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Rubin Flying High with 'Curtains' and 'The Pirate Queen'

If someone told you, your job was up in the air, you would probably be having a lot of feelings of uncertainty. For aerial designer Paul Rubin, this is always great news.

This season, aerial designer Rubin gets to place his mark on a couple of new Broadway shows, CURTAINS and THE PIRATE QUEEN, which will open in March and April, respectively.  In 2003, Rubin designed the aerial sequences for the Tony® Award winning musical WICKED. Nice work to have three shows on Broadway at the same time with your work stamped on them.

Rubin, also known as "The Fly Guy," began his career as a flying choreographer/designer in 1988. Since then, he has designed world-renowned flying sequences, such as Cathy Rigby's PETER PAN. Other Broadway credits include: the Tony® Award winning FROZEN, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES, THE GREEN BIRD, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and KISS ME, KATE.  National tours include: Camelot (2007, starring Michael York), SpongeBob Squarepants (2007, Asian tour), Doctor Dolittle, Seussical the Musical, Dora the Explorer, Blue's Clues, Clifford the Big Red Dog and Scooby Doo. 

TJ: What is a flying choreographer?

RUBIN: A flying choreographer is a person who designs flying or aerial sequences.  I try to make the flying sequences look as realistic as possible and make the actor feel comfortable in the process.  Some designs don't include actual flying, only aerial sequences.  Aerial sequence can include things such as swimming, a hanging, or a controlled fall.  I work closely with the director and/or choreographer to create the aerial movements for the stage.

TJ: How did you get into this type of work?

RUBIN:  While majoring in theatre at the University of Nevada , Las Vegas , I got a job with a company that specialized in theatrical flying. The owner of the company, Peter Foy, revolutionized the flying industry. Peter was my mentor and I absorbed as much information and technique from him as possible, before venturing out on my own. 

TJ: You are currently working on two new shows opening soon, CURTAINS and THE PIRATE QUEEN. What kind of aerial effects are involved here?

RUBIN: These are 2 shows that are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  CURTAINS is an old school musical comedy. It was written by John Kander and Fred Ebb with Peter Stone and Rupert Holmes. It is a backstage murder mystery musical; I really can't say much more because I don't want to give anything away.  However, I am responsible to make sure people "die" without really putting their lives in jeopardy.

THE PIRATE QUEEN is a brand new epic musical. Written by the Les Mis team of Boublil and Schonberg, it revolves around the life of Grace O'Malley, an Irish Chieftain from the 1550's. I created a lot of the swashbuckling sequences where pirates swing and rappel on to the stage. There is a storm sequence where someone must cut down the sail to prevent the ship from capsizing. A pirate swings on stage with a rope ladder, climbs up to the spar, traverses across, cuts and releases the sail, then grabs another rope and slides down to the stage.  

TJ: You were also doing the aerial work for WICKED. Was this a difficult task for you?

RUBIN: It was both challenging and exciting.  The flying effects weren't actually added until the show came to Broadway. During the out of town try out in San Francisco , many audience members asked why the "flying" monkeys didn't fly. I choreographed the two monkey "chase pattern over the audience," which definitely added more depth and excitement to the scenes.

TJ: You must get a lot of satisfaction from seeing the success of your work?

RUBIN: I do. I enjoy watching the audience respond to my work, whether it is complex choreography (such as PETER PAN) or something more understated like the hanging in Frozen. I learn what is most effective by how the audience reacts.

TJ: What is the most difficult aspect of your job?

RUBIN: I need to create something that is exciting and safe, but I also need to teach the performer how to make the flying/aerial sequence look as realistic as possible. Obviously an actor wouldn't really hang himself.  But I need to teach him how to do it so it looks as if he did.  I want the audience to gasp, not chuckle.  

TJ: Have you had any special moments so far that you would like to share about your work?

RUBIN: While I was on tour with Cathy Rigby's PETER PAN, I gave a demonstration to a group of underprivileged and handicapped kids. One of the girls who was 8 years old and wheelchair bound since birth had a strong desire to fly. After discussing a "flight" with her mother, I carefully secured the harness and then connected the fly wire to her back. I slowly lifted her out of her chair and flew her across the stage. She smiled, giggled, laughed and cried as I traveled her back and forth. Then, at the top of her lungs, she yelled, "Mommy, now I know what it feels like to be free!" 

TJ: What a heartwarming story. Thanks Paul. 

OK, so you have some choices to see his work on Broadway…THE PIRATE QUEEN begins previews at the Hilton Theatre, 213 West 42nd Street on March 6, 2007 and opens April 5, 2007For tickets, visit the theatre Box Office or call 212-307-4100 / 1-800-755-4000.  For more information, visit the official website at

CURTAINS begins previews February 27th and opens March 22nd at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 W. 45th Street  You can also purchase tickets by calling 212-239-6200 or 800-432-7250 or at the theatre Box Office. For more information, visit .

And of course, WICKED is still playing at the Gershwin Theatre at 222 West 51st Street. You can get tickets at the theatre Box Office or call (212) 307-4100 or (800) 755-4000. For more information, visit their website at  So there you have it, folks!  As always, ciao and remember, theatre is my life!

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