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innopac

Safety in the theatre

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A brief discussion of dangers in the theatre for dancers, actors, singers and others.

The Leonard Lopate Show

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

http://www.wnyc.org/...theater-safety/

Chemist and industrial hygienist Monona Rossol talks about theater safety. She's the author of Pick Your Poison: How Our Mad Dash to Chemical Utopia is Making Lab Rats of Us All.

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I read Pick Your Poison. It was a really interesting book.

What surprised me was the overwhelming negativity of the comments below. Some of them were fact-checking, but others were quite nasty, saying she's living in La-La land, etc...

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Workplace safety is an ongoing challenge in all kinds of areas, from construction to manufacturing to the arts. I know performers who have developed allergies to the dyes in makeup and costumes, I know construction workers who have repetitive stress injuries as debilitating as anything a dancer experiences. The nastiest of comments on the Lopate website seemed to be from people who were hoping to sidestep the safeguards that have been developed over time. It's very true that people will sometimes disregard the regulations, or shun the equipment, but they do it at their own risk.

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I listened selectively to this, including a section talking about the dangers of set design for, among other shows, Spiderman on Broadway and Met's Ring Cycle ("the machine"). She comments: "Sets don't have building inspectors."

From my own very limited experience backstage in a large theater, it was the proliferation of large electrical cables, lying across the floor in the most unexpected places, that surprised me the most. Special effects like pyrotechnics, and clearly dangerous stage business like the dancer/angel who had to fly high above the floor, were handled with great care and attention. But those electrical cables were just there, all the time. You had to memorize the locations and make sure to skip over them while scurrying from one part of backstage to another.

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From my own very limited experience backstage in a large theater, it was the proliferation of large electrical cables, lying across the floor in the most unexpected places, that surprised me the most.

I know you didn't mention this in a lighthearted way, but it does remind me of the scene in Singing in the Rain where the studio head comes into the sound stage, stumbles over a microphone cord and picks it up, complaining that someone could hurt themselves. And proceeds to pull Lina Lamont off of the bench where she was sitting, "wired for sound."

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And the director pulls his hat off and hides his face in it....

It's true, though. I remember being in the wings once and stepping closer to the wall to get out of the way of some performers coming offstage. My foot hit something hot, which turned out to be a wire when I investigated. I got lucky I didn't hurt myself. I know someone else who fell off of a stage into a tuba (and I do mean into a tuba--her leg got stuck in there and broke), and she was a child. I remember in chemistry class there were "posted lab rules" and then "common sense rules" that weren't listed, but it made sense to follow (being careful around broken glass falls into that category). Sometimes, as bart pointed out, the big effects are really closely watched and taken care of, but the little "common sense" rules don't seem to have been looked after...

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The people I feel sorriest for are the parents of Nutcracker children, who are recruited to supervise young performers backstage -- they often don't have any theater experience themselves, and are dealing with a group of charges who are already hyped up, in an unfamiliar environment. Yikes!

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