A cherished member of the local theatre community is being mourned and a workplace safety investigation is underway following a fatal fall at Rainbow Stage.
John Shopka, 71, died Monday after a midday incident at the iconic Winnipeg theatre in Kildonan Park.
Shopka had been part of the carpentry crew working in the shop that day, Rainbow Stage executive director Andrea Pratt McDowell said Thursday.
Shopka was an experienced and respected production professional who held numerous roles with the theatre over four decades, including technical director, head flyman, crew chief and head carpenter.
Though the exact circumstances leading up to the incident are unclear, Pratt McDowell said Shopka was alone when he fell from an area above the stage. He was not wearing a fall-prevention harness.
"At this point, we have no answers as to why this tragic event happened," she said. "We are deeply saddened by the passing of John Shopka. He was a beloved member of our team at Rainbow Stage for nearly 45 years, and everyone here is mourning his loss."
A provincial spokesperson confirmed Workplace Safety and Health is investigating the fatal incident. No other details were provided.
Pat Lewicki said it is a devastating reminder of shortcomings in safety protocols and regulations for people working in the theatre and production industry.
"It’s chewing away at me because it shouldn’t be happening," said Lewicki, who was married to Shopka for 16 years and had a son together, before separating in the mid-1990s.
In 2012, while working as a stagehand, their son suffered significant injuries after falling more than three metres into a pit beneath the stage at the Centennial Concert Hall.
The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra pleaded guilty to an infraction under the Workplace Safety and Health Act and was ordered to pay $5,000 in fines.
"To have his father fall to his demise 10 years later, it just seems to me that the whole workplace safety and health thing needs to be reviewed," Lewicki said. "I just wanted to make sure that appropriate protocol is followed for people who are working in the entertainment business.
"It needs to be known that not much has changed."
“I just wanted to make sure that appropriate protocol is followed for people who are working in the entertainment business." – Pat Lewicki
In September 2020, Rainbow Stage was fined $11,000 (plus other fees) by Workplace Safety and Health for an incident in 2017 involving a table saw that resulted in an amputation and significant injuries to a crew member’s hand.
Lewicki said she wants to see action from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 63 — of which Shopka was a member — to ensure workplaces have sufficient safety protocols in place across venues.
"These are guys who are, although they’re union members, they are concerned independent workers," she said. "And I just think that there should be more in place to protect them.
"The union that represents workers at the entertainment venues needs to be held responsible."
In a statement Thursday, the union declined an interview with the Free Press.
"As a respect to the late member and his family, we have nothing to say on the matter," IATSE Local 63 secretary Stuart Aikman wrote in an email.
Lewicki said Shopka loved working in the industry over his long career — the two met in 1976, during the Rainbow Stage production of Oklahoma; Shopka was head carpenter and Lewicki was in the chorus.
He was also remembered by peers for his mentorship, kindness, patience, warm presence and creativity.
Shopka was named a member of the Rainbow Stage Wall of Fame in 2008.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.