The Business of the Theater
Reported by Alexandra Cheney
A look at companies that help keep the Southern Theatre in Columbus, Ohio humming.
Seth Lincoln Pymer put the first coat of plaster on the Southern Theatre's walls and ceilings in 1896. His great-grandson and namesake now runs Columbus-based Pymer Plastering, which maintains the work. Pymer removed a significant portion of the original plaster -- a mixture of horsehair and either lime or gypsum -- during a massive restoration in 1998, replacing it with a more modern version made with nylon fibers. The $1.4 million company has 10 employees.
Stage pin connectors
The Southern was one of the first theaters in Columbus to use electricity. Today, stage pin connectors made by Union Connector of West Babylon, New York, conduct power to the stage lamps, which can be 100 times more powerful than a household light bulb. A 3-inch connector -- a three-pronged plug inserted into a power source on one end and a cable on the other -- can power one lamp. Stagehand William Wolpert founded the company in 1929. It is run by his grandson, Ray, and has 24 employees.
The Southern Theatre opened in 1896, a few years after fire destroyed five theaters in Columbus. Today, it is equipped with a 600-pound fire-safety curtain made from wire woven fiberglass by Boston-based W.E. Palmer. If fire breaks out onstage, heat and smoke sensors signal the stage rigging to drop the curtain -- which is suspended behind the proscenium arch -- to protect the audience. W.E. Palmer, founded in 1917, is owned by Hank Miller and has 100 employees.
Concert grand pianos can weigh as much as 1,300 pounds. The Southern hoists them onstage using a lift made by Gala Systems of Saint Hubert, Quebec, which has installed similar devices at Carnegie Hall in New York City and the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. The lift, which sits beneath the floor in front of the stage, can travel 12 feet vertically carrying up to 40,000 pounds. Gala was founded in 1980 by Pierre Laforest; the $20 million company is run by his son, Philippe, and has 80 employees.