'Peter Pan' production lifts off tonight
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
"Every production is unique, offering a challenge," said Christensen, whose business is to give flight to actors and even inanimate objects in theatrical productions. Flying by Foy, the company division that uses wires and harnesses to give proverbial wings to such shows as "Peter Pan," is the world's largest flying effects company.
"And it's a lot more fun than scary," Christensen said of the task. "At Diamond Head, the height (of the available flying space) was a bit short for us in terms of what we're accustomed to doing. And instead of an upstage window (common in most stage productions), we had to go with a side window."
"It's really fun. The first time I went up, I really liked it," said Tx Tario, 8, the youngest of the fliers and a second-grader at Hanahau'oli School. "I had the jitters the first time, but I could feel the height. I was so happy when I got the part of Michael (the youngest of the three Darling kids, who fly). Any role would have done, but I got the one I wanted."
Elizabeth Harrison, who, like Peter Pan, never gives her age, also is enjoying her mid-air moments as the title character.
"I have no fear of flying, and it's not terribly high, but I did develop some bruises," said Harrison.
The fliers are outfitted in padded bicycle pants to provide a bit of a buffer and reduce the discomfort. And because Harrison is in flight more than the others, she required additional padding on the hips because of a harness buckle at her hip bone.
"I'm up in the air so much, the padding helps a little," she said, sounding like a licensed pilot.
Christensen said body weight makes a difference in the ease with which an actor flies. Tario is 50 pounds, and Harrison is 103-1/2 pounds, all relatively manageable poundage to elevate.
"But we've flown a large guy like Chris Farley (the late actor-comedian) on 'Saturday Night Live' too, so it's possible to get (heavier types) up there," said Christensen, who was an actor at 15 but turned to tech work as an adult.
Among Christensen's recent credits is "Aida," the Disney-Elton John-Tim Rice musical still running on Broadway, for which he designed and built the flying elements. After his "Peter Pan" duties ended last week, he flew to Osaka to mount the aerial dynamics for a Japanese production of "Aida."
It takes two handlers to help
Harrison get airborne; each of the three children actors (besides Tario, the flying performers playing the Darling children are Kristina Sault as Wendy, and Justin Hashimoto as John) has one person manipulating the ropes.
Part of the ease Up There is the trust on the stage floor.
"My dad, Ron, is the one pulling me," said Tario. "He's a rigger. So I'm in good hands."
Tario said he's been acting half his life, since he was 4, and has an older brother, TJ, who also is an actor, and a younger sister, T'l (pronounced like "teal"), who aspires to be one.
"I like acting, because I get to meet a lot of new people and do things I've never done before. Like flying. I like that," he said.
His unusual name, he said, was picked by his dad, a fan of the Dallas Texans (now the Cowboys). "He spelled it without the 'e,'" he said of "Tex," "so I'm Tx. Everyone thinks it's a misspelling."
Harrison said she's had to learn to overcome the constricting feeling over her rib cage and diaphragm when she's singing. "I take a deep breath and go for it," she said.
"With practice, I've built up my confidence level. And I'm on very good terms with the two people handling me; one to take me up and down, the other who flies me across the stage."
Turns out that Harrison has an added challenge in her journey above ground: She has been blind in the left eye since birth. "My peripheral vision is limited, so I have to be extra careful when I fly," she said. "What's interesting is that Sandy Duncan (who recreated the role, well after Mary Martin originated it) also is blind in one eye, making the flying a real challenge for her too.
"I've wanted to be Peter Pan since I was 4; I absolutely loved seeing Mary Martin (in the Broadway version) on tape; I wanted to be her, and I once jumped off a bookshelf, much to the chagrin of my mom, who had to rush me to the hospital for several stitches on my head," she said.
As an adult, Harrison has discovered a lot more complexity to Peter Pan than the image of a playful little boy from Neverland who never wants to age. "I did a lot of research on how the character came to be and how it has developed, from the book (written by Sir James M. Barrie) to the stage play to the stage musical."
Because she needs energy to get through her role, Harrison said she has a light meal before taking to the stage and air. "You can't have a nine-course Chinese meal, but you need to have something sensible, to be able to fly, to keep up the energy," she said.
Reach Wayne Harada at email@example.com, 525-8067 or fax 525-8055.