To the Editor: Thanks for the piece on the tragedy of Wayne Carpenter

I want to thank The News Review and Liz Babcock for her piece discussing the tragic death of Wayne Carpenter during the technical rehearsal of “Oliver!” in 1971. I was involved with that production and more specifically the fundraiser event put on by CLOTA to generate support for Wayne’s family. That show included key scenes from many of Wayne’s shows, including some of the best loved songs from “Oliver!”.

I knew many of the facts of the terrible event, but as a ten-year-old a lot of the details were lost on me, so thanks again to Liz for providing that information.

I can’t say that I was “traumatized” by the tragedy, but I was well aware of the ramifications and black mark attached to the show. It had a profound impact on my life nonetheless, that I will bring up a little later. As Liz noted, 25 years later Cerro Coso put on a “come-back” production of the show. It was my fervent intention to be in the show, and to play “Bill Sykes” if I was allowed, because I wanted very much to help release the stigma and bring the show back into the light. After several reads and some discussion with Elena Vitale, the Theatre Department Director at the time, she did cast me as Bill. My friends Steve Slay and Larry Lier provided the shooting effects, and I learned a lot about using blank-firing prop weapons.

I am happy to report that, as Liz indicated, that the show went over very well and entertained hundreds of audience members, and was a positive and fun experience for all involved. I like to think that we pleased Wayne’s spirit as we played out the show that never was, so many years ago. I sure hope so!

A few years later, after a stint with the Garlock Gunslingers traveling western skit and shoot-out show, I found myself in the Washington DC area and back int the theater scene. I soon found out that there was a dearth of knowledge and comfort with prop weapons and blanks with community companies. With my knowledge and experience I found my niche and founded my side-business supplying props and instruction to the local theatres. With Wayne’s tragic death firmly implanted in my consciousness, I vowed that no-one would ever be hurt doing a show that I was involved with, not to mention the few other widely known accidents involving blank weapons. Today I service films and theaters around the country and have contributed to about 300 projects, all without injury. Too many people lost too much with Wayne’s passing; I hope I am making things a little better.

Thank you, Brian Dettling

Story First Published: 2021-11-05