- Recent performers at the state's oldest operating theater came a little too close to bringing down the house.
The city of Oshkosh shut down the Grand Opera House on March 6, after an engineer discovered two trusses in the 125-year-old building's roof needed immediate repairs. The decision left the organization that leases the theater from the city scrambling to clear out the performance space to make room for construction work.
The decision might have saved the Victorian theater from a major accident, said Joseph Ferlo, executive director of The Oshkosh Opera House Foundation Inc.
"It was a question of safety," he said. "Obviously, we didn't want to take any chances."
The deteriorating trusses are part of the theater's original woodwork, said Jon Urben, Oshkosh director of general services. A crew from C.R. Meyer and Sons Co., Oshkosh, is reinforcing the trusses with steel rods, he said, and the work is expected to be complete by the end of March.
There's no total yet on how much the work will cost, Urben said. All repair costs will come out of the theater's budget, he said.
The Grand Opera House will pay for renting space in other theaters and for other performance-related costs, Ferlo said. Structurally, the challenge is fixing the roof without disturbing the refurbished interior, he said. The theater was renovated in 1986.
The Grand Opera House had to move 22 scheduled performances to make room for the work crew, Ferlo said. A performance of "Men on Ice" on March 6 was relocated to a theater across town less than six hours before the curtain was raised.
"It was like a battleground," Ferlo said. "I just sent people out and trusted they'd do their job."
Tom Karrels, an engineer and owner of T.R. Karrels and Associates SC, Oshkosh, discovered the roof's troubles during a structural analysis needed to install a sprinkler system, Urben said. The sprinklers were needed to secure a state variance to let the theater expand into a building next door, he said.
The variance request revealed the serious roof problem.
"It's the silver lining to this thing," Urben said.
The theater's scramble in recent weeks tested the old theater adage: "The show must go on," Ferlo said.
"It was never more true than last Friday night," he said. "But we never considered canceling. People wait a long time for these shows to come to Oshkosh."