Our industry has been in the news lately, but not all of it has been good.
Case #1: The Associated Press released a story in mid-January about a singer from the San Francisco Opera who has filed more than 50 complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration over the use of fog during performances. Chorus member Pamela Dale claims that the fog has caused respiratory problems, throat irritation, and other ailments, which needless to say interferes with her ability to do her job. She says that glycol fog has been the culprit in most instances.
“I'm just trying to keep my job,” she told the AP. “But how can you sing when you're coughing?”
Here we go again.
I don't want to make light of Dale's problem; it's her livelihood, after all, and something seems to be interfering with her ability to perform. OSHA actually did find that the SFO needed to provide more training and education about the fog, which as since been completed. The company has also dropped glycol fog from its repertoire more than a year ago and has instead used mineral oil, liquid nitrogen, dry ice, or a combination of the above.
I was scanning the LightNetwork message board the other day, and several lighting designers offered some interesting comments on this debate. One noted that during a corporate event he was working on, the room temperature caused most of the fog in the room to rise to the ceiling, and because the room was lit mostly by candles, nobody saw the smoke, until the lights were turned on. That's when half the room started coughing. Another club LD noted that patrons never seem to mind all the cigarette smoke in a disco, but as soon as the fogger comes on, the complaints start. Needless to say, there appears to be psychological impact on people when fog is introduced, no matter what it is made from.
The fact remains that study after study has not found any evidence that fog, when used correctly, is directly linked to any respiratory problems. The key here, of course is, “when used correctly.” Directors, designers, crews, and technicians need to make sure that everyone involved in a production is completely informed about the proper use of this effect.
Let's just hope there doesn't come a day when it will be illegal to yell “Fog!” in a crowded theatre.
Case #2: The January 29 issue of The New Yorker ran a rather humorous recap of the fiasco that was the Millennium Dome. The author, Michael Specter, spoke to many of the participants involved, from the earliest phases of the project, to the last days of its existence (the exhibition closed on December 31, the contents were scheduled to be sold at an auction in February, and its future remained unclear at press time).
The most hilarious comments came from critics of the project, most of whom never even bothered to see the exhibition (“I didn't go,” said one. “Who would go?”) Prince Charles called it a “monstrous blancmange.” The project's former creative director said it couldn't even live up to Susan Sontag's definition of camp: “It was bad to the point of being laughable, but not to the point of actually being enjoyable.” And novelist VS Naipaul claimed that Tony Blair's government, which pushed for the project, was responsible for “destroying the idea of civilization in this country.”
Now, I never actually got to see the finished product either, though I did take a tour of the construction site during a visit to London a few years ago. And quite frankly, it was not high on my list of must-see attractions, mostly because of its theming. The Millennium Dome was divided into 14 zones, designed to represent the most important facets of human life: money, education, the body, etc. Gee, there's a nice manageable concept: Everything under the sun! As Michael Jolly, chairman of the Tussaud's Group, told Specter, “They tried to be all things to all people.”
To make matters worse, the majority of the powers that be involved in the early phases of the project were politicians who had no idea how to manage and market a museum, much less a themed attraction. One early supporter of the project, Simon Jenkins, says that even the criteria for being on the commission was misguided: “They wanted to know how Welsh I was,” he says. “Apparently, Welshness was one of those things that they felt was needed on the commission.”
Granted, a number of top designers were involved in the latter stages of the project, including Mark Fisher and Patrick Woodroffe. But designers can only do so much when the concept itself is ill-advised, and the Millennium Dome always had the feel of the worst sort of New-Age goo. Indeed, it strikes me that the problem with the Dome is the problem with most failed attractions: it's the theming, stupid. If the Dome does have a future, perhaps they'll remember that next time.