David Elliott

David Sidwell

FA13 THEA 3720-001

Essay #2


Extraordinary aereography now exists on stages across the country and around the world. Aereography is the art of designing and staging movements of bodies in aerial motion. Aerography is accomplished by the use, of what is known in the theater, as fly rigging. Up until the 1950’s, flying actors above the stage had remained much the same as it has been throughout theatrical history. But now with new technologies, flying actors above the stage has been raised to a whole new level of sophistication and beauty. Anciently the art of aereography was accomplished by using a system of mechanical lifts based on the rigging of sails on boats, hence the name fly rigging.

Originally the fly system used in the theater was made of wood, manilla hemp rope (½ inch or larger), and sandbags. Manually, hemp ropes were pulled over wooden blocks or pulleys and then tied to a wooden fly rail, either near the floor or near the catwalk. In more advanced systems, counter weights of sandbags were used in increments of either 10, 25, 50, or 100 pounds. These systems were either single or double purchase. A single-purchase plan was used when a large space was available from grid height to stage floor, it had a 1:1 counter rate ratio. When the stage area was limited, a double-purchase plan was used with a 2:1 counterweight rate ratio, thereby eliminating the need for as much height. These systems are still in use today in some older theaters. The next technological advancements in fly rigging were the introduction of new rope and rigging materials and the use of electric motors.

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The next generation of fly rigging, included the introduction of nylon, polyester, and wire ropes instead of hemp roping. The wooden riggings were traded out for different materials, including aluminum and plastic. The new ropes were now being pulled by motors. Motorized systems were more costly than older systems, but were safer and cheaper, as less manpower is required. There are three main types of motorized systems: chain-driven, traction-drive, and dead-haul. The chain-driven is like using the old fashioned riggings with an attached to a motor. A traction-drive can only move objects already lifted or in motion. The dead-haul used larger, more powerful motors, but the need for counterweights was eliminated. In the late 1950’s, Peter Foy decided that flying people on stage should look better and more natural than had been previously presented.

In 1957, Peter Foy introduced the Inter-Related Pendulum at a production of Peter Pan in New York City. This was a forty foot grid system with a multitude of suspension wires. It required several well trained technicians to operate, but the results were spectacular for the audience to see. The motion of Peter Pan was free and easy moving. Foy was thrilled with the results, but wanted more. The Inter-Related Pendulum was unusable in small theaters and tents. So, in 1958, Foy introduced the Floating Pulley. This system could cause people to fly in small areas, but the mechanism was visible to the audience. Foy wanted to help preserve the “magic” of theater so, he went on to develop a hidden fly rigging introduced in 1963 named the “Track on Track” system. It required only two operators and the mechanism allowed for an actor to be held in any position for any length of time. It could be used in a venue of any size. Foy continued to improve the fly rigging systems. Today the flying rig systems are fully automated, computerized, and easy to use. Even a novice computer user can quickly guide a flying performing through the air.

Technology advancements in the area of flying rigs have certainly chanced in the last 60 years. The

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manual units of the 1950’s that produced awkward jerky movements, have been replaced with fully automated and computerized units. These advanced units provide performers with smooth flying across the stage. The audience is able to feel the magic of these flying shows.

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1. Flying by Foy

2. Gillette, J. Michael (2000). Theatrical Design and Production, Fourth Edition. Houston, Texas Mayfield Publishing Company.

3. Glerum, Jay O. (2007). Stage Rigging Handbook, Third Edition. Carbondale, Illinois,Southern Illinois University Press.

4. Stagehand Primer

  1. Wilson, Edwin and Goldfarb, Alvin (2012). Living Theater: History of the Theater. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill.


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