COLUMN: Patient saved, crisis averted

Theatre manager Jason Asbell went up to the projection booth to ensure everything was good, it wasn't.

Like an edge-of-your-seat episode of ER, the Civic Theatre faced a medical crisis last week. And as in any good hospital drama, everyone worked as a team to save a mother(board), and the day.

Here’s what happened.

Theatre manager Jason Asbell went up to the projection booth at about 5 p.m. to ensure everything was good to go for the Thursday night showing of Dallas Buyers Club.

But, yikes! “Failure” was the word on the monitor — the digital cinema version of a flat line.

You can’t just tinker with these things: if you’re not a tech surgeon with clearance, the patient could blow up. The IMB (Integrated Media Block) is there to keep hackers from illegally accessing content; dismantling the block is about as dangerous as dismantling the bomb strapped to the patient’s body.

Luckily, assistant manager Jess Pignataro, not scheduled to work, happened to be in the building and leapt cheerfully into action while Jason called techs and refused to take “can’t” for an answer. As it turned out, the operation was long, involved numerous consultants, and paddles were required.

They’d been at it for a couple of hours, and now the sell-out crowd was lined up down the street. From Jason’s blog on the Civic Theatre website:

“Jess calls in Steve Vermaat, our volunteer electronics guru, who rushes in through the glass door moments later and is received like an eagerly awaited celebrated neurosurgeon entering through the operating room door.

“We finally get a call from the supervisor tech and follow his instructions for a reboot. I tell him what we see and he reports that the board doesn’t look good. Any other cinema with less impassioned proponents would have thrown in the towel and waited for a technician to fly in, but not at the Civic by God.”

Damien the techie must have heard that determination. “We’re going to try one more thing,” he said. Like the expert advising by closed circuit TV how to perform a rare emergency surgery, he guided Jason and Steve to a hidden key, revealed a back-end password, and talked them through dismantling and resetting the board. It was a medical miracle — with just 10 minutes to spare.

Hands were no doubt shaking, but the patient was saved. While the procedure was underway, Jess kept the waiting room crowd in the loop, working tag-team with fundraising committee member Judy O’Leary, who happened to be in the lineup.

Quick-thinking sangfroid? You bet. But not entirely surprising.

Jason’s passion for film has led him down many a tech back road, so an emergency digital tracheotomy was all in a day’s work. Jess came to us with glowing references for her creativity and composure under fire and technical savvy from past positions working in film distribution and events coordination.

Steve Vermaat is part of the Civic Tech Team that tweaked that old mono speaker so audience members weren’t saying “what?” for the first time in a decade, and was among the crew of monkeys that ran cables through the ceiling when we went digital. Being up to his elbows in the guts of something is second nature to Steve.

And the crowd? Well, the crowd knew that the Civic Theatre is theirs, and like family worried with us through diagnosis and treatment, and cheered when the patient came through and the monitor went blip, blip, blip like a good heart should.

“It was a real group effort,” says Jason. “We managed to pull it off. And the Dallas Buyers Club — an Oscar contender — was great.”

Once again I am hugely proud of this team of staff and volunteers, film enthusiasts and community members, and everyone who said, and continues to say: We can do this. That’s a healthy condition indeed.

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