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There’s something new underfoot at the Perot;
Historic theater gets an update with new carpet, aisle lighting

By: Aaron Brand - Texarkana Gazette

If you stepped into the Perot Theatre in the past week-and-a-half, you may have spied something unusual: a carpet-less floor where Perot patrons and staff alike walk to and fro.

The Perot is receiving an underfoot makeover, which means the old carpet, installed in 1980, was pulled up and discarded to make way for the new. Until it could be installed, rolls and rolls of Axminster carpet, waiting to be unrolled, sat on the Perot stage where dancers, actors and singers unleash their talents on an audience.

While the work is underway, the process exposes the yellow pine hardwood flooring in such areas as the mezzanine, giving a glimpse of both Perot history and the fine work that went into its construction decades ago in 1924.

Workers affiliated with Natural Fiber Installers Certification have been in town for the installation because they specialize in big, prestigious jobs like this one. They were here about a year ago to size up the job. The carpet itself was manufactured in England.

A bit more than a week ago, Perot Theatre Operations Director Randal Conry assessed the progress on the carpet job.

“They’re starting to lay the padding for the new carpet, mainly up on the mezzanine and in the boxes this morning, also working up in the balcony getting the underlayment all down and ready for the carpet to go on top,” Conry said.

They started almost two weeks ago and Noah Crissman, the Perot’s technical director, anticipated the job could take three to four weeks total. “We’re shooting for the end of March,” he said at the time.

The work comes at a lull in the Perot schedule, with John Tartaglia’s “ImaginOcean” marked for March 31 and April 1 showings. It took a while to get the paperwork together and fit the Perot schedule with the NFIC workers’ schedule.

“The carpet itself had to be milled over in London and shipped, and shipping took nearly a month to get it over,” Conry said. Bloomsburg is the manufacturer.

The carpet must match throughout the auditorium, he explained. It’s also been manufactured to look exactly like the carpet we’ve seen before at the Perot.
“They were able to measure the spaces and keeping in mind what the pattern was going to do and how it would have to join, that all went into the calculations of how much carpet we had to have,” Conry said.

Apart from the carpet beneath the seats in the orchestra level, the carpet is being replaced throughout the theater. It’s also being placed where it was pulled when railings were installed in the balcony a few years ago.

“There was carpeting there but they had to move that carpeting to add the railings,” Crissman said. “We do the steps for the railings. So it’s going back to where it was but hasn’t been for the last four or five years.”

Because the balcony steps are oddly configured with slight differences, the carpet installation plan will try to make them more navigable to the eye and feet.

“We’re going to take the blue from the pattern and do one step, and then do the next step in the pattern and alternate that process up and down the steps,” Crissman said.

This approach should make the steps easier to see. Over the years, a few tumbles have befallen people on the balcony steps.

“There’s not a lot of difference, but some of the steps are just minisculely different in height,” Crissman said, “and your brain will set itself to a height and go with that. So if you throw it off just this much your foot snags. And then we have some that are wider and narrower so your eyes and your brain are sending two different signals to each other as you go up.”

When the kids come to see “ImaginOcean” at the end of the month, they’ll get the first crowd experience with the new Perot carpet. After that, it’s the Texarkana Symphony Orchestra with its American Sounds show on April 25.

“Safety-wise on the steps in the balcony it’s going to be a big difference because of the alternating pattern,” Crissman said. That will be noticed by patrons, he suspects.

Conry said theatergoers should also notice the improved aisle lighting being installed. It’s been needed for a long time, he says. It’s yet another safety improvement.

“In the orchestra seating they’re going to be in the armrest, kind of alternating every other and then kind of doing a zigzag down the aisles in the center as we go,” Crissman said. In the balcony, they’ll be situated in the railings and armrests.

“Even back when we had the railings built, we were planning to improve the lighting and now it’s finally coming to fruition,” Conry said.

It’s been a thrill to see aspects of the Perot like the gorgeous yellow pine flooring. “I’ve been here 25 years now and it’s been fascinating to me to see what’s underneath all that, see what made all the creeks and groans as you walk down the stairs,” Conry said.

Crissman’s been interested to look down an aisle and see how seating configuration changed. Seeing the bolt patterns tells the story.

It may be 90 years old, but the Perot’s quality is just about perfect, says Crissman. They were concerned about what they’d see when they pulled the carpet. Those fears proved to be unfounded, a good thing considering they’re on a time and money crunch.

“By and large, it’s in wonderful condition,” Conry said of the Perot flooring.

The carpet project is funded through the maintenance fund at the city of Texarkana, Texas. Aisle lighting improvements are funded through the $2-per-ticket enhancement fee paid by patrons. Crissman said the carpet job costs about $165,000 for installation and carpet manufacture.

The replacement was needed. The carpet was in bad shape with seams coming apart, a trip hazard. Parts were threadbare. But the job should be complete before the big shows ahead.

“It’s going to get a lot of traffic right away,” Crissman said.

P.J. Arthur and Nate Hall, associates with NFIC, say this Perot job poses particular challenges. The job is about 2,100 to 2,200 square yards. That’s not a big job typically, but the way the Perot is configured makes it more involved.

“It’s all cut up. It’s all stairs. It’s all hallways,” Arthur said, adding, “You can’t count on any one thing being the same anywhere else.”

Hall says the stairs are different heights, different widths and different depths in the same flight. That wouldn’t pass a building code now, but that wasn’t the case when the Perot was built, he said.

“That is a big challenge because the pattern of the carpet is the same. Every foot is a pattern, and the stairs are changing,” Hall said. But they’ll circumvent that issue with the way they manage the alternating between blue carpet and the patterned carpet.

Arthur is impressed with the Perot’s condition, considering its age. “I think as old as it is, it’s done very well. You can’t expect it to be much different than it is,” he said.

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Published: 03/22/2015

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