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Chicago opera performer is injured during rehearsal fire stunt

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013 9:45 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Photo by E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune /MCT)
Actor Wesley Daniel's mask catches fire during a Lyric Opera of Chicago, Illinois dress rehearsal for "Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg" in Chicago, Illinois.

(MCT) — CHICAGO — A dress rehearsal at the Lyric Opera of Chicago was interrupted Monday when a performer was seriously injured during a fire stunt.

The Chicago Fire Department was called to the Lyric around 4:50 p.m. to treat actor Wesley Daniel, 24.

Daniel was initially in serious-to-critical condition when taken to Northwestern, after suffering burns to his throat and second-degree burns to his face while “spitting fire,” the Fire Department’s media office said.

A Chicago Tribune photographer, Jason Wambsgans, was at the rehearsal, arriving at the beginning of the third act to take pictures for an upcoming Tribune review of the opera “Die Meistersinger von Numberg.”

The first scene of the third act took about an hour. It was in the second scene when Wambsgans pulled out a long-angle lens to take pictures of the busy scene, full of extras, in this case, circus performers.

Daniel was one of them.

When it appeared Daniel, on stilts, was ready to put some sort of propellant in his mouth to shoot fire balls, Wambsgans started snapping photos.

“He blew one or two fireballs, and then it looked like he had spilled it on his chin or his chest or something,” Wambsgans said. “It kind of consumed him, and he was staggering across the stage and then fell off his stilts on the opposite side of the stage.”

Wambsgans said he saw people in the wings of the stage spraying Daniel with fire extinguishers.

“Half of the extras were transfixed by that,” Wambsgans said.

It took about another 15 seconds before the rest of the extras stopped singing and acting, realizing what had happened, he said.

After a 30-minute break, a visibly distressed crew was back rehearsing, Wambsgans said. But the rehearsal was cut short, ending about 6 p.m.

Initially, it was thought Daniel was not suffering breathing problems, but he was, according to the Fire Department, and he was being transferred to Loyola University Medical Center in critical condition.

Daniel was believed to have suffered injuries including blistering on his face, a spokeswoman for the Lyric said in an email. He was wearing a flame-proof costume and mask.

Daniel was performing a stunt that had been approved by the Fire Department, according to the Lyric. After the accident, fire guards at the Lyric put out minor flames, and the stage’s fire curtain was lowered, the Lyric said in a statement.

The Fire Department allowed the dress rehearsal to continue after checking the building, but the effect has been removed from the production, according to the statement.

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