Dare to Fly: Theater Arts Department Brings the Art of Stage Flight to Campus

The audience gasped as a nightingale swooped in from the wings, skittered across the stage, and then fluttered up to a high perch on the opposite side of the stage, from where she sang sweetly. They oohed and aahed again as a bat flew to the center of the stage and hung there suspended, singing to the frightened child below. These were some of the breathtaking visual effects audiences experienced during L’Enfant et les Sortilèges, this year’s annual opera collaboration between the Department of Theatre Arts and the School of Music.

With support from the School of Humanities and Sciences Educational Grant Initiative, the Department of Theatre Arts, in conjunction with the School of Music, brought a team of professional theatrical flyers to campus to present workshops for theater and music students on how to fly stage performers. This same team of professional flyers collaborated with David Lefkowich, the director of the spring’s opera production of L’Enfant et les Sortilèges to produce stunning effects, as a variety of characters made their stage appearance by flying in from great heights.

To teach actors and crew how to fly, ZFX of Louisville, Kentucky, visited the College to install the equipment and host several workshops. In a series of four workshops, one reserved for the performers and technicians associated with the opera production, Jason Whicker of ZFX introduced students and faculty to the art and craft of performer flying. The hands-on/in-flight workshops were enthusiastically attended by over 50 participants: “It allowed us, as students, insight into an advanced theater technology that we perhaps may not have otherwise seen until we entered the professional world,” according to Rob Sambrato ’11 (theater production arts major). Performers appreciated the opportunity as well: “As classical singers, we don’t get tons of experience with technical theater work,” said Laura Intravia ’09, one of the singers in the production. “Having the flying workshops was a really great way to learn a different way to sing while suspended in the air in a harness.”

For the students involved in the opera itself, incorporating the flying techniques into the production was challenging and exciting. For M.K. Bedosky ’09, who was both the flight supervisor and assistant master carpenter for the opera, learning to fly actors was a new experience: “It’s all about weight and balance between you and the performer,” she says. “To fly a performer offstage and land takes a ton of pull down on the rope.” Backstage the flight crew leapt from various ladders and platforms, making the onstage action appear seamless. Amy Suznovich ’09, the singer who thrilled audiences as the nightingale, observed: “Flying is very physical. I’ve had a lot of sore muscles from it, and it requires a large amount of teamwork, trust, and balance.”

Colin Stewart, assistant professor of theater arts and technical director for the production, noted that the process to bring flying to this production “included a tremendous amount of time to set, organize, choreograph, and rehearse so that it ran smoothly and safely during the run of the show. These effects were phenomenal learning experiences for the students involved onstage, backstage, and for all that observed the process in production.” Director David Lefkowich agreed, observing that incorporating flying truly enhanced the production: “Most collegiate productions are content to have their performers running around the stage, flapping their arms. This opportunity allowed us to create the idea of flying and ultimately made more of an impact on the audience. It allowed an insight into a wonderful theatrical aesthetic that will prepare our students for other stunts and effects of their kind.” He added, “I have never seen L’Enfant look so spectacular.”

flying performers

Flying performers during L'Enfant et les Sortilèges

flying workshop

Flying expert Jason Whicker teaches students about performer flying.