by Pat Ahaesy, CSEP, CMP | February 01, 2014
The following advice on avoiding onstage mishaps (or worse) was compiled with the help of Pat Ahaesy, CSEP, CMP, a partner at the New York City-based corporate events firm P&V Enterprises ( and Van Rice of Bestek Lighting and Staging ( in West Babylon, N.Y.

Consider the Event
• Determine the event parameters. What is going to take place on the stage? How many people will it need to hold? How heavy will the scenery be?

• Will there by dancing? You will need a stronger stage if you expect it to hold a large and energetic crowd.

• Will a piano be rolled on or off? If so, how?

• Consider people with physical disabilities. Will any such participants require a ramp? Is there enough space for the ramp? Ramp slopes between 1:16 and 1:20 are preferred; for every foot in incline, the ramp length should be 16 feet.

Getting Help
• Check references. When considering a staging or production company, make sure it has experience in the size and complexity of events such as yours.

• Confirm the company's liability insurance. The proof should be presented in writing.

Material Needs
• Vet the stage's strength. A stage must be able to support the loads it will hold. Any side-to-side movement is unacceptable. If the stage feels soft or yields under foot, ask for more support.

• All scenery must be securely braced. The idea is to restrict any movement. Pay special attention when setting up outdoors, where wind can be a factor.

• Secure the flooring. Any stage covering, such as carpeting or a dance floor, should be securely stapled or taped to the deck.

• Help prevent fires. The sets and all soft goods used should be flame-retardant and have written certification. They also must be kept a safe distance from any lighting fixtures both on the stage and when stored. Hot lights can start a fire very quickly.

• Keep escape routes clear. Never block fire exits. If an exit is hidden by drapery or décor, put up a temporary exit sign.

• Tape down all cables. Pay special attention to areas where performers or stagehands might step.

• Install safety railings. If performers will venture near the rear of the stage or will enter from backstage, provide support railings on the stage and the stairs, and illuminate their paths to prevent tripping on cables.

• Be smart about stairs. All steps must have an acceptable rise of between 6 and 8 inches. The tread depth should be 12 to 15 inches. The only exceptions might be steps built into sets that have safety railings; be sure performers rehearse on them beforehand.

• Tape the edges of all steps. Use tape in a contrasting color so those exiting will be able to see the steps clearly.

• Guarantee proper support. If sets will be rigged overhead, the support cables and their hardware must be at least five times the actual weight to be supported. A licensed rigger must be used for this task.

• Clearly delineate the stage. If there will be movement on the entire stage, mark out the stage perimeter with lights so the performers and speakers will be able to see the edge of the stage.

Practice First
• Go through the motions. Schedule at least one short rehearsal for speakers and performers so they can get used to the stage, the podium and the sound system.