‘Oz’ actors flying high in Medina

By Kerry Clawson
Beacon Journal staff writer

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John Stich of ZFX shows Sophie Ricci how to prep for a flip in her flying monkey harness for a scene from the Wizard of Oz.

Anna Barrett and Sophia Ricci looked like they were having the time of their lives last week, grinning as they zipped from side to side above the stage, flying above their trainer at the Medina Performing Arts Center.

It was The Wizard of Oz actors’ first night learning the mechanics of theater flying, and pro John Stich of Louisville’s ZFX Inc. was there to teach them and other cast members of CAMEO, the resident company at the theater.

Sophia, 7, of Buckeye Elementary, and Anna, 12, of Center Middle School, are playing the lead flying monkeys in the musical, which will feature a cast of 46 and run Friday through July 28 at the center, 851 Weymouth Road.

They were learning the basics of stage flying with the help of two vertical fly wires attached to harnesses specially designed by ZFX. Sophia’s full-body harness enabled her to do somersaults in the air and Anna’s waist harness will allow for her costume’s large wings.

Over three days, the flying monkey girls, as well as actors playing Glinda (Elena Hoffmann) and the Wicked Witch (Carey Knox), and four backstage volunteer flying operators, would receive a good 15 hours of training. The first training night was mainly for volunteers James Welch, Ryan Fallow, Ivan McKee and Connor Green to learn the flying system that allowed the girls to “track” from stage left to stage right and be lifted up and down.

The volunteers operated vertical black travel ropes backstage, with the center stage rope marked with a red band. Operators and actors were learning to work seamlessly together, as each starting point for onstage flying correlated with a specific operator’s rope. After three days of training, the volunteer operators would be running all the flying.

“It’s pretty much designed where they can take it after that [training] and run with it,” said Stich, who schools volunteers and performers on all the rules and safety regulations.

If an actor’s not in the right starting point to fly, the performers are taught not to take risks: “If a problem occurred onstage, then we would have a no-fly situation.”

After learning basic mechanics last Wednesday, actors planned to start incorporating the show’s flying choreography the next day.

“They’re going to dive bomb and swoop, and then they’re gonna capture Dorothy,” Stich said of the flying monkeys.

Anna, who plays lead monkey Nikko, will capture Dorothy (Lakewood High 16-year-old Carleigh Spence) and Toto. Sophia, as her sidekick, will grab the Tin Man (David Brinker).

Sophia, who’s a gymnast, will also do some aerial acrobatics: “She’ll jump off the stage and do a back flip when she’s excited,’’ Stich said.

Sophia, who Stich referred to as “our somersault monkey,” enjoyed showing off her back somersault as she hung in midair.

Both girls were excited about the speed of flying above the stage.

“It’s exhilarating,” Anna said.

“We’re going really fast but it’s really fun,” Sophia said.

Stich, who has worked with ZFX for seven years, has trained actors in more than 100 Wizard of Oz productions across the country. The company’s flying effects work on Broadway includes Peter Pan, Wicked and, most recently, Pippin.

CAMEO, which faced a setback with suspected arson at the theater June 25, is forging ahead on schedule with The Wizard of Oz, followed by Jason Robert Brown’s contemporary musical Songs for the New World Aug. 9-18, which will have onstage seating for 100 each night.

The fire in the rear stage area damaged lumber that was going to be used to build sets. The Medina County Arts Foundation, which funds CAMEO, replaced the lumber. Davon Phillips, a 2013 Medina High School graduate who was working as a custodian at the theater through the Medina County Summer Work Experience program, has been charged with aggravated arson.

CAMEO spokeswoman Terry Stancin Spetrino said the 1,100-seat theater sustained extensive smoke and water damage. Despite disruptions in rehearsals and technical work, the theater tech teams worked side by side with ServPro, which cleaned the theater.

The Wizard of Oz, which will have the “steampunk” look of Wicked, is directed by Chris Rusen and will feature a 25-member orchestra led by music directors Andrew Lipian and Zack Pytel. Principal actors Hoffmann, Knox and Brinker are music teachers for the Medina school district.

CAMEO, which was founded in 2003, will pull out all the stops to make The Wizard of Oz a fantasy experience, including the Wizard flying in a hot air balloon basket, Glinda floating in a bubble and, of course, tornado effects.

For tickets, which cost $10 in advance or $12 at the door, see www.cameo-medina.org or purchase at Buehler’s.

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com.

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