Flying monkeys push the limits, imagination
One morning in March 2011, Midge Shaw’s phone kept ringing. Cheboygan High School’s music director rolled out of bed to receive the phone call she never imagined she would receive in her life. The Opera called. They said, “Hey, we’ve got two tons of steel they’re trying to drop on our doorstep and if you don’t do anything with it now, we’ll send it back.”
Two tons of steel beams arrived ahead of time. It was vital for the production of Cheboygan Area High School’s musical “The Wizard of Oz” in 2011. It would take quick thinking, two tons of steel, a professional flight director, a huge commitment from the city of Cheboygan and a big dose of poetic faith to get the show off the ground. Midge dreamed of flying monkeys.
She made a few quick phone calls, rushed to the Opera House, and had the metal stacked and stored with the help of a few friends. His next surprise came the next morning. World-renowned flight director Stu Cox showed up at 7 a.m. wearing waist-length dreadlocks and a knee-length kilt. Cox has directed Stratford Festival’s ‘Tommy’, rock band Green Day’s musical ‘American Idiot’ and countless worldwide productions of ‘Peter Pan’. He also led the opening ceremony of the International Children’s Games.
The technical aspect of stage flight is astronomical. In a 2013 interview with The Torontoist, Cox said, “When I arrive on location with the equipment, I work with the venue’s production team to set it up and get it in the air. After we have fully checked the safety, I start training the actor on how to “fly” and the crew on how to use the flight system. It can be quite physically and mentally demanding work for the crew and the cast – it’s like learning a new sport or a new dance style – but once they have the basics down we can start choreographing it. real effect. That’s a lot of reps, a few tweaks and more reps to get a ready flight effect. When the effect is ready, we integrate it into the show, coordinating it with all the other aspects: actors, lights, sets, music, etc.
After:History of the Opera: Family Stories on Stage: Peter Shaw
After:History of the Opera: Family Stories on Stage: Midge Shaw
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Such talent comes at a high price. Between Cox, the steel, and the required equipment, Midge needed $6,000 to fly her monkeys. She did some serious fundraising. Publicity followed, including a TV interview with “Michigan This Morning”. It was the first-ever television appearance for the high school drama department. The citizens of Cheboygan believed in Shaw, believed in their children, and stood up to raise funds. Not only would a monkey fly, but so would the Good Witch, the Wicked Witch, Dorothy, the Wizard of Oz, and Toto.
The decision to fly on stage did not come without controversy. No one had ever flown on the Opera stage before. Stage manager Leo Cocciarelli didn’t particularly want anyone stealing from his stage. And the animals on stage are every stage manager’s nightmare.
A concerned citizen asked, “Are you really going to fly monkeys? Isn’t that animal abuse? »
A human – specifically Peter Hegenauer – played the role of the flying monkey, also serving as mayor of the Munchkins. The same question arose over the flight of Toto, played by Chance, Susan and Rocky Woods’ award-winning pup. Kris Olson’s plush toy Pomeranian was replaced by Chance during the robbery scene.
The cast was equally skeptical. Taylor Williams, as the Wicked Witch of the West, could barely ride a two-wheeler, but was expected to fly one across the stage. Jaycob Wood, the cowardly lion, approached Midge with his concerns and said, “This will never happen.”
Midge said, “It’ll be fine.”
It took a voluntary suspension of disbelief and some poetic faith. In 1817, poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the phrase:
“My efforts should be directed towards supernatural, or at least romantic, people and characters; but in such a way as to transfer from our inner nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for those shadows of the imagination that voluntary suspension of disbelief for the moment which constitutes poetic faith.
This is how Stu Cox teaches piloting to beginners. Cox said, “It’s so cool…almost Promethean…and I become a complete tech theater nerd when I try to explain it. It’s a literal behind-the-scenes redefinition of the theatrical term, “suspension of disbelief”, which is normally when the audience is asked to accept the unreality of the play (otherworldly tornadoes, witches, flying monkeys) and to follow. I ask rookie artists… cast, crew and directors… to put aside the “We’ve never done anything like this!” and “How can we do this in our theater?” while I teach them suspension of flight effects.
Cox often encounters disbelief, negativity and fear in his quest to help directors realize their vision. Facing deep fear, Cox builds a relationship based on trust. He told the Torontonian, “I start by getting them to talk and keep talking. It gives them something to do and a way to release some of the anxiety. It also allows me to get to know them better, discover their problem and find a solution. These solutions can range from small steps, like starting slow and slow and then gradually reaching full effect, to being a coach and helping an actor or operator perform a particular move until they perform it with confidence and consistency.
When disbelief is suspended, imagination soars.
To be continued …
— Kathy King Johnson is the former Executive Director of the Cheboygan Opera House.