Extravagant aerial effects aren’t just for Broadway anymore.
This year, Alden High School’s theater program made the decision to add aeronautical effects to their repertoire. They’re taking on Disney’s “Tarzan” and all the high-flying, upbeat action that comes with it.
During four performances this weekend, stage crew members, with the help of world-renowned ZFX Flying Effects, will send seven students flying across the stage, and countless others will swing on the ground.
Aeronautics is an unusual undertaking for a high school program, and it was a spectacular surprise when the announcement about the show was made.
Most of the cast members were extremely excited when they heard they were taking flight, but some were a little scared.
“I was terrified because I’m really afraid of heights,” said Ian Johnson, who plays Young Terk in the musical. In the role, Ian not only flies but also hangs – and sings – upside down.
After a few days of practice however, the cast felt confident.
“It’s a surreal feeling, it’s so cool that our school has the ability to put on a show like this,” said Paige Rzepka, who plays Jane.
“Now we just have to practice and keep doing it over and over again until it’s perfect,” said Maxwell Gucinski, who plays Tarzan.
The first goal was, of course, safety. All the students involved were thoroughly prepared by ZFX Flying Effect’s director, Stu Cox. Students running the rigging had nearly six hours of professional setup and training.
“We take a lot of safety precautions,” said scenery manager Emily Beres. “We always have backup, and if we feel the rope slipping we’re taught to make others aware.”
The stage crew members go to extreme lengths to make sure safety is the first priority.
Harness checks are performed before every show to ensure the cast members are tightly secured into their harnesses.
“It’s a team effort,” said Alex Bielawa, assistant stage manager. “If they (the actors) didn’t work with us then we would have no idea what tricks they’re planning on doing. They have to tell us what they’re doing so we know how to control things behind the scenes.”
While there have been a few bumps and bruises along the way the crew and cast always find a way to work as a team.
“Stage crew does a really good job,” said Jill Farrell the vocal director. “We see great things out here on stage, but there’s so much going on behind the scenes.”
However, the show hasn’t come without its challenges. All the directors faced their own struggles with the aerial effects and other aspects of the show.
Matt Masci, the technical director and producer said that the crew did not get the equipment in until two weeks ago.
“We had to proactively set up the equipment around where we thought the flying effects would go,” he said.
In addition, he pointed out that the actors must have enough room to swing, leap and jump both on and above the stage. These movements all had to be thought through before the crew actually got the equipment.
Farrell said that there are also musical challenges.
“Some of them sing upside down and all of them have harnesses that alter their breathing,” she said. “The more they get comfortable with flying, the more they’ll be able to get back to their normal breathing and singing.”
Farrell, who also conducts the pit orchestra, said that she struggles to conduct and teach the oddly upbeat music. From the difficult time signatures, to the 105 key changes within the show, the music poses great difficulty, she said.
Director and choreographer Lori Gramza not only had to choreograph the dance numbers but had to perform some aerial effects, as well.
“I told the kids how I wanted everything to work,” she said. “Once we brought the flying pieces in, their movements were limited and the logistics of that changed things.”
Costume director Amy Frobel made all the costumes for the show and not only had to sew dozens of gorilla suits but also had to alter her designs to ensure the harnesses could be properly placed. All the backs of the costumes were left open until the harnesses arrived, and once fitted the costumes were then sewed up around them.
Although this show’s flying effects have surpassed expectation, the show has several other aspects that make it one of a kind. The set has three levels and includes a treehouse, a waterfall and an enormous volcano. The actors make use of every inch, so there’s always something to see.
Professional-grade lighting features, such as LEDs, can turn the stage virtually any color, and rotating front lights allow the audience to feel like they’re part of the show.
“There’s so much to look forward to,” said Matt, “from the great visual effects to the upbeat music, the very talented cast. We’ve added a couple things to the show ourselves that weren’t traditionally in the Broadway production to make this a spectacular show.”
“It’s going to be unlike any show you’ve ever seen,” said Carl Farrell, who plays Terk. “It’s got wirework, great music, and a cast that loves each other and considers themselves family – really everything you need to pull off an amazing show.”
Alden High School’s production of Disney’s “Tarzan” opens at 7. p.m. today in the Wilson R. Conrad Memorial Auditorium at the high school, 13190 Park St., Alden. Additional performances will take place at 7 p.m. Friday and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday.
Reserved tickets are $10 and must be picked up 45 minutes before the show. Tickets are $12 at the door. To reserve tickets call Missy at 308-8998.
Emma Retzlaff is a senior at Alden High School.