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Stage Flying: 431 B.C. To Modern Times by John A. MicKinven

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii August, 2005)


Stage Flying: 431 B.C. to Modern Times

David Meyer continues to add to his unique and wonderful catalog of conjuring and theatrical literature with this fascinating new title. This volume is beautifully produced— as I find increasingly typical of Myerbooks—and is a satisfying and delightful product in every possible way. The author has expended yeoman effort in producing, the result of two decades of research, a remarkably readable and erudite work. Beginning with the production of Euripides' "Medea" in 431 BCE in Greece—when Medea appeared to take flight in a dragon-drawn chariot at the conclusion of the production—and through the recent productions of Angels in America and Millennium Approaches, wherein the legendary technology of "Flying by Foy" enables an angel to crash through the ceiling and turn somersaults in the air—this book traces the history of theatrical flying from past to present. There is an important distinction to which the reader's attention must be drawn: this is a book about the specific feat of flying, by means sometimes partially but never entirely concealed, in theatrical productions; it is not a book about the levitation illusions of magicians. Although there is certainly a relationship between these two subjects—parallels in effect and methodology that ebb and flow throughout their respective histories—the author, in a carefully worded epilogue, is at pains to explain that the conjuror's illusions, with specific references to David Copperfield and Siegfried and Roy, are "...outside the scope of this book..."

Nevertheless, the informed illusionist and illusion designer will find a great deal of interest in the detailed mechanical descriptions and diagrams that are provided throughout this text, hand-in-hand with an engrossing narrative of theatrical history and evolution. Flying has been a live special effect from biblical recreations in the 14th and 15th centuries, to medieval passion plays, through Medici-sponsored Renaissance productions and Baroque theater, into 19th century variety entertainment and on to Peter Foy's 20th century Peter Pan breakthroughs—and even Shakespeare couldn't resist. A stage direction included in the bard's own Cymbeline reads, "Jupiter descends in thunder and lightning, sitting upon an angel. He throws a thunderbolt. The Ghosts fall on their knees." Hey, who wouldn't?

7" X 10" Hardcover with laminated dustjacket; 112 pages; Illustrated with 25 drawings, engravings and photos, color frontispiece; 1995; Published by Meyerbooks

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