A worker cleans and polishes a chandelier in the Benedum Center

A Peek Behind the Curtain: Keeping the Benedum and Byham Looking Fresh

Thu, Jul 19, 2018

Written by: Seth Culp-Ressler | Photos by: Seth Culp-Ressler

The Benedum Center and the Byham Theater are where lifelong memories are made. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people enjoy theater, music, dance and more from the seats of the two historic downtown theaters. Unsurprisingly, nine months of seats folding and unfolding, lights turning on and off, curtains opening and closing and feet trampling carpets can take a toll on the buildings.

That’s precisely why, in the slower summer months, teams of staff and contractors race to return the venues to tip-top shape. Many of their to-do list items would feel at home on any household cleaning plan. Other more theater-specific jobs are wholly unique to the world of stages, curtains and rigging. All, however, are crucial to keeping the Benedum and the Byham looking their very best.

Unsurprisingly, both theaters have quite a bit in common when it comes to summer maintenance. Perhaps the most obvious similarity is up on stage. Both venues have third-party workers inspect and service their theatrical lighting systems and stage rigging setups. Having both in pristine working order is crucial for every show that hits the stage in either venue.

All of the curtains used on both stages are lowered, cleaned and repaired as well. The Benedum Center’s wooden stage floor requires additional attention — a season’s worth of moving sets and equipment can take its toll. Any damaged wood is replaced, sanded, painted and sealed.

Move out into each theater’s auditorium and the work balloons fast. One of the largest tasks — especially at the Benedum — is simply keeping the lights on. Or, rather, making sure they won’t suddenly go out over the coming months. Both auditoriums have tricky bulbs to access, with the Byham’s being located in the “clamshell” fixtures on either side of the stage. Luckily the building is transitioning over to using long-lasting LED light bulbs, reducing the frequency of replacement.

The Benedum, however, reigns supreme for complex lighting. All of the chandeliers are lowered from the ceiling for extensive cleaning and bulb replacements. Every inch of the intricate fixtures are dusted, polished and repaired. Of course, all of the other lighting in the Benedum auditorium sees attention as well, including the hard-to-reach bulbs in the ceiling dome. All said, the Benedum’s auditorium alone houses more than 1,000 light bulbs. It’s a big job to say the least.

The Benedum auditorium’s drapes are lowered and cleaned as well, capping off the bulk of the theater’s ornamentation. Given the amount of people that each theater — and more importantly their auditorium seats — see over the span of a season, each row is inspected, cleaned and repaired as needed. The same is true for the carpets in both theaters.

More regular tasks follow from there. Exterior windows are washed. HVAC systems are checked and maintained. Housekeeping crews give the theaters deep cleans. Walls see extensive repainting. Interestingly, since the Benedum Center is on the Registry of Historic Places, all paint colors are specifically chosen to maintain the building’s historic aesthetic.

Finally, one of the most important items of upkeep happens not inside the theaters but right along the street. Both the Benedum and Byham marquees — broadcasting their glowing playbills to the world — are inspected and have their light bulbs replaced.

With that, the Benedum Center and Byham Theater are ready to be memory makers once more. Soon, patrons new and old will take a seat as new light bulbs overhead dim, crisp curtains part and freshly-revamped stages welcome performers to Pittsburgh’s finest theaters. We can’t wait to see you there.

  • Cultural District
  • Benedum Center
  • Byham Theater
  • summer