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Stilt Walker Sets Face on Fire During Wagner Performance at Lyric Opera

By Darryl Holliday | February 4, 2013 6:36pm | Updated on February 5, 2013 4:36am
 Actor Wesley Daniel suffered critical burns during a fire-spitting performance at the Civic Opera House on Mon., Feb. 5, 2013.
Actor Wesley Daniel suffered critical burns during a fire-spitting performance at the Civic Opera House on Mon., Feb. 5, 2013.
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Facebook/Wesley Daniel

THE LOOP — A fire-blowing stilt walker was hospitalized in critical condition after accidentally setting his face on fire during a performance in front of 1,000 people at the Civic Opera House Monday, officials said.

While officials initially said the 24-year-old actor had not suffered serious injuries, he later was rushed to Loyola in critical condition.

The dress rehearsal production was in the final act of Richard Wagner's "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg," a 5 1/2-hour opera.

"An actor sustained burns this afternoon at Lyric Opera of Chicago during a dress rehearsal," the opera company said in a written statement. "The actor, Wesley Daniel, was performing a fire-spitting effect while on stilts. He was wearing a flameproof costume and mask."

 Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Lyric Opera of Chicago.
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While the statement didn't explain what went wrong, Drew Landmesser, the Lyric's deputy general director, said outside the Civic Opera House that Daniel was involved in a "performance on stilts in costume"  when "fuel must have gotten on his face.”

Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said Daniel "ignited some alcohol" during a "fire-breathing routine."

Mia Rehwaldt, a fifth-grader who was one of eight child performers in the show, was startled when the man caught fire and fell.

“It was pretty scary ... [and] nerve-wracking,” she said after the show. “I don’t think people see a person's head get covered in flames and fall down very often.”

Landmesser said the incident shocked him, too.

“I was startled because I knew that it was not something we rehearsed,” he said.

The Lyric statement said "guards extinguished minor flames immediately. The fire curtain was lowered.''

After the fire department investigated, officials "allowed the rehearsal to continue."

Initially, officials said Daniel was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and said he was in good condition. At first, Langford said the burns didn't appear to impact his respiratory system.

But at 7:30 p.m., the fire department sent a tweet saying Daniel was now in critical condition at the Burn Center at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood with second degree burns to his face and throat.

Reached by phone, a Lyric Opera spokeswoman would not comment on the change in Daniel's condition.

But the Lyric's statement said the fire-spitting effect, which had been an approved by the fire department, had been removed from future performances.