One aspect of The Who’s Tommy at the Dallas Theater Center that I didn’t mention in my review is its extensive, dramatic use of water — right next to large amounts of electrical equipment. The set’s flooring is like a wooden deck or pier that sits on top of a shallow pool, a pool that fills up with water part-way through the show.
So we have a full, five-member rock band, Oso Closo, complete with head mikes, hand-held mikes on stands, electric guitars, amps and a synth, plus all the singing performers in the cast who also use mikes. If they have head mikes, they have the battery/transmitter pack strapped to them, generally hidden under their costumes in the middle of their back.
If anything was daring in the show, it was this: The entire set is humming with lights, mikes and guitars — and the performers repeatedly wade, even jump, into the water. They usually do this gingerly, mind you, but they’re still standing in a foot of water or so, while often singing, holding a mike in their hands or wearing one on their backs. Rock musicians have gotten electrocuted while performing on wet stages (Les Harvey of Stone the Crows) and so have local theater technicians. At one point, in the dark, a crew member toweled off the deck after some splashing, but this seemed more out of fear of slipping than of getting an unwelcome jolt of voltage. At another point, a mike on a stand was knocked over, hit the stage but everyone kept playing and running around — and I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if it had fallen into the pool.
I have to assume that, of course, all of this has been carefully checked and re-checked beforehand. But watching it still made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, particularly when the water was getting splashed around (it wasn’t just me — at one point, my wife grabbed my arm. She’s worked in theaters). A confirmation of my concern came when Cedric Neal, who plays the adult Tommy, takes off his body mike equipment and carefully hands it all to an Oso Closo member. Because the musicians often interact more or less symbolically with Tommy, I took this to be some gesture of surrender, resignation — Tommy would no longer be heard, he’s mute once more.
But then Neal promptly got drenched with water.
So, obviously, the cast can’t just toss a live electric guitar or a mike into the water. But their general freedom around it was startling. So I confess I’m also curious: How’d they make all of this safe?
Image from photoshop lightning tutorial.