Imagine being able to go to school and before the day ends, you have taken flight and seen the school from a whole new perspective using Hollywood special effects.
That was a reality for some Greenwood High School students on Thursday (Oct. 17) as they started working for the second day with equipment that has them flying through the school's performing arts center in preparation for a performance of Peter Pan next month.
Greenwood drama teacher Tim Peerbolte said the school's drama department spent about $7,000 to rent the system from the Louisville, Ky.-based ZFX Flying Effects. In order to pay for rental of the system, Peerbolte said it required a collaborative effort.
"We have a great support system from our school district," he said. "They provide us money to do the productions. We have great community involvement that has helped provide money. We've gotten advertising money from the city. All ticket sales, everything goes back into the Greenwood drama department pool to produce the next show that we do."
The system, which will lift nine different cast members at various points throughout the show, is one that requires a large amount of support.
Flying Director Russell Morgan of ZFX Flying Effects has been in Greenwood working with students and faculty in order to teach them how to not only operate the equipment, but how to properly incorporate the equipment into their production.
Morgan, whose worked on plays such as “Wicked,” movies such as “The Hangover 3” and television shows such as Saturday Night Live during his time with ZFX, said as unusual as it might seem, Greenwood is one of many high school drama departments across the nation using sophisticated flying devices.
"Probably four, or maybe five, of my shows in the next four weeks are high schools," he said. "They're variations of every type of show you can think of."
The various shows hosted by high schools that Morgan is taking part in include Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, Ragtime, Fiddler on the Roof and Beauty and the Beast.
Morgan said the amount of prep time most school drama programs normally receive from ZFX is only days.
"It usually takes a week," he said. "To get the operators on it, it only takes three days. It's learning the choreography that takes the time because the operators have the final say in this. They're the ones that are actually doing the flying. If the actor's not on their right spike mark or something like that, we don't lift. So it's up to the actors to get where they need to be and the operators to be focused on the actors."
And while the world has seen many technological advances in the last several decades, for many groups – including the Greenwood drama department – sending cast members into the air still requires the basics of ropes, hands and muscles.
"The first few days really hurt (the operators)," he said. "They can really feel the muscles they're not (used to) using. … I think a lot of people think they can do this in their sleep. And I say, 'Fine. You're lifting the biggest person out there.' Which is fine, they can lift them. But they come in whining the next day and it's not their arms and shoulders, it's their fingers because you really have to grip those ropes because you are really holding people up."
And even though Morgan said many groups only get up to a week or more of training before performing, Greenwood got lucky due to scheduling conflicts. The system was installed more than a month in advance of their show, with the training taking place this week.
Cast member Kaetlyn McGrew, a senior at Greenwood, is one of two students splitting the role of Peter Pan. She said letting others control where she travels and at what speed has been an adjustment, but it has also been a thrill.
"It's really weird because I'm a short person and you'd think I'd have a fear of heights. But then when I get up there, it's like nothing. I love it. Being up in the air, it gives me goosebumps. And I'm so lucky to be able to do that. But it is kind of weird because you don't have complete control of your body. It's like you have to twirl yourself around just to stay forward and you have to know how to move your legs and stuff."
Peerbolte said the Greenwood High School production of Peter Pan will take place Nov. 21 and 23 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets for the performances are $5 for adults and $3 for students.