Cast of Aspen High School’s ‘Peter Pan’ takes to the skies
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘Peter Pan’ Aspen High School Spring Musical
Where: Aspen District Theatre
When: Thursday, March 14 through Sunday, March 17
How much: $15/adults; $10/students
“Can you really fly?” the young John Darling asks the iconic title character in an early scene of the stage musical “Peter Pan.”
Peter responds, hands confidently planted on hips: “I’ll teach you.”
With that, Peter takes off and begins singing “I’m Flying” while soaring over the stage set of the Darlings’ bedroom.
As Aspen High School prepares its spring musical production of “Peter Pan,” which opens tonight, Peter (Morgan Witt) really can fly. And it’s theater flight specialist Ryan Stanger doing the teaching.
Last week, on the tail end of two days of flying rehearsals, Stanger — flying director with the industry-leading, Las Vegas-based Flying By Foy — was bounding across the stage of the Aspen District Theatre, guiding the young cast and crew through the finer points of aerial choreography on the “I’m Flying” sequence.
Strapped into a harness with a razor-thin wire attached to her back and linked to a pulley system overhead, Witt took to the task with glee.
“I have to do a corkscrew and I watched my life flash before my eyes,” Witt said between takes, then added with a smirk and a shrug: “But, hey, that’s the theater.”
The day’s flying actors included Witt as Pan, Bridger Thompson as John Darling, Jessica Vesey as Wendy and Mateo Tafferelli behind her as Michael. They’re joined by a cast of more than 60 Aspen High and Aspen Middle School students in a production running through Sunday.
Stage-side, hidden behind the curtain, Aspen High senior and fly leader Lilly Easterling was intently working her pulley and eyeballing Witt’s flight path. It’s Easterling’s job to control Witt’s side-to-side movements, while the grown-up volunteer Curtis Fawley muscles his rope to move Pan from stage to ceiling.
Stanger’s team at Flying By Foy handled the stage flights for NBC’s “Peter Pan Live!” broadcast in 2014, on Katy Perry’s “California Dreams” tour and the recent Broadway production of “Mary Poppins.” The company is named for founder Peter Foy, who pioneered a new pendulum system that revolutionized Broadway theatrics with the flying effects in the original 1954 production of “Peter Pan.”
Working with the young cast, Flying By Foy’s Sanger was professional but kid-friendly — punctuating the rehearsal’s small victories and moments of progress with an enthusiastic cry of “Coolio!”
Short and stocky, wearing glasses and a goatee, he doled out quick and clear adjustments after each run through with his young flying cast. After a few stumbles and adjustments on Pan’s stage flight, he boomed: “That’s exactly what we’re going for right now! Think about anticipating the next move.”
On their second day of flight training, the team was working on a particularly intricate move in “I’m Flying,” in which Peter takes flight, sings while doing some aerial dancing, lands on a bed on one side of the stage, takes off again and then lands atop a fireplace on the far side of the stage.
It requires the fly team to place Witt in exactly the right place in the air at just the right part in the song and it requires Witt to stick the landing mid-song on a thin strip above the fireplace.
On their first two run-throughs they overshot the mark and Witt was left dangling. But by the third attempt, miraculously, she landed and didn’t miss a beat.
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Painter Annie Decamp met the Denver-based artist Michael Dowling at a show a few years ago, and asked if he would mentor her.