TSM Project 2008 - Flying Actor

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Preliminary Ideas


Step in time in mary poppins.jpg

For my Technical Stage Management project i contemplated replicating a flying effect seen in "Mary Poppins" which i saw in the West End - the effect consisted of flying an actor across the stage then through the audience in one continuous move. I did some research into this effect and discovered that the New Atheneum Theatre does not have enough roof space to safely fly an actor across the audience and then to the "gods".

Mary Poppins Flying Across Audience


Defygravity.jpg Defygravity2.jpg

I then looked towards the flying effect used in "Wicked" where the main character 'Elphaba' flies above the heads of the actors onstage. The effect achieves the illusion of the actor flying. After seeing a 'youtube' video on how this works it seemed like a good challenge to recreate for the stage of the New Atheneum.

How 'Elephaba' is flown in the West End musical "Wicked"



During researching the effect of "Wicked" i stumbled across a picture from the Royal Shakespeare Company's archives to which it showed an actor being suspended above the stage in a suit of armour with large red wings attached. The actor was earlier seen onstage and 3/4 of an hour later seen suspended. There was no obvious path to suspending the actor, and it was impossible to preset the actor as he had been seen onstage in a previous scene.



Whilst at the King's Theatre, Glasgow, i had the opportunity to watch a performance of Doctor Dolittle backstage. The show included several flying effects. The Technical Assistant Stage Manager took me over the basics on flying people in the theatre environment and, luckily for me, phoned some of his friends within the industry to find out the best way of flying and what the best companies to get in touch with are, he recommended Flying by Foy (the company Doctor Dolittle uses) and Freedom Flying. This has made me change my mind and possibly go back to the Mary Poppins idea, but slightly modified for the New Atheneum.

Bill Kenwright Ltd

Flying by Foy

Freedom Flying


Despite looking at many different ideas i think i have firmly "landed on my feet" and have decided to try and achieve the stairway effect from Cats - the musical. The project will include:

1. Achievement of effect, including:

(a) durability

(b) timings of equipment usage

(c) technical messurements etc.

2. Costings, including:

(a) hardware

(b) hiring equipment etc.

Stairway from "Cats - the musical"

The theory

I have decided to drop a pulley from the grid, attached with a steel drift to the foot of the stairway, with the drift attached to a motor on the prompt side fly floor. The stairway will be hinged on to a scaffold bridge in the prompt side wing. The pulley will be twice as high as the stairway, so that when raised it is out of sight of the audience and sfaely stored away.

The Stairway

The stairway will be made out of wood, with a steel input on the bottom step, which will have a metal loop welded in at either side so that the steel drifts can be attached with shackles.

The winch

For the raising mechanism I looked at many different winches, from Stage Technology's "Big Tow 390 Winch" to the "3-way pile up winch" from Stage Track. I decided to go for a "Standard Winch" from Stage Command:

  • COST: $9,350 (not including maintenance fees, but including transportation and installation fees)
  • WEIGHT: 1845kg (1.845tonne)
  • TRAVEL: 18000mm (18metres)
  • STORAGE CAPABILITIES: On truck, easy for storage and movability

Stage Command

Steel Wire Rope

I have chosen to use the "7 x 7 Wire Rope AISI 316G - 8mm" using the safety factor of 12:1 (for the use of performer(s) on the staircase)

Costing: £21 per week from Stage Crafts

Beam Clamps

Beam Clamps will be attached to 2 seperate beams in the grid of the New Atheneum. They are to support the pulley block which the steel wire attached to the stairway will run through.

I costed several beam clamps, and despite having beam clamps in stock at the RSAMD, i thought costing new beam clamps for a precise use would be useful.

  • Beam Clamp: SEALEY BC2000
  • Cost: £105.70 including VAT
  • Capacity: 2000kg
  • Weight: 5.2kg

Specification blurb from www.toolcrew.co.uk

Suitable for semi-permanent attachment to steel beams and acts as a lifting point for chain blocks, hoists and lifting tackle. The clamp may also be used for lifting and transfer of steel beams and as a pulling clamp. Low profile afforded by integral pivot/lifting point. HSE Test Certificate included.


To support the attachement of the pulley block chains will be added from each of the beam blocks. I chose the following chain:

Chain: 3/8" Proof Coil Chain Recomended Weight Limit: 2650lb Weight: 1.5lb Dimensions:

(A - Between rings) 0.57"

(B - Width of rings) 1.35"

(C - Thickness of rings) 0.394"

Supplier: www.jrclancy.com


In order to connect the chain(s), master link and pulley block together a series of shackles are required. From "face value" count 6 shackles are needed. 6 bow shackles from stock in the New Atheneum could be put to use.

Master Link

Master Link: A-342CT - Alloy steel

Size: 1"

Working Load Limit: 62520lb

Supplier: www.rigging.net

Pulley Block

Pulley: Doughty Engineering:Standard Pulley: Double Pulley

Safe Working Load: 150kg

Link to supplier: Doughty Engineering

Scaffolding Bridge

For the actor/performer to access/alight from the staircase a tower in the wing of the stage is required.

Scaffolding tower: 1.8m long platform x 0.85m wide (2 of these platforms are required with a linking bridge bewteen them,the stairway will be hinged to the middle bridge)

Platform height: 4.7m

Working height: 6.7m

Class: 3

Delivery: next day delivery

Cost: £1169.66 per tower = £2339.38 + linking bridge (£235) = £2574.38

Supplier: www.scaffold-tower.co.uk



In order to attach the stairway to the scaffolding bridge hinges are required.

Hinge: 150mm 6" No.575 Welded Butt Hinge

Usage: for heavy duty industrial use mainly on rubbish skips and containers etc.

Price: £54.00 x 2 = £108.00

Supplier: [www.ironmongeryonline.com]