There may not be a hex on it, but the piece of scenery that fell on ballet superstar Natalia Makarova and broke her shoulder during a performance of "On Your Toes" at the Kennedy Center Opera House Dec. 18 played a minor role in a second serious injury Tuesday.
Stagehand Thomas L. King was preparing to move the piece--a large canvas drop weighted with metal pipes--to a location underneath the stage when he dropped a heavy stage floor trapdoor on his right foot, almost completely severing the end of his second toe. He was rushed to George Washington University Hospital, where the piece of toe was sewn back on.
"I don't know why it didn't cut through the other toes," King said.
A Kennedy Center spokeswoman, Laura Longley, said yesterday that the piece of scenery had been stored backstage since the Makarova injury and was being moved to clear work space for a change of shows. The last Washington performance of "On Your Toes" is Sunday, and on Wednesday American Ballet Theater begins performing in the Opera House.
King said he was injured about 1:15 p.m. Tuesday backstage in the Opera House when no performance was taking place. The piece of scenery was replaced after the Makarova injury and not used since then, Longley said. It is being saved until investigations of the Makarova injury are completed, she said.
Longley said the King injury "doesn't have anything to do with 'On Your Toes' . . . This is a normal, work-related incident. It's unfortunate that it happened and he was hurt, but accidents happen in the work place . . . That kind of injury happens in every industry in this town."
Backstage injuries, most of them minor--twisted ankles, back strains, and the like--occur from time to time, according to Longley. She did not have statistics on the number of such incidents.
Longley said that there was "a good safety situation" backstage at the Opera House. "There are precautions and the people are well trained," she said. She said Makarova was the first performer injured during a performance in the center's 11 years of existence.
King, 46, said yesterday that he had worked at the center since it opened and this was his first serious injury.
The heavy trapdoor on the stage floor "slipped out of my hand and fell on my right foot," he said, and nearly severed the toe above the toenail. "Just the bottom piece of the skin on the toe was still on . . . They said they could have cut it off at the hospital, but the doctor said he'd prefer to sew it on. He said even if it didn't take, it wouldn't hurt anything. They like to experiment with things like that."
King described conditions backstage at the Opera House as "safe, because all the stuff hanging up in there above the stage , if it wasn't safe we wouldn't put it up." He said he was referring to the lights and pieces of scenery hanging in the large space, high above the stage and invisible to the audience, called the flies.
Dr. Mervyn Feldman, King's personal physician, said the reattachment job on the toe had "held up fine." He said the toe would take six to eight weeks to heal and that there was little chance that it would not heal properly.
King works as a "flyman"--he "flies the drops and scenery in and out" during performances, he said. At the moment Makarova was injured, King said, he was high above the stage on a catwalk pulling up the piece of scenery that, Kennedy Center spokesmen have said earlier, somehow ripped and fell, injuring the ballerina.
There has been no suggestion from any source that King had not been doing his job properly. "I was pulling it," he said yesterday. "It didn't seem to foul anywhere. When they foul you can feel it foul--that's why I can't say how it really happened. I didn't feel it catch on a thing."