Hobbled 'Spider-Man' Cancels Performances to Enact Strict Safety Measures
By Elizabeth Townsend Posted Dec 22nd 2010 11:59PM
Broadway's ill-fated 'Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark' will indeed go dark Wednesday night in order to make its set safer after a performer in a Spider-Man costume plunged 30 feet on Monday night when a cable snapped during an aerial stunt -- the musical's fourth accident since October. An investigation into the fall revealed that someone failed to attach top stunt man Chris Tierney's harness properly.
The 'Spider-Man' company met yesterday with federal and state investigators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the New York State Labor Department and Actors' Equity to discuss "additional safety protocols," 'Spider-Man' spokesperson Rick Miramontez said yesterday in a statement. "It was agreed that these measures would be enacted immediately."
Those new measures, focusing on a three-step process to ensure proper harnessing before each stunt, were announced Wednesday by Maureen Cox of the New York Dept. of Labor.
Cox told reporters that before each stunt, the operator or stagehand will fix the latch to the harness of the performer. Then, another stagehand nearby will verify that it's attached properly. That second person will then be in contact with the stage manager to verify the measures have been completed.
The show canceled its matinee performance on Wednesday in order to rehearse the new protocols. Around 5 PM a sign was posted outside Foxwoods Theatre announcing that the evening performance would also be postponed. When asked if the new measures were the cause of Wednesday night's cancellation, Cox responded that she was not sure.
Earlier she noted that the show had been "working on this all day" and that the DOL was "hopeful this is something that can be done rapidly."
The production is expected to resume Thursday night.
Director Julie Taymor, who has been criticized for the show's on-set injuries, released a statement saying, "An accident like this is obviously heartbreaking for our entire team and, of course, to me personally. 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."
Despite the controversy swirling around the show, ticket sales are "hotter than ever," according to the AP.
"People are coming because they love Spider-Man, U2 or because of morbid curiosity," one theater insider tells PopEater. (U2's Bono and The Edge wrote the show's music and lyrics.)
But serious questions remain about why the performer fell and why three other cast members have been seriously injured in Broadway's most expensive -- at $65 million -- musical ever. Tierney, 31, the aerialist who fell into the orchestra pit at the Foxwoods Theatre in front of Monday night's shocked audience, is the latest 'Spider-Man' casualty. Having suffered a few broken ribs, he remains in "good spirits" at Bellevue Hospital, where he is listed in serious-but-stable condition. According to the New York Post, Tierney underwent back surgery on Wednesday.
On Nov. 28, the first night of previews, leading lady Natalie Mendoza, who plays Spidey's nemesis, Arachne, suffered a concussion when a piece of equipment dangling from a rope backstage hit her on the head. Stunt double Kevin Aubin broke both wrists during a rehearsal in October while being catapulted from the back of the stage to the front. A month before, an actor who wished to remain anonymous e-mailed a reporter at The New York Times saying he had broken his feet on the same move a month earlier. A spokesman for the 'Spider-Man' musical said the actor in question had broken a toe.
Yesterday, safety inspectors from the New York State Department of Labor, which must approve special effects in stage productions, spoke to the production team and checked harnesses, cables and other equipment to try to determine what happened.
DOL spokesperson Leo Rosales told The Hollywood Reporter yesterday, "These kinds of accidents are taken very seriously by the Department of Labor ... We're going to find out the truth of what happened and we're here make sure it's addressed."
"This is a very elaborate production. We're very heavily involved in this production, and we're going to be very heavily involved in this investigation," he added.
In early November, the New York State DOL called in federal authorities to help in its investigation, OSHA spokesman John Chavez tells PopEater. OSHA, which is part of the United States Department of Labor, "has a current open and ongoing inspection of the Spider-Man production," he says.
The New York State DOL asked OSHA to join in the investigation "because of some of the initial incidents that happened on the set," he said.
Federal OSHA normally doesn't shut down a workplace unless it declares there is immediate danger to workers or an immediate life-threatening situation, says Chavez. "That would require a court order."
On the other hand, the New York State Department of Labor has the power to shut down a show if it is too dangerous for workers, he says.
The accidents have some in the Broadway community crying foul. Tony Award winner Alice Ripley tweeted yesterday, "Does someone have to die?" Earlier she tweeted, "Spiderman should be ashamed of itself," saying this "is completely unacceptable and embarrassing to working actors everywhere."
Even before this latest accident, some in the Broadway community were saying that the show still needs a lot more work. After seeing the first night preview, New York Post theater critic Michael Riedel wrote, "Not even Spider-Man could avert this disaster." He called the play an "epic flop," because "its high-tech gadgetry went completely awry amid a dull score and baffling script..."
Still others in the Broadway world are hopeful that 'Spider-Man' will save the day. "We want to see this show succeed," Bill Augustin, who wrote the book and lyrics for the off-Broadway show 'But I'm a Cheerleader,' tells PopEater. "But we want it to be good, too. If they focus on the storytelling as much as the special effects, which are complex, then the show has a good chance of being successful. People come to Broadway not just to see special effects, but to come away moved."
Augustin says he thinks producers will do what it takes to make the show a success. "They are putting on the show for all the right reasons," he says. "They believe in it, which gives the show a different kind of sentiment."
The show has also captured the nation's attention -- and will likely draw many tourists. "It's hard to get a musical produced on Broadway," says Augustin. "This is the only Broadway show in years that has made it to regional news. People in middle America know about it. It's being watched by everyone in the industry. Everyone is talking about it. It was even on SNL already."
Time Out New York's critic Adam Feldman says everyone has to wait and see what the investigations reveal before making any judgments. "This is live theater, where people do trip and fall off the stage and get hurt," he says. "This show has the kind of special effects and aerialization that you would see at the circus or in athletics. But it's being done in a space that wasn't built for that. So we have to see if these were ordinary accidents -- or was there something else? Was there something wrong with the equipment, for example? We don't know all the facts yet. I hope they fix everything and that it opens and it's good and a huge success. I will wait until the show opens before I make any judgments."
Showstoppers on Broadway
The marquee at the Foxwoods Theatre on 42nd Street December, 22, 2010 in New York. The producers of the Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark were forced to cancel today's matinee performance after a stuntman playing Spider-Man in Broadway's most expensive show ever, plunged to the stage in front of a horrified audience, dealing the troubled production yet another setback. The accident occurred near the end of a dress rehearsal late Monday for the show, the repeatedly delayed 65-million-dollar spectacular, which features music by Bono and U2 guitarist the Edge. AFP PHOTO / DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
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