By Zachary Landau | Staff Writer
Visitors to theaters in the Cultural District will start to see tighter security starting Oct. 1. Even before then, revelers will be meeting off-duty officers stationed in their venue keeping watch.
These measures are being implemented in response to guests expressing concern over recent tragedies at public events across both the country and internationally.
The entertainment venues affected by these changes include the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts, the Byham Theater, the Caberet at Theater Square and the August Wilson Center for African American Culture.
New policies include restrictions on everything from drugs to large bags. Prohibited items include illegal substances, weapons, alcoholic beverages, food, selfie sticks, drones and beach balls.
“[The Cultural Trust] want[s] to make sure that our guests’ expectations of safety and security are always being met,” said Kevin Wilkes, the Cultural Trust’s new chief security officer.
Wilkes, who was hired in May after serving as a Pittsburgh Police detective, is spearheading these new measures, which include more instruction for staff and volunteers. As part of this training, ushers will be required to take a 90-minute safety course about how to handle emergency situations, including severe weather, fires and active gunmen.
According to Wilkes, however, the most common form of emergency is a medical one.
Many of these security measures have been in effect for a while but have been enforced sporadically. The hope is for better enforcement to be practiced in time for the busiest season of the year.
Part of the reason as to why the Cultural District might want to improve security may have to do with the crowds it draws. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review the Cultural Districts hosts more than 2000 events, including First Night Pittsburgh and the Three Rivers Arts Festival, bringing in 2 million visitors every year.
Wilkes elaborated on the Oct. 1 start date, explaining that, “[w]e wanted six weeks to educate people before the rush of the Christmas season,” as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
In addition to new rules of permissible items, the Cultural Trust may occasionally elect to hire an outside security company to search bags coming into the venue. Wilkes assured that this will not become standard practice and will only be implemented if “there is a heightened credible threat… or unless it’s a specific request that is associated with that production or performance.”