireproof starch”

prepared with it was first introduced by Donald Nicoll, ex-sheriff of London). This tungstate is considered the best, but as, if used singly, it is apt to become insoluble and to rub off, the addition of about 3 per cent. of phosphate of soda will diminish the risk. After the ordinary washing the goods should be immersed, before wringing and drying, in a solution containing 20 per cent of tugstate, with a proportionate quantity of phosphate. Alum acts injuriously on the fabrics, especially if coloured. The others are cheap and commonly harmless.

29719. The electric lighting system should be used in preference to the common gas system. It has been put up at the Savoy and the Criterion Theatres in London. Any gas burners should be properly protected, and no inflammable substance used.

2971h. An exit for smoke is advocated to be formed over the stage and over the proscenium. Firemen to be always in attendance with hose, capable of being attached to hydrants fixed at convenient points, the water being supplied from a tank, and also from the water mains. The supply of water from large reservoirs provided in the upper parts of the building is a precaution which should never be omitted, though late fires have shown they are never in order when required. Pipes may be laid on from them to those parts, such as the carpenters' room, scene room, and painting-room, where fires would be most likely to break out, and where if they did break out they would probably be most dangerous. The necessary fireman's arrangements, with tell-tale clocks, &c., must be duly provided.

2971i. The "automatic sprinkler" is advocated by many, to be fixed over the flies and over the roof of the auditorium. They have been introduced at Mr. E. Terry's new theatre in the Strand. A hollow girder was advertised in 1861 by William Hood for holding water, which could be played on a fire without opening doors and windows to get at it. This was ohjected to for many reasons. This is now stated to have been “the ingenious invention of Jethro Robinson, who introduced the system to E. T. Smith, who used it at Astley's Theatre." Sinclair's “automatic sprinkler" has found favour lately in America, where it was adopted in various ways in warehouses. Insurance offices are said to have reduced the premiums in consequence of the use of the system. The water jets leave not a space outside the range of action. Once fixed they work of themselves when a temperature of 155 degrees arises where they are placed. All the apparatus is tested to a pressure of 500 lbs. to the square inch. Hannay's patent pneumatic principle is applied for charging the tubes with air as a protection against frost. Dick's Fire Queen extincteur is portable and self-acting; a gallon of its contents (water super-saturated with carbonic acid gas) is stated to be of more value than 30 gallons of water.

2971k. Mr. R. S. Ash, of Monaco, in a letter to the Times, August 1887, suggested that each theatre should have a fire-guard room, disconnected from the main building. From it a series of water pipes should pass to those parts specially menaced with fire. In response to an electric summons, the man in charge would be enabled to turn on one or more or all the pipes. One pipe should be specially prepared to saturate the curtain, or to act as a falling sheet of water if the curtain be up. People are rarely burnt to death in a fire, but are suffocated by the carbonic acid gas, the want of air, the smoke, or the intense heat. The pipes are not exposed to rust, it is stated, but unless they are used occasionally, it is feared they will rust. The guardian, it is supposed, will not experience the feelings of panic, and so will be prepared to obey the summons, and, "if the town supply of water is working satisfactorily, water would be delivered immediately where needed." The Asphaleia Company, on whose system the new Opera House in BudaPesth, and the Stadt Theatre at Hallé, have been rebuilt, have sent over a model of their system for exhibition ; it was explained by Mr. Walter Emden, in his paper on Theatres and Fireproof Construction, read at the Society of Arts, January 25, 1888.

29711. A Modern Fireproof Theatre. Edward Terry's, in the Strand. Almost the whole of the structural portions are of incombustible materials, and the limited amount of wood. work has been coated with fireproof paint. Ironwork has been thoroughly cased in concrete; the flights of stairs are generally of concrete, the corridors and floors chiefly of mosaic and cement, the panelling is in fibrous plaster, the gallery seats are of coucrete. The isolation of the auditorium from the stage is complete. The proscenium wall rises some 20 feet above the auditorium roof, and iron doors close the openings between the two parts of the house, while an asbestos drop curtain, stretched on a metal framework, fills the proscenium opening, and is to be used as an ordinary green curtain, Behind this curtain, besides the fireproof nature of the materials used, all the woodwork has been coated with the fireproof solution called Pyrodene, prepared by Messrs. Griffiths Brothers. A thoroughly efficient system of automatic sprinklers and the electric light have been introduced. In both the moofs direct exhausts have been formed so as to carry off the ordinary heat, and in case of fire to draw up and extract the smoke and gases generated. An efficient hydrant service is provided all over the house. Although the theatre is only estimated to accommodute about 800 persons, exits have been provided for an "Sembly of 3,500 persons. Each part of the house has two or more exits, on two sides

of the building. The corridors and gangways generally average 3 feet 6 inches to 4 feet in width. Plain directions are painted over each opening out of the auditorium, which openings can be available for ordinary use. The doors are fitted with a specially constructed lock, invented by Messrs. Chubb and Mr. Walter Emden, the architect, which can only be opened from the outside with a key, a push from within opening it without difficulty. (British Architect for October 21, 1887, p. 295.)

2971m. There are now two new theatres in London which are considered fairly fire proof, and the “ Court" at Sloane Square may be a third, as regards inflammability. As to any advance in plans and sections, there have been two plans prominently put forward this year (1885). One fathered by Mr. Henry Irving and Alfred Darbyshire, architect, drawings of which were published in the Daily Telegraph of October 29, 1887. Another was brought forward by R. Nevill, architect, in an extensive paper read at the Royal Institute of British Architects, Dec. 9, 1887 (discussion); and reported in Proceedings of Jan. 26 following. Another is by R. M. Roe, architect, printed in the Proceech ings of Feb. 23. One by J. G. Buckle, architect, described in his work, and dedicated to Wilson Barrett. And lastly, by E. J. Tarver, architect, whose drawing is given in the British Architect for March 23. Managers who contemplate new structures will havo to form their own judgments and selections according to what may be the individual characteristics of the ground and neighbourhood. The Darbyshire plan is for a house detached all round, and with one gallery only. The Buckle plan is for a place where au underground house is needed. The Tarver plan is for a theatre above ground, adaptable to any site with one side open and the pit partly or wholly sunk.”

2971n. Many of the bad features of construction and arrangement in modern theatre building are stated to be often due to the proprietors or managers; the architect has Dot his entire way in the matter. The expenses of a theatre are very great, and the amount of the ground rent is an inducement to the site being made as small as possible. Any extraneous provision must necessarily entail cost and occupy space.

2972, Foreign theatres are not considered good examples for the study of an Englishman, as the habits of the nations are so different. Abroad, too, theatres usually stand in open squares, as at Hanover, Munich, Berlin, Dresden, and Darmstadt; not in back streets and crowded thoroughfares. The new Opera House in Paris is essentially a government establishment, and would be wholly useless in England, where a theatro is a prirate speculation. It is an exaggerated and badly proportioned copy of Munich theatre, with which it will not compare for compactness. It seats only 2,000 people. One of the best studies of a house on the balcon principle is that at Mayence, given in Fergusson's Handbook. The theatre at Darmstadt has been the type for those at Munich, Berlin, Moscow, and other places. But their passages and front arrangements are all bad for use in England; the idea being to collect the people into the entrance ball for show, The Victoria theatre at Berlin is a double theatre, one for winter, with another for summer. The theatre at Dresden is round, following the form of the interior. It has been lately suggested that the orchestra floor should be much deeper than is usual, so as to hide the movement of the instruments, which often spoils the illusion of the scene. In England the stage is always made on the incline ; in Germany it is flat, which arrangement has become very general abroad; as in the double theatre at Berlin.

2972a. We have availed ourselves largely of papers read at the Royal Institute of British Architects, in which will be found further remarks upon the lighting, ventilation, and fittings required for these structures: On the Construction and Rebuilding of the Royal Italian Opera House, Covent Garden, by its architect, Mr. E. M. Barry, Feb. 6, 1860 ; and On the Construction of Theatres, by Mr. Warington Taylor, Dec. 19, 1864. The Builder, Building News, Architect, and British Architect journals, contain descriptions of most of the numerous theatres erected at home and abroad of late years, and to these pablications the architect can resort for further views on the several important points touched upon by us herein. The Metropolitan Board of Works has issued regulations for the proper working of theatres for the safety of the public. The Home Secretary, it is stated (1887–88), is preparing a measure of reform in respect of theatre construction and management, in consequence of the late serious accidents.

« PreviousContinue »