The Green Room: How could onstage safety be improved?

Electrical technician on a ladder adjusting stage lights. Are crews under too much time pressure? Photo: Shutterstock Electrical technician on a ladder adjusting stage lights. Are crews under too much time pressure? Photo: Shutterstock

Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…

Ros Clifford

Ros Clifford is 30. Currently a deputy stage manager, she has worked extensively in London and regional theatre for nine years

Gary Abblett is a 38-year-old jobbing actor with experience at the National, RSC, in the West End and on the road

Annie Walker is 25. Since graduating from drama school, she has worked predominantly in regional theatres and is also a writer and street performer

Josie Woo is in her 30s. She has been acting since she was a teenager and has since worked extensively in theatre

Ivan Low is a 47-year-old production manager and has worked widely in the UK and abroad with regional and national theatre, opera and dance companies


Ros Education – and I don’t mean in a drama school way.

Josie Not overworking crews and putting them under too much time pressure, so all safety checks can be done.

Annie I think it’s a case of setting time aside with professional fight directors and crew who are prepared to listen to the performers’ input.

Ivan Training is really important. Staff appreciate time given for training. It’s money well spent if it’s the right course for the right person and the right project. You want to know you’re going to get home safe from work.

Ros Well, there’s always the health and safety walk around at the start of the technical rehearsal, and in my experience that’s it. Tech starts and there are all sorts of moving pieces of set, people around and technologies used. In my opinion, more time needs to be allowed to show everyone on stage exactly what happens when that wall flies in, where it comes to, how fast it’s going to be – that kind of thing.

Ivan I don’t think anyone should ever try to do a stage induction for a cast of 15 in one go. It’s like herding cats. Always break it down into groups of a maximum of three or four. Casts appreciate this – particularly those who are involved in moves that really do require trust.

Annie I think it’s a case of setting time aside with professional fight directors and crew who are prepared to listen to the performer’s input.

Ros Also technical teams need time to get things right and make sure they’re safe. I know getting the show to previews is a deadline that should be met but if something isn’t safe don’t do a show.

Ivan It’s about scheduling and preparation. For example, when flying a cast member is part of the production, if possible, have a day on stage with the riggers, the operators of the flying system, the director and the cast. It builds confidence away from rehearsals and saves bags of time in the tech.

Jon Pressure of time seems to be an issue here. I know sometimes corners get cut because people feel they have to stay on schedule.

Annie Yes. Often time is an issue and things like that can be rushed.

Ivan Safety never stops. You must be able to communicate and prove that you are watching the risks and control measures throughout design, rehearsal and performance. Again, it’s about trust, but also considered personal care. Give feedback to cast and creatives. Be brave enough to say no and offer alternatives.

Josie I was going to say I’ve been quite lucky and have always felt safe – but just remembered having a piece of set fall on my head in the middle of a scene change during previews… Again, it was a question of someone rushing to put something in place who hadn’t been given adequate time or rehearsal. It wasn’t set properly and came thumping down on my head just as I stepped into the scene.

Jon I worked on a show recently where a flying piece landed on an actor during a tech and the rehearsal just carried on as if nothing had happened (to the rage of the deputy stage manager, I should add).

Annie Yes, I find that kind of thing happens. Performers have to be quite resilient and I think there is often the fear of coming across as a ‘diva’ when something is brought up.

Ros But we’d rather you bring it up.

Ivan In my job it’s vital to listen to your team. Concerns need to be explored and acted on.

Josie Rehearsals are another thing – actors getting carried away during physical improvisations.

Jon It can be quite difficult to say ‘Can we stop, X is scaring/hurting me’.

Annie Yes, definitely.

Ros Sometimes, I think it’s difficult for all of us to say, ‘Actually, no’.

Josie An actress I know spent two weeks of rehearsals with her arm in a sling because of another actor getting carried away. The director just wasn’t aware, or in control enough, to stop it.

Gary I certainly think that if something unsafe has ever been happening night after night, companies I’ve worked with have always been vigilant about addressing stuff.

Jon Funnily enough, in my experience the bigger the theatre, the more likely there is to be a safety issue. Probably because there’s more technology involved.

Ros Agreed.

Jon Ros, I’m guessing if you saw something unsafe as a stage manager you’d stop the show immediately?

Ros I’d definitely try to if it was my decision. I’ve had to stop shows a few times due to safety-related issues. I’ve also had to scream ‘Stop!’ down the cans on more than one occasion.

Jon But the actors here – could you see yourselves saying ‘Stop!’ during the course of a show?

Annie It actually happened on a show I did where the set caught fire. But that’s a special case. Generally speaking I think during rehearsals is the key time for actors to speak up and highlight any potential issues.

Josie In rehearsals, definitely. But again, the fear is there we’ll appear like a diva or just not strong or resilient enough to cope with the material.

Annie Yes, especially as younger actor.

Jon Would anyone take a safety issue to Equity?

Ros If it was continual and wasn’t getting resolved, then yes.

Annie I would always speak to the stage manager and Equity deputy and if it was not being resolved, I would speak to Equity.

Gary I suppose it’s quite healthy to feel just a wee bit unsafe on stage sometimes though. My last job was very physical – every night was a potential accident but that was kind of the point. A bit like a game of football. A little risk was inherent.