Youth Struck By Lightning
By Howard Schwach
Robert Press still is not sure what hit him on the night of August 2, when he went to the utility room at the Fort Tilden Theater to find what had happened to the stage lights.
At the time, the Rockaway Theater Company was in the middle of a performance of The Pajama Game at the theater and Press was both the lighting man and a performer. The area was in the middle of a violent thunderstorm that eventually knocked out electricity for tens of thousands of city residents.
"All I can remember is that the lights went out on stage and I went to the utility room to check the circuit breakers," Press remembers. "All I wanted to do was to get the lights back on so that the performance could continue."
Press, 18, remembers also that he had his hand on the circuit breakers when he saw a lightening strike about 25 feet away. Press was standing in a pool of water that had accumulated because of the storm.
The next thing he remembers was waking up at Peninsula Hospital Center, trying to figure out what had happened.
His friend, Andrew Melon, who had been standing in the room with him, told him later that he had been thrown backwards, about two or three feet into the wall and that he stumbled out of the utility room and collapsed.
He was then carried onto the stage while several members of the audience used cellular phones to call 911. More than a dozen emergency service workers from EMS and the FDNY responded.
He was taken to the hospital, where he was treated and reportedly held overnight before he was released.
Emergency workers told The Wave that Press was saved by the rubber-soled shoes that he wore as part of his costume.
"That cheap pair of rubber-soled loafers may have saved my life," he says now with wonder in his voice.
Press says that he is still "a lot sore," and that he "is still afraid of using a microwave oven," but he says that will probably pass with time.
As for now, he is back on stage in "The Pajama Game," looking forward to the Rockaway Theater Company’s next production.