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A fly crew is a group of people who operate a fly system from its locking rail during a theatrical production. The responsibilities of a fly crew include bringing battens in and out, keeping the fly system linesets in balance, and ensuring that the fly system's rope locks are applied when the associated linesets are not moving. Each member of the crew is called a flyman. Large venues will often have several flymen on their fly crews, as well as a fly captain to manage the crew and plan cues for the fly system.
During a show, predefined cues may require flymen to operate the fly system at high speeds and with great precision. The scenery used in shows typically weigh up to one ton per batten and may be flown in at speeds approaching 30 miles per hour and stopped at stage level without hitting the deck. Consequently, the skills of a flyman may take years to master, and flying is often considered an art form in its own right. Loaders are flymen who work high above the stage in the grid, adding or removing counterweights from the fly system arbors.
The job is often dangerous and carries a high degree of risk due to the large amount of weight and great heights involved. A run-away line, for example, might injure the operator or others in the way of the moving equipment, and a counterweight dropped from the grid could kill or injure a person standing below. When the crew adds or removes counterweights they are often working at heights of six stories or more in the area above a stage known as a fly loft, or grid. Consequently, safety harnesses may be used to protect fly crew members or loaders. Harnesses are not perfect, however, and serious injury can still result should the falling person swing into nearby objects.
Historically, off-duty sailors were used as fly crews in theaters because they had comprehensive knowledge of knots and ropes due to their experience with sails. They communicated with one another using high-pitched whistles. Because of this, whistling was not allowed in theaters to prevent it from accidentally being interpreted as a flyrail command. It is still considered 'bad luck' to whistle in a theater.
This article uses terms common in the USA. Different vocabulary may be used in other English-speaking countries.
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