How difficult is it to sing while flying?
One performer in Nashua High School South’s Peter Pan rendition this weekend knows this answer well. Sophomore Sarah Drake had just finished run-through after run-through of singing a midair “I’m Flying” during the theater group’s second full rehearsal with ZFX Flying Effects gear and flight director Stu Cox when she took off two minutes to chat.
She’d been nervous about learning to fly with just two weeks till showtime. Everyone was — musical director and choreographer Laura Prior said it felt pretty strange to leave scenes completely open for the flight crew, which arrived on set March 1.
“I thought it would be pretty hard,” Drake said. “I was worried about flying and singing and doing choreography all at the same time. But it’s not too bad. It’s really awesome, actually. … It’s way more fun than I thought it would be. It feels like you’re actually flying.”
The other leads of the play — senior Samantha Ricard, who plays Wendy, freshman Ryan Vigeant, who plays Michael, and junior Sean FitzGerald, who plays John — were drawn to Peter Pan mostly because they love theater, but getting cast in the leading roles was, considering the show, pretty great.
“[Flying is] getting to become more comfortable,” Ricard said. “It’s also quite a workout! You’re using different muscles than you’re used to using.”
They don’t fly and sing as much as Drake, and neither do they fly in the same patterns. (They’ll swing like a pendulum, while Drake’s harness is on a track that runs the whole stage.) But they’re looking forward to performing stunts — at one point, Vigeant will need to spring into the air and grab a teddy bear, and at another, the three of them will need to come together and join hands while flying.
Putting together Peter Pan was a bit of a risk for show director Joel Iwaskiewicz and Prior. The pair (who happen to be engaged) wanted to raise the bar from last year’s energy-driven period musical, Singin’ in the Rain.
“Peter Pan stuck out because it’s such an ensemble piece. You have Indians, pirates, lost boys, and it’s such an imaginative, well-known story that really gives a lot of creative license,” Iwaskiewicz said in a phone interview before the flying rehearsal.
But Peter Pan would be risky. High school theater budgets aren’t hefty, and in order for the show to be top-tier, a step up from last year’s, there would need to be flying.
“There was distant hope that we’d be able to bring in the flying crew. It took a lot of number crunching to see if our budget would sustain it. It was a gleeful risk. … But we are so enthusiastic about what we do, and we knew [flying] would increase the quality of the production,” Iwaskiewicz said.
Peter Pan also requires a lot of people, onstage and off. A handful of students, including senior class president and ensemble pirate Ken Tremblay, will be muscles backstage, responsible for the amount of air each flyer gets.
Some crew members will have to be responsible for heaving half or two thirds of the flyer’s weight, while others, because of the harnesses’ style, will take on the full force.
Tremblay is one of those full-forcers and was pretty sore after a couple of practices. It requires a lot of energy, both physically and mentally.
“You need to pay attention to what’s happening onstage at all times,” Tremblay said.
As for creative licenses, they’re adding a few twists to the traditional stage version. Instead of early 20th-century London, they’re setting this rendition in 2013 America. On the walls of the Darlings’ room will be Star Wars posters, and Wendy will be a guitar player like her hero Taylor Swift. Instead of a dog named Nana, they’ll be watched by a selfie-taking babysitter.
“Peter Pan is such a time-tested story that everybody knows. We wanted to shake it up a little bit,” Iwaskiewicz said.
They took inspiration from all versions of Peter Pan, from Disney and Mary Martin to Hook and Finding Neverland. They also added a few pirates, of which 20 will be played by faculty members. The Indians will be sporting hard-core, Amazonian-like costumes, and the crocodile will be less of a prop and more of a character, with three students dressed in a large, intricate costume they created themselves.
“We admire how they throw 150 percent of themselves into this production. Their energy is just remarkable,” Prior said.
As seen in the March 13, 2014 issue of the Hippo.