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Pan in the sky

ANNA BLOOM, Of the Record staff

When Peter Pan needs to fly, he needs, more than a dose of Tink’s fairy dust, a visit from Flying by Foy.

Enter Peter Pickett, Flying by Foy flying director. Two weeks ago, he worked to suspend actors in a production of Monty Python’s comedic musical "Spamalot," but spends much of his time on Las Vegas shows, where his company is based.

On an early Saturday morning last week, Pickett is supervising actress Molly Jackson as she sails from wall to wall on the set of the Darling family nursery room at Park City’s Egyptian Theatre. The actress is wearing a custom-made harness attached to a 16th-of-an-inch-thick wire, strong enough to hold more than 10 times her weight, controlled by a technical staff backstage.

By this Friday’s opening-night performance, Jackson will be singing, flying and acting sans-Pickett for audiences something of a feat, given her phobia. She confesses she is also suspending her fear of heights for the sake of the role. "I decided from the beginning not to let myself freak out," she says.

And working with Pickett seems to be calming her fears with his direction. "I’ve learned a lot from Johnny the way you move can give away whether it’s you flying or someone pulling you," she says. "flying is part of your character."

Recruiting Pickett was essential to the Egyptian’s production, since, as first-time Egyptian director Adrieanne Moore notes, flying is one of the essential attractions to the Peter Pan.

"There are three fun things that appeal to people when they go to see Peter Pan," she says. "First is the character of Pan and the character of Hook who have become archetypical in our culture; second is the idea of Neverland, a fantasy life with no responsibility; finally, it’s the notion of flying people are really intrigued by it. It’s still thrilling even though we know how it works."

Pickett’s career in Las Vegas began when he worked as a technician for the big cat-taming entertainers Siegfried and Roy.

As flying director for Flying by Foy for the last few years, Pickett has traveled around the world, to Tokyo for an opening of the musical "Wicked," and Sao Paulo, Brazil, for a Disney production. Already, he’s directed flying for 45 Peter Pan productions 12 in the last year alone, and without ever being part of the cast himself. One day, he says, he hopes to play Mr. Smee, Captain Hook’s accomplice. "Smee’s got all the great lines," he says. "A good Smee can steal the show."

The founder of the parent company, "Foy Inventerprises," Peter Foy brought his theatrical flying know-how from Britain to Broadway in 1954, when he helped raise Mary Martin above audiences in New York and then for her television special, which brought fame not only to the story of Peter Pan and Martin, but also drew attention to Foy. According to Foy’s 2005 obituary in the New York Times, "Though the tradition of flying dates back perhaps 2,000 years to the creaky deus ex machina of classical antiquity, it was largely dormant in the United States when Mr. Foy arrived."

"We’ve invented the equipment and for a small company to reinvent the wheel it gets expensive and not necessarily safe," Pickett explains. "We have expertise and a long history of safe, successful shows, and unfortunately, there are a lot of theatres out there who try to cut corners and do their own flying and that’s when people get hurt."

His method has three phases: first, he shows actors how to wear their harnesses; next he helps to choreograph fight scenes and flights to the music; and finally, he incorporates the rest of the floor-bound cast.

Pickett approaches his job as part instructor, part director and part choreographer "There’s much more to flying than ropes and pulleys," he insists. "It’s acting. An actor flies for the same reason he or she crosses the stage and it has to be believable."

The Egyptian’s production of "Peter Pan" will run through Nov. 29 at the Mary G. Steiner Egyptian Theatre at 328 Main St. The opening night performance is this Friday, Nov. 23, at 8 p.m. Other performance times will be Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., with Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. on Dec. 8, 15, 22, and 29. Tickets are $17 to $36 with discounts for seniors, students and children. Group discounts are available. Purchase tickets 24 hours a day at http://www.parkcityshows.com or call the Egyptian Theatre box office at (435) 649-9371.


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