Lyric Opera stilt walker burned at dress rehearsal

February 6, 2013 4:45:55 AM PST
A fire-breathing stilt-walker at Chicago's Lyric Opera was severely burned during a dress rehearsal Monday.

Performers were five hours in to a five-and-a-half hour long opera that opens to the public Friday. Nearly 1,000 filled the auditorium and witnessed what many first thought was part of the show. It's a stunning stunt that went seriously wrong.

"His head was engulfed in flames and he was center stage and in a panic," said audience member Edward Voci. "He was trying to put it out and then moved as quickly as he could on stilts but then he had no choice but to just fall down."

"I saw his head get covered in flames and I didn't really know what was happening," said performer Mia Rehwaldt.

Rehwaldt was on stage, a performer steps from the actor when his attempts to blow fire backfired. It's a stunt that was rehearsed countless times, and the lyric opera says, was approved by the fire department.

"When he fell on the ground from his stilts it was really scary because it made a really loud thump," said Rehwaldt.

"Almost immediately, we brought in the fire curtain, stopped the rehearsal, and waited for the Chicago Fire Department to analyze the situation. They did a quick inspection, they allowed us to continue," said Drew Landmesser of the Lyric Opera.

Wesley Daniel is the actor. His Facebook page features a video where he's casually practicing with friends.

Those in the theater community are encouraged by his last gesture before leaving stage - a thumbs-up.

Mr. Daniel was last listed in critical condition with burns to face and throat: significant enough that he was transferred to Loyola's burn unit.

But, as they say, the show will go on. The opera's opening night is Friday. Although the Lyric Opera says this particular stunt will no longer be performed.

The Lyric Opera of Chicago issued the following statement Monday evening: "An actor sustained burns this afternoon at Lyric Opera of Chicago during a dress rehearsal. The actor, Wesley Daniel, was performing a fire-spitting effect while on stilts. He was wearing a flameproof costume and mask.

"Lyric's emergency plan was activated immediately. Trained fire guards extinguished minor flames immediately. The fire curtain was lowered. Lyric personnel called 911 and paramedics arrived within minutes. Chicago Fire Department commenced an immediate investigation, then allowed the rehearsal to continue. The actor is being treated at Loyola Hospital.

"The decision was made to remove the fire-spitting effect from performances.

"The effect had been approved by the Chicago Fire Department."