Angels in America | Flying the Angel
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Angels in America | Flying the Angel

January 21, 2020

(SOFT PIANO MUSIC) One of the ways
in which we are getting the Angel to fly in Angels in America is with
something called counterweighting, where the actors on stage
are in harnesses and they are attached to semi-invisible
lines which go up to pulleys in the grid. Those lines are then attached
to crew members who are offstage that you can’t see,
who climb up and down ladders. What you’re looking at
when you’re looking at the flying is a six- or seven-person
mechanical duet. The moment where the flying comes happens at the end of
a big fight sequence. The speed and the rhythm of the fight, we wanted to take that
into the flying as well. So whereas with automated flying
you generally see a body being lifted at a reasonably steady and sedate pace, you don’t get the dynamism you can get
with a human on the other end of the line. – To him…
– Yeah. The wings sort of give us
the special effect of the anatomy of flying. They give us flapping,
and they seem to lift her into the air and to move her through the space. And so the wings are this kind of
emotional amplifier for her, as well as giving us the sort of
fantastic anatomy of flight. They need to have a sense of life, and so we use their sort of breath
and we use their sense of intention and their sense of muscularity
to try and help bring those to life. And so wherever we’re working with people
we haven’t worked with before, we’ll introduce these
underlying principles, these ideas about how you bring something
that’s essentially inanimate to life. OK, Phil. We’re 20 metres up in the air and we are next to the Angels in America
to perform a flying truss. The wires come from the stage up to the drop blocks. They’ll go underneath the truss and over to the header blocks. And from there,
they’ll go down 15 metres to the top of the ladders. Counterweighters attach themselves
to the wires. And when they climb the ladder,
the performers come in. When they climb down the ladder,
the performers go out. Let’s go. Part of my job is every day I go round
and check all the harnesses and do some visual inspections
on the entire rig. Once a week, we have the riggers come
round and do a full inspection of the rig. They’re very thin 2.5mm lines. We have about a 10-1 ratio
for performance flying for safety. They clip in the actors for us
and then when we give them the go, bang! Off we go. We jump off the ladders
and up she goes. The beauty with a counterweight system is you get a very smooth, even transition
between an up and down movement. It makes you look like you’re floating. The counterweight flying
is really interesting, because we as technicians
develop a different relationship with the scene and with the performers. When you’re moving a piece of furniture, you’ve got a cue and you’re moving
from this mark to that mark. So that’s very precise. The counterweight flying is also precise. However, because you are dealing with
the performer, it’s a more subtle relationship
that you develop with the scene. And this is really interesting.
It’s different from what we normally do. We need to rush down the ladder, the three of us, at the same speed,
at the same levels to make sure that
what you’re seeing on stage is only one figure. I fly the Angel in the middle, and I also have another person
that is on the end of my line and gives me sort of an extra assist. It’s all about the feel of the person. It’s about your relationship
between yourself and the actor. The Angel gets lifted, and there’s an added weight
of one of the other actors that gets pulled up by the Angel. Therefore I have to feel that, and for the stage
and for the audience purposes, I can’t allow them to see the jolt
of the added weight. You sort of have to develop
this symbiotic relationship between yourself and the actor. NEIL SHIMMEN: In the show,
the Angel will fly for about a minute, but we will have spent about four months preparing and training the performers to make that one minute perfect. FINN CALDWELL: It’s taken us
an awfully long time to build up those layers
so that you’ve got one image, and all of these people
trying to achieve the same thing and make it look like
the physics is right – the physics of the puppetry, the physics
of the lifting up into the air, the physics of someone being lifted. And all of that working towards
the same image. GWEN HALES: One of the great things
about my job is that I get to come in
right at the beginning of a process and sit down with the director and think about which scenes
you can animate by taking somebody into the air and how that works alongside the story. You rarely fill the air space
that’s right in the middle in front of the audience, above the stage.

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  1. I had a chance to see part 1 live in London while visiting and part 2 back home in Moscow, it was fantastic! Thank you for this video!

  2. Brilliant brilliant brilliant. I directed this show in Atlanta last decade and this production was just simply mind blowing. Thank you for this inside look.

  3. releasing a video after the show closes…. whelp. I want to be mad but I can't because this is such a beautiful video.

  4. The first appearance of the angel at the end of Millennium Approaches was literally breathtaking. This was a brilliant production all round.

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