Fire-Spitting Actor Burned During Lyric Opera Rehearsal
UPDATED: 2/5/2013 – 8:44 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — A Lyric Opera performer who accidentally set himself on fire during dress rehearsals on Monday reportedly could go home from the hospital on Thursday.
WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller reports 24-year-old Wesley Daniel suffered second-degree burns around his mouth while doing a fire-spitting stunt on stage Monday afternoon.
Daniel was on stilts, performing a fire-breathing stunt at the time. Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said he had alcohol in his mouth for the act, when his face and chest were burned.
Daniel’s father said he suffered second-degree burns on his lower face and his neck, but will heal.
“He did not inhale any of the burning fluid, so his airway and his lungs are alright, and it’s just a matter of time for the burns to heal,” Clifton Truman Daniel told CBS 2’s Mike Parker.
It’s expected Wesley Daniel could go home from Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood as soon as Thursday.
The Lyric Opera said Daniel was wearing a flameproof costume and mask for the act, which was approved by the Chicago Fire Department.
“Lyric’s emergency plan was activated immediately. Trained fire guards extinguished minor flames immediately. The fire curtain was lowered,” the opera said in a written statement.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Association, the Illinois State Fire Marshal’s office, and the Chicago Fire Department’s Office of Fire Investigations all were investigating the fire.
Daniel’s father was watching the rehearsal as the flames erupted.
“Suddenly, it’s all gone wrong,” he said. “You could tell his costume and his neck were on fire, and you don’t really believe it.”
Lyric deputy general director Drew Landmesser said, “We’re still trying to understand what went wrong.”
He and a Fire Department spokesperson said the stunt was demonstrated for and approved by the department on Friday.
“This morning, his father called me, saying his doctors were quite happy with his progress; that the second-degree burns he received around his mouth would be akin to a serious sun burn,” Landmesser said.
Landmesser said he’s confident Daniel had enough experience to perform the stunt.
Performer Tamale Sepp, who routinely incorporates fire into her shows told CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov, “I would say that every performer takes a calculated risk.
“I think every fire performer is invested in making sure that, not only are they safe, but the people they perform for are safe as well,” she added.
The dress rehearsal of the Lyric Opera show “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg” resumed Monday after a break, a decision that did not sit well with some performers.
Daniel’s sister Aimee said she was disturbed when she saw the photos of the flaming mishap, and worries about his doing this sort of thing again.
“I’m his big sister. I’m going to protect him. He’s my little brother, so I don’t care how tall he gets,” she said.
A chorus member at the Lyric Opera said the incident was not handled well by opera officials.
Bob Prindle told WBBM Newsradio’s Terry Keshner he was appalled that rehearsal was not immediately cancelled, after Daniel was burned.
Prindle was on stage just a few feet away from Daniel when it happened.
“This is unsafe situation, we shouldn’t be standing here. This dress rehearsal should be stopped. As you know, it was stopped because of orchestra union issues, which I find doubly pathetic,” he said.
Prindle said it’s the second week in a row such an incident has happened in rehearsals. Daniel was brought in to perform the stunt, after the first actor hired for the role singed his mustache while performing the same stunt last week.
“They knew this was a dangerous procedure. I mean, a guy burned his mustache in front of the fire marshal. I don’t know how more demonstrative it needs to be,” Prindle said.
He said there’s a disturbing pattern of how the Lyric Opera handles certain things.
“I’m going to be 62 years old, and I’ve done this forever. I’m not going to die on Lyric stage. I’ve said this to people semi in jest,” he said. “I’ve said that I will not trust Lyric staff to protect us in an emergency. I don’t believe they know what they’re doing.”
Landmesser defended the Lyric’s handling of the incident.
“This was only an unfortunate accident,” he said.
Lyric Opera director Rich Regan said, “this was an effect that was tested for the Fire Department, and the Fire Department approved this test. So, obviously when we ran through it today during the rehearsal, it didn’t go exactly as we intended it to go.”
The Lyric Opera said the fire-spitting effect has now been removed from its performances.