Actors' Equity President Nick Wyman Issues SPIDER-MAN / Tierney Statement
Wyman writes that:
"I have been very disturbed and distraught by the serious injuries sustained by our member Chris Tierney at the December 20th performance of Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark. My thoughts and prayers have been with him for the past ten days, and I have been in touch with him by phone and e-mail. Chris is a study in toughness and grace. Hemingway defined guts as "grace under pressure." Guts is what Chris Tierney has consistently displayed both before and after his accident.
It is very upsetting to think what effect this accident might have on Chris's career. (Chris is not "a stunt man," as the newspapers keep referring to him in their churlishly patronizing way. I have nothing against stunt men; Terry Jackson, whom I beat up in Die Hard with a Vengeance and who was Bruce Willis's personal stunt man for nine years, is one of the most impressively professional performers I have ever met. Chris, however, is a marvelous dancer from the Hubbard Street Troupe in Chicago who has danced in the national tour of Twyla Tharp's Movin' Out and in the North American premiere of Dirty Dancing in Toronto.)
That Chris is not the first actor, nor the second , but rather the fourth to be injured on Spiderman is frustrating and maddening and, to some, infuriating. I love the passion that has been shown by Equity actors in defense of our fellow members; I love their insistence that we have to be taken care of and protected. What I do not love is that, in their concern and outrage and frustration -all of which I share--, they have turned their fury on the one party that has done and is doing the most to protect their fellow actors: our union. "Why is Equity allowing this to happen?!" "Why doesn't Equity prevent this?" "Why doesn't Equity shut the show down?"
Before a Broadway show goes into production, Equity staff are poring over the script, looking for possible risk elements such as raked stages, smoke and haze, stunts, firearms, unusual or overly-demanding choreography. Equity meets with directors, designers, producers to eliminate or reduce the dangers and to develop safety protocols. Equity staff attends the final rehearsal room run-through and they are a frequent presence at tech rehearsals, seeking to ensure that all possible steps are taken to protect the actors. In the case of Spiderman, our staff spent so much time at the Foxwoods Theatre during rehearsals, I'm surprised the producers didn't charge them rent. I have no idea how many potential problems staff cleared up or how many accidents-in-waiting they forestalled; I just know they were and are a powerful force for our protection and without them, the news from the Foxwoods Theater might have been much worse.
Our staff brings decades of judgment and experience to bear in assessing potentially risky situations, and they use many different tactics to convince, cajole, pressure the producers, design team, director, etc. to make the changes necessary to protect the actor. Shows are consistently becoming bigger, more complex, more technological (witness Spiderman); and our staff is keeping pace with these expanding boundaries of creativity and monitoring them to protect our members. Working with OSHA, the Department of Labor and IATSE Local 1, we have insisted on further safety protocols, backups, fail-safes, redundancies over at the Foxwoods Theater.
I understand the wish to point fingers, to find someone who is culpable. (It was a classic pastime in my family of origin whenever anything went wrong.) The more useful, productive exercise is to discover what we can do to improve things, to prevent a recurrence of this accident. This is what our staff has been doing. Our staff logs every accident that occurs during the course of a Broadway show. This enables AEA to discern any patterns in injuries: is it consistently the same track in the show? The same production number? The same special effect? The same location in a theater? The AEA staff uses this information to develop future contract proposals, but also to protect the current performers.
Part of the joy of live theatre - for both the audience and the performers - is its immediacy and its vitality. A "boy in the bubble" strategy of taking everything down to half speed, of wrapping everyone and everything in cotton wool, obviously will not work. Live theatre, exciting theatre involves risk. Mistakes will happen: a slip, a stumble, a hesitation, a moment's inattention. Our staff is committed to doing whatever it possibly can to protect our members and to minimize the danger and the risk. "Safe and sanitary" matters to them. YOU matter to them.
I have seen them become teary-eyed recalling a stage injury, excoriating themselves for not having come up with some way of preventing it. As passionately as those of you feel who were savaging Equity for not stopping the show or at least stopping the injuries, that's how passionately our staff feels about making sure our members are safe and supported and able to give the best of themselves onstage without fear. So yes, raise a cry about the need to protect our actors and prevent further injuries, but know that you are raising that cry alongside AEA and its hardworking staff."