Working from home? Switch to the DIGITAL edition of Projection, Lights & Staging News. CLICK HERE to signup now!
Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in posts
Search in pages

In Memoriam: Dr. Randall W. A. Davidson, a.k.a. Dr. Doom

Michael S. Eddy • NewsStage DirectionsTheater News • August 24, 2021

Dr. Doom (Dr. Randall Davidson) signing one of his books at a USITT convention. Photo by Richard Finkelstein

We at Stage Directions were saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. Randall W. A. Davidson, affectionately known to everyone as Dr. Doom for his nearly 80 years of advocating for theater safety and risk management expertise. Born on October 20, 1929, he died on Saturday, August 21, 2021, at the age of 92. We send our sincere condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues around the world on his loss. I will miss seeing his smiling face, all dapper in his purple outfit and hat along with the bright red ribbon of his USITT Fellows ribbon. While small in stature, he was huge in spirit and presence. He, and his work touched many lives. He will be missed. He would end every meeting or correspondence with ‘Prayers Always’. I send him a prayer on his passing and will keep him in my thoughts.

A longtime member of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology, having joined USITT in 1964, Dr. Davidson was the Commissioner Emeritus of the Health and Safety Commission, a Fellow of the Institute and won numerous awards and recognition for his long-time advocacy for safety. He was presented the USITT Joel E. Rubin Founder’s Award in 1989 and the USITT Health and Safety Award, which he had initiated years earlier, in 2004.

Throughout his career, Dr. Davidson continued to be very involved in USITT. He held every position except that of an officer. In addition to being active in planning national USITT conventions, he aided in founding and supporting many of the regional and student chapters across the country and assisting in founding the Canadian Institute of Theater Technology (CITT). He led hundreds of workshops, both national and regional. He would liaison with all the different sections and commissions throughout his years of service to the institute. He spent three years lobbying for USITT and theater safety in the U.S. Congress.

Dr. Davidson began his work in technical theater in 1943 at Price College. Some of his career highlights include founding seven risk management companies for the entertainment industry, including Risk International & Associates, Inc.; he founded the International Secondary Education Theater Safety Association, ISETSA in 2005; and he was involved as an expert witness in 413 lawsuits, losing only two of them. He had a lifelong interest in mentoring students and others who had an interest in health and safety.

Over the course of his career, Dr. Davidson produced many books, guides, and documents on health and safety, some of which include the still available three volume set of Dr. Davidson Eye on Health and Safety in the Theater; Practical Health and Safety Guidelines for Theater Health and Safety; and the Pocket Guide to Theater Safety; plus, over five hundred monographs on entertainment health, safety, product liability, environmental audits, and security.

Dr. Doom all dapper in purple and red at a USITT convention. Photo by Richard Finkelstein

USITT International Health & Safety Award Presentation
On March 17, 2004, Dr. Davidson was presented with the International Health & Safety Award at a gathering of USITT’s Health & Safety Commission members in Long Beach, CA. He was presented it by USITT Fellow Richard Stephens. Here are Mr. Stephens’ comments on presenting the award to Dr. Davidson. USITT’s Sightlines included this presentation, followed by Dr. Davidson’s response in June of 2004.

By Richard Stephens

What can one say about Dr. Randall W. A. Davidson?

After all, he has been so many things to so many people over the years. Christian Brothers monk/acolyte, scholar, actor, director, producer, playwright, poet, author, teacher, consultant, mentor, expert witness, and entrepreneur. (You know, Randy, this part of the speech would have been much easier if you could have just held onto a job!)

I think that it is safe to say that he is preeminent in his field. He is undoubtedly beloved and despised; admired and feared. I know from personal experience that he is a fascinating dinner companion, a storyteller extraordinaire, and a loving and devoted friend and advisor.

I also know that he can be one ornery, irascible, cantankerous, implacable, unrelenting, curmudgeonly pain-in-the-ass!!! But that is usually because he is right. And within this Institute, he is our pain-in-the-ass, and as such he is admired (sometimes grudgingly), universally respected, and widely viewed with great affection.

In this life, if one is very lucky, one will encounter and be influenced by what I will call, for lack of a better term, one of God’s Chosen. We hear tell of them, these special few, because of their effect on others through their devotion and commitment to a calling or cause. They work untiringly and unselfishly, sometimes to their own detriment, but always for the benefit of others.

As I stand here before you today, I can tell you without reservation that Randy is one of God’s Chosen. And I count my personal relationship with him and my observation of his life and work as one of the most influential of my personal and professional life.

Now, I’m sure that all of you have heard Randy’s nickname: “Dr. Doom.” When I first asked how he acquired it, I was told that he was called “Dr. Doom” because everywhere he went he preached doom and despair.

But I think that nothing could be further from the truth. What I feel that Randy has preached for “lo these many years” is a message for enlightenment and hope. It is the enlightenment of being informed to make better choices to use safer products and processes; it is the hope for better health and quality of life. And the result for theatre and entertainment industry professionals over the past 30 years has been profound.

If you will let me digress for a moment, I would like to briefly tell our younger members a story to illustrate Randy’s impact on all of our lives. John Rothgeb, a Fellow of this Institute, recruited me to come to the University of Texas at Austin almost 24 years ago. Now, John was a delightful and enthusiastic man who was about five foot, five inches tall with a dapper toothbrush mustache. He was a marvelous designer, technician, friend, mentor, and colleague. But like so many men of his generation, John chain-smoked cigarettes and lived with a coffee cup in his hand. He loved his dry pigment scene paints with their heavy metals, his aniline dyes, and banana oils. He was also imbued with the pervasive machismo of the time regarding health and safety concerns. Respirators were for wimps. So John and I had only five years together before he was dead of lung cancer at 55, almost the same age that I am today.

Now the real tragedy of this story is not that John never got to see one of his sons graduate from high school or meet his grandchildren, although that would be tragedy enough. No, the real tragedy of that time is that almost every member of my generation can tell a similar story regarding a beloved teacher, mentor, or colleague.

And the fact that we survive here today to tell those stories is perhaps the best testament to the effectiveness of Randy’s work.

When first approached about presenting this award, I jumped at the opportunity. Because today it is not only my privilege and very great pleasure to present this well deserved recognition, I get to say something even more important. I get to say “Thank you.”

Thank you, Randy, for your tireless commitment, genuine concern, and incredible industry. Thank you for your scholarship, sensibilities, and dedication to the cause of our collective well being.

And finally, a simple, personal “thank you,” straight from the heart of everyone of us that you’ve helped through your work. Two months from now when I get to meet my first grandchild, I’ll let him know that I am able to be there largely because of the work of his Uncle Randy.

Ladies and gentlemen please join me in recognizing this year’s recipient of the International Health and Safety Award: Dr. Randall W. A. Davidson.

Dr. Randall W.A. Davidson
Health & Safety Commissioner Emeritus & USITT Fellow

Let me take advantage of my 40 years as a member of USITT, and my lengthy years of working in health and safety, i.e. August 1943 through March 2004, to offer a few words of thanks to all who have brought me to this moment.

Although I am the recipient of this distinguished award, it represents the unstinting and courageous efforts and energies of many people and friends who have encouraged and supported my own inimitable efforts to bring health and safety to the forefront of the entertainment industry throughout the world.

To name all of them is impossible and would take many days, and I would be reduced to tears in the remembrance of their help. They know who they are and what they have contributed and how they have helped me, and my prayers and love go out to them constantly.

There are four groups who deserve all of the accolades for bringing about this award to this recipient this evening.

God, who has inspired me and given me the Grace, inspiration, and strength to continue this health and safety work year after year.

My family, who were ever-present and totally supportive when I began this odyssey to raise health and awareness in the performing arts.

Four presidents of the United States, beginning with Harry S. Truman in 1947, and ending with President Carter; two Holy Fathers, Pius XII and John the XXIII; the Brothers of the Christian Schools who gave me my technical education; hundreds of officials and technicians from 37 countries, and many hundreds of USITT, IATSE, NABET, NFPA, ESTA, and IAAM dedicated individuals, who know who they are, and to whom I am indebted and to whom all of us should be grateful for their constant support. Past presidents of USITT: Don Shulman, Dr. Joel Rubin, Randy Earle, Richard Arnold, Ed Kook, Don Swinney, Walt Walters, Sarah Nash Gates, Richard Devin, and so many, many dear and loving friends in USITT who over the course of 40 years have been at my side and given me their wisdom and care. And of course, my good friend and mentor Harold Burris-Meyer, Dr. Snodgrass.

Fourthly, I would be egregiously remiss if I did not mention and thank that small coterie of individuals who over the years have vehemently and most often surreptitiously, opposed the work of health and safety that I have tried to accomplish. One always needs opposition to firm up their resolve, and these individuals performed this service with constancy and fervor.

I promise this auspicious group gathered here tonight that I shall continue my efforts in health and safety with all my remaining years and strength to prove worthy of this Award and the people that brought it about.

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!