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Actor burned after fire-blowing-on-stilts stunt goes wrong during opera

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A fire-spitting effect was removed from the Lyric Opera of Chicago's production of “Die Meistersinger von Nurenberg" on Monday after a stilt walker was seriously burned during a dress rehearsal.

Despite his flameproof costume and mask, fire-blowing actor Wesley Daniel suffered second-degree burns to his face and throat while performing in front of an audience.

Daniel staggered away and collapsed just off stage. A stage manager with a fire extinguisher then put out spots of flame onstage.

"I don't think he closed his mouth quick enough, so the fire, the stuff in his mouth, came on his clothes and so did the fire, and it also dribbled all over the floor so we saw a line of fire across the stage," said audience member Karen Avgush. "And then I think he was trying to quickly get off the stage, and I think he was moving too quickly with everybody in the way, so he fell really hard off the stilts."

First responders responded to the theater, at 20. N. Wacker Dr., shortly before 5 p.m. and took the actor to Northwestern Memorial Hospital on advanced life support, officials said.

"It was really scary and nerve-wracking, and we were just all really nervous for what was going to happen to him," said child actor Mia Rehwaldt, who was on stage with Daniel when he caught fire.

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Opera spokesperson Magda Krance said the 24-year-old Daniel suffered blistering around his mouth but said his injury didn't appear to be serious.

Fire officials later said Daniel had second degree burns.

He was being treated at Loyola Hospital on Monday night.

The effect had been approved by the Chicago Fire Department, Krance said. 

Last week, another performer had experienced a lesser mishap attempting the same trick, part of a festival scene on the crowded Lyric stage.

Several hundred people made up the audience. The mishap occurred about 30 minutes prior to the end of the five-and-a-half-hour performance.

The incident halted the performance for about 45 minutes before it resumed. Still, the audience missed out on the last few minutes of the show because of a union-mandated break for the 81-member orchestra.