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Safety First

By • May 2nd, 2012 • Category: An Actor's Advice

Most of us who act on stage on a regular basis are probably not in labor Unions. Some are independent professionals, and some are performer for non-profits, but in many cases the very specific legal protections available to our Unionized friends isn’t available to the rest of us. That means in certain areas we must look out for ourselves. Not in a selfish sense, but in a self-preservation sense. In no other area is this more important than in matter of health and safety.

Being safe is more important than knowing character, being off book, hitting your cues, or cast bonding. That is because there is no play, nor any individual scene within a play, worth getting injured over. Sacrifices are necessary if one is dedicated to one’s art, and that may mean performing when tired, or continuing one through the occasional sore back, or something of that nature. But there is quite the chasm between such dedication, and putting one’s self at risk just for the sake of performing in a show.

You may read that and think it’s silly. That there is no way the local production of Our Town is going to present any kind of threat to life and limb. Yet save your laughter and consider how often theatre companies operate on little or no budget. How often directors are in a hurry to whip the show into shape by opening night. How sometimes there are a few more set pieces back stage than the fire marshal would be happy with when there is just no where else to put them.

Yes, corners are cut. Safety measures ignored. I hope not in the theatres you perform in, but it is not so uncommon.

No matter how much you want a part, or want to please you cast mates and your director, do not under any circumstances commit to something in a show that makes you feel unsafe. It may hold up the show, and it may get you removed from the cast, but better that happen than to be injured on a set you know is not safe.

You will fear sounding like a diva. Others may try to convince you it isn’t a big deal that the board isn’t flush, or that the table your are standing on always creaks a bit when pressure is placed on it. You might be pressured into not mentioning it because it would hold up rehearsal to fix. Any and all of these things are possible. It doesn’t matter.

There will be other shows. Other roles. Difficult as it may be, prioritize your safety over the contentment of a few others in a play. And tell yourself that anyone who would ask you to perform in a potentially dangerous manner is not someone you want to perform for anyway.

I’ve seen people hurt on set, and it is almost never necessary. And in most cases the wounded later says, “I was afraid that might happen.”

If you’re afraid, there is a reason. “Safety first” is not a platitude. In any respectable theatre company, it is a way of life.

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