Near death experience


Well everyone im back for another year of theater work after taking the summer off. We just started the new semester last wednesday(aug 25) and i have already almost died. Yup, hanging the grand drape there were people up on the catwalk loading and it started to slip, so , the TD said when you get a clear call go and hang on to the rope. i said ok and i then hears a distingt "clear" well I then proceeded to grab the rope and hold when I hear a Weight being move anlong with a metallic "twing" and I didn't look up I just stood there about to mess myself as a 1/4 drill bit went zinging past my head. I then proceeded to run away as fast as I could.

There is just 1 thing bothering me. HOW DID A QUARTER INCH DRILL BIT GET UP ON THE CATWALK!!!!!!! We are required to empty pockets befor going to any elevated position around the place. If i find who did it they WILL be shot. Not really but I will have many choice words to say about it.

Anyone else have stories like this??
I had to clean up after a colleague managed to cut a 4 inch gash just below his left elbow on a clearcom wall-panel that was mounted on a catwalk.

These damn panels are hard steel on a gangbox mounted externally - basically begging for someone to injure themselves - I managed to rip 3 t-shirt sleeves but never cut myself.

Needless to say, the next day they were all either bent backwards to provide no external corners or wrapped with a *lot* of foam.
up a ten meter ladder seeing if I can fix a profile to the support of a basket ball ring to focus on stage, when my 'friend' starts swinging on the rope used to haul the profile up to me, moving the ladder along a bit with me on it, sliding towards the edge, he was lucky I didn't leave him hanging from that rope by his neck...
There is a push in the theater industry for Hard Hats. It acualy starts with OSHA mandates. The theater industry has been kind of outside of OSHIA but with some of the recent problems we are looking at more involvement from them (and other gov agencies)

Keep safe out there!
i seriouesly recommend and support the move for hard hats at height as our artistic director hit her head while on scaffolding and had to go for MIR scans as she had damaged some brain tissue. I wear a hard hat whatever i do at height now even though they are a pain to keep on but you will be grateful when you hit your head and the helmet cracks not your skull.

Happy thoughts :D
Our Props room has a low ceiling as it is just space underneather house (say 5 feet) our faculty tech dirrector has knocked herself out multilple time on the ceiling... She has horrible luck, somehow a twist lock cable came off an electric and swung down and knocked her out cold... Its not uncommon to come in and find her out cold... I think the ambulance people know her by name...
Ahh yes...

During summer maintenance we had been unloading all our lights from the first-electric batten to be cleaned. I had been walking along the batten while people were removing the lights, taking notes as to which fixture goes where, what circuit they were plugged into, etc...

We had removed all but three of our lights from the batten (just two ellipsoidal pipe ends and a parcan were left) when the batten slowly started moving up.

I ran to the rail and saw that the purchase line was slipping right through the rope lock, and nobody had tied the purchase rope down to the rail prior to unloading several hundred pounds of lights.

I grabbed hold of the purchase line to attempt to stop the movement, and a few seconds later everyone else was piled ontop of me trying to pull the batten back down so we could dog the purchase line and load the fixtures back on.

Needless to say, we made sure to dog the second and third electric purchase lines, remove only one fixture at a time to clean, and sandbagged the battens.

I realised that if I had accidently knocked open the rope lock, several hundred pounds of counterweight would've fallen from 40 feet onto my head.

Good times indeed.
our old director went up aboot 40ft twice when hanging curtians. once he didnt have gloves on and got 3rd degree burns. the secong he had gloves and was albel to slow he accent. we had to rehang our purple drape it weights easily 600lbs. we had have hanging diagonly off 3 pipes. the other half was hanging from a catwalk with a chain and we undid it and after being repeatly told to drop it, yes i heard my, td, director, master carpeter and ld tell me to let go. it almost hit the ld. and crack a floor board. o fun times. i almost feel off the grip stairs a few times and almost feel through the ceiling, yeah what a safe place theatre is......
yea theatres are very "safe" but we love them all the same....
hmm.... lets see here....

I am guilty my self of almost dropping 4- 4' florcecent blacklight bulbs off a catwalk... (the tape on the end of the box broke) and lets see.... I took a ride 16ft in the air hanging onto a rope for dear life before someone else was able to grab the rope.... was standing on a 3x4 foot plattform suspended using cables 18 ft in the air when the whole thing shifted and tipped over..... have fallen off 12 foot ladders...... pluged in an old string of christmas lights at the theatre not relieazing that someone had stripped the insolation on both wires which just happened to be touching when I pluged them in.... has been out a the theatre at 1am in the morning and have had to call the police because big guys with no connection to the theatre where fighting in the parking lot..... oh ya..... I forgot falling out of the loft (a 20 ft drop to the scene shop) and just barely managing to catch the electric winch when lowering sections of a bridge that had been stored upstairs.....

but you think i am bad.... there are people worse there.....
While we all like to feel bad-ass and whip out our own personal theatre war stories lets keep in mind that almost any accident is entirely preventable if proper safety measures and common sense are employed. Lets not glorify our "near death experiences" too much.

wow, i have done nothing quite so crazy!! in fact I wasn't even allowed on the catwalk or anywhere of much height until i was trusted enough by the people who run the theatre(they now know i won't do anything crazy)because after all I am (drum roll please) the Safety Nazi!!!!
The proper response to an out of weight fly is " Let go of the rope and call haeds." Do not try to stop it. The 40' ride to the top odf the grid has killed many people. I know two people who have burned off their fingerprints trying to stop a run-away line set. One did all ten, the other just seven fingers. If not for the trough lights over one rail someone would have ridden the line all the way up. Rumor has it that a student in a Mississippi College did just that and did not live to tell about it.
Training and procedures, training and procedures, and more training and procedures are the only way to counteract this. The hardest thig to do is to let go of the rope. Teach this to everyone involved.
disc2slick said:
. Lets not glorify our "near death experiences" too much.


I know its not a good thing to some people to share their stories but i think that it is a good thing becasue we can hear what has happened to others and prevent it from hapening to ourselves or other people.
I lack any formal theater education or training, so I don't know how well safety is taught. (My real-world jos have provided plenty of safety training.) Certainly, the risk of injury in the theatre is at the low end, compared to a mill or a construction site. But, between all the electrical devices, work at heights, potential for falling objects, lifting heavy items, and unguarded openings, not to mention the standard construction practices such as carpentry, electrical work, and painting, there are tremendous opportunities to get hurt, even seriously.

Some basic training/instruction needs to be provided to anyone working backstage, particularly with the fly system. Again, in my particular case (working mostly with volunteers), I only allowed one other person to handle the fly system, and then, only on my direction.

It's too easy to become complacent about safety. If you look at just about every one of the examples, someone did something stupid, lazy, or short-sighted, but got lucky.

Carpentry, electrical work, working at heights, etc are potential work place hazards regardless of whether they take place in a mill, at a construction site, or on a stage. OSHA's standards (General Industry and Construction) do apply to the theater. But it’s an issue of enforcement and employer knowledge. OSHA simply does not have the manpower to cover every workplace. OSHA passes the responsibility of providing safe working conditions and employee training to the employer. (I'm not sure where unpaid students and volunteers like myself fall in, because we are talking about government regulations that refer to "employees". At least at a school, there are custodial and maintenance employees, and therefore, the OSHA regulations would be applied to the stage/theater simply so that the employees would have safe working conditions.)

i have some crazy friends who work in the theatre business especially at a local school not too far away. my school's theatre crew is pathetic. it's nearly non existant!

but anyways, i had a boyfriend who told me he was hanging lights at his school and i guess he was securing one in and it fell onto the stage and almost hit some guy right on the head.. ouch. the guy was super lucky he wasn't under that light..

another time, my friend brian, who's at least twice my age, had told me about this one time when he was working up on the school's catwalk and had dropped a wrench on the seat in the auditorium next to the one kirt, a student attending the school at the time (who i actually used to work with at an old job.. he also did lighting work and such in school with brian) was sitting in. brian also has many stories to tell. it's so interesting to hear all his theatre stories. he's crazy.

hmm.. i do like the idea of hard hats. i think it's seriously a good way to prevent accidents and hurting your head. if i were to suggest this idea to a select few other people, they'ld pretend they never heard the question.
Used to work the installs on the rigging/metal working crew in a area theater in the round. First day of load in was normally spent on the deck in dealing with the pneumatic and hydraulic lifts, than we would move up into the ceiling to rig the show. In the mean time during load in, the electricians would be up in the ceiling doing their thing.

Worked well on paper, unfortunately it was the days before hard hats became common in the work environment. We are talking about more than the more than normal amounts of C-Clamps the lighting crew kept dropping because they would at least shout a warning when it dropped - about the time the thing hit the deck. Probably only a 20' ceiling - not much time for a warning. You could also tell it was a electrician up there, clomp, clomp, clomp you would hear from below as someone in really heavy work boots would be walking around up there without a worry on their mind as if they were rushing from one end of the stage to another. Before the show opened there would be a paint call for the ceiling to blacken out all the freshly exposed areas where the electricians knocked out little chunks of ceiling as they strolled across it. Probably never noticed the spungyness below them either. The rigging crew I worked with walked around like cats on a fence, we knew how little support that ceiling had because we were constantly making it even less supporting.

The main problem was the theater’s 1" thick reinforced cement/plaster ceiling was not exactly new and we had already rigged a lot of shows in the space, ripped it out, than drilled new holes every show for the next lineset to pass thru. Some areas of the ceiling were about looking like Swiss Cheese in fact and had if I remember right, had big orange X’s across those parts of the ceiling so someone would not fall thru. The electricians were given a warning at the beginning of the day to keep either to the planks spanning steel supports for the ceiling or at least to the steel supports themselves, and not to walk directly on the plaster anywhere. Here I am trying to fix a problem with a pneumatic lift and I sit up for a moment just in time to see a 12" section of plaster fall about two feet away from me. Fell right in front of me... Became break time while the lighting people were given another warning - like the third for the day.

This theater was not a very good design for doing complex productions. Innovation solved most of them including the fly system which had a short pin rail in the booth which lead up to the ceiling - about 12' above it, made a 90 degree angle to a long horizontal wire guided clue system for attaching the rigging lines to. In other words, say the booth was in the corner of the square in the round theater. The rope went up into the ceiling, turned 90 degrees and went along the wall until it attached to a clue block - sort of like a normal rigging arbor but without the weights or gravity being a factor. Instead, like on a wire guided fly system, the clue traveled along it only horizontally instead of vertically in giving you up to about 30' of travel. Sand bags could be attached if the lines did not have to travel very far, otherwise as if a large block and fall, the rope would feed thru a series of pulleys attached to the clue block and area the rope comes into the ceiling from so you could lift a heavy weight without much effort.

Worked really well, instead of having a centralized but in line with the scenery fly system, this one was in the corner of the room with fairly low ceilings even if most of the stuff was in the center. You also had a nice centralized location to attach these spot lines from given at the center of the back wall, the individual linesets coming off the clue block went to mule blocks so they could make a 90 or what ever degree turn in heading out into the center of the room or where ever in the room was desired. Granted by the time the place was rigged, the closer you got to the fly system, the more like a spider web with wire rope going everywhere it became. Much less in getting there you still had to avoid certain parts of the ceiling, crawl around over duct work etc in making life hell up there.

Reason the ceiling was Swiss Cheese was that just about every show had some new scenery hanging in a new position somewhere around the theater and almost no two hang points could use the same holes. You would thus take a drill up with you, plug in and drill new holes each show. Drilling itself was fun because there was only one power circuit up there and it was attached to the work lights which were compact fluorescent. Start drilling thru the ceiling, using a Porta Band to cut some steel you can clamp onto the building’s frame to hang the goods from etc. and there would be a voltage drop in the circuit. This voltage drop would of course drop the voltage available to the compact florescents sufficient enough that the lights would go out. You pause, wait for the lights to blink on again, continue cutting and wait for it to happen again. Fun stuff up there. Amazing fly system but even if they started consolidating the new holes made per year, that ceiling is a accident to an audience member waiting to happen. Such drilling the ceiling I see is somewhat common in the industry, hopefully most places enact policies as to how much you can drill into the ceiling long before this place has. Can't imagine the price a new ceiling would cost the place.
Another place that comes to mind as fun and very dangerous to work is the Field Museum of Chicago. It’s the place featured in that horror movie - think it’s “Species” where the monster goes after the party goer’s and Swat team in a museum. Not as good as either version of "Candyman" but good flick overall. Would not surprise me that there is a connection to the underground rail system, but when the police dropped thru the ceiling, they made at least one slight mistake in that there is a sub ceiling between roof and main room in the museum.

This was the place I normally was working after hours in the semi-dark. Used to take my breaks up there. Dark room with the primary lighting coming up from below by way of these frosted windows. Huge blackened room with all kinds of steel structure and dirty sky lights showing a great view of the city skyline above and wood/concrete and huge raised lit from below windows. The first sight of the room after you climb the ladder up to the ceiling level is awe inspiring. The light and shadow play on the various shapes is amazing to remember. The ceiling looks great from below, but the visitors should be allowed to see it from above, it would take your breath away. Loved just sitting up there, did not much like standing on my tippie toes working above the windows, or pulling overloaded milk crates up from below, much less a load in from the truck during winter, but the break times there or anywhere in the half lit museum at night made it all worth it.

Mostly with this company my job was walking inside the recess of the molding between the 10' glass window panes covering the ceiling. Ceiling was huge and the molding formed sort of a box grid with sunken walkways between the windows. Good and safe up until you attempted to move one of these reinforced windows only slightly dropped into the wooden frame supporting it. The molding holding the window in place was not very sturdy so you had to be really careful when you dropped the window back into place. Used a Wonder Bar to pry the thing up than had about four people slide it open enough to drop your lighting thru. The window was heavy enough it took at very least two people to move but you could not lift it out of the recess without four people. During the winter when the wooden frames and wooden windows shrunk the most due to moisture, it was easiest to grab them but also most dangerous because unless that window was slid just right in opening it, it likely could fall. Should this window slip off at an angle, it would drop 80' to the floor. Should you slip in rigging the steel above to suspend your lighting, you would also be splat on the floor below. They did not believe in fall protection and it was not really mandated back than. As I remember it, you had to stand up on the ledge of the window in order to reach the steel above the opening a very dangerous situation where if you were lucky you would have a big strong guy standing behind you in holding onto your belt. Smart people wore strong belts on these installs.

I’m not normally afraid of heights, but you stick your head down from one of these now open windows and look at this huge open space of a foot ball field sized room from way above, and you do tend to get a bit of vertigo. Than you lean down further and look at the under side of the ceiling you are atop and you get really loopy. Great fun.

You than would either lower down a rope to the hard marble floor below and pull up your cables and lights, or attach a block and fall to also operate from above. Think out of about ten shows I did there, there was only once any chain hoists involved. Company did not own any thus they did not use them much. Most of the lighting used was Christmas light based. Just drop down from the ceiling a few dozen strings of Christmas lights or some three dimensional snow flakes, umbrellas or something of the like and you were about done. Funny thing was all this stuff was powered up with zip cord and add a taps. Zip cord and add a taps had a past discussion about it already. Since this was not a very high tech lighting company, they would about hire anyone that was a warm body and thus at some point someone put a plug on and really did plug in a 500' spool of zip cord so they could just run it out to the location. More common than this was when people bumped the zip cord and since most people did not at least tape up the end of the wire, it would never fail to touch something metal and you would see sparks in the grid. Ah’ what fun days. Kind of miss the museum, even climbed it’s mini-pyramid in the after hours, much less wandering around half dark exhibit halls was always fun. Security was about non-existent, just about everyone had the security coded doors memorized and they did not patrol much given we were locked in.

When you were done with the ceiling you normally hot patched a 30 amp twist plug in weather tight boot to a similar tail than installed various lekos on floor bases hanging over the balcony rail 20' above the main floor. Safety cable use was also frequently not done - if I remember right in many places there was nowhere to cable off to. These boots on the plugs would retain moisture and heat. It was not infrequent someone would try to un-plug one and there would be a vapor lock holding it together. I know the place used boots over their plugs so they could be used outside, but the receptacles in the building should never have had it on them. This in addition to the fact that it was a twist plug and live tended to cause problems because people frequently just kept twisting the plug and pulling on it until it broke and shorted in a big way. At least with the vapor locked boot you were double insulated against this for the most part. The electrical cabinets if I remember right were locked thus we could not get into them - also a wee bit of a problem.

Last contact with this place was a few years ago during the un-veiling of Sue the T-Rex Dinosaur. Had a last minute call from this company I used to work for, they were asking for something like 60 or 120 kabuki drop solenoids. No idea what they were for but it was a wee bit of a project to get that many working properly. The next morning by chance I was watching the Live on the AM news broadcast of the un-veiling of the dinosaur that was carried on all networks in the area. Than it dawned on me, at least 200' of drape surrounding this dinosaur from all sides and on cue, the drape would fall... My boss by chance at his home had also been watching the tv and also had no idea of what our drop system was being used for. Both of collectively and individually were bighting our nails that these things would go off on cue and none would malfunction live on the air. Luckily they all worked. Apparently during the night they did some test drops and worked out the problems with it not working. Due to voltage drop you can only power up 18 of these things in a string or they will malfunction. Had to do some re-circuiting over night I guess.

About a year or two later, I left my perminant mark at the front of the building. There was a celebration of the newly opened meseum campus and a different company yet I was working for was doing the basic event set up. I was helping someone move the generators into place. Problem was we could not drive vehicles out to the positions the generators were being put, we had to use the fork lift to tow them into place. Fork lifts without trailer hitches I might note. My boss set up a trick hitch with a length of chain so we could tow the four wheel trailer worth of generator. Someone took a turn without watching the forks and he punctured the fuel tank. Here was about 30 or 40 gallons of disel fuel about to leak out of the very large puncture hole all over the new concrete and still sodded grass right in front of the main enterance of the museum. I made a command descion that since all we had about was garbage bags and they were not working well enough to catch the fuel as it poored out, I hopped into the fork truck and towed the thing a few hundred yeards at a high rate of speed to the parking lot where at least the fuel leak would not be as much of a problem.

This solved the problem of a major spill in a public area a few hours before the event in that we were able to buy a bunch of kitty litter from a near by store to mop up the fuel that did leak. Problem solved for the night at least. What we did not realize but the park people did bring to our attention the next day was that the concrete was not sealed yet and disel fuel stains fresh concrete in a way that will not wear off. Now instead of one area with a large stain, there was a somewhat large area of the initial spill, than a trail of stain and drips (I was gooing pritty fast while pushing the trailer in it's reverse direction since I could not turn around) leading to the parking lot across a few hundred feet of brand new pavement.

That next day I was out there with about 20 gal. of bleach in attempting to scrub the pavement clean. The owner of the company was steeming with everyone boss to fork driver, and especially me who made the trail - though he respected my thoughts on why I did it given the situation. Still about two hours of scrubbing this long stain to the parking lot did not get rid of it much. Park distract was pissed, our boss was fined and it about put an end to any future events in this plaza for the next few years. So if you are walking around in front of the Field Museum and see a long trailing stain along the side walk, you know who made it. I did not puncture the tank but I certainly made my mark anyway. Hopefully it's warn off by now, would hate to stop by it and show it to my grand kids some day.
Don't rope locks do anything? And what happened to all the tricks to prevent out of weight arbors? I belive the Stage Rigging Handbook had a few of those. In a hemp house with sandbag counterweight, if you wrap the rope around the pinrail and keep tension, or attach counter to the pipe, runaways again can be prevented. Also, whenever you know weight will be changed on a line, there is no excuse for not wearing gloves!! Welding gloves work fine if you don't have stage gloves! And it doesn't hurt to clear the stage under any battens being worked on. To me these things just seem to be kind of obvious. We don't use hardhats, but I know we probably should when appropriate. (My dad's a safety coordinator and I guess a little bit of him rubbed off on me.)
In my theatre, our tech director has never failed to mention that, when doing anything at the very top of the ladder, it is a good idea to have at least one person on the ground to, if nothing else, stabilize the ladder. One day, of course, I found myself as the only person available to work on the much in-need lighting. I grabbed our 30' A-Frame Extension ladder, set it up, and climbed to the top. To reach the top of our FOH Truss we have to straddle the second to top rung of the fully extended ladder, and normally we have to steady ourselves by keeping a hand on, or an arm hooked around, the truss itself. As I was reaching to refocus one of the deviant SourceFours, I found myself no longer standing on a stable ladder. As I had reached as high as possible, to reach the top shutter, I had put more pressure through my hand on the truss, and therefore, less on the ladder, and the ladder began to tip. Instinctively, I grabbed the truss with both my hands, and, clasping the top rung of the ladder with my feet, stopped the ladder from swaying.

After my near-death experience, our tech director has been much more firm on the necessity of having a man (or woman) on the ground to stabilize the ladder, and help you with whatever you need. Also, NEVER stand on the top rung of the ladder. A few times before that experience I had decided to make my reaching "easier" by holding on the truss as best as I could, and stepping up to the top rung of the ladder. If I had decided to do that when the ladder tried tipping over, I would almost definately not be here typing this today.


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