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 October 24, 2003 




Frozen Performance: Lincy renovated theaters face closure as municipal service demands prepayment for heating


One month ago the renovated Puppet Theater opened its season with “Little Ida’s Flowers”.

One month ago Yerevan's popular Puppet theater had a grand opening to show off its new and modern hall provided by a $550,000 renovation by the Lincy Foundation. The theater got new seats, a new sound and lighting system and new facilities for enhancing the art of its actors and designers. The 300-seat hall opened its season with "Little Ida's Flowers" and was met by a full house.

Part of the renovation, as well as those in all of the 35 theaters that are among Lincy's $17.5 million cultural center renovation program, includes modernizing heating facilities. Typically, performance halls and theaters have closed during winter months because of poor or no heating. In some halls, shows go on, on stages so cold actors can see their breath and the audience sits in hats and coats.

The Lincy renovation was intended to bring long-awaited relief to those conditions by installing separate boiler rooms for heaters in some theaters.

At the Puppet Theater, the Foundation spent $80,000 on a new heating boiler room.

But in spite of the months of renovation and the optimism with which the re-opening was met, the Puppet Theater may be about to close, because it cannot pay its $11,000 heating bill. (The theater's annual income is about $24,000 earned from daily performances.)

The new boiler was built to serve the Puppet Theater and the National Center of Aesthetics. But for reasons that are not clear the boiler has become the property of Heat Economy, a closed corporation of the Yerevan municipal government that manages such services for the city, including providing gas for heating public buildings.

The boiler sits near the theater, which itself is next to a large residential building. Theater officials suspect that Heat Economy has plans to divert heating from the Puppet Theater boiler to the nearby apartments, leaving the theater unable to know what portion of the gas was used for its purposes.

Babayan assures that if the boiler room belonged to the theater then heating expenses would be three times less, according to calculations made by specialists. If the theater were in charge of heating, the director says, it would be turned off at night and on days when the theater is dark. Then, the theater would pay only for the consumed gas, water and electricity, avoiding the heating service charge and other state taxes.

"Our property depends on other people. It's like if your neighbor uses electricity in your house and you must pay him for the electricity he used then, of course, he will use as much electricity as he can so that he could get much money from you," explains director of the Puppet theater Ruben Babayan.

Yerevan State Spendiaryan Opera Theater, the House of Chamber Music, State Art Gallery and a few other institutions reconstructed by Lincy face the same problem. Only Matenadaran, Dramatic Theater and Sundukyan Theater have control of their boiler rooms.

The new boiler room cost $80,000 was built to serve the Puppet Theater so that the theater can serve the audience in winter.

Chief engineer and former head of Heat Economy, Robert Budaghyan says his company is demanding advance payment because in the past many public buildings have had problems paying their bills.

"If they don't pay in advance then they will not have heating," says Budaghyan.

If the heating system is not in service theaters face possible closer of five months - until warmer weather returns.

"You should not even keep a computer in a room where temperature is lower than 12 degrees, not to mention new light, audio-video equipment and loud-speakers that we have. If the temperature is -1 then in Spring they will break down," says Babayan.

Administrations of the Puppet Theater and Opera Theater appealed to the Ministry of Culture and Municipality, who promised to solve the problem. Heat Economy's Budaghyan says he received an appeal from the Ministry of Culture, but insists there will be no allowance for them.

Director of Opera Theater Kamo Hovhannisyan says that they are not going to present expensive boiler room to somebody else.

"One day we will see how Heat Economy uses the boiler room in their discretion by selling heating to whomever they want," assures Hovhannisyan.

The Ministry of Culture suggested to Babayan to solve the problem by increasing ticket prices at the Puppet Theater. Presently the admission cost is 300 drams (about 50 cents). But even if ticket prices became 5000 drams (about $8) and all shows were sold out, revenue from tickets sales would cover only half the heating bill.

"Who would visit the theater in that case, when even now some people cannot afford to bring their children?" Babayan asks.

The Puppet Theater is left, then, to consider doing what it has done in the past, for special performances such as its popular New Year pageant. While its $80,000 boiler sits idle, cheap electric space heaters will be brought into the new hall to offer at least enough warmth for children to enjoy the New Year performance.


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Surviving members of the legendary Ararat football team were reunited Friday October 24 for a match to mark the 30th anniversary of their Soviet league
championship and cup double-winning season in 1973. The team played an all-star former Soviet national side at Yerevan's Hrazdan stadium.

 

 



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