I’m a theater person. I’ve been a theater person since junior high, when there were open auditions for The Diary of Anne Frank and I was cast as Mrs. Frank. The production didn’t happen – the director had a nervous breakdown that involved him muttering something about “I’m going to ride across the country on my bike and EAT NOTHING BUT CANNED BEANS” while rocking back and forth while we stood around, wide-eyed and awestruck (hi, Mr. Page, sorry!) – but the theater bug bit me, and unlike some people who are smart enough to ignore that, I’ve been a slave to it ever since.
I currently am the Artistic Director of a community theater, and work on most of the shows my theater puts up in a season in some capacity. I usually stage manage; sometimes I work the light booth running lights, sound or both; I have also assistant directed, done the props, and acted, when it was needed. So when the news started trickling out about how people were getting injured while working on Taymor’s Spider-Man, it bothered me.
I loved The Lion King. It was a glorious spectacle. However, the acting took a backseat to the costumes and puppetry. There was acting, but I don’t think you can concentrate fully on your acting when you also have to concentrate on making sure your headdress comes down at just the right time to convey your anger. My opinion, after more and more people were injured in the making of Spider-Man: Taymor wanted to top the spectacle of The Lion King, so she put safety on the back burner. I don’t think it was done maliciously. I don’t think she said, “Screw the cast and crew and FLY, SPIDER-MAN, FLY!” I think she knew that her reputation was riding on this, and The Lion King was a hard show to top, so she had to do more, be better, be bigger. People suffered as a result, and this is reprehensible.
Actor safety is important. The actors need to feel safe in order to do their job. As crew members, your job is to take away every worry you possibly can from the actors so they can concentrate on their main job – performing the hell out of their role every night. You get them the best costumes and someone to help them with quick changes. You get someone to help with hair and makeup, if you can. You get someone to hand them props, set the stage, hold the curtain. You glowtape the hell out of the dark places and you blue-light the backstage area until it’s lit up like an alien runway so they don’t trip in the dark. You do this so the actors are safe, and so they don’t have to worry about anything but putting on the best performance they can for the audience – because they are the ones in front of the audience every night. Your name is in the program, and attached to the production, but their face is the face of the production, and they’re the ones who have to live it down if the production bombs, even when it’s not really their fault. So you do what you can to be their safety net, because that is your job as a crew member. The actors (especially in community theater, which is all volunteer) are giving you their time and energy – it’s the least you can do to give them 100% safe and smooth working conditions.
This really became more of a rant than it was meant to be. I do wish the best for everyone attached to the production; I never want a production to fail. I especially wish the best and safest conditions for the actors and crew members. May you fly high and never fall.