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Flying high in Oz


To paraphrase a tagline from the 1978 “Superman” film, with the Springfield Arts Council’s production of “The Wizard of Oz,” you will believe a monkey can fly. And a couple of witches and several others.

Movies have the advantage of CGI and special effects to make characters appear to fly. Stage plays have different challenges in making witches fly and hurricanes hurling farm girls to faraway lands.

Coming to the rescue is ZFX Inc., a Louisville, Ky.-based company that enables actors to do the closest thing to flying. They’ve helped casts fly in shows ranging from the original Wicked to Peter Pan and Tarzan, and made pop stars like Pink dazzle audiences from above.

A complex system of harnesses and rigs worked by a volunteer team behind the scenes keep characters like the Wicked Witch of the West, Glinda the Good Witch and the flying monkeys in the air. Most common school stages can’t accommodate this setup.

“It’s exciting because you can’t do this inside,” said director Susan Taylor, who has directed numerous high school plays.

Cast reactions prior to flying have ranged from wide-eyed fright to the thrill of a lifetime according to Taylor. Nikki Maynard, who plays the Wicked Witch, seemed comfortable hurtling back and forth across the stage during rehearsals astride her broomstick, practicing cackling and taunting Dorothy.

Brynn Taylor as Glinda the Good Witch of the North rehearsed in part of her costume, while Ethan Sullivan as Nikko, leader of the flying monkeys, zipped back and forth with a basket meant for Toto during Sunday’s rehearsal.

While some people’s idea of the ultimate flight is to pay big money for a seat on the space shuttle, Kris Hiltz decided on a more economical and realistic experience.

The spouse of new Community Mercy Health Partners CEO Paul Hiltz, bid for a role in the show at an Arts Council auction and won. She’ll play one of the flying monkeys and is thrilled.

“How many people get to fly?” she asked, smiling while drenched in sweat, as if she’d completed a marathon instead of a rehearsal flight in the humid summer air.


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