Believe. In Gravity.
Last night Elvis and I got to observe something you don't see very often: a very high-budget, high-tech Las Vegas strip performance go spectacularly wrong.
Apart from this incident, I could review the Criss Angel/Cirque Du Soliel show, Believe, in two words: don't go. It's pretty bad. I don't like to say that about performers, because I know what it's like to put yourself out there, but - yeah, it's just pretty bad.
I've never seen Mr. Angel before, so I don't know what he's like on TV. But he doesn't really do much of anything in the show. I mean, he pulls some doves out of his sleeve, and otherwise he mainly runs around the stage and strikes poses while dressed like a Hot Topic store blew up on him. The whole thing was sort of like a bad homage to Nine Inch Nails videos, only without the music. Occasionally he'd put drapes over things and make them disappear - which is really not an awe-inspiring feat on a stage fitted out with wires and trapdoors. We could see the lines sometimes. Sloppy.
And there were giant bunnies. Very creepy giant bunnies. Matisse no like weird giant bunnies. Uh uh.
But Elvis and I were having fun anyway, because we always have fun, so it wasn't tragic. We were seated in the second row, right in the center, and we had cocktails, and we were cracking jokes to each other. And some of the Cirque Du Soliel dance numbers were okay. (Although, only some, and only okay, which is highly unusual for Cirque Du Soliel.)
And then Mr. Angel started gearing up for what was obviously The Big Trick. They put a white leather straitjacket on him (I liked that) and hoisted him up in the air by his ankles, a la Harry Houdini. I'd say he was about, oh, maybe thirty feet up in the air? Or more.
Then they flew him out over the audience, so he was actually behind us, more or less centered over the house. And they shone a spotlight on him as he dramatically wiggled out of the straitjacket. Ta-da.
So that was fine. Then the house and the stage all went dark for an instant, and then... Things went wrong somehow. There were some voices yelling, and the house lights came up to show us Mr. Angel still up high in the air, still upside down by his ankles. He was closer to the stage, but he was still out over the seats. And he was not happy. Not at all.
The obvious end of the trick was: they were supposed to fly him back to the stage in the dark, and drop him into a waiting trunk, from which he would then triumphantly emerge a moment later. "Ha ha! Look, here I am!"
However, something went wrong, and what we heard Mr. Angel yelling was: "Don't use the automation, don't use the automation!" It was not the voice of a man making a casual suggestion. I inferred that he meant: "Don't move this line I'm hanging from." I don't know what happened to make Mr. Angel think he was in imminent danger of falling thirty feet straight down onto his head, but that is clearly what he was afraid was going to happen.
At first we thought it was part of the show. But after a minute, it was clear that no, this was serious. A voice came over the loudspeaker, "Ladies and gentlemen, please remain seated while this problem is taken care of...." A dozen tech guys with headsets swarmed around the edge of the stage and the house floor, barking orders at the booth and reassuring Mr. Angel, who managed to stay reasonably calm.
But I myself have done a lot of inverted suspensions with Max. I have hung by my ankles with my head at least twenty feet from the ground, and I know what it felt like when I was afraid that I was going to fall. No one I have played with has never dropped me, or even come close. But still, it was really not a pleasant feeling. Elvis and I were close enough to see Mr. Angel's face, and he looked like he felt exactly the same way about it as I did.
I looked as carefully as I could, but I could not tell what was wrong with the rig. I don't think it was the ankle harness, and the hardware connecting him to the line looked okay. But all the techs seemed to agree with Mr. Angel that something bad might happen. This was not an: "Oh dear, Mr. Angel's trick went wrong, how embarrassing. But he's perfectly safe." No, the energy was definitely: "Criss, don't move, we're going to get you down, but do not move."
To rescue him, they dropped two more lines down to the techs, who hooked them together into a U-shape and put a big wide padded strap on them. They flew that up to Mr. Angel, who instantly seized it in a death grip, slipped the strap around his torso, and unclipped himself from the bad line.
The whole incident took about six or seven minutes. That's a long, long time when you think you're about to fall. To his credit, when Mr. Angel landed on the stage, he turned and thanked us for our utter silence and stillness during the rescue. He cracked a joke about the joys of doing live entertainment - but he had that pale, cold-sweat look to him.
There was a brief "intermission" and then - they went on with the show. Because that's what you do. I thought, "Well, it was already pretty bad before, so at least they don't have to worry about it being bad now."
But it makes you think. I've heard about a couple of bad suspension-related falls lately in the national bondage scene. Not fatal, luckily, but bad. This is a Vegas production costing millions of dollars, and employing highly trained people who lift things up in the air professionally. And still, something went wrong - something I suspect had the potential to be very bad indeed. Thank god it didn't, because whatever one thinks of Mr. Angel as a performer, one would not want him to fall on his head. He didn't seem to feel that his magic powers would save him if he did fall. I don't think yours would either. Be careful, people. Be very careful.