Northeast Middle School's theater program takes flight

  • Article by: ANNA PRATT , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 16, 2013 - 10:51 PM

Northeast Middle School is staging the musical “Peter Pan,” with flying effects, as a result of the community rallying around it.

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Northeast Middle School students rehearsed a flying scene for their upcoming show “Peter Pan” at the Minneapolis school last week. The flying equipment cost several thousand dollars.

Photo: Nicola Losik , Star Tribune

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During a rehearsal last week for the musical “Peter Pan” at Northeast Middle School in Minneapolis, eighth-grader Nadija Hunt tried to channel the natural flying style of the title character.

It was an adjustment, singing and moving with the music, all while suspended in midair from a thick black wire and a harness. But it wasn’t long before Hunt seemed to enjoy the ride, announcing from the stage: “I like to go fast.”

In the school’s production, which runs this Thursday through Saturday, a handful of characters will appear to fly, an illusion the crew is creating with the help of the Las Vegas-headquartered Flying by Foy.

The company, which specializes in staging flying effects for productions big and small, got its start when its founder, Peter Foy, engineered Mary Martin’s memorable flight in the 1954 Broadway production of “Peter Pan,” according to its website.

Bringing in the company to rig the flying is just one way that the six-year-old theater program is upping the ante this year. The production also will feature a live orchestra made up of members of the Northeast Community Band.

These developments came about as a result of the community pulling together, said director Dudley Voigt.

“Every year the program reaches farther and invests in resources. It’s been building to this point,” she said — and many students have grown with the program.

Voigt had been trying to get the rights to “Peter Pan” for several years.

She was inspired to stage the popular musical after a production she saw some time ago moved her tears.

“It’s not just about the idea that Peter won’t grow up. There is this bittersweet choice Peter and Wendy make about not living in each other’s world,” she said.

Similarly, adolescents are at an age where they’re torn between being a child and a grown-up, she said.

It’s a feeling that might hit home for some eighth-grade students, especially as they get ready to move on to high school, she said.

Gearing up for Peter Pan

The 50-student cast and crew began rehearsals after school in January.

Chris Pratt, a theater volunteer whose son Charlie plays the part of John Darling in the show, said that early in the planning process he and other parents and the director began to dream.

“We said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could get the main characters to fly,’ since it is just an integral part of the show.”

A big question was whether “it was even the right thing to do for a middle-school performance,” he said.

After considering the high level of participation in the theater, the group decided it was worth the investment.

Almost one-fifth of the student body participates in the theater, surpassing sports. “There are a number of kids who really get turned on to the theatrical experience, and I think it helps keep many of the kids motivated to go to school,” Pratt said.

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