by Sarah J.F. Braley | March 01, 2008

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 (, and Van Rice of West Babylon, N.Y.-based Bestek Lighting and Staging (

Consider the Event

  • 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 be 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?
  • 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.
  • Getting Help

  • 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.
  • Material Needs

  • 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 support.
  • 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 deck.
  • 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 beforehand.
  • Tape the edges of all steps in a contrasting color so those exiting will able to see them easily.
  • 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.
  • 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 stage.
  • Practice First

  • Schedule at least a short rehearsal for speakers and performers so they can get used to the stage, the podium and the sound system.
  • In Action

  • 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 step.
  • Notes: