Theatre Information

Safety First

By • May 2nd, 2012 • Category: An Actor's Advice

Most of us who act on stage on a regular basis are probably not in labor Unions. Some are independent professionals, and some are performer for non-profits, but in many cases the very specific legal protections available to our Unionized friends isn’t available to the rest of us. That means in certain areas we must look out for ourselves. Not in a selfish sense, but in a self-preservation sense. In no other area is this more important than in matter of health and safety.

Being safe is more important than knowing character, being off book, hitting your cues, or cast bonding. That is because there is no play, nor any individual scene within a play, worth getting injured over. Sacrifices are necessary if one is dedicated to one’s art, and that may mean performing when tired, or continuing one through the occasional sore back, or something of that nature. But there is quite the chasm between such dedication, and putting one’s self at risk just for the sake of performing in a show.

You may read that and think it’s silly. That there is no way the local production of Our Town is going to present any kind of threat to life and limb. Yet save your laughter and consider how often theatre companies operate on little or no budget. How often directors are in a hurry to whip the show into shape by opening night. How sometimes there are a few more set pieces back stage than the fire marshal would be happy with when there is just no where else to put them.

Yes, corners are cut. Safety measures ignored. I hope not in the theatres you perform in, but it is not so uncommon.

No matter how much you want a part, or want to please you cast mates and your director, do not under any circumstances commit to something in a show that makes you feel unsafe. It may hold up the show, and it may get you removed from the cast, but better that happen than to be injured on a set you know is not safe.

You will fear sounding like a diva. Others may try to convince you it isn’t a big deal that the board isn’t flush, or that the table your are standing on always creaks a bit when pressure is placed on it. You might be pressured into not mentioning it because it would hold up rehearsal to fix. Any and all of these things are possible. It doesn’t matter.

There will be other shows. Other roles. Difficult as it may be, prioritize your safety over the contentment of a few others in a play. And tell yourself that anyone who would ask you to perform in a potentially dangerous manner is not someone you want to perform for anyway.

I’ve seen people hurt on set, and it is almost never necessary. And in most cases the wounded later says, “I was afraid that might happen.”

If you’re afraid, there is a reason. “Safety first” is not a platitude. In any respectable theatre company, it is a way of life.

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is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs (for theatre related thoughts) and (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.

2 Responses »

  1. Theater is inheritly dangerous. I so agree that if a director or anyone wants you to do something that you think is dangerous, don’t do it. As you say Ty, there will be other shows and other roles. However, I have found that it is the “little” things that present as hazardous and dangerous to ones safety. Cables, cords, nails, screws, props, set pieces, and anything and everything back stage. Everytime I direct a show I remind my cast and crew that theater is inheritly dangerous, keep your head up, be aware of everything. I remind them that rehearsal is not only for learning lines, your blocking and movements, but also to become aware of your suroundings. From dressing & green rooms to center stage, and in between. Spending time knowing your surounding can save you a bump on the head, a cut, a scrape or any one of assorted mishaps. Theater IS inheritly dangerous.

  2. Theater is inherently dangerous. I agree. However, in your article- you fail to mention the person whose job it is to maintain a safe working enviroment for actors & crew. The stage manager. I have been stage managing for over a decade- both professionally and at the community theater level. I stress to my casts & my crews that safety is the 1st priority- both in rehearsal and on the stage. I walk the decks before anyone else- cast or crew- looking for potential hazards- before every rehearsal and every show. Anyone with a concern is told to see me. The start of all tech rehearsals comes with a standard note from me- anyone can stop the rehearsal if they feel unsafe. I have had members of my crews and my casts stop rehearsals for this reason. Sometimes they need more light in a backstage area, maybe more glow tape on a set piece. Never have I ever had a director or a producer push me to continue rehearsal on a stage that is unsafe. Every stage manager I know feels as I do. A cast and a crew should look to their stage manager at any time if they feel their safety is being compromised. The stage manager should then address the problem.