Iron Curtain (Theater)
The iron curtain (protective curtain) is a structural fire protection device in places of assembly that separates the stage building as a fire section from the auditorium in the form of a fire barrier to ensure a safe escape for the audience and to prevent the fire from spreading to other parts of the building.
Fires in theaters increased in the 19th century due to the use of gas lighting or open flames. In addition, the protective and extinguishing measures at the time proved to be inadequate and often not operational. In the course of major catastrophes in the last third of the 19th century, the unity of auditorium and stage was recognized as a weak point.
In Austria , the iron curtain has been a legal requirement since the Vienna Ringtheater fire in 1881. The Asphaleia-Gesellschaft, which was founded after the accident, set itself the task of developing a fire-proof model theater and mentions a “sheet metal curtain” or “metal curtain” in its documentation. In Germany , the protective curtain also became compulsory from 1889 after several theater fires, although in Munich there was already a “local police regulation on the fire police in theaters” in 1879. The beginning of the modern theatrical era in Germany can be dated to the construction of the city theater in Halle on 1886.
The introduction of the iron curtain in the theater marked a turning point in theater construction and significantly changed the requirements for the stage technology , as a large wall had to be placed in one piece above the stage. The large structures above the theater roofs now housed the iron curtain in addition to the mechanical equipment for the decorations and lighting trains. This gave the Schnürboden a new dimension, creating new artistic possibilities for stage designers and authors.
In the past, non-massive protective curtains were often used (so-called wire courtines, first mentioned in Lyon, 1787), which were used like a normal fabric curtain. However, this technique turned out to be inadequate, as this version first had to be laboriously drawn in or out and could not withstand the pressure differences that arise in the event of a fire. In addition, in the event of a fire, protective curtains that were lowered too slowly acted as a dangerous nozzle through the increasingly smaller opening, which could throw a jet of flame into the spectator area.
Protective curtains are mandatory for large stages today . These include stages with a stage area behind the stage portal opening of more than 200 m², stages with an upper stage with a clear height of more than 2.5 m above the portal, or stages with a lower stage . Due to its own weight, such a protective curtain must be able to close in a maximum of 30 seconds, which ensures that the curtain can travel even if the power supply fails. A mains-independent warning signal must be heard while driving. It must be possible to trigger it manually in at least two places.
In the legal area of Germany , the requirements can be found in the sample meeting place ordinance , the meeting place ordinance or in the building regulations of the federal states and the professional association regulation DGUV regulation 17 (previously BGV C1), whereby this deals with the accident prevention measures for operation with protective curtains.
From a purely structural point of view and from the point of view of the approval, the auditorium and stage (s) are two separate fire compartments , which usually have to be separated by a fire seal . Operation with the protective curtain open is therefore the exception, which explains why the protective curtain is closed after the performance. It must be closed at all non-working hours. The “iron curtain” is not a fire protection gate, but a substitute for a fire wall, as the partition between the stage and the auditorium must have a stage opening for operational reasons.
The protective curtain may contain a door opening , the door leaf of which is no more than 1 m wide and must open towards the stage building. It must also withstand a pressure difference of 450 Pa in both directions and be tightly connected to fire-resistant components (F90) on all sides . Protective curtains may not be supported with decorations and no cables may be laid in the closing area. The water spray extinguishing system prescribed for large stages must also be able to act on the protective curtain in order to increase its service life in the event of a fire.
The protective curtain is to be checked for proper function every game by pulling it up and down. Apart from that, it must be checked at regular intervals by an expert or a competent person with the appropriate qualifications. According to state law, there may be deviations with regard to the inspection deadlines: some federal states require annual inspections, in Berlin (according to AnlPrüfVO 2005) an inspection every three years is sufficient.
Iron curtains can also be used for artistic purposes. In the Vienna State Opera, for example, an exhibition series designed by the Wiener museum in progress has been transforming the fire protection wall between the stage and the auditorium into a temporary exhibition space for contemporary art since 1998 . The curtain is designed by a different artist for each season. The previous artists include: Tauba Auerbach, John Baldessari , Matthew Barney , Thomas Bayrle , Tacita Dean , Cerith Wyn Evans , Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster , Richard Hamilton , David Hockney , Christine and Irene Hohenbüchler , Joan Jonas , Jeff Koons , Maria Lassnig , Oswald Oberhuber , Giulio Paolini , Rirkrit Tiravanija , Rosemarie Trockel , Cy Twombly , Kara Walker and Franz West .
- Hartmut H. Starke, Harald Scherer, Christian A. Buschhoff: Practical Guide to Venue Regulations. An application manual for professional practice, training, operations and administration. 2nd revised edition. xEMP, Berlin et al. 2007, ISBN 978-3-938862-14-8 .
- Kaspar Mühlemann Hartl, museum in progress; Dominique Meyer , Wiener Staatsoper (Ed.): CURTAIN - CURTAIN. A living museum space - The Iron Curtain of the Vienna State Opera , Vienna: Verlag für moderne Kunst 2017, ISBN 978-3-903228-11-5 .
- DGUV regulation 17 (previously BG regulation BGV-C1), event and production facilities for scenic representation from April 1, 1998 (PDF, 290 kB)