Tobacco companies are finally admitting that smoking isn't a healthy pastime, but the battle continues between producers and unions over whether onstage smoke and fog effects are giving the performers respiratory problems.
According to a story on CNN Interactive (Jan. 1), the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), paid a visit to Broadway's Beauty and the Beast, following up on complaints by the musician's union that "fumes from the show's fireworks and fog" consituted a health risk. The union charged that seven of 24 musicians in the pit have developed respiratory ailments, including asthma. One player has won a workman's compensation claim.
Disney has admitted that the fumes may cause "discomfort" to some who work with it day after day, but denies using harmful chemicals. Both sides agree that Disney has worked on the ventilation system and made efforts to comply with OSHA's regulations. John Wimbs, spokesperson for Beauty and the Beast, told Playbill On-Line (Jan. 22), "I saw a report where officials from Disney confirm that all their safety tests have passed. There are no violations. . .They're meeting regulations and industry standards."
A ruling on the most recent visit isn't expected until later in 1998. A spokesperson from OSHA's Washington DC office didn't know about the Beauty investigation but told Playbill On-Line that, in general, the organization protects actors from the many ways they can come into contact with hazards: "You can either get exposed by breathing something, loud noises, or things like cuts, falls and trips."
Asked about OSHA's investigation, Helaine Feldman, spokesperson for Actor's Equity Assocation, told Playbill On-Line (Jan. 23) she had no comment because Equity is conducting its own study of smoke and fog use. Results are expected "within the year." Feldman acknowledged that actors aren't the only ones affected by fumes. Some audience members have complained as well.
-- By David Lefkowitz