Wednesday, December 22, 2010

RANT: Human Error

The potentially tragic events in recent weeks at Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark have caused quite a stir, and justifiably so.  Between the concussion suffered by Natalie Mendoza a few weeks ago and Christopher Tierney's much-publicized plunge near the end of the show on Monday, lots of things have been brought into question.  Just how safe is the stunt work in the show?

The findings by OSHA, Equity and the production team that the latest incident occurred because of "human error" only point out even more that regardless of safety equipment, computer overrides and protocols in triplicate or higher, there will always be a risk because nothing is 100% safe.  Nothing.  Humans are not perfect.
I feel for Mr. Tierney, Ms. Mendoza for obvious reasons.  I also feel for Jennifer Damiano, who was hanging by her wrists helplessly as the accident unfolded inches from her.  I can only imagine the very real terror she must have felt knowing what was happening and being unable to do a damn thing about it.  The producers at the very least should offer her some counseling.  (Have you seen the footage of the accident?  They played it on my local 11 o'clock news.  Disturbing.)  I hope that their injuries will not be in vain, and that corrections will be made to insure that the chances of repeat accidents are at an absolute minimum.  But they will never be 100% safe.

When it all comes out in the wash and everything is in place, I think it is a safe bet that all of us wish the entire company nothing but injury-free success.  But it irks me to no end to hear continued laying of blame at any number of people, including Julie Taymor.  Her response wasn't enough, I'm reading.  A brief public statement in support of her cast is all I've officially seen from the woman.  What more to people expect?  A televised self-flagellation in Times Square?  Do people really think that's all she had to say or feels?  I won't even offer conjecture as to what is going on behind the scenes.  But I will again repeat what has become a mantra : "If you weren't there and you are not directly involved, why are you saying anything?"  Heartfelt best wishes and concern that everyone is or isn't doing their job is one thing, but wholesale monster hunting is ridiculous, unproductive and takes away from the important thing:   Ms. Mendoza will recover (as well as the two other stuntmen previously injured) and pertinent issues are being addressed.  Mr. Tierney, sadly, remains in serious condition, with hourly observations being done.  (Per Playbill Online as of 2PM, 12/22/2010)

All of this public selfishness reminds me of an incident that occurred during a preview of Mary Poppins that I attended.  Her much-heralded ascent over the audience for her final exit did not happen.  The wires were obviously wrong; all of them slack and unmoving, even as the now visible stage hands were trying to hand crank Ashley Brown up in the air.  They finally gave up, and Ms. Brown came out for the curtain call from upstage with everyone else.  It was a little disappointing, but hardly worth the very vocal audience's reaction.  People were demanding money back, and calling the whole show a disappointment - the very same group that gave a scattered standing ovation to Bert dancing on the ceiling.  "How could they let us see the stage hands?" people asked.  Um, hello?  Ashley Brown plummeting several feet onto a crowd of children would have been preferable?

Can you imagine the headlines?  Have we all forgotten that "Live Theatre" means that there are alive human beings performing?  Nothing can replace a life.  It is, for all its glory, just a Broadway show.

Christopher Tierney

I wish nothing but the best to all concerned, and join in the collective prayers sent on behalf of Mr. Tierney.  And I wish everyone involved much success in fixing every single problem so that everyone on both sides of the footlights can enjoy a truly spectacular production.


1 comment:

  1. You're absolutely right that it's never going to be 100% safe - nothing is! Considering the risk not only to performers but to the audience, I do hope they've found a way to get the cables and rigging to something approaching airline levels of safety.


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