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Continued: Northeast Middle School's theater program takes flight

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

To stage the flying, the group had to raise nearly $6,000. It was a major coordination effort to get school and district permission for the flying, line up Foy and collect donations. But word seemed to spread fast.

Pratt hopes that ultimately the effort helps to “generate community spirit and buzz about the school,” he said.

Creating the illusion of flight

To create the flight illusion, a system of pulleys, cables and ropes is mounted on custom tracks along the school’s 1950s-era trusses, Pratt said. Foy shipped 959 pounds of gear to the school to set it up.

The “fliers” wear harnesses that hook onto wires that dangle over the stage.

Johnny Pickett, a flying director with Foy, trained the group on the equipment.

A group of five “flying operators” pull on ropes to send the “fliers” into the air. To get the right amount of force, “They have to be really focused and in tune to the moment,” Pickett said. “How you pull on the rope affects how it looks onstage. It’s a partnered dance between them and the performer to make it all work.”

Each character has a different demeanor while flying. To help the players get a feel for the task at hand, Pickett told the group about how flying is a storytelling tool.

In the book, children are said to begin life as birds. They fly to their parents as babies, he said. When Peter Pan begins to transform from a bird into a boy, he learns of adulthood, something he’d rather skip.

That’s where Neverland comes in. Like Peter Pan, “Most kids want to play and have fun,” he said. Even as adults, “We’d love to give up responsibility and play, but we know that can’t happen.”

‘Every kid’s childhood dream’

Ahlam Mussa, a seventh-grader, who plays Jane, described the flying as “a little uncomfortable at first, but once you’re up there it’s fun. It feels like you’re actually flying,” adding, “It’s every kid’s childhood dream.”

Mike McQuiston, whose son Conor plays Captain Hook, is the technical director at the Minnesota Opera, where he’s also turned to Foy for flying effects.

The flying adds an element of excitement to any show. In this case, it’s fun to see how “the kids have fun, and there are lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ when people lift off the floor,” he said.

It’s also symbolic for “advancing the theater program, letting people know it’s about more than putting on a skit,” he said.

He hopes the theater program will “continue to grow and push boundaries and reach for bigger and better things,” he said.


Anna Pratt is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

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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.

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