date, four performers in Spider-Man – Turn Off the Dark have been seriously injured during previews, including ensemble member Christopher Tierney who fell into a pit, apparently due to a cable detaching from his harness on December 20.
It is discouraging that, with so much technology and expertise available, people are being badly hurt doing a show. Someone has to speak up and it can’t be the actors. This is a Broadway show that could make their careers and they may not even be aware of how much danger they are in until they get hurt.
So, what does this mean for your company? While I cannot speculate on the specific issues relating to Spider-Man, I have four suggestions on how you can ensure your next production with performer flying or aerial stunts is a safe one.
- Planning – Safety is the responsibility of the top person in any organization and it begins with programming decisions, play selection and design approval. No matter how exciting a project may be, you can never choose to put people in harm’s way. Time, people, money and health and safety must be considered. Safe and successful performer flying and aerial stunts require the artistry and expertise of a competent Flying Director/Stunt Coordinator, appropriate design (including engineering, as needed), construction and selection of systems and equipment. Expensive? Yes. But, if you can’t afford to perform an effect safely, you can’t afford to do it at all.
- Risk Assessment – Artists must take creative risks every day – it’s what they do and it’s what makes brilliant theatre – but they must recognize when a creative risk crosses the line and becomes a safety risk. The purpose of a Risk Assessment is to keep people and productions safe by identifying and eliminating or controlling health and safety hazards onstage and backstage. Risk Assessment is either legislated or implied in most jurisdictions. It is often done informally, but the greater the hazards, the greater the need for a written assessment. When changes are made the Risk Assessment must be updated to ensure controls are still adequate.
- Procedures – These include inspection and maintenance of systems, as well as pre-show checks. Crew and stage management running sheets should identify who will operate and spot these effects, as well as how performers, crew and stage management will communicate if there is a problem.
- Training and Rehearsal Time –Adequate time, as determined by the Flying Director/Stunt Coordinator, must be scheduled to train and rehearse principal performers, stunt doubles, swings and understudies, as well as alternate crew and stage management. Expect and allow sufficient time for changes to be made, especially on a new, evolving and complex production.
In Ontario, the Ministry of Labour Live Performance Advisory Committee is working on guidelines on “Risk Assessment” and “Performer Flying and Aerial Stunts” and I will let you know when they are published.
In the meantime, Spider-Man’s official opening is now scheduled for March 15, 2011. With all of the publicity surrounding these injuries, it has become the top-grossing Broadway musical.
“…Here comes the Spiderman”