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1945 Theatre Catalog, 4th Edition, Page 567 (541)

1945 Theatre Catalog, 4th Edition
1945 Theatre Catalog
1945 Theatre Catalog, 4th Edition, Page 567
Page 567

1945 Theatre Catalog, 4th Edition, Page 567

ering the building unsafe, evacuation naturally becomes essential. Auditorium lights should be turned on. The ushers and all other available personnel should be mobilized to take evacuation posts, located so that the best control of the crowd is achieved. Ushers should be placed, insofar as possible, near exits and at points of congestion. Since people tend to leave by the route by which they have entered, some theatres make a practice of seating people through the far aisles. In this way, center aisles will be less congested when the audience leaves.

When there is a childrenis section, the matron naturally takes charge, and it may be desirable to reserve the nearest exit for the children of this section, until all of them have gone.

The presence of an infirm person often blocks traffic seriously. It is a practice in some theatres, therefore, to make a note of the seats taken by such persons, in the event that assistance may be required in an emergency. In some cases, special effort is made to seat infirm individuals in accessible locations.


Where theatres conform to modern building codes, there is comparatively little danger from fire itself. The major danger is from panic. Panic does not even require a fire, or the presence of any real danger. A loud noise, an accidental fall, the smell of smoke, or a fight in the balcony are things which can cause injury and even loss of life from no cause but the unreasoning fear which may seize any large group of people, especially when in confined quarters.

A self-controlled staff is the best means of preventing panic. For this reason, all training programs should be designed to make the personnel feel secure, even in time of emergency. Familiarity with the fire-safe construction of the building, practice in using extinguishers, the knowledge that the use of such equipment can put out small fires and keep others under control until the fire department arrives, and that there is a wellorganized program for taking care of emergencies-all this is useful in giving the staff assurance which will be communicated to the audience. The feeling that someone is in charge, and that he is capable of handling the situation, can do much toward preventing mass fear.

The relationship of the staff to the audience during an emergency is a vital factor in maintaining calm. The effectiveness of keeping the show going is well known.

In motion picture houses, the manager, or someone delegated by him, should be ready, at a moments notice, to go onstage to reassure the audience. He should use a loud speaker, if necessary, take sufficient time to get the audience quiet, and to give clear instructions, and remain on-stage until the theatre is completely emptied. Perhaps the most important fact to get across to the crowd is that there is no hurry, and that everything is "under control."

An example of the effectiveness of this practice can be given by two contrasting accidents in neighboring New York theatres. In one, the sound of fire



engines passing by on their way to a fire several blocks away, plus the inquisitiveness of some untrained ushers who rushed up the aisles to see where the fire was, started a quick exodus which slightly injured two persons. In the other (in whose basement 3. fire actually started) the manager came on-stage just as smoke began to filter into the theatre. He explained that there was a small, but smoky, fire in the basement. Since the building was fireproof, there was no danger. But the smoke might become annoying, so it seemed better to empty the theatre. Would everybody take a few minutes to locate the nearest exit, and then, when the lights went on, leave? There was no hurry, he assured them. This manager was almost too successful. The audience preferred to stay, to see the end of the picture, and it took real persuasion to empty that theatre!

The manager must be able to gauge the temper of his audience, and handle it accordingly. In most cases, quiet persuasion is far more effective than pressure in achieving preferred results. If the crowd is quiet and orderly, a quiet, unhurried approach will prevent the de velopment of panic. Ushers should be instructed to reassure the crowd as it passes, to urge them to hold the handrails going downstairs, watch their step, etc., in as calm a tone as p0ssible. The ushers should urge the audience to "step this way, please," but should never push or force anyone in that direction. An attempt to force a large crowd in any direction is extremely dangerous.

An effective means of keeping movement at a regular, unhurried pace is the playing of a lively march, either by the musicians or on the sound track.

At the hrst smell of smoke, at the first sign that "something is wrong," there are likely to be a few persons who may become unnerved, and set off a panic. It is at this moment that a clear, authoritative voice can avoid a catastrophe by reassuring the crowd. This is a simple act, yet it will remain undone unless someone has been given the specific responsibility for carrying it out.

In the same way, it is only training and organization that will assure the quick call to the manager or the immediate use of fire extinguishers in time of emergency.

HOW TO USE FIRE EXTINGUISHERS should be taught to all employes of ihe theatre, from the executives down to the porter. In many communities the municipal fire department stands ready and willing to furnish lecturers for such a training program. All iypes of fire-fighting equipment installed anywhere in the theatre should be included in the overvoll course of instruction. (lowo City Press-Citizen photograph, courtesy Safety Research institute.)
1945 Theatre Catalog, 4th Edition, Page 567