House managers hired to increase safety of performing arts

This year, Yale’s Office of Undergraduate Productions has begun a new initiative for additional safety for undergraduate performances on campus.

The OUP, which provides artistic and technical support to performing arts groups, hired 19 student house managers at the end of September in an effort to increase safety for audience members and perfomers, Rorie Fitzsimmons, the office’s senior technical director, said. The house managers are currently training for their duties, which include communicating fire codes to performers and leading in emergency situations, Fitzsimmons wrote in an email.

Charlie Croom ’12, co-president of the Yale Drama Coalition, said he thinks the program will benefit students in the theater community. He added that the OUP’s new safety measures may be linked to a University-wide tightening of safety policies following the death of Michelle Dufault ’11 in a laboratory accident in April.

Croom is a former photography editor for the News.

Fitzsimmons said that the program is not a major policy change. Performances have always been required to involve house managers to meet fire and safety requirements, he said.

“The major change we’ve made is that now all house managers are trained and paid,” Fitzsimmons wrote in an email.

He added that the OUP first observed a gap in the training and supervision of house managers in October 2010. Once the office realized the need for more thorough training, he said, steps were taken to address the issue.

Associate Dean for the Arts Susan Cahan said the new program will boost the level of expertise among house managers on campus, as the managers will be trained systematically.

As of September, students planning performances must submit a request for a house manager to the OUP at least two weeks in advance of their show. Performances are placed in a queue and house managers sign up for the productions of their choice, Fitzsimmons said.

Kat Lau ’13, one of the 19 house managers hired last month, said she is enthusiastic about her new position.

“I really enjoy theater at Yale and should go to more shows anyway,” Lau said, adding that her new position gives her an easy way to do this.

Four students active in the performing arts at Yale said they welcome the program. Croom said that with the OUP assigning house managers, theater producers face fewer production pressures.

Timmia Hearn Feldman ’12 was assigned house manager Olivia Coates ’12 for her production of the play “Marisol” earlier this fall. Feldman said the experience of working with a trained house manager was a positive one, as Coates worked very efficiently.

The new paid house managers may be more likely to enforce fire codes and other safety regulations than volunteers house managers did, since they are contractually obligated to follow OUP regulations, said Adela Jaffe ’13, who is directing “Lady Bug” next month.

“In the past, house managers were often friends of the producer,” Jaffe wrote in an email. “As a house manager with ties to the production, it can be tempting to break the rules.”

For instance, she said, past house managers often allowed audience members to sit in theater aisles — a violation of fire codes. Having an “outsider” serve as house manager could reduce the risk of such situations, she said.

Yet some undergraduates believe the new program has significant drawbacks. Stuart Teal ’14, a board member of the Yale Dramatic Association, said the requirement to notify the Office of Undergraduate Productions two weeks in advance of a performance will disrupt the way shows are often put together.

“Productions getting their paperwork done at the last minute used to happen all the time,” Teal said.

That will no longer be possible and will annoy groups who typically schedule at the last minute,such as comedy troupes, he said.

One undergraduate comedy group’s director, who asked to remain anonymous, agreed with Teal and described the OUP’s new standards as a significant stress factor.

The limited number of house managers available at any given time may prove a limitation to the program’s success, Ryan Bowers ’14 said. He added that forcing the entire undergraduate theater scene to organize itself around the schedules of 19 house managers is bound to lead to problems.

The OUP, however, already has plans to expand the program and is considering hiring more house managers in the spring, Fitzsimmons said.

Over the next year, house managers will be trained to perform CPR, first aid and fire safety procedures.

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