Mold discovered beneath Johnson Theatre

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Story by Ashley Traylor, Staff writer

Mold issues continue at Murray State after mold was discovered in the theatre costume shop located beneath the Robert E. Johnson Theatre stage in the Old Fine Arts Building, marking the second mold problem in two months.  

Heidi Ortega, assistant professor and costume designer, said she discovered the mold two days before school started. She said they had wardrobes similar to those in the dorms.

“I opened those up and they were fuzzy,” Ortega said. “And so I checked all the different spaces. I couldn’t see all the mold, it’s not necessarily visible but it was very visible on some things.”

She said it is not unusual to see mold down there, but she’s never seen that much at one time. She said engineers are coming to check the foundation of the building to ensure it is structurally sound.

Ortega said Susan Miller, safety training coordinator, tested the air levels, and they were so high the shop was quarantined.

Ortega said she doesn’t know how many costumes were ruined by the mold, but the loss is minimal because the costumes were out being cleaned. Pieces are being dry cleaned at Boone’s Dry Cleaners and washed in the washer and dryer. For the other costumes the mold spores are being vacuumed off with a Hepa vacuum.

Ortega said throwing away the costumes that cannot be salvaged is hard for her.

“It’s not something I do very easily,” Ortega said. “And emotionally, all these pieces have stories. Alumni wore it. Alumni made it.”  

However, she said big furniture items that were in the costume shop are ruined and will have to be replaced.

Ortega said she would rather lose the furniture because it is replaceable, whereas the costumes are not.

Ortega does not know when they will be allowed back in the costume shop.  

Mold was also discovered in the house of the theatre, which is quarantined, where the audience sits to watch the show.

“Little Shop of Horrors” is scheduled for Sept. 29 and Ortega said if there is no house, then there is not a place for a show.

Rehearsals for the show are held in the dance studio instead of the theatre stage because of the mold.

Victoria Martin, junior from Central City, Kentucky, said the house is a place for the theatre students to socialize and do homework, so not being able to go in there has caused a different atmosphere.

“It’s really sad, especially for me because the house is kind of like my home,” Martin said. “It’s where I do my homework, that’s where I take my naps, and so when you’re not able to actually sit in your quote on quote home, you feel displaced. I feel like I have no home.”

The mold should be removed in the auditorium by Sept. 22.

Taylor Bochantin, sophomore from Frankfort, Kentucky, and stage manager for “Little Shop of Horrors”, said in the past “Little Shop of Horrors” was the third show in the season while this year it is the first. She said the mold is putting the production on a time restraint.

“It’s a lot of stress,” Bochantin said. “If they don’t finish getting the mold out of the house, are we going to have a theatre to put the show on?”