Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I can't help but feel overwhelmed when I see this snippet of video from this weekend's collapse of an outdoor stage in Indianapolis. Five people were killed in the collapse.

Among the dead was a 51 year old stagehand named Nathan Byrd, a member of Local #30 IATSE. He was a truss spot operator. The operators had been sent up on the truss in anticipation of the headline act, the band Sugarland, though the weather was threatening and management was consulting the weather service.

According to sources, there were four operators up in the truss. When it came down, two were uninjured, one was hurt, and Nathan was so severely injured he died in the hospital the following morning.  He leaves behind a 15 year old son and a 13 year old daughter.

Take it from me, working at heights is an acquired skill. If you do it regularly, like I did for 20 some years, you take particular care. Falling and injury is never far from your mind. There's a funny dichotomy you play with - on the one hand, you want to be careful, cautious and protect yourself from accidents. On the other hand, you don't want your imagination to run too wild and let thoughts of the potential danger paralyze you. In the end, you trust your instincts, your equipment, and your union brothers and sisters.

One of the scariest places I've ever worked was in a performing arts center in Florida where the front-of-house lighting bridge has a floor of clear plexiglass - it looked as if you were walking on air when you were working up there. It was perfectly safe, yet so un-nerving I still have nightmares about it sometimes.

I can only imagine what was going through the minds of the four truss spot operators as the rig came down.

On my last visit to Indianapolis, my theatre company played the Murat Shrine, a great Byzanto-Moorish confection built in 1911. While loading in the show, one of the electricians on my crew asked me if I wanted to go up and see the tower, or the minaret crowning the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and New Jersey Street. During a coffee break, he guided me up a narrow stairway, and then we came out onto the parapet, into the brisk night wind. We were on a narrow spire, high above the rooftops, high above the street. It was wonderful, exhilarating, terrifying all at the same time.

I didn't know Nate Byrd. I don't remember the names of local crew members anymore. But Nate was a rigger and an electrician, and I know at some point in the twenty years he worked with Local #30, he must have stepped out onto that narrow parapet high over the city, and felt that thrill that working at heights gives you.

Who knows? He may have been the guy who shared that experience with me, so many years ago.

Saturday's accident was at least the fourth stage accident this summer. A windstorm toppled a stage for the band Cheap Trick at a festival in Ottowa. Earlier this month, wind blew over a lighting rig at a music festival in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and lightning toppled a stage near Quebec City. Be careful out there, brothers and sisters.

A fund has been set up for Nate Byrd's family. Send your contributions to:

IATSE Local 30
Attention: Nate
1407 East Riverside Drive
Indianapolis, IN 46202-2037

1 comment:


I was surprise at my reaction when I first saw video of the incident. I gasped. I was inspired by the humanity that did not run away from the accident but ran towards it to help those in need. Remarkable.