In 2004, Tristan Sturrock was enjoying May Day in Cornwall, England, when a terrible accident threatened to change his life forever.
If you go
WHAT: “Mayday Mayday”WHEN: 9:30 p.m. today; noon Sat.; 8 p.m. Sun.; 1 p.m. Mon.WHERE: Emmett Robinson Theatre, 54 St. Philip St.COST: Tickets start at $35MORE INFO: www.spoleto usa.org; 579-3100
He received a phone call from his girlfriend at the time, Katy Carmichael, who is now his wife. He sat on a wall to rest and, thinking there was a hedge behind him, leaned back. He fell and became wedged between two walls, fracturing his neck in the process.
A neighbor found Sturrock after Carmichael sensed something had happened. He was taken to the spinal unit at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, where it was determined that he had a fracture of his C5 vertebra, near his Adam’s apple.
Sturrock has previously appeared at the Spoleto Festival USA in 2006 as the male lead in “Tristan and Yseult” with his longtime theater company, Kneehigh Theater. He spoke recently about his harrowing experience and the creation of his play “Mayday Mayday,” directed by Carmichael, which chronicles his journey from injury to recovery.
Q: When you found out about the severity of your injury and your options, what were your thought processes?
A: My thought process was very clear; I went for the option that could potentially get me upright as soon as possible, however risky that option was. My family, Katy and my parents, were being advised to go for a halo brace. The surgeon, Dr. Tim Germon, himself gave me faith that high-risk spinal surgery was still the best option.
Q: Have there been any lasting effects?
A: I have a spinal cord injury to my nerves, so I have altered sensation in my hands, feet and chest. My hands will always feel like ice thawing, a pins-and-needles sensation that will never go away. I’m used to it now. I can’t feel hot dishes that come out of the oven, and I’m often burning myself, and I never got to feel how soft my babies’ skin was when they were born, for example, but these are such small things. I am so incredibly lucky to have had the recovery I have had.
Q: Has it forced you change your performance style?
A: The accident changed and altered my entire body, so yes, my performance style is much more considered and physical.
I basically remapped my whole body as I regained sensation. I had to build wasted muscle during intense rehab over a year, then went back on stage to do “Tristan and Yseult” in 2005. I got stronger and stronger.
I can do everything as I did before now, even swinging off a chandelier in Kneehigh’s “Brief Encounter” every night for a year on Broadway, except sometimes I drop small props.
Q: What was it like getting your life and career back together after the accident?
A: Strangely, it was very straightforward. I was about to become a father for the first time four months after it happened, so I was very determined to make the best recovery I could.
Kneehigh took me straight back into the show I was doing before my neck break. It was the show I did when I last came to Spoleto, “Tristan and Yseult.”
Q: What made you decide to create this performance? How did you decide to stage it as a one-man show?
A: I never intended to tell this story as a one-man show. I started out making another show altogether with my story in the background.
It was a version of Frankenstein with two other actors. I had read Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” shortly after I was in hospital and was really drawn to it as I had become the monster, the man with the bolts in his neck, and also was interested in her exploration of the creature’s discovery of his senses.
My senses were coming back too. We played around with the ideas in a workshop form. It was very comedy based, but audiences wanted to find out about my story, the way I’d normally tell it to someone sitting over the table from me.
Nic Bell is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University