“Peter Pan,” Pace Academy’s fall musical, was put on display to sold-out crowds from Nov. 14-17. Prior to the show, there was a great deal of buzz surrounding the topic of flying. The Peter Pan of Disney fame, after all, is known for his ability to fly, but bringing flight to the stage is a complex challenge.
In the first scene of the play, as Wendy (senior Cory Bush), Michael (eighth grader Cole McCorkle), and John (seventh grader Hoke Faser) slept soundly, a large pair of bedroom windows swung suddenly open. In the next moment, Peter Pan (junior Caillin Cooke) sprang forth, soaring over the windowsill before landing gently on the stage. It was the first of many flying scenes, which included the journey to Neverland and a climactic battle between Peter Pan and Captain Hook (senior Sam Downey).
Flying is not altogether new for Pace theater. Most recently, in 2011’s production of “Curtains,” Ben Hirsch (Class of 2013) was lowered onto the stage from above the proscenium arch via cable. But aerial stunts from recent years involved only one axis of motion. “Peter Pan” called for complex movements, with actors moving back and forth as well as up and down. To make these movements possible, Pace Academy hired Flying By Foy, a company that brought flight to the original Broadway production of “Peter Pan,” as well as to contemporary shows and musical performers such as Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. While Foy provided the equipment and a technical supervisor, the system was operated entirely by students Hunter Cesinger, Baiza Cherinet, Max Irvine, Nathan Sokolic and Jacob St. Amand. “The crew is honestly the backbone of the show,” said Caillin.
The actors were lifted by stagehands working on a pulley system. To enable the actors to move across the stage, the crew simply lifted them at an angle. “If you move somebody on an angle, they sort of become a pendulum, so then they can ‘fly,'” said Technical Director Scott Sargent, “Depending on where you are and where you want [them] to go, you lift them up and they just swing like Tarzan.” Five basic pulleys were anchored firmly above the stage, and they accounted for most of the flying. A sixth pulley was mounted on a track downstage of the others. This pulley could be moved left and right, thus providing the excess range of movement necessary for a scene in which Peter Pan teaches the children to fly. But despite the first-rate equipment, flying was still a challenge for the actors. “Flying was one of the hardest things, especially while singing,” said Caillin, “I was honestly improving my flying every night.”
“Peter Pan” also featured two characters that were entirely technical: Tinker Bell and the crocodile. Tinker Bell’s body was created by a sparkling light, and her voice (understood only by Peter Pan) came from the orchestra pit. A new light board made Tinker Bell possible by equipping Pace’s theater with a smart light. According to Mr. Sargent, with a smart light, “you can control where it goes, you can change to color, you can make it flash, and you can control the image size.” The crocodile, which was powered by a motor from a remote controlled car, was designed by Pace parent Hobie Duval and decorated by visual arts teacher Donice Bloodworth.