On the surface, Kate Cooper Schroeder ’05 of Louisville, Ky., has a normal 9-5 desk job. However, she does something unique with her eight-hour work shift: She helps people fly.
Schroeder works as a flying producer for ZFX Inc., a company headquartered in Louisville that specializes in live theatrical flying effects. Founded in 1994, ZFX works with more than 400 productions each year, ranging from Broadway musicals to concerts to corporate events. “I love theatre and entertainment. That’s my passion,” Schroeder says. “So, if there is something I can do to help a company or theatre sprout wings, I talk with them about how we can make their vision a reality.”
Schroeder not only helps people fly – she aids clients in getting almost anything in the air. During her five years at ZFX, Schroeder has worked on a variety of projects, including the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, when ZFX was hired to create a system to raise the flags on cue during medal ceremonies. “It was broadcast live, and the whole world was watching the
flags,” Schroeder says. “It was fun to be part of something so prestigious.”
Schroeder attributes much of her success at ZFX to her undergraduate education as a bachelor of fine arts (BFA) musical theatre major. “Here’s one of the great things about Millikin,” Schroeder says. “Most other BFA majors don’t get to push the ‘go’ button on the light board. I was encouraged to do things outside of my comfort zone. There was so much versatility that you won’t find in most other programs. In the real world, being versatile opens up more job opportunities. You can say, ‘Sure, I can do that!’”
Jessica May and Kate Cooper Schroeder, both ’05, at the Live Design Institute
trade show and conference.
So, when ZFX was searching for another producer, Schroeder knew where to look; she contacted her former classmate, Jessica May ’05. The two had known each other at school and often performed onand off-stage together. May was a perfect fit for ZFX, Schroeder says, and joined the team as a flying producer last year.
ZFX is the only company of its kind to employ flying producers who work closely with clients to help their artistic visions take flight, Schroeder says. Currently, ZFX employs four flying producers, including the two Millikin grads. “Our job is to talk with clients about what they are looking to achieve and set them up with the appropriate equipment, time and personnel to bring that vision to life,” Schroeder says.
Although ZFX works routinely on popular stage shows such as “Peter Pan” and “Aladdin,” Schroeder and May must consider each client’s unique space and artistic vision when planning the flying effects. “The requirements of each show are incredibly different, but it makes it all the more rewarding when you can help your client pull off what they initially had in mind,” May says. For example, one of May’s favorite projects was a recent production of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in Fargo, N.D., where Puck and the fairies flew throughout the entire show.
Schroeder and May often work on a good deal of traditional theatre, but they also tackle many out-of-the-ordinary projects, as well. ZFX’s motto is that a production’s flying capabilities are “only limited by your imagination (or ours), gravity and physics.” This flexible policy allows for a variety of unique opportunities, such as flying mannequins for UNIQLO, a Japanese fashion retail company. ZFX provided a display for their flagship store in Shanghai in 2010, and then again this past year for their new New York location.
And opportunities for ZFX, according to Schroeder, are constantly increasing. “Almost every new show being released has a flying effect,” she says, “It’s becoming more and more of a popular thing.” To soar above the competition in this burgeoning field, ZFX employs over 50 people and creates much of their equipment in-house.
They also wear Utilikilts. “We’re the type of company that thinks outside the box, and we start from scratch without any preconceived notions on everything we do … including our fashion choices,” May says.
From their quirky unofficial uniforms to their theatrical ingenuity, Schroeder and May take the profession of producer to new heights. “We like to create a spectacle, while still maintaining the magic,” Schroeder says. “The creativity and artists we have on staff at ZFX make it seem as if someone is actually flying through the air without a wire. Flying isn’t just in your dreams anymore.”