PLSN — September 2011
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Storms, Stage Collapses Kill Seven in Indiana; Four in Belgium

INDIANAPOLIS — Strong winds pulled down the main stage at the Indiana State Fair shortly before Sugarland was scheduled to perform Aug. 13. Four were killed on site. A fifth victim, spotlight operator Nathan Byrd, 51, who fell with the truss structure, died later that night. Two of the dozens hospitalized later succumbed, bringing the death toll to seven.

Another violent storm also created havoc for the 60,000 arriving for the opening day of the Pukkelpop music festival in Belgium on Aug. 18. That storm tore down trees, tents and truss and left four dead in its wake. Organizers canceled the entire three-day event, which had scheduled Foo Fighters, Eminem and the Offspring among many others.

At the Indiana State Fair, Mid- America Sound, which uses products manufactured by James Thomas Engineering, supplied the temporary stage and roof structure that fell.

“This is a devastating tragedy and we want to express our sympathy to the families of those who were killed and injured last night at the State Fair,” Mid-America owner Kerry Darrenkamp said in a statement issued the day after the collapse. “We have already started an independent internal investigation to understand, to the best of our ability, what happened.”

Indiana’s OSHA joined in that investigation, as did state fire marshals and an engineer from James Thomas Engineering’s U.S. office in Knoxville, TN. “Mid- America has been a vendor for at least 10, 15 years here,” noted Cindy Hoye, the fair’s executive director, who was backstage at the time of the collapse. “They have done an extraordinary job of providing help with production of our free stages and also our grandstand. I have great confidence in them.”

Although fair officials had issued a warning of the severe weather due to hit the area about 9:15, and had already given details on where to evacuate in case the show had to be postponed, no evacuation order had been issued before the structure fell at 8:49. Some of the 10,000 concert attendees had started to leave to seek shelter before the blast of wind that came in advance of a line of thunderstorms knocked down the gear-laden structure, but many others, including many of those in the VIP area dubbed the Sugar Pit, remained. Many of the casualties occurred near that area.

Indiana State Fair officials cancelled the fair’s events that had been scheduled for Aug. 14 and reopened with a memorial service for the victims Aug. 15. Along with Byrd, those killed included Alina Bigjohny, 23; Glenn Goodrich, 49; Jennifer Haskell, 23; Christina Santiago, 29; Meagan Toothman, 24; and Tammy Vandam, 42.

The Indiana stage collapse spurred numerous discussions on how similar tragedies could be prevented, with solutions ranging from structural and canopy design to debates over who has the authority to cancel events and whether storm evacuation procedures should be reviewed and changed.

The Rigging Working Group, part of PLASA’s Technical Standards Program, has also announced that a revised version of ANSI E1.21 — 2006, Entertainment Technology — Temporary Ground-Supported Structures Used to Cover the Stage Areas and Support Equipment in the Production of Outdoor Entertainment Events, is available for public review through Oct. 10, 2011, at: public_review_docs.php.

ETC Announces 2011 LDI Student-Sponsorship Recipients

MIDDLETON, WI — Every year, ETC selects a group of theater or lighting students to receive an all-expense-paid trip to the LDI tradeshow. The students get a backstage look at ETC and its products, plus the opportunity to network with and be mentored by people with years of industry experience.

The 2011 LDI Student Sponsorship winners chosen by ETC’s judging panel include: Ryan Bona, California Institute of the Arts; Michael Farmer, Virginia Commonwealth University; Bryan Lussier, University of Florida-Gainesville; Mary Montgomery, University of Minnesota; Kong Qingyao, Shanghai Theatre Academy; and Ethan Steimel, Southern Methodist University.