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Another Serious Actor Injury On Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark; Agencies Agree on More Stringent Safeguards

Jacob Coakley • Theatre Buzz • December 22, 2010

 

Chris Tierney’s injuries Monday, Dec. 20, were the fourth, and most serious, suffered by a performer on Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

Chris Tierney’s injuries Monday, Dec. 20, were the fourth, and most serious, suffered by a performer on Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

NEW YORK—On Monday, December 20, during a preview performance of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, actor Christopher Tierney fell from a platform into a stage pit, severely injuring himself. The show was halted and never resumed as ambulances and EMT’s came to the theatre to treat the actor, who was moved to Bellevue Hospital Center, where he was listed in serious condition on Tuesday. This was the fourth injury on the special-effects-laden show, and the most severe. Earlier, two stuntmen/dancers had injured themselves in a “slingshot” type stunt, one breaking both his wrists, another suffering a foot injury. During the first preview performance an actress suffered a concussion when she was struck in the head with a rope. The show was dark on Tuesday as the production team worked with OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), Actors’ Equity and the New York State Department of Labor to discuss additional safety protocols. The Wednesday matinee was re-scheduled, but performances are set to resume Wednesday evening. [UPDATE 12/22/10, 3:13 p.m. PST: Playbill.com is reporting that the 12/22 evening performance has also been canceled to give the production more time to implement the new safety protocols. Click here for more info.]

 

According to reports from eyewitnesses in the New York Times, on BroadwayWorld.com and Playbill.com the accident happened near the end of the second act as Spider-Man is chasing after Mary Jane, who is hanging from a rope. A stagehand told BroadwayWorld.com that “He was supposed to run to top of the ramp as if to jump with the lights then set to go to black. The cable that snapped is what stops him from going over the edge, and that is what failed. He then fell approximately 30 feet.” In their online coverage the New York Times posted a video of the accident, taken on an audience member’s cell phone. The Times also quoted audience member Steve Tartick describing the incident: “You heard screams. You heard a woman screaming and sobbing.” They reported that Tierney suffered broken ribs and internal bleeding. On Tuesday CNN reported that Tierney was listed in “serious condition,” according to Bellevue Hospital spokesman Steven Bohlen.

Thanks to powerful eyewitness descriptions, the story grew even bigger on Tuesday, as Actors’ Equity, Julie Taymor, the production and IATSE Local One all issued statements about the accident, and OSHA and the NY Dep’t. of Labor visited the theatre to determine what happened and how to prevent it in the future.

At first Actors’ Equity issued a short statement that they were “aware” of the accident. This wasn’t enough for many, who called for greater care for the safety of performers. Many actors voiced their displeasure on social media, including Adam Pascal from RENT, who wrote on Facebook: “They should put Julie Taymor in jail for assault!” On Twitter, Tony-winning actress Alice Ripley posted “Does someone have to die? Where is the line for the decision makers, I am curious.”

In response to criticism, Equity issued a later statement stating that they would stop performances while they worked “with management and the Department of Labor to ensure…back-up safety measures are in place.”

Those inspections took place yesterday afternoon, apparently to Equity’s satisfaction as they released a statement late Tuesday afternoon placing the source of the accident on “human error” and allowing performances to continue. The statement reads: “Actors’ Equity Association worked today with the Department of Labor, OSHA and the production to determine that the cause of the accident at last night’s performance of Spiderman was, in fact, human error. Further protocols are now being implemented, including redundancies recommended by Equity, the DOL and OSHA, to address this situation as well as other elements of the production. Equity continues to vigilantly monitor the production for the safety of its members.”

Perhaps in response to the ruling that it was “human error” that led to the accident, IATSE Local One, whose stagehands are working on Spider-Man, issued a statement. Playbill.com quoted the statement from James J. Claffey, Jr., president of Local One IATSE: “The leadership of Local One IATSE met today with OSHA, the New York State Department of Labor, Actors Equity Association, and Spider-Man management. The union will continue to pursue the highest level of safety on this production. For Local One IATSE, safety is and has always been paramount for everyone on stage and backstage and for the audience in front of the curtain. The union will insist that safety checks and redundancies are added to ensure the safety of everyone involved in Spider-Man. The union also sends its best wishes to stuntman Christopher Tierney and its hopes for his rapid recovery.”

But none of these statements seemd to quiet the online clamor. On the BackstageJobs.com website, one writer declaimed the show’s silence, noting how it forced people to get information from less than reliable sources, while also noting that the “human error” reason was nearly meaningless: “Human error was likely regardless of the root cause.  If the cable broke: it wasn’t inspected correctly.  If the clip released: it wasn’t attached correctly, or it wasn’t tensioned properly: allowing it to release during slack moments.  If the cable slipped from it’s connection to the clip: it wasn’t built correctly or inspected correctly. The other point not addressed is: which human? Crew member attaching it? Crew member checking it (if any)? Actor attaching it himself?”

And BroadwayWorld.com quoted an anonymous “theatrical insider” at length railing against the effects of the show, saying “It’s made me angry that this level of technology and that people’s safety being at risk is being allowed. Someone needs to STOP Julie Taymor NOW!”

For her part, several media outlets reported that Director Julie Taymor visited Tierney at the hospital. She also issued a statement which was published on Backstage.com that read “An accident like this is obviously heartbreaking for our entire team and, of course, to me personally,” Taymor said in her statement. “I am so thankful that Chris is going to be alright and is in great spirits. Nothing is more important than the safety of our Spider-Man family and we’ll continue to do everything in our power to protect the cast and crew.” CBS also reported that Tierney taped a video message for the cast and crew of Spider-Man.

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