Once upon a time, Walter Griffin ascended into the sky on a balloon-propelled lawn chair.
This feat made him the talk of the town and much of the country, but those 15 minutes of fame expired. For the sake of his family, he now must put his past behind him and adjust to the thought of living a down-to-earth life.
That's the story behind Bridget Carpenter's play "Up (The Man in the Flying Lawn Chair)," which makes its Texas premiere at the University of Houston School of Theatre & Dance. The play runs Oct. 8 - 17 in UH's Quintero Theatre. The play is not related to the 2009 animated film, "Up."
"The play is about living your dreams," said Steven Wallace, the play's director and director of UH's School of Theatre & Dance. "It's a subject to which we can relate. Somewhere along the line, we become realistic about our dreams and what it takes to earn a comfortable living. This is the story of someone who lived his dream. It wasn't to make a lot of money, but rather to use his imagination as a way of literally rising up."
Playwright Carpenter was inspired by the real-life accomplishment of lawn chair aviator Larry Walters. In 1982, Walters launched himself into the air using a lawn chair suspended by 45 helium balloons. His escapade was covered on news stations across the country, and Walters briefly enjoyed celebrity status. In the years following his flight, his popularity waned and he found only sporadic employment. In 1993, he took his own life.
"I don't really know who Larry Walters was," Carpenter said while promoting the play's run at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre in 2009. "I know only that he was the man who made his chair fly and that he killed himself 10 years after his flight. It was that information that I couldn't stop thinking about. For ‘Up,' I gave my balloon chair man a family and a life beyond that flight. That is what inspired the play."
Performance times and dates are as follows:
- 8 p.m., Oct. 8, 9, 12 - 16
- 2 p.m., Oct. 10, 17
Tickets are $20 for the general public; $15 for faculty, staff and alumni; and $10 for seniors and students.
To purchase tickets, or for more details, contact 713-743-2929.
"Up" was developed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and was first produced in 2003 at Perseverance Theatre in Douglas, Ark. Last year, Chicago's noted Steppenwolf produced "Up" and received solid reviews.
Carpenter has authored more than a dozen plays and is noted for her writing on the television series "Friday Night Lights." Among her awards is the 2000 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, which is presented to women playwrights. In 2002, she received a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, and in 2003, she earned the Kesserling Prize (honoring playwrights of exceptional promise).
"It is a pleasure to work on this play and to bring it to Houston audiences for the first time," Wallace said. "Plays such as ‘Up' challenge our actors, but they also offer audiences a first look at what's happening in contemporary theater."
About UH School of Theatre & Dance
The UH School of Theatre & Dance produces professional plays, dance concerts, studio productions, a new play festival, and school shows through the Theatre for Young Audiences program. The school performs in the Wortham Theatre and the Quintero Theatre. The Houston Shakespeare Festival is a professional project of the school, which is produced each summer at Miller Outdoor Theatre. The UH School of Theatre & Dance offers bachelor's and master's degrees in theater and teacher certifications in dance. Its graduate program consists of arts in theatre and masters of fine arts in theatre with specializations in acting, directing and design. Faculty includes Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Edward Albee, Tony Award-winning playwright Mark Medoff, Tony Award-winning producer Stuart Ostrow, Tony nominated designer Kevin Rigdon and veteran dramaturg Mark Bly. Among the greats who have taught at the school in previous years are Lanford Wilson, Sir Peter Hall and Jose Quintero. For details on UH's School of Theatre & Dance, visit www.theatredance.uh.edu.