ARLINGTON — Justin Goheen learned to fly at an unconventional aviation school.
There was no engine or wings or rudder, just a harness, a track and cables, the expertise of technicians and the biceps of firefighters and a parent or two.
Goheen has been spending a lot of time airborne these days, preparing for opening tonight as the title character in Arlington High School’s production of the J.M. Barrie children’s classic “Peter Pan.”
In a cast of 28, he’s one of six student actors who get to fly.
The junior quickly realized his flights are totally in others’ hands. He’s a bit like a human marionette yo-yoed up and down and tugged to and fro.
“It’s great to fly, but I really don’t control anything,” he said.
He figures that’s probably a good thing. His role is challenging enough with musical numbers, dance steps and hundreds of lines to remember. He’s also learned that singing when his diaphragm is compressed in a harness while he’s suspended in air is plenty demanding, even for a physically fit, 123-pound wrestler with strong lungs and abdominal muscles.
“I love to fly, but it’s also nice to land,” he said.
Goheen’s aeronautical adventures above the stage of the Linda M. Byrnes Performing Arts Center include 35-foot bounds and 14-foot plummets.
For Arlington High School drama director Scott Moberly, “Peter Pan” allows the student actors to test the limits of the year-old, $6.5 million theater.
Moberly had long wanted to try a production of “Peter Pan,” but bided his time. Now, there is space to interchange four sets of scenery and the room and equipment for flying actors.
“Technically, we are kind of unfettered, no pun intended,” he said. “It just opens up all sorts of possibilities. There really isn’t technically a show we couldn’t do.”
Groups such as the Arlington Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce as well as the Arlington Arts Council contributed to the roughly $25,000 cost of putting on the show.
The program numbers 28 pages with advertisements from local businesses defraying costs. From the hardware store to city streets, countless curious adults also have come up to Moberly and started the conversation the same way: “I hear you are doing ‘Peter Pan.’ Is he going to fly?”
That’s where the experts come in.
Part of the production’s budget is being paid to Foy Inventerprises, a Las Vegas-based company that specializes in stage flying. Their technicians fit the young actors with harnesses and trained the volunteer crew of firefighters and parents to manipulate the cables for seamless lifts and accurate landings.
The Arlington teens join a long list of Foy clients. Its founder, Peter Foy, helped design the equipment that launched Mary Martin’s performance as Peter Pan for the 1954 Broadway musical. He worked with Sandy Duncan and Cathy Rigby in their roles as Peter Pan and Sally Field as TV’s “The Flying Nun.”
Today, Foy’s company, which was formed in 1957, sends technicians into backstages from small town high schools to Broadway with theatrical productions involving aerial feats, such as “Phantom of the Opera,” “Mary Poppins” and “The Wizard of Oz.” More than a half-century later, “Peter Pan” remains one of its biggest draws, said David Shamberger, an office administrator for the Foy company.
When Arlington High School joins that “Peter Pan” fraternity Friday night, Erica Ewell will have two feet on the ground and a scowl on her face.
She’s clearly looking forward to playing the villain, Captain Hook, but she can’t help be envious of her Peter Pan adversary.
“Everyone wants to fly,” said the 17-year-old senior who engages a fleeting Peter Pan in a sword fight. “They’re having so much fun up there.”
Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arlington High School’s production of “Peter Pan” begins tonight.
Shows are scheduled for 7 p.m. today, Saturday and Nov. 21 and 22. A 2 p.m. show is also scheduled for Nov. 22. All shows will be at the Byrnes Performing Arts Center, 18821 Crown Ridge Blvd.
Tickets are $12 for adults and $9 for students and senior citizens.
Go to www.byrnesperformingarts.org.