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Italian actor dead after hanging scene turns horribly real

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In the courtyard of Teatro Lux, a theater in Pisa, Italy, the performance of an experimental production on Saturday offered an unusual spectacle. The play, called “Mirages,” was not performed from a stage, but throughout the theater by different actors in different places. The audience moved through the play as one might move through a gallery.

Then, the surreal scene got even more so: An actor performing a monologue in which he simulated hanging, either accidentally or purposefully, hung himself for real in front of a single member of the audience. Now, 27-year-old Raphael Schumacher is dead, and two directors and two stage technicians are being investigated for manslaughter, as ANSA News reported.

“The actor was supposed to perform a short monologue, revolving around the difficulties experienced by a 15-year-old boy and including a hanging simulation at the end,” prosecutor Giancarlo Dominijanni told Il Tirreno. “The original script included an interaction between the spectator and Schumacher before the tragic event. It was performed successfully earlier on Saturday evening, when he ended the scene laying his head in the noose.”

Schumacher, as the BBC reported, was rescued by the audience member, who happened to be a recently graduated from medical school and who, though Schumacher’s face was covered, saw his body twitching. But the damage was irreversible. He never recovered consciousness and was declared clinically dead Thursday.

Questions about how he could have met such a tragic fate — and speculation over whether he meant to kill himself — have been raised as details of the strange incident slowly emerged in Italian media and English-language outlets.

“I strongly believe he did not try to commit suicide,” the actor’s mother, unnamed in an Il Tirreno report, said. “… His father died recently and he had just broken up with someone, but he had soon regained inner peace. He didn’t leave any messages and had no reason to kill himself.”

However, others pointed out that Schumacher had changed the original ending of his scene in “Mirages.”

“The script included a different ending, a gunshot. Raphael changed it without telling us,” Andrea Vescio, one of the managers of Teatro Lux, said. Vescio added: “All I can say is that I saw a 27-year-old boy on the ground, unconscious. He was performing a hanging scene in front of a sole spectator, the young graduate who called for help.” (The ANSA report that confirmed Schumacher’s death did not name the theater staff under investigation.)

“We are truly shocked,” Gabriele De Luca, art director of the theater, told Il Tirreno. “We don’t know what happened exactly, nobody knows. We immediately started collaborating with the investigators. … We just hope Raphael will get better soon.”

In the wake of the tragedy, the theater has closed.

“Following the imponderable tragedy that occurred at the Theater Lux in the night of Saturday 30 January, we believe it is appropriate to suspend all activities of the theater, including the shows,” the theater said in a statement translated to English on its Facebook page. “As soon as the activities will resume it will be our care to communicate through our website, our profiles on social networks and the media, the press. We will of course to reimburse as soon as possible all those who had already bought tickets. Some of your understanding we hope you can respect this silence, we salute you.” 

Schumacher graduated from drama school last year; Teatro Lux is a venue in downtown Pisa that includes a movie theater, bar and performance space. An English translation of a mission statement posted to its website reads: “We want to dispel the myth … that theater is something boring and challenging, suitable only for young ladies in fur coats and tails, and rediscover the playful and popular — in the best sense of the term — soul of the theater.”

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