The Flagler Playhouse’s shows will go on: the venerable company’s 150-foot theater in downtown Bunnell was demolished beyond repair two weeks ago, but in a Phoenix-like turn-around, its next three shows will be staged at Matanzas High School’s Pirates Theater, essentially more than salvaging the bulk of the season. Only one show, the grievously titled “Play That Goes Wrong,” which was to open on Nov. 3, will have been scrapped.
Even the dates are set for “The Great American Trailer Park,” the David Nehls musical that happens to be set in Starke, the Florida town usually associated with the state’s Death Row: January 25, 26 and 27.
Two weeks ago, Flagler Playhouse President Jerri Berry was in shock and at times in tears as she watched flames hour after hour plunder the theater’s roof and reduce its wood rafters to cinders. In an interview this evening, Berry, while still recalling the surrealism of that night, was closer to jubilant at the way the community has rallied, the way the arrangement with Matanzas High School and the helpful intercession of the Flagler Auditorium worked out, and the way the Playhouse is launching its “Let’s Kick Off the ReBuild” campaign at Woody’s BBQ at Flagler Plaza Tuesday evening (Nov. 14) at 6:30 p.m.
“It was like out of a movie, it was so surreal, now we’re more focused on our plans to continue our productions and our plans to salvage what we can and kick-off fundraising efforts,” Berri said. “There is an end in sight, and I think what we will come up with at the end will be en enhanced performance facility and just bigger and better things.”
Dates for “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” in March and “Sister Act” in April have not been finalized yet, but there’s no question that the shows will go on at the 450-seat Pirates Theater. The district will not be charging the theater for use of facilities except to account for custodial and maintenance costs–and those costs will be underwritten by the Flagler Auditorium, Berri said. “Hello Dolly” was the season opener. It turned out to be the last play staged at the old building, which the Playhouse bought for $850,000 in 2007 from Bunnell’s First Baptist Church.
The Playhouse’s productions usually stretch over two or three weekends. When they resume, the engagements will be more like three dates, because Matanzas High School student productions and uses of their performing arts venue still have priority, and must be accommodated. But Berri hopes the venue, exactly three times the size of the Playhouse, could draw audiences large enough to make up for the lost dates.
Berri, who has been a behavioral interventionist at Bunnell Elementary since 2009, has also made arrangements with that school to be the venue for the Playhouse’s second edition of the Penguin Project, the theatrical experience by students with special needs.
Flagler County Fire Rescue’s 12-page report on the Playhouse fire, obtained today by FlaglerLive, shed details but no new findings on the origin and extent of the fire. “Fire ran through the attic until the roof collapsed into the building,” detective Darryl King of the state Division of Investigation and Forensic Services concluded. Most of the damage was in the attic that collapsed. “Most of the trusses that have not fall[en] in are consist[ent] with an attic fire charring on the top of the trusses clean on the bottom side of the trusses,” he wrote. Part of the drywall is missing from the wall in the stairwell beside the back chimney. “We found this to be the area of origin. For the cause of it will be undetermined [due] to fire damage itself.”
The report also specifies when the fire was reported (10:03 p.m. the night of Oct. 29), with water on the fire within 12 minutes, and for nearly eight hours after that. A total of 25 firefighters and paramedics responded, using 17 apparatuses, including eight fire-suppression firetrucks.
Firefighters conducted an initial attack after forcing some of the doors. The report notes that that team was able to advance through the pews (the seating area) where there was no visible fire, all the way to the rear where they found the fire, behind the stage. A small fire was found at the base of the stairs, with more fire going up the stairs. “Crews extinguished first fire and advance[d] up the stairs,” the report states, where “moderate” fire was found. The fire was put out, but visibility dropped, and “the bulk of the fire was never fully located. It appeared to be in void spaces on the second floor that we were not able to get good access to. Outside crews advise that fire had vented through the roof in our location however the hose team was never able to locate that fire.”
The “fire quickly traveled across the attic space and was seen through the ridge vent and gable end vents,” the report states, soon leading the fire command to order firefighters out of the building. Engines were placed on the four sides of the building to douse it in water from then on, to contain the flames to the 9,875 square foot structure.
Playhouse officials have been in daily contact with their insurer, which is being advised by an investigator from ProNet Group, the forensic consultants who investigate fires. But the Playhouse has not yet been cleared to go into the building and determine what can be salvaged, and where to store it, and the extent of the damage, in dollar value, has yet to be defined by the insurer.
Berri has no illusions: even if the Playhouse recovers the maximum that it is entitled to, “that’s not going to be enough to rebuild a facility of that magnitude, so our goal is to be able to rebuild the facility with monetary donations as well as a community in-kind donations,” she said. The Playhouse has already pout in place a committee of rebuild experts in hopes of eventually using their services. “So it kind of is a community rebuild,” Berri said.
The school district aside, local governments have not yet extended a substantial hand. Bunnell government, Berri said, which is intent on keeping the Playhouse in Bunnell, “have been very gracious in being willing to help us in whatever capacity they can as far as really looking over our plans” before big expenses. Across the street, the Flagler County Historical Society is working on preserving the Playhouse’s iconic steeple, which still stands, and ensuring that it becomes part of the new façade, when it is rebuilt.