Week of heat hits its peak

Sunday, June 28, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 12:20 a.m. CDT, Sunday, June 28, 2009

COLUMBIA — The kind of heat felt in Columbia on Saturday usually mandates shorts and tank tops, but imagine being engulfed by an enormous plant costume.

That’s what actors at the outdoor Maplewood Barn Theatre are dealing with in this, the last weekend of their production of “Little Shop of Horrors.”


The temperature in Columbia hit a high of 95 degrees on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service in St. Louis. This ties with last Tuesday's high as the hottest days of this year.

Local media reported temperatures ranging from 96 to 98 degrees Saturday afternoon.

"It's not what we consider normal, which is usually a high of 86 degrees," said Ben Miller, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in St. Louis. "We get heat waves like this every couple of years."

The record high for June 27 is 101 degrees set in 1980 and previously in 1934, Miller said.

A cold front going through Saturday night should cool temperatures down, with highs in the mid- to upper-80s expected early this week, Miller said.

— Sara Stogner

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With temperatures in the 90s this past week, extra measures to keep cool were taken  at the theater, where nature isn’t forgiving of the not so heat-friendly costumes.

“What we’ve done is, we’ve taken some precautions backstage,” said Lee Black, vice president of marketing for the theater. “I come in with about 40 ice packs, and then we have towels that we’re plunging in very cold water and people can drape them around their necks.”

Friday night, a member of the show’s band who works at the Columbia Power Plant brought an ice vest he uses on the job. The vest was frozen and used by Barrett Brooks, who sits inside a foam plant puppet to play his character, Audrey II.

“That really helped a lot,” Black said.

Despite the intense heat, Michael Scott, president of the theater's board, said the actors’ performances haven’t been affected.

“They push through,” Scott said. “They have to hydrate more, and they have to be a little more psychologically prepared for this kind of heat. If you’ve been an actor at the barn before, you kind of get used to it. You both get used to it and stay prepared at the same time.”

When temperatures began increasing last week, Black said a couple of actors began showing early signs of what they believed to be heat exhaustion. Black said one actor who wears leather at the beginning of the play began sweating and couldn’t stop.

“We need to be more proactive than we had been,” Black said.

Even with the steamy weather, both Black and Scott said the temperatures have not kept audience members away.

“Our crowds have been good this summer,” Scott said.

“One nice thing is the area where the audience sits is shaded,” Black said. “You’re not worried about the sun, just the ambient air temperature.”

The cast of “Little Shop of Horrors” will keep tradition of the theater alive and continue its performance.

“In the best spirited tradition, unless the barn burns down, the show will go on,” Black said.

Theater performers weren't the only people affected by the heat this weekend.

At Cosmo Park Saturday, a youth football tournament in progress forced fourth through seventh grade teams out into the heat.

Most teams were scheduled to play only one game, but thetournament's structure ended up requiring a few teams to stay outside for two games. Precautions were taken to make sure the heat wasn’t responsible for any injuries.

“We keep the kids under tents, and they stay watered down,” said Marcus Turner, a coach for the sixth grade Columbia Raiders. “We look for fatigue in the kids, and they are doing very well.”

Advancing teams will also play a game Sunday.

University Hospital received one emergency room patient Saturday suffering from heat-related conditions. A hospital spokeswoman said she could not offer any further information on the patient.

Sara Stogner contributed to this report


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