Art Never Killed Anyone, But It Almost Did…
This is the eye of the storm.
I have a habit of taking on too many projects. Recently I finished up a soundtrack to a short film with Altercation Pictures, “Jabberwocky,” and also did a rather extensive sound design on Wonder of the World, by David Lindsay-Abaire, with Burning Coal. I’ve also been working on a short film with some friends and cast members of Much Ado. Rehearsals start in two days. Eye of the storm.
Production is already well underway – we’ve already got several costumes, props and set pieces, and we are working on video projections for scenic backgrounds. However, before things get really hot and heavy, I wanted to share a little story that happened on Wonder of the World.
Art never actually killed anyone, to my best knowledge, but it came close with this production.
It’s a very funny, quirky play, well worth checking out if you get the chance. If you are familiar with the story, you know that most of it takes place at Niagara Falls, and there is talk of going over the falls in a barrel. One of the characters just happens to have brought such a barrel, and it features significantly in the play.
The barrel is a tricky prop/set piece, because it actually has to fit two people inside it and yet not be so heavy or bulky as to be unmanageable for the actors. We were lucky with this production because we were actually able to borrow a large plastic “barrel” that had the bowed-out shape of a classic wooden barrel, and had also been painted to look as such for a production of Wonder of the World several years ago by a different company.
Skip to Load-in Day, a Sunday. We had been rehearsing at a local high school, and all of the set pieces (tables, chairs, a bed, a refrigerator, helicopters, etc.) had to be transported to the theatre. We had to get everything into the theatre and stored out of the way by 4:00 because a band had rented the space for a performance that night. I had been asked by the company to borrow a pick-up truck that Bare Theatre always uses for load-ins, so I showed up at the high school with said truck.
Then the monsoon started.
Perhaps it was an omen, but we had barely got the pick-up loaded when torrential rains came in. I was able to get a tarp over the sofa, table, chairs and barrel just before the skies unleashed their fury. We stood helplessly watching from the school’s loading dock as the ramp down to it flooded under a good two feet of water. We could not drive a vehicle into that, and the assembled trucks waited for us on the other side of what was now a small lake.
Needless to say, this made us late. As with a typical Southeastern thunderstorm, it had subsided 30 minutes later, and the waters began to recede. However, by the time we made it to the theatre, the band was already loading in, and we were unable to unload the trucks.
At this point, we were given a “break.” We couldn’t load in until the band was done later that night, so now I had the pleasure of driving a pick-up truck full of set pieces around to go grocery shopping and get some dinner. I wasn’t crazy about it, but it was only for a few hours so I sucked it up. I got some groceries and phoned in for some Indian take-out. I was on my way to pick up the food when disaster struck.
I was driving on Interstate 440, going a little under the speed limit. What I did not realize was that a handrail that had been propping up the tarp and keeping the straps tight over the load – snapped. The pieces had apparently come apart and the tension in the straps was now gone. I only found this out when I glanced up in the rearview mirror to see the tarp slipping away. I was coming up on the Hillsborough Rd. exit and I thought, I’ll just pull off, re-secure the tarp, and get my Indian food.
Then I saw the barrel fly out of the back of the truck.
The car behind me was able to swerve around it as it rolled down the highway. I was already heading down the exit ramp and now I was in full panic. It was Sunday evening, but that stretch of highway is only two lanes on each side, with very little shoulder, and there was enough traffic for this to be incredibly dangerous.
There was no choice – I had to go back and get the damn thing out of the road.
I couldn’t just go back up the ramp – I had to circle around as quickly as possible, pulling illegal u-turns where possible, go back to the exit before where I had lost the barrel, and then come back up that stretch of highway in order to come up behind it and get to the only place where I could possibly park the truck. My mind was envisioning the horrific pile-up that was now taking place on the highway as I worked my way back to the scene.
As I approached, I let out a huge sigh of relief. No pile-up, no cars scattered on the road. The barrel was resting peacefully in the exit lane. I pulled the truck over on the little patch of shoulder right in front of the exit and sprinted for it, wildly waving traffic around as I did so. I grabbed the barrel and ran for the truck as the rain picked up again. I couldn’t believe my good fortune that no one had wrecked!
And then the police car pulled up.
“Did that come out of your truck?” he shouted over traffic and rain. “Yes,” I meekly replied. “I need to see your license,” he responded. There’s been an accident.”
My heart sank. My worst fears were now back in full force. Had someone been hurt? Or worse? I asked the cop if anyone had been injured and he said he didn’t know. He pointed to the exit and shouted “I have to go to the other vehicle! Meet me down there!”
I nodded and said I would secure the barrel and then follow him. He took off. A few minutes later, the straps and tarp now tight again, I headed down the exit ramp. I saw two damaged hub caps lying in the road that had definitely not been there my first trip down. I swung around the loop to the intersection…and no one was there.
No police car, no people standing on the side of the road like they had been in an accident. There was a beat-up looking car that looked as if it had been in an accident, but no one with it. I pulled into the tattoo parlor parking lot right beside this abandoned vehicle and realized…the cop has my license and now I don’t know where he is. At this point, I’m thinking that someone is now on their way to the hospital and I cannot drive anywhere.
What did people do before smart phones? I looked up the non-emergency number and begged the police operator to find the officer who had my license. A short while later he returned and told me that only one car had been in an accident (the beat-up vehicle parked by the tattoo parlor), and the driver was not hurt. Huge relief.
The driver was an 18 year old girl who had swerved to miss the barrel and apparently overcompensated, swinging past the left lane into the median-curb and blowing out her front tire. She was fine, just panicked, and had apparently agreed to let some guy in a suburban give her a ride away from the scene. She returned a while later, shaken but okay, and I apologized for what had happened. The cops gave me a ticket for not securing the load, and insurance is taking care of the damage – only it’s the truck’s owner’s insurance (so beware when loaning your vehicle!).
Later that evening, I was all too ready to get rid of the set pieces, the truck and the barrel. Here’s the stinger – that barrel got cut! No kidding. The director ended up finding a different barrel to use, so the one I had risked life and limb running into interstate traffic for was out.
I am just thankful more than anything that no one was hurt. I feel bad enough about the scare that poor girl got and the damage to her dad’s car. All in all, I was extremely lucky!
This is what we do for art sometimes. At least there were no casualties.