The following advice on avoiding
onstage disasters was compiled with the help of Pat Ahaesy, CSEP,
CMP, a partner at the business theater and corporate events firm
P&V Enterprises in New York City (www.pnventerprises.com), and Van Rice of West Babylon,
N.Y.-based Bestek Lighting and Staging (www.bestek.com).
Consider the Event
What is going to take place on the
stage? How many people will it need to hold? How heavy will the
Will there be dancing? You will need
a stronger stage if you expect it to hold a large and energetic
Will a piano be rolled on or
Will anyone with physical
disabilities need 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.
Check the references of the staging
or production company. Make sure the company has experience in the
size and complexity of events like yours.
Check the company’s liability
insurance; the proof should be in writing.
The 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
All scenery must be securely braced
to restrict any movement. Pay special attention when setting up
outdoors, where wind becomes a factor.
Any stage covering, such as carpeting
or a dance floor, should be securely stapled or taped to the
Never block fire exits. If an exit is
hidden by drapery or decor, put up a temporary exit sign.
The sets and all soft goods used
should be flame-retardant and have written certification.
Soft goods and sets 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.
Tape down all cables, especially
where performers or stagehands might step.
If performers will venture near the
rear of the stage or will enter from backstage, install a safety
railing on the stage and the stairs, and illuminate their paths to
prevent tripping on the cables.
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
Tape the edges of all steps in a
contrasting color so those exiting will able to see them
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
If there will be movement on the
entire stage, mark out the stage perimeter with light so the
performers and speakers will be able to see the edge of the
Schedule at least a short rehearsal
for speakers and performers so they can get used to the stage, the
podium and the sound system.
Position someone in the wings and/or
by the stairs to help people step up or down.
Women in high heels can slip easily,
and long gowns can be a hazard, so be prepared to help those who
are so dressed.
Do not use a follow spot on anyone
exiting onto stairs. They could be blinded momentarily and miss the