I’m writing this in response to a stage roof going down in Indiana this past weekend. Let me start by saying that my heart and my prayers go out to all of those who were injured and who died and the families that were affected by this tragedy. It’s been a bad summer for roof failures; this one makes 3 that I’m aware of. I’ve had a long relationship with James Thomas engineering and their truss and gear. I trust, implicitly, that it is as good as it gets and that the engineering that goes into it is top notch. Having said this, I think it might be time that – as an industry – we take another look into this technology and the way we are now using it.
There is a part of me that wonders if there isn’t an inherent flaw in the engineering, but knowing the guys who build the roofs and the guys who put them up, I really don’t believe this is the case. This leads me to look at the applications and locations they are being used. I think we need to reexamine both the loads we place on these structures and make sure that set and stage design takes into account the fact that a show is going to be done not in a permanent structure, but on a temporary roof.
My initial reaction as I saw the video of this weekend’s tragedy for the first time was, “What was that roof doing at trim with weather coming in?” I have since learned that there was a large video wall – floor supported – that wouldn’t allow the roof to come in. If this was indeed the case, then that video wall should never been allowed to be built where it was. Bringing an outdoor roof in when faced with the danger of high winds is the single safest thing that can be done. Anything that prevents this from happening should simply be illegal. I know - I can hear the production and set designers screaming at me as I type this, but lives are more important than “the look”. Besides, projection technology these days is such that you can do without the super bright, super big, LED wall for an outdoor show if it means the safety of the audience, crew and band.
Now I’m going to get a little harsh and speculate on what I believe was an absolutely tragic decision on someone’s part. Ok, so, they knew they couldn’t get the roof down. They knew (KNEW) that there was a huge thunderstorm approaching the stage area. There is only one thing that needed to be done – the area needed to be evacuated. Instead an announcement was made that the show would go on if at all possible and not only was the audience not evacuated, there were spotlight operators (four, one of which is dead at this writing, the others are all still in the hospital) left in the rig so the show could start ASAP when the weather passed. That man is DEAD because of a horrible CHOICE someone made. There is no if, and or but to this. Someone (most likely a promoter or promoter rep) decided that it was more important to get this show started as soon as possible than to clear the area and make sure everyone was safe. It’s not like a roof didn’t come down less than a month ago because of an outflow from a thunderstorm. Recent experience dictated that you get those men down and get that area clear.
In conclusion, I think that as an industry we need to take a long hard look at outdoor roofs and their applications and re-evaluate how we are dealing with both the roofs and the productions we put under them. Certainly I believe that the companies that sell and rent these roofs should revisit the engineering and wind load data and make sure that we really know what we are doing. And finally, it’s time we realize that there are times the show just can’t go on. We do a lot of silly things in our industry, and there are plenty of men and women who knowingly risk their lives to get things done. But we can never, ever afford an error when it comes to the safety of our audience.
Gate receipts, artists’ egos, and fan disappointment be damned – it is our responsibility to put the safety of the audience first.