Last night during the first act the team came up hot through the VOM. They exited upstage into the woods like we rehearsed, like they’ve done in the 10 shows previous. The cast were on stage singing The Ballad of Flesh, Blood and Bone. I passed the suit off to the Devil. I heard a clang behind me and the thunder of hooves.
Seeing heavy Draft horses run in a field is breathtaking. Seeing two Clydesdales hitched to a double tree with no driver is horrifying. I bolted after them. They had already rounded past the Gazebo and down the hill to the fire pit. As I was running I shouted into the radio “Runaway! We have a Runaway!!” I heard Syl hollering from the dry paddock “Help! Gillian’s down!” I rounded down the hill, radioed we needed Jason at the dry paddock. I screamed Kim’s name as I passed his house then saw him in the field chasing behind the team heading towards the Timber Barn. I felt a flash of relief the Clydes hadn’t fallen, hadn’t trampled anyone.
Jason passed with the level 3 first aid kit. The team was still running. I skidded into the office and called 911. The line was busy. I was asked to hold. I finally got through and was stuck between getting information through our radios to dispatch. He kept asking questions I couldn’t answer. I said “Look I’m two acres away. No one knows if she was run over or dragged. She’s conscious. She’s in a lot of pain. Is an ambulance coming? Where is it?!” When he said it was on Wood Avenue. I knew it was still 10 minutes away. I hung up, ran through the field up the long driveway to the end of the road. The sky was light blue with streaks of pink as the sun was setting. I was in my show blacks; black military cut, front zip dress, black tights, black Dayton’s, black radio. I waited catching my breath as drivers leered by.
I waved to the ambulance when I saw it in the distance. I told the paramedic in the passenger seat I needed to get in to direct them to the scene. I radioed we were descending the driveway. The paramedic said he’d been to the last few shows here that he probably knows where he’s going. I said “Does the dry paddock by the riding ring mean anything to you?” He replied sheepishly “No” then “Hey! Is there a show going on right now?!”
It was intermission and the audience parted for us to pass through. When we reached Gillian there were three members of the audience with her who had left the show as soon as they heard something was wrong. One was a firefighter, one with wilderness first aid, and the other a ski patroller, along with our cook Jason, who has level three first aid. All god damn fucking hero’s.
She was in a lot of pain and on oxygen. Her back was already bruising and welted. The show had kept going. The cast didn’t know anything had happened. We had three hundred people to crowd manage and 4000 pounds of horse running wild. The best thing to do was keep on with the show. Triage. Organize the chaos.
Once she was in the ambulance, I gathered up the smaller puppets and headed to the second act. Kim had caught the team. They were calm. They were uninjured. He said he’s never seen a runaway where the horses stopped on their own. “They stop when they crash.”
I reminded him the last time we had a runaway, four winters ago, the team stopped because Sharon stood in the dark, in the middle of the field, dressed in her Victorian caroler costume, held her hand out and shouted ‘Whoa!” The team ran right up to her and sharply veered into a trot.
The report this morning is Gillian has four broken ribs and a hole in her lung where it pulled away from her rib. The lung should heal on its own. She’s going to be okay. In hospital she was more concerned about the horses than her own predicament. She is the toughest and bravest fucking woman I know.
No one is certain what really happened. A series of little things went wrong. We try our best to plan for the worst, communicate clearly and openly any concerns or potential danger. Some things you cannot plan for. Out here in the wild; working with horses, we’ve seen and experienced a lot but runaways stay with you. We are so lucky, so fucking lucky. Tonight there are no horses maybe none tomorrow. Once the air has cleared we’ll see how the team is feeling. The tree is gone. We’ve built one for the dancer in the cast to carry on. The puppet wagon still could be pulled by an alternate team but for now we’ve parked it upstage of the band wagon and re-blocked some of the tops and tails of the scenes. Chances are the audience tonight will think this is the way it has been from the beginning. In two and a half hours we’ll see.