Popular Science Monthly/Volume 56/November 1899/Needed Improvements in Theater Sanitation
|NEEDED IMPROVEMENTS IN THEATER SANITATION.|
By WILLIAM PAUL GERHARD, C. E.,
CONSULTING ENGINEER FOR SANITARY WORKS.
BUILDINGS for the representation of theatrical plays must fulfill three conditions: they must be (1) comfortable, (2) safe, and (3) healthful. The last requirement, of healthfulness, embraces the following conditions: plenty of pure air, freedom from draughts, moderate warming in winter, suitable cooling in summer, freedom at all times from dust, bad odors, and disease germs. In addition to the requirements for the theater audience, due regard should be paid to the comfort, healthfulness, and safety of the performers, stage hands, and mechanics, who are required to spend more hours in the stage part of the building than the playgoers.
It is no exaggeration to state that in the majority of theater buildings disgracefully unsanitary conditions prevail. In the older existing buildings especially sanitation and ventilation are sadly neglected. The air of many theaters during a performance becomes overheated and stuffy, pre-eminently so in the case of theaters where illumination is effected by means of gaslights. At the end of a long performance the air is often almost unbearably foul, causing headache, nausea, and dizziness.
In ill-ventilated theaters a chilly air often blows into the auditorium from the stage when the curtain is raised. This air movement is the cause of colds to many persons in the audience, and it is otherwise objectionable, for it carries with it noxious odors from the stage or under stage, and in gas-lighted theaters this air is laden with products of combustion from the footlights and other means of stage illumination.
Attempts at ventilation are made by utilizing the heat due to the numerous flames of the central chandelier over the auditorium, to create an ascending draught, and thereby cause a removal of the contaminated air, but seldom is provision made for the introduction of fresh air from outdoors, hence the scheme of ventilation results in failure. In other buildings, openings for the introduction of pure air are provided under the seats or in the floor, but are often found stuffed up with paper because the audience suffered from draughts. The fear of draughts in a theater also leads to the closing of the few possibly available outside windows and doors. The plan of a theater building renders it almost impossible to provide outside windows, therefore "air flushing" during the day can not be practiced. In the case of the older theaters, which are located in the midst or rear of other buildings, the nature of the site precludes a good arrangement of the main fresh-air ducts for the auditorium.
Absence of fresh air is not the only sanitary defect of theater buildings; there are many other defects and sources of air pollution. In the parts devoted to the audience, the carpeted floors become saturated with dirt and dust carried in by the playgoers, and with expectorations from careless or untidy persons which in a mixed theater audience are ever present. The dust likewise adheres to furniture, plush seats, hangings, and decorations, and intermingled with it are numerous minute floating organisms, and doubtless some germs of disease.
Behind the curtain a general lack of cleanliness exists—untidy actors' toilet rooms, ill-drained cellars, defective sewerage, leaky drains, foul water closets, and overcrowded and poorly located dressing rooms into which no fresh air ever enters. The stage floor is covered with dust; this is stirred up by the frequent scene shifting or by the dancing of performers, and much of it is absorbed and retained by the canvas scenery.
Under such conditions the state of health of both theater goers and performers is bound to suffer. Many persons can testify from personal experience to the ill effects incurred by spending a few hours in a crowded and unventilated theater; yet the very fact that the stay in such buildings is a brief one seems to render most people indifferent, and complaints are seldom uttered. It really rests with the theater-going public to enforce the much-needed improvements. As long as they will flock to a theater on account of some attractive play or "star actor," disregarding entirely the unsanitary condition of the building, so long will the present notoriously bad conditions remain. When the public does not call for reforms, theater managers and owners of playhouses will not, as a rule, trouble themselves about the matter. We have a right to demand theater buildings with less outward and inside gorgeousness, but in which the paramount subjects of comfort, safety, and health are diligently studied and generously provided for. Let the general public but once show a determined preference for sanitary conditions and surroundings in theaters and abandon visits to ill-kept theaters, and I venture to predict that the necessary reforms in sanitation will soon be introduced, at least in the better class of playhouses. In the cheaper theaters, concert and amusement halls, houses with "continuous" shows, variety theaters, etc., sanitation is even more urgently required, and may be readily enforced by a few visits and peremptory orders from the Health Board.
When, a year ago, the writer, in a paper on Theater Sanitation' presented at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association, stated that "chemical analyses show the air in the dress circle and gallery of many a theater to be in the evening more foul than the air of street sewers," the statement was received by some of his critics with incredulity. Yet the fact is true of many theaters. Taking the amount of carbonic acid in the air as an indication of its contamination, and assuming that the organic vapors are in proportion to the amount of carbonic acid (not including the CO2 due to the products of illumination), we know that normal outdoor air contains from 0.03 to 0.04 parts of CO2 per 100 parts of air, while a few chemical analyses of the air in English theaters, quoted below, suffice to prove how large the contamination sometimes is:
|Strand Theater, 10 p. m., gallery||0. 101||parts CO2 per 100.|
|Surrey Theater, 10 p. m., boxes||0.111||"""|
|Surrey Theater, 12 p. m., boxes||0.218||"""|
|Olympia Theater, 11.30 p. m., boxes||0.082||"""|
|Olympia Theater, 11.55 p. m., boxes||0.101||"""|
|Victoria Theater, 10 p. m., boxes||0.126||"""|
|Haymarket Theater, 11.30 p. m., dress circle||0.076||"""|
|City of London Theater, 11.15 p. m., pit||0.252||"""|
|Standard Theater, 11 p. m., pit||0.320||"""|
|Theater Royal, Manchester, pit||0.2734||"""|
|Grand Theater, Leeds, pit||0.150||"""|
|Grand Theater, Leeds, upper circle||0.143||"""|
|Grand Theater, balcony||0.142||"""|
|Prince's Theater, Manchester||0.11-0.17||"""|
Analyses made by Drs. Smith, Bernays, and De Chaumont.
Compare with these figures some analyses of the air of sewers. Dr. Russell, of Glasgow, found the air of a well-ventilated and flushed sewer to contain 0.051 vols, of CO2. The late Prof. W. Ripley Nichols conducted many careful experiments on the amount of carbonic acid in the Boston sewers, and found the following averages, viz., 0.087, 0.082, 0.115, 0.107, 0,08, or much less than the above analyses of theater air showed. He states: "It appears from these examinations that the air even in a tide-locked sewer does not differ from the standard as much as many no doubt suppose."
A comparison of the number of bacteria found in a cubic foot of air inside of a theater and in the street air would form a more convincing statement, but I have been unable to find published records of any such bacteriological tests. Nevertheless, we know that while the atmosphere contains some bacteria, the indoor air of crowded assembly halls, laden with floating dust, is particularly rich in living micro-organisms. This has been proved by Tyndall, Miquel, Frankland, and other scientists; and in this connection should be mentioned one point of much importance, ascertained quite recently, namely, that the air of sewers, contrary to expectation, is remarkably free from germs. An analysis of the air in the sewers under the Houses of Parliament, London, showed that the number of micro-organisms was much less than that in the atmosphere outside of the building.
In recent years marked improvements in theater planning and equipment have been effected, and corresponding steps in advance have been made in matters relating to theater hygiene. It should therefore be understood that my remarks are intended to apply to the average theater, and in particular to the older buildings of this class. There are in large cities a few well-ventilated and hygienically improved theaters and opera houses, in which the requirements of sanitation are observed. Later on, when speaking more in detail of theater ventilation, instances of well-ventilated theaters will be mentioned. Nevertheless, the need of urgent and radical measures for comfort and health in the majority of theaters is obvious. Much is being done in our enlightened age to improve the sanitary condition of school buildings, jails and prisons, hospitals and dwelling houses. Why, I ask, should not our theaters receive some consideration?
The efficient ventilation of a theater building is conceded to be an unusually difficult problem. In order to ventilate a theater properly, the causes of noxious odors arising from bad plumbing or defective drainage should be removed; outside fumes or vapors must not be permitted to enter the building either through doors or windows, or through the fresh-air duct of the heating apparatus. The substitution of electric lights in place of gas is a great help toward securing pure air. This being accomplished, a standard of purity of the air should be maintained by proper ventilation. This includes both the removal of the vitiated air and the introduction of pure air from outdoors and the consequent entire change of the air of a hall three or four times per hour. The fresh air brought into the building must be ample in volume; it should be free from contamination, dust and germs (particularly pathogenic microbes), and with this in view must in cities be first purified by filtering, spraying, or washing. It should be warmed in cold weather by passing over hot-water or steam-pipe stacks, and cooled in warm weather by means of ice or the brine of mechanical refrigerating machines. The air should be of a proper degree of humidity, and, what is most important of all, it should be admitted into the various parts of the theater imperceptibly, so as not to cause the sensation of draught; in other words, its velocity at the inlets must be very slight. The fresh air should enter the audience hall at numerous points so well and evenly distributed that the air will be equally diffused throughout the entire horizontal cross-section of the hall. The air indoors should have as nearly as possible the composition of air outdoors, an increase of the CO2 from 0.3 to 0.6 being the permissible limit. The vitiated air should be continuously removed by mechanical means, taking care, however, not to remove a larger volume of air than is introduced from outdoors.
Regarding the amount of fresh outdoor air to be supplied to keep the inside atmosphere at anything like standard purity, authorities differ somewhat. The theoretical amount, 3,000 cubic feet per person per hour (50 cubic feet per minute), is made a requirement in the Boston theater law. In Austria, the law calls for 1,050 cubic feet. The regulations of the Prussian Minister of Public Works call for 700 cubic feet, Professor von Pettenkofer suggests an air supply per person of from 1,410 to 1,675 cubic feet per hour (23 to 28 cubic feet per minute). General Morin calls for 1,200 to 1,500 cubic feet, and Dr. Billings, an American authority, requires 30 cubic feet per minute, or 1,800 cubic feet per hour. In the Vienna Opera House, which is described as one of the best-ventilated theaters in the world, the air supply is 15 cubic feet per person per minute. The Madison Square Theater, in New York, is stated to have an air supply of 25 cubic feet per person.
In a moderately large theater, seating twelve hundred persons, the total hourly quantity of air to be supplied would, accordingly, amount to from 1,440,000 to 2,160,000 cubic feet. It is not an easy matter to arrange the fresh-air conduits of a size sufficient to furnish this volume of air; it is obviously costly to warm such a large quantity of air, and it is a still more difficult problem to introduce it without creating objectionable currents of air; and, finally, inasmuch as this air can not enter the auditorium unless a like amount of vitiated air is removed, the problem includes providing artificial means for the removal of large air volumes.
Where gas illumination is used, each gas flame requires an additional air supply—from 140 to 280 cubic feet, according to General Morin.
A slight consideration of the volumes of air which must be moved and removed in a theater to secure a complete change of air three or four times an hour, demonstrates the impossibility of securing satisfactory results by the so-called natural method of ventilation—i.e., the removal of air by means of flues with currents due either to the aspirating force of the wind or due to artificially increased temperature in the flues. It becomes necessary to adopt mechanical means of ventilation by using either exhaust fans or pressure blowers or both, these being driven either by steam engines or by electric motors. In the older theaters, which were lighted by gas, the heat of the flames could be utilized to a certain extent in creating ascending currents in outlet shafts, and this accomplished some air renewal. But nowadays the central chandelier is almost entirely dispensed with; glowing carbon lamps, fed by electric currents, replace the gas flames; hence mechanical ventilation seems all the more indicated.
Two principal methods of theater ventilation may be arranged: in one the fresh air enters at or near the floor and rises upward to the ceiling, to be removed by suitable outlet flues; in this method the incoming air follows the naturally existing air currents; in the other method pure air enters at the top through perforated cornices or holes in the ceiling, and gradually descends, to be removed by outlets located at or near the floor line. The two systems are known as the "upward" and the "downward" systems; each of them has been successfully tried, each offers some advantages, and each has its advocates. In both systems separate means for supplying fresh air to the boxes, balconies, and galleries are required. Owing to the different opinions held by architects and engineers, the two systems have often been made the subject of inquiry by scientific and government commissions in France, England, Germany, and the United States.
A French scientist, Darcet, was the first to suggest a scientific system of theater ventilation. He made use of the heat from the central chandelier for removing the foul air, and admitted the air through numerous openings in the floor and through inlets in the front of the boxes.
Dr. Reid, an English specialist in ventilation, is generally regarded as the originator of the upward method in ventilation. He applied the same with some success to the ventilation of the Houses of Parliament in London. Here fresh air is drawn in from high towers, and is conducted to the basement, where it is sprayed and moistened. A part of the air is warmed by hot-water coils in a sub-basement, while part remains cold. The warm and the cold air are mixed in special mixing chambers. From here the tempered air goes to a chamber located directly under the floor of the auditorium, and passes into the hall at the floor level through numerous small holes in the floor. The air enters with low velocity, and to prevent unpleasant draughts the floor is covered in one hall with hair carpet and in the other with coarse hemp matting, both of which are cleaned every day. The removal of the foul air takes place at the ceiling, and is assisted by the heat from the gas flames.
The French engineer Péclet, an authority on heating and ventilation, suggested a similar system of upward ventilation, but instead of allowing the foul air to pass out through the roof, he conducted it downward into an underground channel which had exhaust draught. Trélat, another French engineer, followed practically the same method.
A large number of theaters are ventilated on the upward system. I will mention first the large Vienna Opera House, the ventilation of which was planned by Dr. Boehm. The auditorium holds about three thousand persons, and a fresh-air supply of about fifteen cubic feet per minute, or from nine hundred to one thousand cubic feet per hour, per person is provided. The fresh air is taken in from the gardens surrounding the theater and is conducted into the cellar, where it passes through a water spray, which removes the dust and cools the air in summer. A suction fan ten feet in diameter is provided, which blows the air through a conduit forty-five square feet in area into a series of three chambers located vertically over each other under the auditorium. The lowest of these chambers is the cold-air chamber; the middle one is the heating chamber and contains steam-heating stacks; the highest chamber is the mixing chamber. The air goes partly to the heating and partly to the mixing chamber; from this it enters the auditorium at the rate of one foot per second velocity through openings in the risers of the seats in the parquet, and also through vertical wall channels to the boxes and upper galleries. The total area of the fresh-air openings is 750 square feet. The foul air ascends, assisted by the heat of the central chandelier, and is collected into a large exhaust tube. The foul air from the gallery passes out through separate channels. In the roof over the auditorium there is a fan which expels the entire foul air. Telegraphic thermometers are placed in all parts of the house and communicate with the inspection room, where the engineer in charge of the ventilation controls and regulates the temperature.
The Vienna Hofburg Theater was ventilated on the same system.
The new Frankfort Opera House has a ventilation system modeled upon that of the Vienna Opera House, but with improvements in some details. The house has a capacity of two thousand people, and for each person fourteen hundred cubic feet of fresh air per hour are supplied. A fan about ten feet in diameter and making ninety to one hundred revolutions per minute brings in the fresh air from outdoors and drives it into chambers under the auditorium arranged very much like those at Vienna. The total quantity of fresh air supplied per hour is 2,800,000 cubic feet. The air enters the auditorium through gratings fixed above the floor level in the risers. The foul air is removed by outlets in the ceilings, which unite into a large vertical shaft below the cupola. An exhaust fan of ten feet diameter is placed in the cupola shaft, and is used for summer ventilation only. Every single box and stall is ventilated separately. The cost of the entire system was about one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars; it requires a staff of two engineers, six assistant engineers, and a number of stokers.
Among well-ventilated American theaters is the Madison Square Theater (now Hoyt's), in New York. Here the fresh air is taken down through a large vertical shaft on the side of the stage. There is a seven-foot suction fan in the basement which drives the air into a number of boxes with steam-heating stacks, from which smaller pipes lead to openings under each row of seats. The foul air escapes through openings in the ceiling and under the galleries. A fresh-air supply of 1,500 cubic feet per hour, or 25 cubic feet per minute, per person is provided.
The Metropolitan Opera House is ventilated on the plenum system, and has an upward movement of air, the total air supply being 70,000 cubic feet per hour.
In the Academy of Music, Baltimore, the fresh air is admitted mainly from the stage and the exits of foul air are in the ceiling at the auditorium.
Other theaters ventilated by the upward method are the Dresden Royal Theater, the Lessing Theater in Berlin, the Opera House in Buda-Pesth, the new theater in Prague, the new Municipal Theater at Halle, and the Criterion Theatre in London.
The French engineer General Arthur Morin is known as the principal advocate of the downward method of ventilation. This was at that time a radical departure from existing methods because it apparently conflicted with the well-known fact that heated air naturally rises. Much the same system was advocated by Dr. Tripier in a pamphlet published in 1864. The earlier practical applications of this system to several French theaters did not prove as much of a success as anticipated, the failure being due probably to the gas illumination, the central chandelier, and the absence of mechanical means for inducing a downward movement of the air.
In 1861 a French commission, of which General Morin was a member, proposed the reversing of the currents of air by admitting fresh air at both sides of the stage opening high up in the auditorium, and also through hollow floor channels for the balconies and boxes; in the gallery the openings for fresh air were located in the risers of the steppings. The air was exhausted by numerous openings under the seats in the parquet. This ventilating system was carried out at the Théatre Lyrique, the Théatre du Cirque, and the Théatre de la Gaieté.
Dr. Tripier ventilated a theater in 1858 with good success on a similar plan, but he introduced the air partly at the rear of the stage and partly in the tympanum in the auditorium. He removed the foul air at the floor level and separately in the rear of the boxes. He also exhausted the foul air from the upper galleries by special flues heated by the gas chandelier.
The Grand Amphitheater of the Conservatory of Arts and Industries, in Paris, was ventilated by General Morin on the downward system. The openings in the ceiling for the admission of fresh air aggregated 120 square feet, and the air entered with a velocity of only eighteen inches per second; the total air supply per hour was 630,000 cubic feet. The foul air was exhausted by openings in steps around the vertical walls, and the velocity of the outgoing air was about two and a half feet per second.
The introduction of the electric light in place of gas gave a fresh impetus to the downward method of ventilation, and mechanical means also helped to dispel the former difficulties in securing a positive downward movement.
The Chicago Auditorium is ventilated on this system, a part of the air entering from the rear of the stage, the other from the ceiling of the auditorium downward. This plan coincides with the proposition made in 1846 by Morrill Wyman, though he admits that it can not be considered the most desirable method.
A good example of the downward method is given by the New York Music Hall, which has a seating capacity of three thousand persons and standing room for one thousand more. Fresh air at any temperature desired is made to enter through perforations in or near the ceilings, the outlets being concealed by the decorations, and passes out through exhaust registers near the floor line, under the seats, through perforated risers in the terraced steps. About 10,000,000 cubic feet of air are supplied per hour, and the velocity of influx and efflux is one foot per second. The air supplied per person per hour is figured at 2,700 cubic feet, and the entire volume is changed from four and a half to five times per hour. The fresh air is taken in at roof level through a shaft of seventy square feet area. The air is heated by steam coils, and cooled in summer by ice. The mechanical plant comprises four blowers and three exhaust fans of six and seven feet in diameter.
The downward method of ventilation was suggested in 1884 for the improvement of the ventilation of the Senate chamber and the chamber of the House of Representatives in the Capitol at Washington, but the system was not adopted by the Board of Engineers appointed to inquire into the methods.
The downward method is also used in the Hall of the Trocadéro, Paris; in the old and also the new buildings for the German Parliament, Berlin; in the Chamber of Deputies, Paris; and others.
Professor Fischer, a modern German authority on heating and ventilation, in a discussion of the relative advantages of the two methods, reaches the conclusion that both are practical and can be made to work successfully. For audience halls lighted by gaslights he considers the upward method as preferable.
In arranging for the removal of foul air it is necessary, particularly in the downward system, to provide separate exhaust flues for the galleries and balconies. Unless this is provided for, the exhaled air of the occupants of the higher tiers would mingle with the descending current of pure air supplied to the occupants of the main auditorium floor.
Mention should also be made of a proposition originating in Berlin to construct the roof of auditoriums domelike, by dividing it in the middle so that it can be partly opened by means of electric or hydraulic machinery; such a system would permit of keeping the ceiling open in summer time, thereby rendering the theater not only airy, but also free from the danger of smoke. A system based on similar principles is in actual use at the Madison Square Garden, in New York, where part of the roof consists of sliding skylights which in summer time can be made to open or close during the performance.
From the point of view of safety in case of fire, which usually in a theater breaks out on the stage, it is without doubt best to have the air currents travel in a direction from the auditorium toward the stage roof. This has been successfully arranged in some of the later Vienna theaters, but from the point of view of good acoustics, it is better to have the air currents travel from the stage toward the auditorium. Obviously, it is a somewhat difficult matter to reconcile the conflicting requirements of safety from smoke and fire gases, good acoustics and perfect ventilation.
The stage of a theater requires to be well ventilated, for often it becomes filled with smoke or gases due to firing of guns, colored lights, torches, representations of battles, etc. There should be in the roof over the stage large outlet flues, or sliding skylights, controlled from the stage for the removal of the smoke. These, in case of an outbreak of fire on the stage, become of vital importance in preventing the smoke and fire gases from being drawn into the auditorium and suffocating the persons in the gallery seats.
Where the stage is lit with gaslights it is important to provide a separate downward ventilation for the footlights. This, I believe, was first successfully tried at the large Scala Theater, of Milan, Italy.
The actors' and supers' dressing rooms, which are often over-crowded, require efficient ventilation, and other parts of the building, like the foyers and the toilet, retiring and smoking rooms, must not be overlooked.
The entrance halls, vestibules, lobbies, staircases, and corridors do not need so much ventilation, but should be kept warm to prevent annoying draughts. They are usually heated by abundantly large direct steam or hot-water radiators, whereas the auditorium and foyers, and often the stage, are heated by indirect radiation. Owing to the fact that during a performance the temperature in the auditorium is quickly raised by contact of the warm fresh air with the bodies of persons (and by the numerous lights, when gas is used), the temperature of the incoming air should be only moderate. In the best modern theater-heating plants it is usual to gradually reduce the temperature of the air as it issues from the mixing chambers toward the end of the performance. Both the temperature and the hygrometric conditions of the air should be controlled by an efficient staff of intelligent heating engineers.
But little need be said regarding theater lighting. Twice during the present century have the system and methods been changed. In the early part of the present century theaters were still lighted with tallow candles or with oil lamps. Next came what was at the time considered a wonderful improvement, namely, the introduction of gaslighting. The generation who can remember witnessing a theater performance by candle or lamp lights, and who experienced the excitement created when the first theater was lit up by gas, will soon have passed away. Scarcely twenty years ago the electric light was introduced, and there are to-day very few theaters which do not make use of this improved illuminant. It generates much less heat than gaslight, and vastly simplifies the problem of ventilation. The noxious products of combustion, incident to all other methods of illumination, are eliminated: no carbonic-acid gas is generated to render the air of audience halls irrespirable, and no oxygen is drawn to support combustion from the air introduced for breathing.
It being now an established fact that the electric light increases the safety of human life in theaters and other places of amusement, its use is in many city or building ordinances made imperative—at least on the stage and in the main body of the auditorium. Stairs, corridors, entrances, etc., may, as a matter of precaution, be lighted by a different system, by means of either gas or auxiliary vegetable oil or candle lamps, protected by glass inclosures against smoke or draught, and provided with special inlet and outlet flues for air.
Passing to other desirable internal improvements of theaters, I would mention first the floors of the auditorium. The covering of the floor by carpets is objectionable—in theaters more so even than in dwelling houses. Night after night the carpet comes in contact with thousands of feet, which necessarily bring in a good deal of street dirt and dust. The latter falls on the carpets and attaches to them, and as it is not feasible to take the carpets up except during the summer closing, a vast accumulation of dirt and organic matter results, some of the dirt falling through the crevices between the floor boards. Many theater-goers are not tidy in their habits regarding expectoration, and as there must be in every large audience some persons afflicted with tuberculosis, the danger is ever present of the germs of the disease drying on the carpet, and becoming again detached to float in the air which we are obliged to breathe in a theater.
As a remedy I would propose abolishing carpets entirely, and using instead a floor covering of linoleum, or thin polished parquetry oak floors, varnished floors of hard wood, painted and stained floors, interlocked rubber-tile floors, or, at least for the aisles, encaustic or mosaic tiling. Between the rows of seats, as well as in the aisles, long rugs or mattings may be laid down loose, for these can be taken up without much trouble. They should be frequently shaken, beaten, and cleaned.
Regarding the walls, ceilings, and cornices, the surfaces should be of a material which can be readily cleaned and which is non-absorbent. Stucco finish is unobjectionable, but should be kept flat, so as not to offer dust-catching projections. Oil painting of walls is preferable to a covering with rough wall papers, which hold large quantities of dust. The so-called "sanitary" or varnished wall papers have a smooth, non-absorbent, easily cleaned surface, and are therefore unobjectionable. All heavy decorations, draperies, and hangings in the boxes, and plush covers for railings, are to be avoided.
The theater furniture should be of a material which does not catch or hold dust. Upholstered plush-covered chairs and seats retain a large amount of it, and are not readily cleaned. Leather-covered or other sanitary furniture, or rattan seats, would be a great improvement.
In the stage building we often find four or five actors placed in one small, overheated, unventilated dressing room, located in the basement of the building, without outside windows, and fitted with three or four gas jets, for actors require a good light in "making up." More attention should be paid to the comfort and health of the players, more space and a better location should be given to their rooms. Every dressing room should have a window to the outer air, also a special ventilating flue. Properly trapped wash basins should be fitted up in each room. In the dressing rooms and in the corridors and stairs leading from them to the stage all draughts must be avoided, as the performers often become overheated from the excitement of the acting, and dancers in particular leave the heated stage bathed in perspiration. Sanitation, ventilation, and cleanliness are quite as necessary for this part of the stage building as for the auditorium and foyers.
It will suffice to mention that defects in the drainage and sewerage of a theater building must be avoided. The well-known requirements of house drainage should be observed in theaters as much as in other public buildings.
The removal of ashes, litter, sweepings, oily waste, and other refuse should be attended to with promptness and regularity. It is only by constant attention to properly carried out cleaning methods that such a building for the public can be kept in a proper sanitary condition. Floating air impurities, like dust and dirt, can not be removed or rendered innocuous by the most perfect ventilating scheme. Mingled with the dust floating in the auditorium or lodging in the stage scenery are numbers of bacteria or germs. Among the pathogenic germs will be those of tuberculosis, contained in the sputum discharged in coughing or expectorating. When this dries on the carpeted floor, the germs become readily detached, are inhaled by the playgoers, and thus become a prolific source of danger. It is for this reason principally that the processes of cleaning, sweeping, and dusting should in a theater be under intelligent management.
To guard against the ever-present danger of infection by germs, the sanitary floor coverings recommended should be wiped every day with a moist rag or cloth. Carpeted floors should be covered with moist tea leaves or sawdust before sweeping to prevent the usual dust-raising. The common use of the feather duster is to be deprecated, for it only raises and scatters the dust, but it does not remove it. Dusting of the furniture should be done with a dampened dust cloth. The cleaning should include the hot-air registers, where a large amount of dust collects, which can only be removed by occasionally opening up the register faces and wiping out the pipe surfaces; also the baseboards and all cornice projections on which dust constantly settles. While dusting and sweeping, the windows should be opened; an occasional admission of sunlight, where practicable, would likewise be of the greatest benefit.
The writer believes that a sanitary inspection of theater buildings should be instituted once a year when they are closed up in summer. He would also suggest that the granting of the annual license should be made dependent not only, as at present, upon the condition of safety of the building against fire and panic, but also upon its sanitary condition. In connection with the sanitary inspection, a thorough disinfection by sulphur, or better with formaldehyde gas, should be carried out by the health authorities. If necessary, the disinfection of the building should be repeated several times a year, particularly during general epidemics of influenza or pneumonia.
Safety measures against outbreaks of fire, dangers from panic, accidents, etc., are in a certain sense also sanitary improvements, but can not be discussed here.
In order to anticipate captious criticisms, the writer would state that in this paper he has not attempted to set forth new theories, nor to advocate any special system of theater ventilation. His aim was to describe existing defects and to point out well-known remedies. The question of efficient theater sanitation belongs quite as much to the province of the sanitary engineer as to that of the architect. It is one of paramount importance—certainly more so than the purely architectural features of exterior and interior decoration.
- Dr. A. Tripier. Assainissement des Théâtres, Ventilation, Éclairage et Chauffage.
- The reader will find the subject discussed and illustrated in the author's work, Sanitary Engineering of Buildings, vol. i, 1899.
- See the author's work, Theater Fires and Panics, 1895.