Lyric actor badly burned during rehearsal will fully recover - New York News

Lyric Opera actor badly burned during rehearsal will fully recover

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Credit: Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times Credit: Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times
CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) -

Wesley Daniel's father settled into his seat at a Lyric Opera of Chicago dress rehearsal Monday, eager to see his son — a fire-breathing stilt-walker — perform his stunt on stage.

"I was actually kind of looking forward to it," Clifton Daniel told the Chicago Sun-Times. "I'd never seen him do it before."

SEE: Fire-blowing stilt walker burned during Lyric Opera rehearsal

The 24-year-old actor, circus performer and acrobat was well-trained, his father said. Wesley Daniel had pulled off the fire stunt dozens of times "without incident," he said, and he knew what he was doing during the production of "Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg."

Watching from the audience with Wesley Daniel's girlfriend Monday, though, Clifton Daniel could tell something had gone seriously wrong this time.

"It's horrific," Clifton Daniel said. "You're watching your child perform and you're enjoying it, and you're amazed at all the things he can do, and suddenly it goes horribly wrong. And you don't believe it at first. And you watch your child in flames running for the wings and you just bolt for the door."

Colin Creveling, who studied circus performance with his good friend Wesley Daniel at Roosevelt University, explains how fire performers make it look like they are breathing fire.

"The torch is on fire and you take a drink of fuel and you hold it in your mouth, then you purse your lips together and spray above the flame," Crevling says.

He couldn't believe his eyes when he saw a photo of Daniel's face on fire.

"It was utter shock just because its someone who is one of the more experienced of us in the fire arts," Crevling says.

Wesley Daniel is expected to return home from the hospital Thursday morning, his father said, and a friend predicted he'll likely make a full recovery. Clifton Daniel said his son, who is being held in the burn unit at Loyola Medical Center, has second-degree burns on his chin and neck.

"The doctor at Loyola likened that to a severe sunburn and it should heal without a problem," Clifton Daniel said.

The stunt he performed was approved by the Chicago Fire Department, according to a statement from the opera. It required him to swig from a container of flammable liquid while wearing a fireproof costume and mask, then spout the liquid onto the torch he held in his hand.

But the fire seemed to blow back into his face, instead.

Clifton Daniel said his son moved off stage quickly, but without flailing.

"He seemed to know exactly where he was supposed to go and exactly what he was supposed to do."

He said Wesley Daniel was taken first to Northwestern Memorial Hospital before being transferred to Loyola. He also said doctors inserted a breathing tube into his son's throat just in case it began to swell. It was taken out Monday night, he said.

Larry Langford, a spokesman for the Chicago Fire Department, said the stunt Wesley Daniel performed is safe, "but something went wrong in the actual application."

"Obviously something blew him back," Langford said. "But that's something to be taken into account ... you don't spit into the wind. All of that is supposed to be taken into account."

He described it as "a brief open flame that can be held in an area where there is nothing to burn."

"Alcohol burns hot, but it burns out quickly," Langford said. "It's not sustained. ... It's an accident. Somebody didn't take something into account, but it had nothing to do with the permit process. When it's done properly, it's safe."

He said there are several other stunts that would never be approved in a theater, such as hand flares, throwing flames back and forth, or a campfire. Those are sustained flames. Daniel's stunt wasn't: "This type of quick fire, poof, up on that stage, can be done safely."

Clifton Daniel said his son was born in North Carolina and also considered a career in architecture but entered Roosevelt University as a theater major. The family moved to Chicago about 15 years ago, and Wesley Daniel graduated from Lane Tech High School.

He's also a member of the Inappropriate Theater Company. He performed in "Timon of Athens" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater and appeared with Lookingglass Theatre at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as Floretta in "Pulcinella," according to his biography.

"He loves it," Clifton Daniel said of his son's career. "I mean, he loves it. He loves what he does."

On Tuesday, opera deputy general director Drew Landmesser says an officer from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was at the opera conducting a federal agency investigation.

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