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Springfield Little Theatre Technical Director/Scenic Designer Chuck Rogers

The dangers of working 25 feet (or more!) above the Landers Theatre stage

CHUCK ROGERS: Safety is all about operator error, as far as I'm concerned.

RANDY: Do you even think about the fact that, "Boy, this is dangerous work that I'm doing"?

CHUCK: I do as I get older!  You have to be safe.  When you're a volunteer organization--95 to 97% of the peole that come through your space--(you) have to be safe.

RANDY: Chuck Rogers is the resident Scenic Designer and Technical Director at Springfield Little Theatre in the 102-year-old Landers Theatre in downtown Springfield.  A graduate of Missouri State University with a Masters degree in Directing, Chuck has spent 25 years with Little Theatre. So what kinds of dangers lurk behind the curtain for the technicians of a municipal theater company?  You might be surprised.

CHUCK: I think the overall danger is the speed that wwe have to accomplish a product.  We have a little amount of time to build a show.  We usually have on the average of two-and-a-half to three weeks--and that's a lot--to go from the close of one show to the opening of another show.  You have 15 to 100 actors that you're responsible for their safety; you're responsible for making sure that they don't get hurt.  You have the responsibility of yourself, working in an environment where there are potential dangers.  We work on top of ladders that are 25 feet tall... we work with huge amounts of electricity. In a building such as ours that is 102 years old, there are inherent dangers in the building; of course, we are constantly working on trying to address safety issues that we have within the building.

RANDY: Chuck Rogers says that sets and set-pieces have to be built and hung from the overhead grid... lights must be mounted.  All this requires working up on a catwalk way above the stage.

RANDY (to Chuck): How high is that?

CHUCK: 25 feet.  Our grid, which is the superstructure above the stage, is actually 65 feet above the floor!

RANDY: Do you have to get up into the grid for "rigging?"

CHUCK: All the time--all the time.  We have rigging that we have to do... in the theater you have scenery that moves up and down in front of the audience, you have people "flying," you have people hanging from things.  So that's "rigging"--and you  have to do that from a height.

RANDY:  You say you have a 25-foot ladder--how do you get up into the 60-foot height?

CHUCK: MORE ladders (Randy laughs)--that are bolted into the side of the walls.  And if you have vertigo, you just learn not to look down, and you just trust that the equipment that you're working on is safe.

RANDY: Chuck speaks from experience when it comes to safety around electricity.

CHUCK: One specific time, back in the mid-90s, we had some old electrical service boxes and raceways that were above and below the stage.  And I was up on our catwalk... I almost got ELECTROCUTED(!) because I was leaning over this metal raceway, and the full voltage of the raceway zapped me in my underarms because I was kind of sweaty.  And it literally threw me over the side of the catwalk!  Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to grab where I could... and I immediately went to our Board and I said, "we have some safety issues with electricity!"  We found out that we had gotten hit by lightning--and we didn't know it.  And the lighting had grounded a lot of the wiring... and it's something you don't know unless you experience a problem, especially in an old building.  So, you know, electricity always scares me... always scares me.

RANDY: Chuck's had issues with ladders too.  An LT production of Frankenstein in 1996 was built on a steeply-raked stage--almost 45 degrees.  Chuck had to get on top of a 25-foot ladder to do some rigging work, and he stacked two-by-fours under two of the ladder's feet to compensate for the steeply slanted floor--rather than taking the time to build a sturdy platform for the ladder.  And you can probably guess what happened next...!

CHUCK: STUPIDITY on my part!!  The 2 x 4s rolled out from underneath the ladder when I was on top... literally, the ladder fell. So there I was, hanging from a curtain by my hands, and screaming for somebody to come and help!  Mick Denniston, our Artistic Director at the time, heard me and lowered me down 25 feet... it was one of the scariest--talk about "life flashing in front of your eyes"!  As I've gotten older I've become much more safety-aware.  Every university, MSU included, has incredibly good technical departments where you learn stagecraft: you learn how to drive a nail; you learn how to hang a light; you learn the safety issues and the safety risks.  But I've found, though, there are going to be safety issues that you can never plan for.