Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Safety on stage

In these days of low-budget productions, little attention is sometimes paid to the inanimate objects that go to give the stage performance a complete ‘face’. A keen inspection would shock one at just how close we prance around disaster with such a casual approach to personal safety on and around the stage.

Are the artisans we engage in the crafting of movable/immovable stage props capable of not only comprehending the stage managers/directors instructions but also complementing them with their own knowledge of what is not only feasible and aesthetic but safe? Or do they just “how high?” when instructed to construct, say, a winding set of stairs? Engaging actors and their neighbors in this craft is risky. Your neighbor may be able to act in some crowd scene but asking them to help craft that set of stairs requires a tradesman who will identify where supporting beams or trestles would be required. Hiring one will of course rearrange your budget unpleasantly but think of opening night and your resplendent queen of Sheba comes crushing down with half of the winding stair case!

What about the lengths of electric wires which crisscross the stage floor and side flaps in an attempt to have the crucial sound effects of phones ringing and door bells going off ‘realistically’. Granted, they are often insulated and when not, convey insufficient electric current to electrocute anyone. But in the flurry of an exciting scene, masking tape that holds them in place is scrapped off the floor and a little later, a leg or two is entangled in wire… and humpty-dumpty they go down. The dialogues they invent to explain away the abrupt butt bouncing after they quickly arise are usually to the director’s horror.

And so it is with glassware, especially the idle ones that grace dining tables but never get to be used; and the butcher knives threateningly pointing at thieves of peoples’ husbands; the cigarettes drawn by ‘mean gangsters’ who have never smoked one in their lives; the floor drop after a husband’s disciplinary slap; the running chases around and over furniture…

It is one thing to wail skillfully on stage over the prostrate body of a dead uncle and quite another to discover that his stiffness on the stage floor is in part caused by a sizable splinter of wood sticking from his backside! Courtesy of some poorly constructed/broken prop. All this dangerous effort is understandably an attempt for authenticity. If the script says brandish a machete, machete it is. If the script says uncle drops drop dead, drop.

But what happens when that accident happens? How many theatre premises are insured? Indeed, how many theatre houses have in place functional fire fighting equipment? Or first aid kits appropriately stocked and located? Does any theatre house arrange for regular safety audits? Do they have fire teams amongst their staff? Do the theatre groups have amongst them persons with even basic skills to administer first aid? Do the theatre groups take some form of insurance cover?

We are talking lives. Those of your artistes and patrons. Think safety. Let not crossed-fingers be your safety sign. Impress upon your charges endlessly to always think safety first and tire not to inculcate a safety culture at your theatre premises.

1 comment:

Erich Friend said...

If you are interested in more items on Theatre Safety, please see the Theatre Safety Blog at