Is Your Foot Falling Off on the Broadway Stage? The Show Must Go On!
Posted by Jenn F. on Wednesday, January 30th, 2013
Broadway is known for its extravagant sets, over-the-top numbers, and outrageous visuals. Actors wear 50 lb. costumes, spinning and twirling under giant moving clouds made of steel and iron. They tap dance up and down staircases carrying props and singing at the top of their lungs. They fly, hooked to hidden wires, over the audience. It’s no surprise that many Broadway actors suffer injury, and that many of those injuries are to the feet and ankles. Of course, a foot or ankle injury is the kiss of death when you’re performing seven days a week, and twice on Fridays and Saturdays (the typical schedule for a Broadway performer). Let’s explore why Broadway is so hard on the feet, and what actors can do to protect themselves.
Understudies can take over but for big name performers, an understudy may mean a drop in ticket sales, something that hurts the whole company. The pressure is extreme so, many performers perform anyway, despite pain and the danger of chronic injury.
While the shoes on Broadway might be made for dancing, they aren’t great for the feet. Character shoes—those black strappy heels found on every stage on earth—are narrow, unforgiving, and uncomfortable. They’re notorious for not breaking in well, even when they’re made from soft, expensive materials. They’re hard-soled and inflexible by nature, features required for the uniform look and sound directors seek. Investing in top-of-the-line shoes may help, but a long, slow break-in period will probably help more. Never wear new character shoes to a long rehearsal and never EVER wear them in a live performance where you can’t stop for a break if your feet are killing you.
An actor in a scene will continue performing after an injury if it’s at all possible to do so. The show must go on is a cliché but it’s also a cardinal rule for professional Broadway actors. A sprained ankle, fracture, torn ligament, ripped toenail, or severe bruise won’t stop a seasoned professional from finishing his big dance number… if it kills him. It probably won’t kill him but it may kill his foot. For example, continuing to put weight on a hairline fracture can break the bone completely. Think about your career! Dropping out of a dance number won’t end it. A disfigured foot will.
Learn to stand up for your rights. Directors will push as hard as they can. If you’re just starting out you may feel like you have to do everything a director says, including performing on an injury. But as a professional, you’re already among the elite, and if you have a career ahead of you, you have more to think about than a single production. And remember, the actors union protects you!
When you are injured on Broadway, see a NYC podiatrist right away, so you know what you’re dealing with. Try The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine.
If you absolutely must perform with an injury, try to work it in. Carol Channing once performed Hello, Dolly! on tour from a wheel chair following a foot injury.
If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.