“I’m flying!” crowed 12-year-old Kara McGee-Russell as she sailed through an open window during a dress rehearsal for the Eldorado Children’s Theatre and Teen Players’ production of Peter Pan at the James A. Little Theater.
Kara wasn’t just pretending — as Peter, she was flying, wearing a harness under her green-and-brown costume that attached to a wire. Kara glided easily back and forth over the stage, and to the audience her flight appeared effortless.
Backstage, Kara’s dad, Patrick McGee-Russell, and Tom Brimacombe — the husband of Eldorado Children’s Theatre founder Lisa Lincoln — each pulled on a set of ropes to help Kara flit and flounce through the air. Youngsters playing Michael, John and Wendy Darling also had turns in flight.
McGee-Russell was the counterweight. Wearing gloves, he jumped from the second rung of a ladder as he grasped the thick rope that hoists an actor into the air. Brimacombe pulled on a smaller pulley, manipulating and fine-tuning the flyer’s movements across the stage.
“We really wanted to go all out, because flying is what Peter Pan is about,” said Lincoln, co-director of the show.
Eldorado Children’s Theatre employed the services of Flying by Foy. Founded in 1957, the company based in Las Vegas, Nev., provides professional “flying” systems for productions all over the world. A technician flew in from Malaysia, on his way to Spokane, Wash., to install the rigging at the James A. Little Theater.
Lincoln said she wanted to use the Flying by Foy system because she’s committed to professionalism. She founded her theater company 13 years ago because she wanted to provide an experience for Santa Fe children — including her own — that was similar to the one she had growing up in Denver.
“I was so shy, and I had one musical theater teacher who really brought me out and changed my life,” Lincoln said.
The production of Peter Pan features a live orchestra staffed by professional musicians and will use the original Broadway show’s choreography, arranged by Robyn Avalon. Lincoln added three Leonard Bernstein songs (from his little-known 1950s production of Peter Pan) to the local theater group’s version to “spice it up a bit.”
Forty-two actors between the ages of 7 and 17 will perform in Peter Pan. At dress rehearsal, Nana the dog wore a fluffy white costume, while countless Lost Boys ran around in fur caps and artfully tattered clothes. It goes without saying that the children playing Wendy, John, Michael and Peter are over the moon because they get to fly.
“It actually feels like flying,” said 12-year-old Hana Oden, who plays Wendy. Oden attends Santa Fe Preparatory School and recently moved to Santa Fe from Park City, Utah. “The first few days, the harness was uncomfortable, but now it’s fine,” she said. When she pops up into the air, Hana said, “it’s always a surprise.”
Portraying Peter is the first lead role for Kara, who’s in sixth grade at the El Dorado Community School. The part led to her first “serious haircut” and a search for the Mary Martin version of Peter Pan, which ended when a video cassette was found via Craigslist. (As a child of the digital age, Kara struggled to find the word for VHS.)
She described the show as the most intense she’d ever done, but she is clearly having the time of her life.
“Before we flew, I was a tiny bit anxious, shaking a little bit,” Kara said. “But once they got me up and I felt the wind, it was amazing.”
Along with the rest of the actors, Kara is in good hands. Her dad, McGee-Russell, the rope hoister, trained with Patrick Foy himself when McGee-Russell was a teenager working on another production of Peter Pan in Albany, N.Y.
The play is expensive to produce — about $10,000 — and exceeds the theater group’s usual budget. But Lincoln said the extra cost is worth it.
At the beginning of the play, when Peter is teaching the Darling children how to fly, he instructs them to think happy thoughts. Wendy and John call out things like “flowers!” and “picnics!” but Michael, the smallest (played by 8-year-old Avalon Whitten) says “candy!” over and over, until Peter says, “Lovelier thoughts, Michael.”
Michael thinks for a second, and then asks, “Christmas?” before he shoots straight up, all giggles and kicking feet.
“When Michael says ‘Christmas,’ how can I not have him go into the air? And the music goes with him,” Lincoln trailed off. “I just know it’ll get me teary every time.”
Contact Adele Oliveira at 986-3091 or firstname.lastname@example.org.