Written by Carrie Beth Wallace
Images courtesy of Springer Opera House
It's been quite a week at Georgia's State Historic Theatre.
At some point during the night of February 12, a water main burst and filled the basement of the Springer Opera House with over 5 feet of water. Managing Director, Danielle Varner, discovered the devastation after finding the power out in the building. After a quick trip to check the main breaker, Varner realized that the flood was not only the cause of the power outage, but had 45, 000 square feet of the Springer's basement under water as well.
Varner called the flooding "the greatest travesty in Springer history" before a press conference on Friday morning. Her comment was soon followed by a thorough update from Producing Artistic Director, Paul Pierce, in which he informed the media on the extent of the damage and their plan moving forward. As a part of the presentation, the following video was shared to provide a look into the disaster from the inside out.
The video above was produced by the Springer Film Institute and released February 21 at Springer's 2019-20 Season Announcement Party.
As seen in the video, the damage is extensive. And the community has rallied.
Springer Opera House is Georgia's State Historic Theatre, but this week has proven that the Springer has become much, much more than a building to our hometown of Columbus, Georgia.
Pierce spoke at the press conference about the community's heartwarming response to the emergency. "This week has revealed something about our community. It has revealed to us how much this community not only loves the Springer Opera House, but counts on it. This threat reawakened our community to how essential the Springer Opera House is to the identity of Columbus, Georgia."
Everything seen in this photo was destroyed by the flooding of Springer's basement. Lighting equipment, electrical equipment, supplies, musical instruments, technical equipment, and more were all completely destroyed by the water.
The Springer staff experienced the essential support of community members almost instantly. "When it occurred to people that there was a threat to the Springer," said Pierce. "The notion that one day the community could wake up and they wouldn't have it? It was frightening. When members of the community were made aware of the threat, people were here within minutes to provide us with the help we needed."
In eight days, contractors and local businesses like Servpro and Columbus Water Works managed to get enough power and essentials to the Springer for the staff to be able to host their annual Season Announcement Party. Due to the damage in the main building, the announcement was made to a packed house in McClure Theatre and the show was live-streamed to an additional 200 guests watching next door in Springer's Foley Hall.
"Hosting our Season Announcement Party last night was very important to us," said Pierce at Friday morning's press conference. "Not only to share our season, but to gather our tribe and reassure everyone that we are protecting this landmark. Our first job is to protect this historic theatre, and we wanted everyone to know it remains our top priority."
It is for this exact reason that Pierce followed his statement with another big announcement. "It came to our attention that as our wonderful contractors and industry workers promised us we would still be able to open Evita on schedule on March 8, the procedures and plans they would be able to put into place were only temporary. We felt as a staff that those efforts would take resources away that should be used to make permanent solutions in the theatre. It is for this reason that we are thrilled to announce we will be moving our production of Evita to Columbus State University's Riverside Theatre."
The move wasn't Springer's idea, but came directly from Columbus State University's Department of Theatre. "We saw a need that we could meet," said CSU Theatre's Larry Dooley. "We have such a tremendous marriage with the Springer through the Georgia Repertory Theatre, so we knew the lines of communication and specifics are already in place to make it happen. We just had to offer."
Pierce and the entire Springer team were humbled and grateful for the offer. "The show must go on," said Pierce. "CSU made us an offer we couldn't refuse. We've worked tirelessly with them to create the Georgia Repertory Theatre, and that marriage is what has made this shift possible for us. Riverside Theatre is equipped perfectly for our needs, and our Springer technical team is already working with CSU to get everything moved down there as soon as possible. We are going to be able to go on without missing a beat."
Andy Harvey and Sims Lamason perform “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from Evita at the Springer Season Announcement Party.
Evita will open on schedule March 8 and will retain all of its original performance dates. Springer's box office is already in the process of calling every single person individually to work with them on reassigning their tickets to Riverside Theatre. And, due to Springer and CSU's involvement in creating the Georgia Repertory Theatre, the ticketing system to make this possible happens to already be in place. All that Springer's team has to do is transfer over to the correct theatre map in their shared Vendini ticketing system, and the changes are able to be made immediately on site.
"The community was there for us immediately. We were inspired by it, and I think that last night when the Springer patrons showed up here, they felt a closeness with one another. A closeness that they shared a love for this institution. An institution that turned 148 years old last night."
Springer's history has been marred with its fair share of trials, but the support from our community has grown exponentially over the past several decades. Springer's leadership has continued to grow and expand, and with it have emerged strong leaders both on staff and in the community.
"We show up every single day to fight for the Springer Opera House, and in that context, last Wednesday was no different," said Pierce. "We all showed up for work and we fought for the Springer Opera House. We will continue to do so long after this trial is behind us."
Though the damage at the Springer is severe, she will continue her mission as Georgia's Historic State Theatre. The Old Dame may have gotten her feet wet, but in the fashion of a true Southern lady, her commitment to serving the community remains unscathed. Springer's team responded flawlessly, and Georgia's State Historic Theatre stands strong as ever thanks to the people fighting for her every day. ◼︎