Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Safer Cube promised for next year's performances

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The Cube stage at Old Market Square will have a safe, fully functional curtain in time for the 2013 concert season, vows the director the Exchange District Business Improvement Zone.

Earlier this week, the BIZ cancelled the remaining two weeks of performances at the Cube for this season because too many rivets had popped on the chain-mail skin on the front of the unique performance venue, rendering the metal curtain unsafe to operate.

With the help of a City of Winnipeg-commissioned consulting report and advice from tradespeople, new winches, cables and other infrastructure will be installed in the off-season, said Brian Timmerman, executive director of the Exchange District BIZ.

"It was always in the plan for this year to get the final infrastructure in place," said Timmerman, who hopes the Cube's curtain can be raised with the push of a single button.

So far, such user simplicity has eluded the BIZ, which acts as the booking agent for the Cube. The stage structure was commissioned by the city and designed by Winnipeg's 5468796 Architecture.

In 2010, the first year of the Cube's operation, the metal curtain was partially pinned back during performances, hampering headroom for performers. Cables, wires and clips installed in 2011 allowed the curtain to be pinned back more effectively, but those devices had to be replaced in July when technicians working at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival found them improperly installed or underrated for the weight of the curtain.

For example, three cables rated to support a combined load of 1,000 kilograms were supporting the 1,800-kilogram metal curtain, and a steel bolt holding a 90-kilogram speaker had split open, said Ben Ross, technical director for the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

"This structure is a death trap and ready to kill someone," said Ross, adding aspects of the Cube need to be re-engineered. "How many outdoor stages have we seen fall over the past few years? There's been, what, five of them? We can't have that happen here."

Redundant systems were in place to prevent the curtain falling, said Timmerman, who nonetheless pledged to address the safety issues by implementing the consultant's forthcoming recommendations.

Timmerman attributed the issues surrounding the Cube's curtain to the "bold and innovative design" of the $1.2-million stage.

"This has been a learning experience because it is a unique structure. In the long run, all things operating as they should, this will be an iconic structure in the city," he said.

Ross said he is pleased the BIZ and the city are taking action.

"It looks to me like they're being proactive, but I don't think they're taking it quite as seriously as they should have a year ago," he said. "It's built. Let's make it work, but we want it safe."

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 23, 2012 B2

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