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Jul. 9th, 2013 | 12:56 pm

There is something worse than death.

I do not like heights. I do not like ladders. I hold a picture in my head, she’s smiling, big hair, blonde streaks. Start climbing.

Dessi Espana.

Twenty steel rungs up, the microclimate changes. Air-conditioning meets humidity, loses face and retreats. Ten more rungs under my hands, step left into darkness, grope for the switch.

Lillian Leitzl.

The ladder is staggered on the wall, so that falling is not a straight shot. Twenty more rungs from the first landing, no light on the second landing. Reach into darkness and find the rail. Step right. Twenty more feet, this ladder should have one more rung, but my groping hand says it doesn’t. Every rig is different. Every theatre’s grid, every hotel ballroom’s ceiling, every gym’s rafters, every time I talk to the tech director, give it the eyeball. Pull my best length-guess in straps, put my right arm through the coil and climb.

Angel Vera.

Grids are always filthy. No reason to clean where the audience never sees. Grids are always ovens. No ventilation in the highest part of the building, a June’s worth of Florida or Vegas or Montenegro heat collecting lazily among catwalks and cables. I navigate in a crouch. Sprinkler heads reach down to snag hair and slice skin. Rough-edged iron struts take out fingernails. At each rigging point, I pad the serifs of the I-beams with heavy fabric, protect the straps from abrasion. The strap I’ve carried up is sixty feet. Lower one end to the stage floor, pull up more fabric, more straps to hang, two per beam.

Emma Insley.

Equipment will hang from the other end of the straps, from a ladder or a lift tall enough to reach the “point”. Height will be adjusted by adding climbing slings or carabiners at the bottom end. My job is setting points. My job is spacing them so no-one gets kicked in the face in a big straddle. My job is eyeballing straps and slings and biners when they come out of the suitcase or the Rubbermaid bin—those knots still solid? My job is throwing away 46 not-broken carabiners every other January, replacing them with 46 brand-new carabiners, never having a broken carabiner.

There is something worse than death.

Did he look across the fold-out table in the trailer, put his hand on hers before they went out to the ring?—She was laughing in the wire globe, an Earth of her own design—It wasn’t a hard trick—It wasn’t a tough gig—She was just doing her job—He was just doing his job.

Sarah Guyard-Guillot.

Every day of every gig, I climb the ladder to the grid. Or pilot the lift in the ballroom. Or set the A-frame beneath the rafters. I duck under vent pipes and step over cables. Soak in sweat and blink out dirt. Step over gaps to the stage floor five stories below. Tug each strap and check each pad. Touch each carabiner and say a name.

Dessi Espana. Lillian Leitzl. Angel Vera. Emma Insley. Sarah Guyard-Guillot.

There is something worse than death.

Dessi’s husband. Emma’s boyfriend. Sarah’s co-worker. Lillian’s roustabout. Angel rigged himself. Angel was lucky.

There is something worse than death.

Being the rigger left behind.





__________________________________________________________
Home Game for LJ Idol - yes, two weeks of circus in a row, but it's on my mind this week, given the recent news. I did not know Sarah Guyard-Guillot, but many of my friends did. May she rest in peace, and may my audience remember that one death in 25 years is still an excellent safety record for a company engaged in physically demanding work at height.

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Comments {15}

Kelly

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from: kajel
date: Jul. 9th, 2013 05:44 pm (UTC)
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I thought of you when I read this story. Your words are so evocative, so full of emotion. I am always pulled into your stories. So much so that when the painful end came around, I sat and cried for this woman who died and for the one who was left behind.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jul. 9th, 2013 05:53 pm (UTC)
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Thank you - that's such a beautiful compliment. I don't want to be over-dramatic, but remembering these aerialists really does remind me to be safe and how much care I must take for the people depending on my work.

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oxymoron67

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from: oxymoron67
date: Jul. 9th, 2013 06:36 pm (UTC)
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This is just so evocative and beautiful.

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purplefrog26

(no subject)

from: purplefrog26
date: Jul. 9th, 2013 07:18 pm (UTC)
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mmmmmm beautiful, real look at a space rarely shared with the audience.

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Yady

(no subject)

from: yady
date: Jul. 9th, 2013 07:57 pm (UTC)
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When I heard the news, I thought of you.

Also, beautifully written...

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The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors

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from: halfshellvenus
date: Jul. 10th, 2013 12:09 am (UTC)
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I knew why you'd written this as soon as I read the opening. What an awful tragedy, and with all the care and work in making the setup safe, you'd still second-guess yourself forever if something went wrong.

I liked the structure of this very well, too. It gave a feeling of tribute to those who have died in pursuit of their craft.

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Pika the Brazen Ninja

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from: porn_this_way
date: Jul. 10th, 2013 11:09 am (UTC)
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Oh damn. As someone who's only been on the spectator end of circuses and acrobatics shows, you always think "ohshit, I hope they don't fall" but it usually doesn't go a whole lot further than that. And I guess that's exactly what the audience is supposed to think - focus on the show itself, enjoy the pretty tricks, wonder what kind of mutant spiders bit the performers, etc. This part of the show - the rigging itself and the people behind it - doesn't normally cross an audience's mind, even if a performer falls, I don't think. Then it's bad luck, or blame gravity or whatnot. It must be one hell of a headfuck (among other things) for the rigger, on all sorts of levels.

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drwex

I'm not a big fan of heights either

from: drwex
date: Jul. 10th, 2013 04:46 pm (UTC)
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I learned to wear a baseball cap when I went up in grids - the cap keeps most stuff from snagging my hair and I tilt the brim up a little bit which means the brim hits something a second before my skull would. That has saved me more times than I can count.

People always wonder why I carry a knife that can be opened and closed one-handed. I explain about swaying A-frames and how there's no goddamn way I'm letting go with both hands just so I can open a knife.

I only froze up once, though, at the top of a dropped swaying rope ladder where I would have had to go up and over the beam in order to get into the cat seat to get the spot ready. I was lucky one of my crew spotted what was going on and swapped in for me.

I think people with a fear of heights have active imaginations. The things I see in my mind are not comforting.

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Andrea Blythe

(no subject)

from: blythe025
date: Jul. 13th, 2013 03:41 am (UTC)
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Fantastic piece. Very vivid and compelling.

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blahblahblah, whatever

(no subject)

from: kathrynrose
date: Jul. 13th, 2013 06:41 am (UTC)
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This was so powerful.

::hugs::

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carcrash heart

(no subject)

from: genesisdesire
date: Jul. 21st, 2013 02:56 pm (UTC)
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As a lover of Cirque, and a theatre person myself, thank you for this perspective. Your level of experience gives a much richer perspective from the inside, and the risks, and the level of dedication.

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similiesslip

(no subject)

from: similiesslip
date: Jul. 25th, 2013 05:41 am (UTC)
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It's a good reminder. Those behind are the ones with regrets. I had read the story but I had forgotten about this aspect of grief for some of them.

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Marina Petrano

Whoa

from: marinasmagic
date: Jul. 27th, 2013 03:22 pm (UTC)
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Just Woah. Accurate and thank you for writing this. Permission to share?

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whipchick

Re: Whoa

from: whipchick
date: Jul. 27th, 2013 06:03 pm (UTC)
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Thank you, and yes, I'd be honored :)

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braver

(no subject)

from: _swallow
date: Oct. 29th, 2013 10:57 pm (UTC)
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I just wanted to say hello and thank you-- this really struck me! I am a rigger too, although in uniformly lower-stress situations. This was terrifyingly and beautifully articulated.

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