Learning to Say No (Q30757)

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The Love Parade disaster and the identity of technicians

The Love Parade disaster in Duisburg, Germany led to the deaths of 21 people. Many factors contributed to this tragedy, and the many other like it; how do technicians and other theatre professionals learn to say ‘no’ when it is necessary?

The Love Parade, Duisburg, 2010

The Love Parade was a popular electronic dance music (EDM) festival and ‘technoparade’ that originated in 1989 in West Berlin, Germany. It was held annually in Berlin from 1989 to 2003 and in 2006, then from 2007 to 2010 in the Ruhr region, sometimes attracting over 1 million people. The event was not without problems: in some years the organisers failed to get the necessary permits, there were complaints about the behaviour of people attending, and the lack of proper facilities for them, such as toilets.

The 2010 The Love Parade in Duisburg took place on 24 July, with between 200,000 and 1.4 million people reported to be attending the event. Admittance to the festival grounds was supposed to begin at 11am but was deferred until around 12 noon. There was only one main entrance to the festival area, a ramp reached from a 240m long tunnel and several underpasses. The crowd, unable to enter the festival, kept pushing into the confined space, despite being told by the police by loudspeaker they should turn back. The result was a crush in which 21 people died from suffocation, and a further 652 people were injured.

None of the organisations or officials involved took any blame for the disaster. The organiser of the festival, Rainer Schaller, said the police had not managed the crowd control correctly, while the interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia said the blame lay with Schaller and his company Lopavent and its staff, for not putting in place the right security measures. Later, the mayor of Duisburg, Adolf Sauerland, admitted he had misled the public regarding the number of people expected to attend the event – the claimed 1.4m turned out to be less than 250,000.

Memorials to those who died at the Love Parade, Duisburg, 2010

Criminal charges were brought against ten employees of the city of Duisburg and of the company that organized the event, but they were eventually rejected by the court due to the prosecutors’ failure to establish evidence for the alleged acts of negligence and their causal connection to the deaths. After years of investigation and many days of trial, the proceedings were dropped in May 2020. The court found the area was not suitable for the Love Parade 2010; none of the ten defendants were sentenced.

The Love Parade disaster is just one of many occasions where safety planning has failed, and these incidents are not new: more than a century before the Love Parade disaster, a similarly large-scale tragedy occurred, the fire at the Vienna Ringtheater in 1881, claiming 384 lives. A gas light failed to ignite, and when it was relit there was an explosion, spreading fire rapidly backstage, then to the stage and auditorium (J.05). The following year, the so-called Ringtheater trial took place. All accused municipal employees were acquitted, while three theatre employees, the theatre director and two technicians, were sentenced to prison terms of between four and eight months and partial payment of damages. The director was released by imperial pardon after only a few weeks in prison, but the stage technicians remained in jail.

Beyond the specific failures that led to each of these disasters, they can teach us something else. Technicians, production managers, designers, and all those who are involved in planning and delivering an event or show are the ‘yes’ people – the people who make things happen. When there is not enough time, not enough money, not enough people, they do the apparently impossible to delight, amaze and move an audience. This is their professional identity: that they quietly and without fuss produce the magic, night after night. It is what audiences, directors, producers, city officials, and many others want and expect. And yet this identity, as the ‘yes’ people, sometimes comes into conflict with another identity, as the people with the knowledge and expertise to know when it is necessary to say ‘no’.

Saying ‘no’ can be hard. It is doubly hard when your whole identity is about saying yes. How can we learn to do better, perhaps even to prevent the next tragedy? Firstly, we must continue to vindicate the figure of the professional by learning to say no when you yourself, as a professional, know that the safety processes are not being complied with. Secondly, we must recognise that saying ‘yes’ comes with a lot more than we perhaps are able to see – the reason we say ‘yes’ may be because we want to perform well, please the people we work with, and avoid conflict, rather than because it is the right answer.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we need to recognise that it is not our responsibility to carry alone. The people we are saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to, also carry responsibility, especially when they have more power than us. They have a responsibility to listen, to recognise the ‘no’ that they may not want to hear, that may lead to great difficulties, is still the correct answer and must be listened to. We must try to teach them this truth.

The identity of technicians arises from a long history of practice within the theatre industry. By understanding that history better, we can perhaps strive for a professional identity that is able to say both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ at the right times, and for our voice to be listened to by those who need to hear it.

The Love Parade disaster and the identity of technicians
Language Label Description Also known as
Learning to Say No
The Love Parade disaster and the identity of technicians


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    Unexpected stories (English)
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    The Love Parade disaster in Duisburg, Germany led to the deaths of 21 people. Many factors contributed to this tragedy, and the many other like it; how do technicians and other theatre professionals learn to say ‘no’ when it is necessary? (English)
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