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Arts & Culture

'This Is Not Going To Stop Us': Fire Damages Theatre Charlotte Auditorium

theatre_charlotte.JPG
Nick de la Canal
/
WFAE

Updated 3:43 p.m.

A fire broke out at Theatre Charlotte overnight Monday, causing significant damage to the theater's 216-seat auditorium, including its seating, floors, ceiling and technical equipment.

The nonprofit community theater published a statement on its website Monday morning saying the fire appeared to have been caused by one of the building's HVAC units.

The building's security system alerted staff members and first responders around 2 a.m. Monday, and firefighters arrived to find heavy smoke showing from the building. Dozens of firefighters helped extinguish the flames.

Most of the seats and floor on the right side of the auditorium were lost, and the auditorium's ceiling suffered extensive fire and water damage. Some sections remained in danger of collapsing, the theater's statement said.

Additionally, the theater's sound and light boards as well as other equipment, wires and cabling were also badly damaged or destroyed.

The Charlotte Fire Department estimated property damage at $50,000.

"We are thankful that no one was in the building and no one was injured," the theater's statement said." We are thankful that this happened at a time when we were not actively preparing for a show and welcoming audiences into our building."

The theater's executive director, Ron Law, said the building remains structurally sound, but will likely need a new roof, and the interior of the auditorium will likely need to be rebuilt. The theater's lobby and backstage area were mostly undamaged.

"The insurance should be able to cover it, we hope," Law said. However, he said the fire will delay the theater's plans to stage another streaming production in early 2021, cutting further into the theater's budget.

Theatre Charlotte is one of the city's oldest performing arts institutions, tracing its founding back to 1927 when it was formed by the local branch of the American Association of University Women.

The theater moved into its current building at 501 Queens Road upon its completion in 1941. Numerous productions have been staged there over the decades with support from a small, full-time staff and a broad network of local actors, directors and designers.

The theater had just wrapped up its annual production of "A Christmas Carol" on Dec. 20. The show was performed before an outdoor audience at a dairy farm in Waxhaw this year because of coronavirus health guidelines. A streaming, on-demand version of the production remains available on the theater's website through Jan. 2.

Law said his staff has received an outpouring of support, including from other local theaters, offering to help clean up the damage. He said the theater is making plans to rebuild.

"This is just the final punch in the face from 2020," Law said. "We'll continue this week to organize and move forward. This theater has lasted 93 years, and this is not going to stop us."

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