Hamlet is down!

It’s happened again — this time it was all fun and games over in Ireland until Hamlet almost lost an eye. I’m assuming that this is a freak accident that would have happened with any stage weapon, and not one of these crazy cases where the director insists on using real weapons. What I’m most curious about, though, is this:

The A.P. said that Mr. Madden sustained a cut beneath his eye and collapsed on stage, requiring the theater company’s artistic director, Alan Stanford, to go to the stage and explain to stunned audience members that this was not part of the play: the actor had been injured, and the play could not continue.

Not “the actor could not continue” – the play could not. Isn’t it common to have some sort of second for your lead, for situations like this? Or does that only apply if the actor is not able to go on at all?
I suppose a third option is that I’m being heartless, and the cast was unable to go on because they were too distraught at the injury to their Hamlet. Though I remember professional wrestler Owen Hart *dying* on a live pay-per-view event, and the show went on.

4 thoughts on “Hamlet is down!

  1. Hamlet's only swordfight is in the final scene, right? So, if that's when the accident occurred, his understudy or standby would not still be standing by — such people have to be reachable during the day and well into the performance, but by the final scene of a long play they can figure they're not going to be needed. And management isn't going to keep the audience sitting a half hour or more while a standby is summoned (assuming he isn't already playing Fortinbras or some such role — but that has its own problems as multiple actors have to move over to new parts)… all for just the 5 remaining minutes of play.

    WWF standards hardly apply. When singers have collapsed on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera (when it became evident that it was serious or fatal), the performance was cancelled immediately. In one instance it was in the first minute of the show, on opening night.

  2. If this were MacBeth you know they woulda blamed the curse.

    On another note, I would feel terrible if a performer actually died during something I was watching and I unknowingly kept enjoying the entertainment. The show must not always go on.

  3. Understudies aren't actually common practice if you look at the whole of theatre in America. (Granted, this is an Irish production, so I don't know how their system works.) In short, understudies are required by Equity, so a theatre that isn't an Equity house won't have them. A theatre working with an Equity guest artist contract isn't required to have understudies either. So it isn't really an issue of being worried about safety or illness. I certainly know of theatres where who they cast as the understudy has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with who fits the costume. They aren't actually expecting you to go on.

    Occasionally you will see understudies in community theatre, but that's often due to a director being unable to make up their mind, or wanting to "be fair" and get more people involved.

  4. I'm behind on my blog reading. I just sent you an article about this, and then promptly saw you'd already written about it. Forgive me!

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