Poppins takes flight


Photo courtesy of MTPA

The leads pictured from left to right: Abram Wolfe, Patrick McCarthy, Kristen Bennett, Ayush Iyer, and Audrey Pavlica.

Maddie Balestier

The music starts, and actors rush onstage, each holding their own colorful kite. All of a sudden, a figure appears at the top of the curtain—Mary Poppins—gracefully floating out of the sky, singing a soaring melody as she descends. The scene is magical and playful and filled with the excitement of the production.

The rigging that allows Audrey Pavlica (Mary Poppins) and her costar, Ayush Iyer (Bert), to fly during scenes like this is a recent addition to the production of the spring musical Mary Poppins. The rigging was installed on February 20th, and the actors have been practicing with it for many hours since then.

All the gear was designed and built at ZFX Flying, a company that produces and installs rigging for theatrical productions.

“We have people who are very, very smart who design and build this stuff,” said Shad Ramsey, a representative from ZFX. Ramsey spent two days setting up and helping the others learn how to operate the flying system, although he won’t be around for the show.

The system installed at the high school is called a two-to-one system. This means that the operators who are lifting the performers are only pulling half their weight, along with an extra inline weight that takes off another 25 pounds.

When the gear is finished and built, it is run through a destruction test at ZFX to see what the breaking point is, and then it is independently tested at an outside entity to make sure everything is working properly.

“The gear is rated to ungodly amounts of poundage, so our performers are very safe. The wire rope that they’re hanging on has a breaking strength of 2,000 pounds, so unless they’ve swallowed a Buick, they are safe,” Ramsey said.

There are two operators who work the rigging—one who moves the actor left to right, and another who moves them up and down. The two operators for the show are Mrs. Michelle Luther, an English teacher at MT, and Mr. Chuck Piper, father of Abby Piper, a member of the ensemble for Mary Poppins.

“It’s a really amazing team that they’ve put together. I feel safe and trusting of the people controlling me,” said Pavlica.

Both operators have to work together to make sure all the effects work and everything looks smooth.

“It’s really exciting. It’s more challenging than I had anticipated because you have to watch the kid and you have to watch the ropes,” Luther said. “But it’s just so exciting to be a part of the show that I know everyone is really going to look forward to [seeing].”

Pavlica and Iyer both have different types of harnesses to accompany the different flying needs of their characters. Pavlica uses a seat harness, which clips at her hips because she doesn’t move around in the air as much as Iyer does. Iyer’s harness is more complex — he uses a somersault harness that has clips with swivels on his hips. This harness allows him to do flips and tricks while flying through the air.

“It’s not the most comfortable harness,” Ramsey said. “He’s been an absolute trooper for it.”

One of the most challenging aspects of using this gear is that “because a lot of the muscle energy goes [to your core], sometimes you forget about the arms and the face,” Iyer said. The actors don’t only have to maintain good posture while in the air, but they also have to keep their expressions and acting alive at the same time.

But even with these challenges, the excitement of “flying” through the air doesn’t go away.

“It’s such an incredible opportunity. I feel like it’s something so many people never get the chance to do. I’m so thankful that our school has been able to get the resources to do so because it’s such a special thing for all of us to experience. And honestly, it’s so, so fun being up in the air,” Pavlica said.

The actors have been practicing nonstop for the upcoming production, which is showing on March 3 and 4 at 7:00 pm, and on March 5 at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm. “Both Audrey and Ayush are awesome performers and also really smart kids, so I think it’s going to look really cool,” said Mrs. Samantha Haldeman, one of the directors of the production. “[I’m] super proud of them.”