YOUR safety as an actor. I wrote about this subject in my thesis and talked about it with my students. In the light of the horribly tragic news from Vegas, I want to share my thoughts…
Let me say first that the Cirque cast and crew are the safest and best trained in the world and that this post is not a direct response to their tragedy. It is a general call for every performer, every director, every crew member, to take their personal safety and the safety of their coworkers seriously. If an accident like this can happen at Cirque, it can happen anywhere.
That being said, I would like to challenge my fellow artists with the following:
We have all been unsafe on stage. I am perfectly comfortable as an actor, a dancer, a choreographer, a movement director and a director in stating that as FACT. We have all had inept set designers or carpenters who have said, “Oh, that beam that runs across backstage at head height in complete darkness? Oh, that’s fine, just make sure you duck.” We’ve all had directors say, “Fight choreographer? Nah, we don’t need one. Just go for it.” We’ve all had a props designer say, “Stage sword? No, I didn’t get you one, but this replica civil war era saber that I bought on ebay will work fine.” We have all had actors say, “I’ve totally taken a combat class. Yeah, like ten years ago. And it was only an afternoon, but it’ll be cool, I used to take tai-bo.”
So physical danger, that’s obvious, right? But we’ve all also put ourselves in emotional danger. We have all been in a physically intimate scene, whether it’s a love story or a violent rape, and been expected to jump right in without any acknowledgement of the emotional and psychological danger we are putting ourselves in.
We’ve all felt uncomfortable in these situations and we ALL have, at some point, told ourselves, “Self, this is stupid. Just do it. If you don’t, they’ll think you’re not a professional or that you’re a diva or a problem actor and they won’t cast you again. Someone will tell someone else that you’re a chicken or overly sensitive and get labeled “hard to work with” and then where will you be? Just do it. Keep your mouth shut and do it. You’ll get used to it or over it and it will be fine.”
We tell jokes about it, trade horror stories, compare war wounds, measure scars.
I’m here to say, fuck that.
As an actor, YOU ARE ALL YOU HAVE.
Don’t be an ass about it but make your issues known clearly and calmly. “I do not feel comfortable with (blank) because (blank) has not been addressed.” Ask to speak with your stage manager or, if you’re lucky enough to have one, speak to your show’s deputy and have them bring the issue to management.
We knowingly put ourselves in harm’s way, both physically and psychologically, and we need to make sure that all steps to protect ourselves and our fellow performers have been taken.
We all need to stay vigilant and have honest conversations with ourselves and our teams to make sure every step possible has been taken to make our jobs as safe as possible.
As for what happened in Las Vegas, my heart bleeds for a lost life…a truly extraordinary talent that was extinguished way too soon. The bright lights of Vegas glow dimmer without her. May her family, her children, her artistic family, her loves fine some tiny bit of solace in the knowledge that her loss is felt by the artistic community as a whole.