A Season of Interrelatedness

by Thomas S. Freeman
in Profile

Flying by FoyFlying by Foy is perhaps best known as the company that flew Peter Pan and Mary Poppins on Broadway; the pre-eminent practitioner of a theatrical craft dating back to the ancient Greeks. Its founder, Peter Foy, was an innovative titan who transformed the techniques and equipment used to fly performers and made the use of flying effects a practical and affordable reality for regional productions in colleges, schools and community theatres throughout the United States and around the world.

Foy is sometimes called upon to venture beyond the footlights and apply its skills to events that transcend the standard definition of theatrical production—as it did on the first Sunday in February, for an exhibition that may well be the modern equivalent of the grand Roman spectacles once staged in the Colosseum.

During the final minutes of the Super Bowl halftime show, as Katy Perry began to sing Firework, her song of praise to self-empowerment, the glowing image of a shooting star appeared over her head and began to ascend from the 25 yard line, carrying the pop icon with it in a sweeping 300 foot arc above the playing field. As the music reached its crescendo and an array of fireworks lit up the atmosphere, few—if any—of the 70,000 fans in attendance were aware that another entertainment industry icon was carefully controlling the star’s trajectory, just beyond the glare of the lights. 

Katy Perry is a star with a reputation for calling her own shots, both on stage and in business, and she clearly loves to fly. Her initial experience with flying took place in February, 2009, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Flying by Foy was hired to create an effect in which Perry descended to the stage—standing inside what can only be described as a giant golden banana elevator—to perform her number 1 hit single, I Kissed a Girl, at the 51st Annual Grammy Awards.

Since then, the recording artist has incorporated the legendary company’s aerial expertise into several of her award show performances, with flying often used as a key element in a series of increasingly elaborate visual compositions. These include sequences created for the American Music Awards, MTV Movie Awards, Billboard Music Awards, Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards and VH1 Divas Salute the Troops.

Perry’s California Dreams Tour, originally conceived as a vehicle for smaller theatrical venues, was re-tooled as an arena show when the star’s popularity began to skyrocket in the months leading up to production. Foy was brought on to create an automated flying rig designed to lift Perry up from the stage and carry her high over the orchestra seats on a pink cotton candy cloud. The effect was curiously intimate. As the singer performed her acoustic ballad, Thinking of You, the cloud on which she stood gracefully glided toward the fans seated in the upper levels, giving many the feeling that they could almost reach out and touch her.

For the flying sequence at the Super Bowl, Foy utilized a stadium-scaled multi-point Inter-Related Pendulum rig with three separate control lines, averaging around a thousand feet in length, powered by three high tech automated winch systems. 

The Inter-Related Pendulum was originally a manually operated system, invented by Peter Foy to fly Mary Martin’s Peter Pan on Broadway. It dramatically increased the dynamic range and speed of flights, but required a considerable amount of skill, physical stamina and precise coordination between the operators.

Following Foy’s introduction of the Track on Track system in the 1960s, the Inter-Related Pendulum was only used on special projects that required dynamic flight patterns operated by qualified Foy personnel. The Track on Track proved to be a much more versatile flying system, easily configured for use in a broad range of theatrical venues, and far less strenuous to operate. With Foy’s development of advanced automation technology, the Inter-Related Pendulum can now be set up with high-speed, ultra-responsive electronic winch systems and sophisticated control software allowing that same spectacular flying once only possible through manual operation.

Peter Pan opened to mostly rave reviews when it debuted in 1954 and was seen by 65 million viewers, the largest single television audience in history, when the show was broadcast live on NBC in 1955. Sixty years later, Foy created the first fully-automated flying for the musical, aired on NBC as Peter Pan Live in December. On February 1st of this year, when Foy flew Katy Perry during NBC’s live coverage of Super Bowl XLIX, the broadcast drew a record 114.4 million viewers, to become the largest single television audience in history.

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