Open Forum

To Fly or NOT to Fly?

  • 1.  To Fly or NOT to Fly?

    Posted 07-17-2017 11:18
    I'm doing research for Mary Poppins next spring and am wondering if it is worth the expense and aggravation of trying to fly Ms. Poppins and maybe Bert. The idea really scares me from a safety perspective, and I would have to do some extra fundraising to cover the cost of flying.  Here are my questions for those who have done this show:

    1. Those who have not flown Mary, how have you solved the problem of her flying back with the kite?

    2. Those who have flown - would you do it again?  Did you have adults running the rigging or students?

    3. What do you think the pros and cons are for flying in this show?

    Thanks for your help!

    Marla Blasko
    Theatre Arts Director
    Columbia MD

  • 2.  RE: To Fly or NOT to Fly?

    Posted 07-19-2017 13:58
    A search of past threads might help you find some of these answers, for example, there are some great points to consider in these threads:

    Flying Mary Poppins

    Flying Effects-Insurance

    Peter Pan

    From past discussions like these, it looks like your best bet is to consult/hire a company that specializes in flying effects to ensure safety and help answer technical questions.

    Ginny Butsch
    Community Manager
    Educational Theatre Association
    Alexandria KY

  • 3.  RE: To Fly or NOT to Fly?

    Posted 07-20-2017 06:17
    If you decide to fly go with the pros, yes it is at a cost, but there is no cost for safety when flying performers. When you decide to fly performers on your own you are assuming the liability should someone be hurt and your school is as well. When you contract a company they have the proper equipment and trained personnel.

    Should you decide not to fly, you could use lighting effects to represent flying or video projection.

    Jerry Onik
    V.P. Theatrical Supplies and Equipment
    Omaha NE

  • 4.  RE: To Fly or NOT to Fly?

    Posted 07-21-2017 10:40
    I've never read this script or seen this production, but I produced Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure last in 2016. I had raised money and had secured a company to do the flight, but when they did the site survey, we concluded that  because of the structure above my stage, and the way the lights were rigged, it wouldn't be feasible to utilize a fly system. So I searched for solutions, because Peter and the Darling children have to fly. I did an internet search and found this solution:

    This worked better than I thought it would. I even used it in fight sequences. The best part, is that I still have them. I was able to use them again this year for my production of Suessical. The cost was less than ten percent of what I would have spent to rent the fly system, and it's a long term solution that I can use for shows that don't necessitate a fly system, but can still incorporate flying.

    Hugh Fletcher
    Performing Arts Coordinator
    IS 229 Dr. Roland Patterson Middle School
    Roosevelt NY

  • 5.  RE: To Fly or NOT to Fly?

    Posted 07-21-2017 17:26
    As  insurance agent,  I would check with  agent if you are allowed to rig kids up in harnesses.

    What is the cause of claim?    Well....   The child didn't understand how to tie his harness properly and during the show, we were so full time of adrenaline, we lifted, well yes, yanked him thirty feet up rather quickly and... he fell forward and onto his head...  But these things happen in show business...

    Eek.      I doubt there is an exclusion in the policy but if you have an accident, you might get a non renewal and a huge rise in premium.      And of course, a memory that no one in the theater will ever forget...

    need waivers at least from the parents.    Maybe have a professional consultant instruct the kids how to wear and deal with harness so their liability insurance would be primary....

    Leon Kalayjian

  • 6.  RE: To Fly or NOT to Fly?

    Posted 07-22-2017 09:47
    Hi Marla.

    I have hosted 4 flying workshops at my high school, and had full flight in an original production two years ago (two full systems plus 6 Carinas).  We are seriously considering Mary Poppins for this spring as well.

    If you choose to fly, please please PLEASE hire a professional company, both for rigging and for choreography.  I've heard nightmare stories, and your students' safety is paramount.  Yes, it is expensive, but worth it.  I can give you my flying company's information.

    My students were my rope operators, trained just as my flyers were.  They were amazing!  My flying director did extensive training for everyone, and we had a fight and flight call before every rehearsal.  On the one day where things weren't "quite right" in call, we were able to contact him and figure out what the problem was (it was a matter of coordination for a tandem pull), and we got right back on track.  I had an adult backstage with my operators, but only to insure focus.  They were never needed - my students knew the stakes and never messed around.

    For Mary Poppins, we're considering an over the house flight for her entrance, and also rigging to have Bert do the proscenium walk.  I don't want to do that show without the flying!  :-)

    I'm happy to chat with you if I can help further.

    Shelly Riggs
    Logan High School

    Shelly Riggs
    Logan OH

  • 7.  RE: To Fly or NOT to Fly?

    Posted 07-23-2017 08:11
    Edited by Cary Rice 07-23-2017 08:33
    I have seen lighting and fog used effectively to have Mary Poppins enter down and exit up a ramp with her umbrella to create the illusion of flying, though one should make sure the fog doesn't create a slippery situation. It worked much better than I expected. The link above to the flying alternative for Pan is also intriguing and appears quite safe.

    That said, if you do choose to truly fly, use a professional flying company, and then go all out. If your space allows, I would have Mary fly over the audience and include Bert's proscenium walk as noted above. If you've already invested the time (for safety and training) and the money, why limit yourself?

    We used ZFX for flying Wizard of Oz this spring with responsible students as rope/flying operators (more about maturity and physical ability than age) and an adult as flying supervisor to check, double check, and triple check between rehearsals and performances, and between acts during peformances to address any issues, fortunately only minor ones for us. Allow enough flexibility/extra time in your rehearsal schedule for the training. It is a significant time commitment even for the flying operators (not just the actors flying), probably one of the reasons students are often used instead of adults. Also, make sure you have some volunteers who can help on load-in day. The flying director will take charge, but the rigging and fly system pieces can be heavy and can take a full day to install.

    For Wizard, it was worth it for us. I always said I would never produce/direct the show without flying...after all, they are called "flying" monkeys, not hopping monkeys in a circle ;). Of course, it also allowed for Dorothy, Glinda, the Wicked Witch, and the Wizard to fly.

    Additional incentives are that your ticket sales and audience response may increase. We averaged over 500 per show (four performances) and had to adjust the timing of our motion projection and acting cues after the opening performance to allow for audience applause after flying the tornado scene.

    It comes down to your vision, finances, and safety. In the end, will you be able to produce the show you wish without flying?

    Cary Rice
    Drama Director
    Christian Academy of Louisville (KY)

  • 8.  RE: To Fly or NOT to Fly?

    Posted 07-24-2017 08:45
    Thank you all for your input about flying Mary and suggestions for alternatives.  I would NEVER attempt to put a harness on a student actor and DIY flying without a professional company. I am especially cautious of even using a professional because in local productions who hired the pros, two people (one crew member and one cast member different shows) on the ground were injured by the equipment.  Both times it was adults injured who were trying to be helpful and got in the way of the flying and not the actor in the air. However, both injuries required stitches in the head - Scary!!!

    Thanks so much for sharing the Peter Pan article.  Cary - you are correct it does come down to "vision, finances, and safety."  I am still struggling with all of this, but at least now I have some alternatives if I decide to go without the expense of hiring the pros. You all have given me a lot to think about... sigh... it would be so cool to see Mary fly up from the stage up to the light booth!

    Thanks again!

    Marla Blasko
    Theatre Arts Director
    Columbia MD

  • 9.  RE: To Fly or NOT to Fly?

    Posted 07-29-2017 15:42
    Hi Marla

    Forgive my delay in responding.  I have been flying performers since 1983, and for full disclosure, I am the owner of a flying effects company (Vertigo - formerly Hall Associates Flying Effects).  First, let me echo to advice of many who posted that you should definitely hire one of the professional companies who specialize in flying performers - not a company who focuses in another area but will fly your performers anyway.

    When you work with a flying effects company, they should be considered part of your design team.  Adding flying effects is not like adding a fog machine - it is adding another dimension to your performance, and you should be in contact with your flying director as you are designing your set, lights, costumes, etc.  A flying company should work with you to ensure that the flying effects support your story and do not eclipse it; that the equipment should blend with your facility and not obscure it; that the choreography and training work with your level of operators and performers and not overwhelm them.  There is not a "standard package" for Mary Poppins, so you should be prepared to have some discussions with your flying director to determine what effects, equipment, and training are needed for YOUR production.  In many cases, the flying director will know the story better than you do (because they have done it so many times), so they may be able to help you with suggestions, such as how to return Mary to the park with the kite.

    Regarding Leon's concerns about insurance, remember that flying effects are supposed to bring a thrill to the audience, so it is in our nature to assume that it is dangerous.  The gear provided by a reputable flying company is specifically engineered to support the weight of performers, and provided that your operators and performers operate the system as they are trained, the performers are actually safer when flying than they are driving to the theatre.  All reputable flying companies have insurance, and your organization can be named as an additionally insured party on their insurance if you request it.

    Shameless plug - If you want to learn more about flying effects, I host an annual four-day master class in Illinois called TOP Flight (for Technicians Operators & Performers - TOP).  The 2017 master class begins next Wednesday, 8/2, so it may be a little late to attend this one.  For 2018, we are thinking of having two - one near Atlanta and one near Chicago.   The hands-on master class exposes you to how systems are designed, installed and maintained; harness choices and application; the basic physics of performer flight; how to tell a story using flying effects; and tips and tricks for better and safer rigging.  I am a tenured professor and an ETCP Recognized Trainer, so this would likely count toward continuing education credits as well - end of shameless plug.

    I am also pleased to say that the ESTA Technical Standards Program Rigging Working Group recently passed the very first ANSI standard directly addressing performer flying effects.  This is NOT a "how-to" document, nor is it a code of requirements.  It is an industry standard that was created by our group of subject matter experts to establish reasonable minimum expectations for flying effects in the entertainment industry.  I have a PDF copy of that standard - anyone wanting a copy, please contact me directly.

    If you have more questions, feel free to contact me off-list, or we can continue to thread :-).

    All my best!!

    Tracy Nunnally
    NIU - Professor / TD / Head of Design Tech Area / Head of BA Theatre Studies
    Vertigo - Owner / System Designer / Flying Director
    ETCP Certified Rigger / Recognized Trainer
    DeKalb, Illinois

  • 10.  RE: To Fly or NOT to Fly?

    Posted 08-02-2019 23:05
    Miss Marla Blasko,

    We were able to create a very nice effect, where during the song "Let's Go Fly a Kite", the ensemble came onto the stage and through the house in blacks holding cloud props. Bert and the children we're in a box seat area off of stage left and part of the ensemble in the house took the kite from them and passed it across the stage until it was off stage right, at which point Mary held it and walked toward the box as Bert and the kids reeled the kite in.

    Pros to a fly system;
    -Looks nice on stage
    -Creates a good magic effect

    Cons to a fly system;
    -Fly systems are expensive to rent or to install
    -A drop from 6 feet is enough to kill a person if the fall on the right spot of their body
    -A minor imbalance in the rigging could cause safety issues
    -If you plan to use a runaway, (which would look much smoother on stage), the operator could not easily control it in the case of an emergency

    I've seen people find many creative solutions, (see-saws, conveyor belts, a simple block behind the scrim, etc). You should also take into consideration if you would use your money's worth of the fly system in the future, AKA, are you planning on doing other shows in the future that would use it, like Wicked or Peter Pan or do you plan on doing the same Mary Poppins show for a long run. In my opinion though, unless it's already in the budget, a fly system really isn't worth it.

    I hope this helps!

    Brianna Lumi
    Alexandria VA

  • 11.  RE: To Fly or NOT to Fly?

    Posted 08-03-2019 09:33
    We did a cardboard cut-out silhouette  added some fabric and depth to it. We used one cable with both Mary and the kite, but each in different pillows, allowing us to move one with out the other. This allowed us to fly the kite up and then lower Mary down behind a strategically placed piece of scenery, that live Mary could walk out from behind.

    Douglas Parks