Theater looking 'Up'

Actor dangles 40 feet above street to promote play about real-life man who flew in a lawn chair

Posted: Tuesday, April 29, 2003

F rom 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, state employee Ed Christian, 49, told anyone who asked that he was happy to be "hanging in there."

He sat in a paraglider's harness - taped into a lawn chair and hooked by a climbing rope into a concrete pillar on the fifth-floor of the Gross Alaska building - and dangled 40 feet above Front Street.

He did what anyone would do at lunchtime. He ate a hamburger.

Christian, a 22-year veteran of Perseverance Theatre, sat in his precarious perch to promote the premiere of "Up (The Man in the Flying Lawn Chair)," running May 9 to June 1 at the nonprofit Douglas playhouse.

He costars as Walter Griffin in a fictionalized account of the life of Larry Walters, a Hollywood truck driver who attached helium balloons to a lawn chair in 1982 and floated 16,000 feet above Los Angeles.

"It's real mundane," Christian said Monday at noon, one hour into the stunt. "It's a lot like sitting in a lawn chair on a patio, but I can push off the wall a little bit and fly."

The Perseverance staff dreamt up Monday's stunt last week as they were brainstorming ways to promote the play. Special projects coordinator Tom Linklater and finance coordinator D.J. Lindsay cleared the idea with Juneau police. They didn't need a permit. The Gross building is private property and the owners gave permission.

"We were just trying to figure out what we could do to draw attention," Linklater said. "People have heard about (Walters), and it's just such an amazing story."

They needed a rigger to hang Christian off the side of the building. Perseverance actress Bethany Bereman recommended Ben Williams, a graduate student in the University of Alaska Fairbanks fisheries program in Juneau.

Williams has been mountaineering and rock climbing for 11 years. He attached nylon webbing to the fifth-floor pillar and hooked a standard climbing rope from the webbing to Christian's harness.

Christian climbed out the fourth-floor window and sat in the harness, as Williams and Linklater taped the lawn chair to the harness and attached balloons to the chair. Christian dangled close enough to a fourth-floor window to talk to reporters and Perseverance staff. At the end of the stunt Monday, he simply lowered himself on to the building's awning and climbed in a second-floor window.

"I haven't hung anybody out a window before," said Williams, 29. "You just have to make sure that you have a good anchor point. As long as the anchor is safe, and the mechanics holding him in are safe, that's it."

Dorian Gross, the president of Gross Alaska, was a little nervous Monday but seemed pleased. The Gross building was completed in 1940. The second, third, fourth and fifth floors have been vacant since the mid-1980s.

"We like to support Perseverance Theatre, and it's good (public relations) to have the building as a backdrop," Gross said. "When they said they wanted to do it from the third or fourth floor, it made it much easier to say 'yes.' "

Some pedestrians walked down Front Street on Monday oblivious that Christian was dangling above. Others looked on in bewilderment as the actor shouted out the name, date and location of the play. Although there were no more than 20 people gathered around at a time, car traffic picked up after Christian was interviewed live at 11:45 a.m. on KTOO-FM.

Los Angeles playwright Bridget Carpenter wrote "Up" last summer as an artist-in-residence at Perseverance. She wandered down Front Street at noon Monday to egg on Christian.

"It's a great idea, brilliant," Carpenter said of the stunt. "It serves the play well."

Part of "Up" connects Larry Walters to Philippe Petit, a professional high-wire artist who walked across a metal wire between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in August 1974.

"There's a line about Petit got New York to look up," Perseverance Artistic Director Peter DuBois said. "We thought this was a great way to get Juneau to look up on a sunny day."

Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.



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