Technical Theatre

Safety Belongs in Never-Never Land Too!

If you’re involved with high school or middle school theatre, you really should be following the Backstage Jobs Blog. It’s a wonderful resource for all things technical and behind-the-scenes in the world of theatre.

They recently linked to a video from an absolutely disastrous production of Peter Pan in which set pieces easily crash to the ground and the crew flies the wrong actor:

(click here if you can’t see the video)

I’ll direct you to the original post for a very detailed examination of the myriad of things that went wrong with this stunt. But I also want to weigh in with some of my own opinions.

There is a poster that is always on the callboard of when I’m working on a Canadian Equity show. There’s probably something similar in other jurisdictions. I’m paraphrasing, but it says something to the effect that no matter how good a stunt looks on stage, it’s not worth the life of a friend.

Flying someone is dangerous. Even in professional hands, it’s dangerous. Done poorly, it’s life-threatening. If you don’t have the budget to have a 100% safe and professional set-up, then guess what? Don’t do the show. There are thousands of other plays you can do, plays that will be equally entertaining to the audience, plays that will be challenging to the actors.

I also find the audience reaction troubling. They watch set pieces fall, they watch actors get slammed into set pieces, and what do they do? They giggle, they wait patiently, they applaud when the cast rallies. Yes, it’s high school theatre and things go wrong. The kids are at a very early stage of learning their craft and they’ll forget lines, miss entrances, etc. But this type of stuff is absolutely 100% inexcusable.

If you’re watching a production like this and love/know/care about anyone on stage, the appropriate reaction is to jump up, stop the show, get everybody out of those harnesses, and go to a nice restaurant for ice cream. The show must go on does not apply when someone’s life is in jeopardy.

If the chemistry class bought a set of beakers that shattered everytime they were near a Bunsen burner, how long do you think you’d have to wait for that lawsuit?

About the author

Craig Mason

1 Comment

  • terrifying. absolutely terrifying. why do high schools and community theaters insist on flying people in these productions? i know it really wows the parents to see little sally fly across stage but the risk is just too high. schools: buy some new lights, upgrade your speakers, pay the teachers more, i don’t care what you do, but what is it going to cost when you seriously injure some kid doing this pointless crap?

    this has nothing to do with a “professional” rig. foy and zfx don’t stay and pull ropes for every production. they train the crew and then go on their way. which is fine. but they need to have qualified people to teach. bush-league looking sets are fine so long as they don’t fall on anyone. but if you can’t even master that then what business do you have lifting a kid even an inch above the floor? NONE.

    i would fire everyone. the football team gets new jerseys and you do “our town” on an empty stage.