Theatre is a contact sport

There has been a lot of press on all the injuries and technical malfunctions on the new Broadway show Spiderman: Turn off the Dark (really, 60 million dollars and that’s the name? whatever…). The thing is….this is not something new.

Spiderman has had a lot of injuries very close together but these injuries seem to only be getting the press because of the people involved in the show. JulieTaymor and Bono are big names and people that tend to bring in big money and attention, but in the end it seems to me that all this attention is a sick kind of schadenfreude (deriving happiness at the misfortune of others, thank you Avenue Q and the German language). The general public seems to like the idea that people this successful and a show this massive in scope, could be susceptible to immense failure on a public scale and that they have a front row seat. Before the injuries ticket sales were only ok, but after the injuries ticket sales shot through the roof. What does that say about us, the ticket buying public? Do you really want to be in the audience to watch a cable snap, the actor plummet and hear them cry out for help? Apparently we do…

Yes, there are cables and flying and all sorts of super cool effects that can lead to technical issues. Yes, the cables were a big part of the major injury that happened that landed the actor into the hospital. But cables and flying are not the most hazardous part of the job. An added problem is the stage surface that they are working on, which usually is steel or concrete, not the most forgiving of surfaces. And those are just flat stages, heaven help them when they add in the raked stage, which means that the stage is sloped upwards away from the audience to improve the overall view of the audience. Many of the shows like In The Heights, Billy Elliott and The Lion King have had actors that have had multiple injuries (and all had a raked stage as well as large dance heavy stories). One study from the Journal of Dance Medicine and Science concluded that “professional dancers performing on ‘raked’ (inclined) stages sustain more injuries than dancers who perform on flat stages.”

There is an inherent risk in performing that the audience sometimes takes for granted. We are no longer in the era of having a dance chorus to give the other performers a chance to rest during the production. Performers are asked to be triple threats today, sing, dance, act and do it all while being on stage longer. The endless repetition of the jumping, twisting combined with an exhausting schedule are part of the performers world and come with the desire to perform and dance professionally. They are asked to do this 8 times a week and in every city in America. So before we get to giddy over the fact that someone has just gotten concussion at Spiderman, remember they are not the only show playing right now and that actor is not the only one who is giving you the performance of their life while injured.

Remember, theatre is a contact sport.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Reese M. says:

    Love this post! I agree, people too often forget just how much hard physical work goes into performing onstage. Having been part of the backstage crew for most of my amateur theater "career" (a term which I use in the loosest sense of the word here), I can say that the crew also perform under perilous circumstances. I've had twisted ankles, bad bruises, pulled muscles…it's demanding. And I was nowhere even close to "professional". I can only imagine the physical demands of a major Broadway show backstage. I have to say, it is a bit disturbing that Spiderman's ticket sales have gone through the roof since the attention to the injuries of the actors. On the other hand, I'm hardly surprised. And yeah, they need to change the name of the show…just…yipes. It's a mouthful and all this press (positive and negative) is only underscoring how bad the name is…for me anyway. 🙂

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