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Strings, no wings

Flying by Foy system helped Mary Martin take flight in 1954 'Peter Pan'

Flying by Foy system helped Mary Martin take flight in 1954 'Peter Pan'

February 28, 2002

Have you ever dreamed you could fly?

The young actors in the Williamsport High School production of "Peter Pan" need a little more than lovely thoughts and fairy dust to take off.

They wear under-costume harnesses which connect to thin multi-strand steel cables, according to James Hanson of Foy Inventerprises, part of Flying by Foy, the Las Vegas-based company which has been launching casts of the musical for more than 50 years.

Arms and legs are free, and the between-the-shoulders hookup prevents the actors from tipping upside down, Hanson says.

The cables run to a complex system of pulleys above the stage and out of the audience's sight. Two crew members manipulate each flying actor - one handles the up-and-down motion and one handles the left-to-right motion. Peter Pan's pendulum-type rigging also permits front-to-back flight.

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Peter Foy, a young English stage manager, came to Broadway in 1950 to stage a production of "Peter Pan," which starred Jean Arthur and Boris Karloff. He returned to fly Mary Martin in 1954, according to the company's Web site at www.flybyfoy.com.

The details of the airborne action were brought to Williamsport by Foy's Perry Fertig, who has been traveling from Philadelphia with Foy flying equipment for about three and a half years. He says he's never stopped to count how many actors and backstage technicians he's trained.

Fertig spent three days in Williamsport last week, rigging the 40-foot-wide, 30-foot-deep stage and training the volunteer crew and actors. Ray Henderson, a 1985 WHS alumnus, is flying director.

The actors are strapped into tightly fitting harnesses.

"It's like a corset," says Sara Drury, 17, a senior.

"It hurts," says Bryant Sigler, 14, the WHS freshman who plays John Darling.

His sister, Branin Sigler, 17, who portrays Wendy Darling, was initially scared about the prospect of flying.

"Now it's really cool," she says. "Once you get up in the air and fly really fast, it's the greatest feeling."

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