StarStruck Theatre’s Peter Pan Soars

by Helen Chang
Fremont Patch, January 9, 2014

Heavens! That’s where Peter Pan and the Darling children—Wendy, John, Michael—are headed, three weekends starting January 10, thanks to a generous dose of fairy dust and an abundance of good thoughts.

Actually, they’re hoisted toward the proscenium arch onstage at Jackson Theatre at Ohlone College with the help of state-of-the-art rigging provided by ZFX. But the effect is skyward in StarStruck Theatre’s latest production of Peter Pan, the musical.

For four actors to fly simultaneously, five operators are assigned to ropes that manipulate up-and-down, and side-to-side movement. Trickier than it looks, the operators must work together to precisely coordinate the action in order to achieve a smooth flight. As in aeronautics, takeoffs and especially landings pose the greatest threat for mishap. During an early rehearsal, the Darling children tumble over each other on a poorly-executed landing as they collapse onto their bellies.

“This is only their first flying rehearsal, and they’ve already improved so much,” assured StarStruck Theatre artistic director Lori Stokes to the anxious parent of one of the operators. Full disclosure: that parent is me. My son, Forrest, operates the track that controls side-to-side movement. (Is there possibly a more nerve-wracking experience than to watch your teen take the safety of another child literally into their own hands? I think not.)

The actors themselves cop a sanguine attitude, though they can’t hide their glee as they get fitted for their harnesses.

“When he found out he gets to fly in this show, he got really excited,” said Don Apy, an operator of one of the up-and-down lines, about his son Andrew who plays John Darling. “But as excited as he is to fly, I’m even more excited than he is!” Apy gets to jump off a ladder to send his son rocketing two stories into the air. He and cast parent Eric Carlson (father of Lost Boy Braxton) alternate with another pair of parents on the up-and-down lines: Greg Edwards is father of pirate Kayla Martinez, and Chet Hall, who has done time in the StarStruck pit playing clarinet and saxophone, is father of pirate Katherine.

Stage tech regulars Evan Lola, Wyatt Ott, and Forrest Goodman round out the flight crew.

“Your first day hurts,” warned Russell Morgan, flight instructor for ZFX, “your second day sucks.” He has been doing this for 16 years, the past 10 with the company that provides flying effects for big-league shows including Taylor Swift’s concert tour, Cathy Rigby’s revival of Peter Pan at Madison Square Gardens, the 2012 London Olympics, and the current tours of Wicked overseas and in the States as well as on Broadway.

For her inaugural flight, 16-year-old Cheyenne Wells points her toes and extends her arms to execute a mid-air leap. Clearly, those years of lessons at Mission Dance and Performing Arts, and the more recent cheerleading practice, pay off for the gracefully athletic Washington High School junior.

By the end of her third day of practice, Wells, as Peter Pan, will have logged more than 36 flight hours. True to Morgan’s words, Wells is feeling the hurt by her second day and mentions matter-of-factly that she has bruises where the harness chafes. Though she smacked into various set pieces and has had a few nail-biting landings, there have been no disasters, and she is well on her way to mastering the important touchdowns. Or rather, her flight operators are.

With a few days to go before opening night on January 10, Wells and her flight crew unanimously affirm: Flying is so much fun!