Groundhog Day’s Andy Karl Injured. History of Infamous Broadway Injuries.

Saturday’s matinee of Groundhog Day was canceled, and the evening performance went on with an understudy, after the show’s star Andy Karl injured himself at its Friday evening performance.

Update:Producers said the Broadway musical will open as plan
ned on Monday, and injured star Andy Karl will lead the cast.

“I’m home now and I have no broken bones but tweaked my knee after a poorly landed leap frog,” Karl wrote on Twitter and Instagram, after returning from the Emergency Room Friday night. “Finishing the show for all the @groundhogdaybwy fans and audience members was something I had to do.” He continued: “I’m gonna get it looked at by specialist before I go back on stage, but know I love this show and this company and everyone that supports me more than you’ll ever know…”

On Monday, an hour before curtain, he wrote on Instagram again:

“As some of you have already heard, last Friday I took a leap onstage I’ve made more times than I can even count and caught a bad landing. My doctor has confirmed it’s a torn ACL — just one of those crazy flukes that can happen when doing a physically demanding show like this. Good news it can be managed with rest and physical therapy, which I’ve already begun. The whole crew at “Groundhog Day” have been working our butts off to get this show up and running so, as they say, "the show must go on." I can’t wait to see everyone on our opening night and am so grateful for the continued support.  Let's do this!!!! @groundhogdaybwy”

If Karl’s injury is the most high profile on Broadway for a while, it is far from unusual. . Many are never publicized. The possibility of injury during live theater is viewed as an occupational hazard – “as serious as injuries in a factory,” a spokesman for Actors Equity told me. “Factory workers are not working on a raked stage, and they’re not flying.” Overall, the incidence of recorded injuries among entertainers is almost 50 percent higher than for the average worker, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A perhaps typical injury was the one suffered by Gabriel Olds, who played Rodolpho opposite Brittany Murphy and Anthony LaPaglia in the 1997 Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s play, “The View from the Bridge.”  The injury wasn’t….dramatic. “It was a repetitive stress injury from wrestling with Anthony LaPaglia eight times a week,” he told me.  “This is pretty standard for doing a Broadway play for nine months.”

But superstitious Broadway buffs might view the role of Rodolpho as cursed.  Earlier, James Hayden played the character,  a romantic Italian immigrant, in the 1983 Broadway production, and died of a heroin overdose shortly afterward.

Later, Santino Fontana, hired to play Rodolpho in the 2010 Broadway revival starring Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson, had to drop out of the play when during a preview performance he was injured in a boxing scene, leading to a concussion.

It was a far more serious injury that he at first realized, and he was forced to withdraw from the production. “From an MRI it looked like I had been in a car accident,” he told me years later. (Santino Fontana: The Unluckiest Lucky Actor in New York.)  “The doctor flat-out said ‘we don’t know how much your memory will come back.’ I couldn’t get through the alphabet without stopping. I got migraines. I couldn’t use my eyes for three weeks; I had to stay in dark rooms.”

Even when he started to recover, it was a tricky time to try to get a new role. “You don’t want to appear injured – but you don’t want to get re-injured.”

It took him six months before he did a reading. It was for Stephen Karam’s Sons of the Prophet. “I read ‘It’s been a bad year’– that was the character’s last line – and I lost it.” He started sobbing. “They probably thought ‘Oh, we’ve got a really good actor.’

Some of Broadway’s other  headline-making injuries:

Rehearsing the flying in “Peter Pan” in 1960, Mary Martin smashed into a wall, breaking her left elbow in two places. “The man who was supposed to pull me back was new, and he got so thrilled he forgot,” Martin recalled decades later.

In 2004, Nathan Lane suffered bruised and gashed legs when he slipped through a trapdoor in The Frogs.

In 2005, Idina Menzel fell through a trap door during one of her final performances of Wicked and broke a rib.  The show was halted for 45 minutes while her understudy Shoshana Bean took over for her, and played the next two performances as well, Menzel was unable to participate fully in what was supposed to be her final performance, but did come out for the final scene – not made up in green but in a red track suit.

In 2007, James Carpinello broke his leg in three places during a preview performance of Xanadu. He was replaced by Cheyenne Jackson, who took over the role for the 15 month run of the show.

Adrian Bailey

In 2008, Adrian Bailey, who was performing in his 13th show on Broadway, The Little Mermaid, fell over 20 feet through an open trap door during a matinee performance, suffering severe injuries, including a shattered pelvis, two broken wrists and a broken back.

In 2009, three different performers suffered injuries on “Fela!”  two weeks after its opening, forcing the musical to cancel a performance while they recovered.

There were so many serious injuries during the run of Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark – T.V. Carpio, Daniel Curry, Natalie Mendoza, Joshua Kobak and Christopher Tierney – that it became both a local outrage and a national joke. In December 2010, Andy Samberg appeared as “the fourth understudy of Spider-man” on Saturday Night Live, hanging upside down from the ceiling. “The first one broke his wrist, the next guy shattered his leg, the next guy just exploded,” he said. “It’s a musical; it happens.You know how many people die every year doing Jersey Boys?” But it wasn’t funny to the performers, none of whom have been on Broadway since.


Cooling down: How Actors Unwind After Intense Performances

“Every night, I had to kill myself,” said Daniel Durant, who made his Broadway debut in the recent revival of Spring Awakening portraying Moritz, a character who commits suicide. “I had to go through those emotions every night. Most of my day was spent getting into the character.” And, after the performance, most of his night was spent trying to reverse the process. “I played video games to get out of it – my favorite was Call of Duty, a high-energy game that I’m addicted to.”

His castmate Austin P. McKenzie, who portrayed Melchior, had a more old-fashioned method. “The professional answer would be to do a warm down and that kind of stuff, but what I really like to do is have a drink, that’s what I like to do. Maybe a cigarette.”

The two actors, picking up their Theatre World Awards at Circle in the Square Theatre last year for impressive New York stage debuts, were among several current and past winners in attendance to whom I posed a straightforward question: How do you wind down after a performance, and after a role?

Phillip Boykin’s fierce portrayal of the menacing Crown in the Broadway production of “Porgy and Bess” earned him a 2012 Tony Award nomination, but building up to such an intense role presented challenges for climbing down from it. “A vodka with cranberry always helps,” Boykin offered cheerfully. “Even with that I wind up laying on the bed or sitting on the couch watching television and feel the energy subside, and I’m able to rest.”

And at the end of the run?

“You should ask my wife about this,” Boykin replied. “She will remind me quickly that I’m not that character anymore. It’s hard to let go. Eventually it wears off; I would say it takes anywhere from three weeks to a month”

Cynthia Erivo: “I just take a moment to sit, and stop. Sometimes it takes a while.”

Emily Skeggs: “Lots of jokes. I like to joke with friends, usually backstage.”

Bobby Steggert: “I wind down by going to a quiet place. New York City can be quite overwhelming so I make sure to get out of here once in a while.”

Like most trained actors, Ben Whishaw, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, was taught how to prepare for his roles in meticulous detail, helping him portray some intense characters, from Hamlet to a teenage Holocaust survivor to John Proctor in The Crucible. But he received no instructions on how to shed the intensity. “Sadly, they don’t teach you such things at drama school; I wish they did. It’s one of those things I’m still learning. I haven’t quite mastered it yet. I find that the shower I take after the show, is a moment when I let the whole thing go as the water rushes off my body.”

These answers don’t surprise Erin Mee, but few of them make her happy.

Mee is a theatre director, the co-artistic director of an avant-garde theatre company called This Is Not A Theatre Company and a professor at NYU’s Tisch School of The Arts. She has launched something of a campaign to convince actors, acting teachers, artistic directors, and entire theatres to see cooling down as an integral part of the artistic process. Her campaign is starting small: In the Spring, she will teach a workshop at Tisch on cooling down.

“It is something that is mostly ignored in actor training in the United States,” Mee says. “And I think that’s a problem for actors. It affects their health. It may also affect their acting; if you are afraid you may never be able to get out of character or let go of the character, you may resist getting fully into character. I think we do our actors a disservice if we don’t train them to cool down as much as we train them to warm up.”

Actually, those who study the psychology of acting are less than definitive about how or even whether the work required to give a good performance affects an actor’s well-being.

“There’s been very little scientific research about acting in the United States because none of the players that control funding (the NIH and major foundations) care enough about the well-being of actors to investigate it,” says Bruce McConachie, emeritus professor of theatre arts at the University of Pittsburgh, and the author of several books investigating the intersection of theatre and cognitive science, most recently “Evolution, Cognition, and Performance” in 2015.

“Germany, on the other hand, which has a stronger tradition of public support for the arts, has poured some government funding into this kind of research,” McConachie says. It is just at its beginning stages, however. “The Germans are looking at what actors and dancers actually do, cognitively and physically, to transform themselves when they perform on stage.  The next step will be to do some longitudinal studies – stage acting, dancing, and singing over time – to discover how this work alters the brains of performers,” McConachie says. “There’s no doubt that actors’ brains differ in important ways from the brains of accountants, cab drivers, and neurosurgeons, but exactly how and why, no one knows yet.  Is this a good thing or psychologically harmful?  I suppose it depends on your point of view.  I think we can say that most actors do not become serial killers” (notwithstanding “the occasional John Wilkes Booth.”) At the same time, McConachie says, “it’s not hard to imagine that some characters could draw some actors into situations, thoughts, and emotions that could be temporarily dangerous and even harmful to them over the long term.”

Dutch psychologist Elly Konijn argues that the emotions of good actors on stage are not the same as the emotions of their characters, but that her studies indicate their emotions are heightened because of the stress of performing live before an audience, a stress comparable to that experienced by drivers involved in a minor car crash.

“Theories that acting can be harmful go back to the Romans and Cicero,” says Thalia Goldstein, a former professional actress and dancer who now studies the psychology of acting as a professor of psychology at Pace University, and writes a blog for Psychology Today called The Mind on Stage. “I think it’s implicit in a lot of discussion around the psychology of acting that you have to figure out a way to separate.”

Certainly, actors talk about the need to escape the stress of an intense performance. In a discussion moderated by the Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg among last year’s Tony-nominated actresses, Lupita Nyong’o described her difficulty in portraying a nameless Liberian teenager who is turned into a war-time sex slave in Eclipsed, a play by Danai Gurira. “When we were at The Public, this play was very, very, very taxing on my soul, and I couldn’t face people afterwards. It took time to build the stamina, and just the stamina for my heart. And so after the show, I would head home and just keep to myself. And, upon moving to Broadway, I had that run as like a test drive, and now I’m able to come off of it sooner. But it’s the same thing — I’ll go through these rituals, and then God help all my friends and the people in my life, because I don’t know when it’s going to come out, what’s going to trigger (it).”

Lucas Steele put it succinctly in a recent Tweet: “I do my best to leave #Anatole onstage @GreatCometBway. He really takes it out of me.”

The sense that acting is an emotionally risky craft is arguably exacerbated by the modern Western approach to it. As Goldstein has pointed out, it was only in the 20th century that professional acting stopped being highly stylized, and actors worked at giving realistic performances. While well-respected performers like Laurence Olivier have insisted that one can achieve such realism without becoming emotionally involved, most American stage performers seem convinced of the need to master Method acting, first developed by Konstantin Stanislavsky, which emphasizes the importance of feeling real emotions.

“In Stanislavsky’s writing, there’s a great deal of attention to becoming the character; that’s the title of one of his books,” Erin Mee says. “But there’s no attention to becoming yourself again.”

Mee first began to believe there is another way in 1991 during her first trip to Kerala in the South of India, where she observed the Theyyattam, a Hindu dance-like possession ritual that lasts all night, and has two climactic moments. There is the moment, hours into the ceremony, when the shaman becomes possessed by the deity, and then there is the moment when the shaman visibly comes back to being him or herself. This equivalent of warmup and cooldown is performed in front of the spectators, Mee says, and both are given equal weight.

Over the years, she has developed exercises, many derived from yoga, to give actors and student-actors she directs “a way of re-becoming themselves that does not depend on alcohol and cigarettes.”

The exercises have names like the Sun Salutation, the Silent Disco (“free dancing to music of the actor’s choice”) and laughter yoga – a forced laugh in pairs that becomes a real one. They are based on the assumption that your physical posture and movement don’t just reflect your emotional state; they affect your emotional state. Actors slouch when they are portraying a character who is depressed; if they sit up straight, it helps them get out of the character’s mood…and out of the character.

Pete Simpson sees cooldowns as especially necessary after physically rigorous performances, such as the ones he’s been giving for two decades as a member of the Blue Man Group, which bought fitness equipment to encourage companies to warm up and cool down.   “I understand how it gets de-emphasized, particularly when it comes to the endorphins of performing; you sort of don’t want to come down from a show high to engage the drudgery of physical maintenance.  You just want to, well, go out for a drink and sleep.” Simpson is also a member of the avant-garde theater company, Elevator Repair Service. Although both companies were incubated in the Downtown experimental scene, and their productions may seem emotionally detached, Simpson says they actually require performances of intense and complex emotion, and require cooling down as well. But in his experience they are seldom post-show group activities. “My personal emotional cool downs are really private.  There are times when whatever release a cool down is supposed to facilitate doesn’t even really happen until some banal moment in the middle of the following day.  Emotional processing chooses its own timeline.

After a performance by the SITI company, “we cool down by stretching, by deep breathing, although it’s not mandatory,” says Ellen Lauren, SITI’s co-artistic director. “As we get older certainly you have to attempt to keep your skill set up, like a dancer would. “ However, she asks, “what are you cooling down from? Are you hepped up because your body is sweaty and exhausted, or because you are in an emotional state? The traditional idea that actors need to get into and out of character is just not something that concerns us as a company; that’s not how we work.” So the collective ritual after a SITI performance, Lauren says, is a mix between a celebration and a postmortem. “We share a bottle of Jameson in little Dixie cups, and talk about what happened during the performance, and tell jokes, and pull each other’s chains; there’s an underlying tensile strength to a company that’s been around as long as we have.” Lauren cites a tenet of Noh theater: jo ha kyu. “It means a beginning, a middle and then acceleration. We don’t cool down; we accelerate.”

Richard Schechner, professor of performance studies at Tisch, editor of TDR, and the founder of the avant-garde company The Performance Group, may have coined the phrase “cooldowns,” and in any case began using them 50 years ago. “I use cooldowns just as I use warmups,” he says. “It’s more difficult, however, because after performing, performers are eager to meet friends; there is always a rush to get out of the theatre — by everyone; people want to close up shop.” Although he knows of no research into its importance, “a cooldown makes sense — to move from an intense process in an orderly way — just as it makes sense to move into an intense process in an orderly way. That is, if warmups make sense, then cooldowns do too.”

This article appeared slightly altered in the March, 2017 edition of American Theatre Magazine.






Another cast member injured in Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark

Daniel Curry

Daniel Curry, standing far right, has reportedly been hospitalized after an injury. Christopher Tierney,  standing second from left, was also seriously injured during the show, back in December, 2010

Daniel Curry, standing far right, has reportedly been hospitalized after an injury. Christopher Tierney, standing second from left, was also seriously injured during the show, back in December, 2010

Daniel Curry, 23, one of the nine dancers who dons a Spider-Man costume in “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” is reportedly in Bellevue Hospital in serious condition after his leg was caught last night in a piece of the show’s automated equipment, causing the musical to be halted and then canceled for the night.

Curry, a graduate of the LaGuardia School of Performing Arts who appeared in an episode of “Smash” and toured with the “Man In The Mirror”  Michael Jackson Tribute tour, is making his Broadway debut in Spider-Man. Witnesses said he screamed in pain near the beginning of the second act when a trap door shut on his leg. Crew members rushed to help, putting up a screen between him and the audience, cutting a hole in the stage floor, and placing him on a stretcher.

The injury recalls a time almost three years ago, when the show was racked by delays, disagreements, bad luck, and a series of accidents that culminated in Spider-Man performer Christopher Tierney plummeting some 30 feet off a platform to become the fourth cast member with serious injuries.

The musical’s string of accidents was decried and mocked far and wide.  The President of Actors Equity said that he was “disturbed and distraught” by the injuries. On Saturday Night Live, a character identified as the fourth understudy of Spider-Man hung upside down from the ceiling. “The first one broke his wrist, the next guy shattered his leg, the next guy just exploded,” he said. “It’s a musical; it happens.You know how many people die every year doing Jersey Boys?” Another segment of SNL presented the firm of Gublin and Green, a firm that specialized in injuries on Spider-Man.

 Although there were no major accidents reported since Spider-Man finally opened in June, 2011, but little more than a week ago, on August 6, 2013, a performance of “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark” was canceled at the last moment “due to a technical difficulty.”
Update: Statement from Spider-man publicist Rick Miramontez,:

“Following last night’s accident at SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark, Daniel Curry remains in the hospital in stable condition having sustained an injury to his foot.  Tonight’s performance will go on as scheduled.  The technical elements of the show are all in good working order, and we can confirm that equipment malfunction was not a factor in the incident.  Our thoughts are with Daniel and his family.”