Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center – part 44

Part 44: Quick, Send in the Clowns

On Tuesday, March 29, the CEO requested that I create a timeline and deliverables for the entire Fort Scott scenery restoration. Again, this was so that riggers could estimate the cost of hanging the entire scenery collection. It is crucial to note, that during the time of this request I was only six days into starting the painting of the lodge room mural. Remember, this mural was to have been completed by March 1 to successfully move onto the scenery restoration.

On March 30 at 8:26AM, I emailed the restoration timeline to the CEO and general director. I had divided the project into ten phases over a two-year period. This was standard for any Scottish Rite scenery restoration and by this point in my career I had restored over 500 historic drops. Each phase of the restoration included the restoration of approximately nine drops, identifying the specific transportation, restoration, and hanging dates. The table of contents divided the project into succinct drop transportation crew dates, restoration crew dates, rigging crew dates, subsequent timelines, and deliverables during each project phase.

However, instead of starting on April 1 and restoring 19 drops, I was now planning to restore only 9 backdrops, starting on May 9, 2016. Restored scenes for opening day would include the Egyptian Interior, Darius Palace, the Woods, the Cathedral, the Treasure Chamber, the Classical Landscape, the DeMolay Mausoleum, the FHC Constellation, and the INRI Landscape.

The remaining nine phases for the scenery restoration after the opening would be:
Monday, July 6, 2016 – Tuesday, July 26, 2016 and Thursday, August 4 – Friday, August 19
Monday, October 3, 2016 – Friday, November 11, 2016
Monday, January 2, 2017 – Friday, February 24, 2017
Monday, March 6, 2017 – Friday, April 28, 2017
Monday, May 8, 2017 – Friday, June 16, 2017
Monday, August 7, 2017 – Friday, September 29, 2017
Monday, November 13, 2017 – Friday, January 5, 2018
Monday, February 19, 2018 – Friday, April 13, 2018
Monday, May 21, 2018 – Friday, July 13, 2018

Similarly, the schedule for hanging the remaining restored scenery after the opening were:
Monday, August 22, 2016 – Friday, August 26, 2016
Monday, November 14, 2016 – Friday, November 18, 2016
Monday, February 27, 2017 – Friday, March 3, 2017
Monday, May 1, 2017 – Friday, May 5, 2017
Monday, June 19, 2017 – Friday, June 23, 2017
Monday, October 2, 2017 – Friday, October 6, 2017
Monday, January 8, 2018 – Friday, January 12, 2018
Monday, April 16, 2019 – Friday, April 20, 2018
Monday, July 23, 2018 – Friday, July 27, 2018

Additionally, having me on staff dropped the overall restoration cost by 75%. Otherwise the restoration could have quickly become cost-prohibitive for the center.

By 1:46PM March 30, the general director emailed me his response to the restoration timeline:

“The proposed schedule is highly problematic from an operational standpoint. It leaves only 11 weeks each in 2016 and 2017. And only nine weeks in the first seven months of 2018 for programming of any sort. We are marketing the space for community rentals and weddings, and already have substantial revenue opportunities. I really can’t shut the place down for the first two years to accommodate scenery restoration. We could work around a few weeks every several months, but not a total blackout including all weekends. I understood the decision on Tuesday to be that Wendy would contact rigging providers for a block price to hang the 74 indicated drops with the understanding that they would be coming out seven times to hang not fewer than 10 pieces at a time. I am extremely reluctant to commit to this specific schedule.”

Thirty minutes later, the CEO reinforced this sentiment writing, “I agree. We can’t have the facility tied up for such extensive blocks of time. Another solution must be found.”

By this stage, approximately $125,000 had been spent to purchase, remove, transport, and store the scenery collection. There were also all of the travel expenses for the initial evaluation in August, my expenses while working three weeks on site, and all of my time as a salaried employee working on this endeavor. This amount did not even take into consideration the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent to custom-design a theatre space to display an historical Scottish Rite scenery collection.

From the beginning of my involvement with this project, I had been crystal clear about the time commitment needed to restore scenery, the limitations of onsite restoration, and the overall expenses. The CEO had always responded, “Not a problem” – until now.

So my response to both of their emails was simply, “Please advise me on how you would like me to proceed. Should we meet to discuss alternatives?”

The next morning we met in the CEO’s office. He said, “So what should we do?” I explained that I had solved the entire dilemma and it would not interfere with any potential income. The CEO raised his eyebrows and said, “Tell me your plan.” I explained that each Friday I would ask the general director if the stage was available for the coming week. If it was, I would then contact my local rigger to see if he could assemble a crew. If he could, I would then assemble my own restoration crew. If both a rigging crew and a restoration crew were available, we would restore a drop. This would involve transporting it on Monday, restoring the drop from Tuesday through Thursday, and hanging the drop on Friday. It would be more expensive in the long-term, but it would never interfere with any anticipated rental income or unnecessarily tie up the space. “Besides,” I added, “I’m on staff, so I can drop everything at a moment’s notice.”

“But what will you be doing ‘on staff’ when you’re not restoring any scenery?” queried the general director.

“All of the duties that are listed in my job description as Curatorial Director, plus painting the remaining lodge room murals,” I answered.

There was an awkward silence, and I thought of a line from Sondheim in “A Little Night Music:”

“And where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns
Don’t bother…
They’re here.”

To be continued…

Fort Scott Jacques DeMolay Drop.
Fort Scott Cathedral Drop
Fort Scott Classical Landscape Drop
Fort Scott Constellation Drop
Fort Scott Egyptian Drop
Fort Scott INRI Landscape Drop
Fort Scott Treasure Chamber Drop
Fort Scott Wood Drop
Fort Scott Darius Palace Drop

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