On the morning of Friday the 13th, theater stage manager Alana Henry entered the performance hall and discovered a disturbing sight.
Props were tossed across the stage, costumes were balled up in corners and ropes were dangling from the catwalk. Someone had broken in the night before, damaging equipment and stealing costumes.
Henry felt a surge of adrenaline as she looked upon the destruction.
“It was like a mix of frustration and being scared because I didn’t know if that person was still there or if that person was still there and not alive,” Henry said.
Henry took pictures and immediately used Facetime, a videotelephone application, to show technical theater coordinator Lori Honeycutt the damage caused by the intruder.
“I was scared at first because I remember wanting [Henry] to go somewhere and lock the door,” Honeycutt said. “Secondly, I got angry, angry because someone had done something like that.”
Henry locked herself in Honeycutt’s office until she arrived. The break-in was reported to campus police around 8 a.m.
The following week, police arrested a female student connected to the break-in. No charges have been filed, and Chief of Police Michael Horak said the incident was still under investigation at press time.
Campus security footage from the light booth in the performance hall revealed that shortly after the theater students and employees went home, a woman slipped in around 7 p.m., climbed the catwalk, played with an assortment of equipment and props, tried on numerous costumes and stayed until 3 a.m. She finally left wearing a vintage Mesquite band uniform from the costume closet.
Theater Program Coordinator Dusty Reasons is particularly fond of the stage and costuming, which is her specialty. The weekend the break-in occurred, she was getting married. She returned to work the following Monday to news she dreaded to hear.
“It actually made me cry when I first heard the news about it,” Reasons said. “She had no reason to be up there. She had no reason to destroy. No one here had done anything to her. I don’t even know who this person is, but I take that stuff personally because some of that stuff was my stuff and some of that stuff was vintage stuff that people on campus had donated that belonged to their parents and their grandparents. It makes me really mad that someone would want to destroy them, and it makes me so mad that it was so easy for her to do so.”
Reasons said many of the vintage costumes cannot be replaced. Those that can have been valued at a few hundred dollars.
Damage to the performance hall was minimal. The majority of the cost of repairs will go toward a new cyclorama, a 240-square-foot curtain used to project images and reflect light. Replacing the cyc is estimated to cost between $1,500 and $2,500.
Rachel Wolf, executive dean of the Arts, Language and Literature division, was relieved that the space was still in good condition and that only the cyc was damaged. She has taken this as a valuable lesson.
“The good thing that comes out of stuff like this is it brings to my attention, not just [things to take care of] going forward, but things that might need taking care of in the immediate,” Wolf said. “I would love to have a brand new performance hall, but in the meantime, we need to take care of making sure that ours is completely up to date in all of its safety and security measures.”
The performance hall was in the process of having its doors replaced with newer, updated models that would be less noisy, easier to open and more accessible to those with disabilities.
The locking mechanisms had to be removed from the previous doors, which helped facilitate the break-in. Wolf said the break-in probably would not have happened at any other time.
“She got lucky to get in, and we were unlucky that there were other circumstances that allowed her to get in,” Wolf said.
Wolf, President Jean Conway and Facility Services Director Michael Brantley have discussed actions to prevent future incidents.
“The Police Department, Arts, Language and Literature Division, Theater and Facilities Services will play a role to ensure the performance hall is secured and safe during and after use,” Brantley said.
He said Facilities will re-key the performance hall, put locks on doors that don’t have them, and add safety doors to access ladders and catwalks to prevent unauthorized use.
“I think this is the first time this has happened in the past three years since I’ve been here,” Brantley said. “All it takes is one time and something devastating could happen.”
Henry and Honeycutt have been reassured by authorities that the area will be heavily patrolled.
“It really can’t happen again,” Henry said. “It’s kind of like when somebody breaks into your home and you have no security system and then the next day [the NSA is] attached to your home.”