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What to do when you're injured on set

Stages and rehearsals are dangerous places. Even when all the proper safety precautions are in place, even when you've had appropriate fight training and have been professionally instructed in how to handle a sword or gun or how to strike a colleague without hurting them, even when everyone is well-intentioned and paying attention, injuries can happen. And we all know that what with cost-cutting measures and sometimes inexperienced or careless colleagues, performers don't always get the best case scenario. 

I've been injured on set myself, and the process of dealing with it isn't fun. When you're by yourself, on the road, and may or may not have the support of the company, it's easy to get overwhelmed. Sometimes smaller companies don't have procedures in place for handling injuries. And if you're just starting out in the business, you may not know what to do. So here's a handy-dandy guide to managing injuries while you're working in  the theater.



This may seem like a no-brainer, but people can get very flustered during emergencies, and if you're the injured party, you may not be thinking straight at the moment. The priority is always to make sure the threat is over or that you are removed from it, and that you are safe. 


It will be very helpful to have an ally such as a colleague, your union rep, or a family member to help walk you through some of these things when you're incapacitated or not at your best. But if you are on your own --- don't let anyone rush you into any decisions. Take your time. Ask to see things in writing. 


Again, basic; but even if you aren't seriously or obviously hurt, now is not the time to play tough guy. Don't worry about stopping rehearsal for a few minutes. Of course, if you're hurt during a performance, you'll want to play it out in character if possible and seek help when you get offstage. But don't be a hero. If you're really hurt or in danger of exacerbating an injury, the stage manager may need to ring down the curtain. (Don't worry about impacting the performance. Audiences love this kind of real-life drama and the resulting publicity will give the company a boost, too). 

Take your time, check yourself out, and make sure the stage manager or someone from the company is standing right there with you. Ask for what you need. See a doctor if you need to, and do so right away. Go to an urgent care center if necessary. Better to be reassured that you're okay, and receive treatment for a minor injury, than to try to tough it out; exacerbate your injury, and have it turn into something major or chronic. The full extent of many injuries aren't known until days, weeks, or months later; so get checked out right away to catch any potential problems before they're exacerbated by time or neglect. 

If you are seriously hurt, let them take you to the hospital ASAP and don't worry about paying for it --- you're going to file for worker's compensation and that should take care of it. That's another reason to see a doctor --- you want to get that medical file started and on record as quickly as possible. 


A couple of years ago, while rehearsing for Pirates of Penzance at Portland Opera, yours truly fell on her butt while rehearsing some swordplay. My ample natural padding saved me from any harm and I even managed not to poke my eye out with the sword;  the only damage was to my ego. But Stage Manager of My Dreams Jennifer Hammontree was handing me an accident report before I even got back to my feet. 

In a professionally run company, with a competent stage manager, the very first thing that happens after ascertaining that the injured performer doesn't need to go to the emergency room and is basically okay, is that the stage manager should come to you with an accident report.  Certainly this will happen in AGMA or Equity companies; but sometimes in small regional houses, you will have to ask or even insist. 

If no one from the company will take an accident report, document it yourself immediately. Write down what happened, including where you were, what you were wearing, what you were doing, who else was present, how the injury occurred and who (if anyone) was involved; what you did immediately following the injury; who you spoke to about it and what you said; what treatment you sought; how the injury and treatment have progressed. If you tried to file an accident report and were denied, document that. 


If you're an AGMA singer at a signatory company, be sure you speak to your shop rep as soon as possible. If they are in the theater, ask for them to come and see you as soon as you're offstage. If they aren't currently in the house, get their contact info and call them at your earliest convenience. They are there to help you and make sure the company does right by you.


Start a workman's compensation claim immediately. Workman's comp can take a long time to process --- and you or your insurance company will be paying up until your claim has been approved and all the paperwork is submitted. Also, there is a statute of limitations on how long you have to claim workman's comp, and this varies wildly from state to state, so file right away. Call the responsible agency in the state in which you are injured (see below for a link) and request to file a claim.  The process will vary from state to state, so start your own file and keep all the info together from day one. It will make things easier. Also, if you have an injury that requires surgery or ongoing treatment, realize that many doctors do not want to deal with workman's comp claims --- they are a mess. I got around this by paying for my surgery and other expenses out of pocket or through my own insurance company, and having the state insurance company reimburse me or my company directly. You'll want to talk to your case agent about this and find out what can be done. 

Assuming your claim is approved, workman's comp will (eventually) pay for your medical expenses and other expenses incurred in treating your injury (such as travel and hotel if you must go out of town for treatment). If you lose work or have a permanent injury, you will receive some compensation, so it's important to file the paperwork right away. This site gives some additional general information on filing workman's comp and contact info for each state. 


When you travel to an engagement, it's always a great idea to have a packet with a copy of your signed contract, a list of your doctors with contact info, medication, and useful information like this how-to article, or a list of easily accessible links to the knowledge you need. That way, if you find yourself in an unpleasant situation, you'll make it easier on yourself by being prepared with pertinent info at your fingertips. 

Safe singing to us all!