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"Come Fly With Me": Take Your Stage Productions To The Next Level

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If you are the stage director or technical director of a theater company, you've probably watched with envy at shows where cast members appeared to be soaring through the air with a fly system. A number of today's popular shows use flying--not just for stage pieces but for humans too:

  • Willy Wonka
  • Peter Pan
  • Mary Poppins
  • Wicked
  • Pippin

Here are some tips for taking your company to the next level by using a fly system for extra special effects.

Adding to Basic Fly Rigging

You may already have some basic fly rigging in place for lights and individual pieces of scenery (line sets for things you don't move often). Using a more sophisticated fly system allows you to make lightening fast scene changes and fly people through the air.

In addition to the synthetic ropes, blocks, and counterweights you have for basic rigging, you would need to add wire ropes or aircraft cable and harnesses for flying people. Using wire rope provides an additional measure of safety for your cast, and it's quieter and less visible than synthetic rope as well. You can find durable wire ropes from companies like Jakob Rope Systems

Flying Actors

Flying your cast can make a good show great. Many theater companies don't know where to start with a production that involves flying. A great way to begin is to hire a stage flying specialist--a consultant that works exclusively in stage flying.

A stage flying specialist provides all the equipment you don't have, as well as personnel to run it. You can watch and learn from the consultants, and they can advise you on issues like what to purchase for your own fly system and what union standards mandate for all productions using flying.

Using a Stage Flying Specialist

If you decide to go ahead and use a stage flying consultant, there are some things you should know if advance:

  • Book your stage flying specialist at least several months in advance. Be aware that Christmas and Easter are especially busy times for these consultants, as church productions also use flying.
  • A good consultant can rig track systems for low height theaters, outdoor theaters, or even theaters in the round. The more information you can provide when you book them, the more effective they will be at providing solutions for your particular theater.
  • Each actor must have their own live fly handler. Some consultants will provide handlers or train your crew to do it themselves.
  • Plan to load in the fly equipment about a week before you open, and plan some special rehearsals just for flying, especially if you have cast members who are afraid of heights.
  • Stage flying specialists can work with your set and lighting designers to make the wire ropes as invisible as possible to the audience and to arrange the set so handlers can see their respective actors at all times during a performance.

Once you start using flying in your productions, you'll want to use it for every show. Top theaters, like the Olivier in the UK, have all but their human flying completely automated, with cues programmed into a computer system. Their infrared cameras even see the stage during blackouts between scenes.

You may be able to command higher prices for your tickets once you mount more technical productions, which is always a boost for the bottom line. Once you set the stage craft vision for your shows "sky high," the rest of your production quality will likely follow suit.