Fly is currently being staged by the Dallas Theater Center. It’s a new take on the Peter Pan story, and its producers have hopes of bringing it to Broadway. This being Peter Pan, the characters frequently leave their feet to fly around the Wyly Theatre. We go back stage to learn how the magic’s done:
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Morgan Weed is one of the stars of Fly. She plays Tinkerbell. But she’s hardly ever onstage.
“I actually touch the stage – we timed it the other day – for a minute and 15 seconds,” she says.
So how’s that possible?
“I’m the only character in the show who flies all the time.”
All that flying is what sets Fly apart. In an older, low tech world, the flying would be made possible by stage hands pulling ropes attached to the actors. But Fly involves a complicated computer setup. Each time an actor takes flight, it’s been pre-programmed into the system. The show has 150 such flying cues, and each one required between two and eight hours of programming.
“When you’re out there watching, all you see is it in the air, and then you see them leave. And it looks magical,” says Eric Tysinger, the show’s stage manager. “And we deal with what happens offstage from there.”
Assisting Tysinger are two flight technicians, who connect the actors to the wiring that will lift them high above the Wyly Theatre stage.
Both Soren Haroldson and Paul Curran are experienced rock climbers. Curran has owned a climbing school for more than 20 years. They both know their way around harnesses, ropes and carabiners.
And most importantly, they know how to pull these aerial tricks off safely. The crew is well aware of what can happen if precautions aren’t taken. Last month, a Cirque du Soleil performer died in Las Vegas after falling 90 feet. That accident is still under investigation.
During the show, Haroldson focuses on clipping the performers’ harnesses to the line with a carabiner.
“I’m actually listening for [click] that sound,” Haroldson says. “And I’m also looking and making sure that they are fully clipped in and that the gate of the caribener is closed fully.”
And if he doesn’t hear that click?
“They do not fly. They could miss a cue, I don’t care.”
That attention to detail is what allows the performers to hit their cues with confidence. Weed, the actress who plays Tinkerbell, often enters a scene from above the stage. And she’s got to be ready to sing right from liftoff.
“It’s that moment where you just have to give yourself over to the universe a little bit and you go, ‘OK, I’m dangling by a rope I can’t see. And I’m hoping that everything’s fine.’ But I trust my team,” Weed says. “And it’s exhilarating.”
And she has reason to trust that team. For them, checking a knot twice is great and three times is even better. They’re confident in their work. But they’re far from cocky says Tysinger, the stage manager.
“I have a hard time eating dinner before the show,” he says. “The prologue – once we start – my stomach’s in knots. Because you do feel an incredible sense of responsibility.”
That goes double for Haroldson.
“It’s a big responsibility. I would be lying if I said it did not keep me up at night in the beginning.”
But both say that slight queasy feeling is an asset. It keeps them on their toes.
And if it makes them check the straps on a harness one more time, the person wearing it probably won’t complain.