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Artists Unlimited production flies closer to showtime

Caitlin Whyte

As Artists Unlimited, a local theater group that integrates people with and without disabilities, gets ready for its latest production of the Little Mermaid, WXXI's Caitlin Whyte stopped by another rehearsal for a unique part of the play — the fly scenes. She has been following the group as they prepare for their 18th production.

When I walk into fly rehearsal, just a week before the show debuts, the crew is discussing how to rig Ariel up for her big reveal, turning from mermaid to woman, while in the air.

It takes a second, but they figure out the scene. The fly crew is a team of dads, most with kids in the play, pulling ropes and securing harnesses to make the underwater scenes more intricate and lifelike.

Next up for a fly test is Tyler Nersinger. He’s playing Flotsom, an eel.  

Tyler says he’s been flying on stage for a few years now. He says it’s a bit scary as he grows up and gets taller, but it’s definitely not enough to stop him.

“I sometimes feel a little anxious up there, I mean it’s not too bad but...but then again I’ve gone on planes, I’ve taken - I’ve rode all those high rides at amusement parks so it’s pretty much like that.”

As a 19-year-old with ADHD and Asperger’s, he said he’s had difficulty getting parts in other plays, but when he joined Artists Unlimited, he found more acceptance.

Credit Caitlin Whyte / WXXI News

“I’ve definitely made some friends with this, I have a group of people that I do a lot of things with. Many of them are in this program.”

Tyler’s dad, Mike Nersinger, is sitting just off stage when I interview him. He’s a sub for the fly crew and is also on the board for Artists Unlimited. This is his sixth show with his son.

“For him, social interactions can be a challenge, especially people around his age. So really, we’ve become each other’s best friends, and so when we can do these types of things together, it’s just a great experience for us.”

When it comes to production value, Mike says quality is a top priority At this point, the production has officially moved to the Kodak Theatre, and some sets are on stage. As they rig up cast members to fly, 19 hundred empty seats are in front of them. Mike says it’s become an inside challenge for the team: How big can we go?

Paul Rubin is the flying sequence choreographer. He travels from New York City to help out with these shows. This is his fifth Artists Unlimited production.

“The sets the sets are just incredible. So it also makes me feel good I’m doing something because they’re doing something. If I didn’t see that desire and that love from them, then I probably wouldn’t be as interested as I am, but it’s just a great team.”

As Tyler’s scene wraps up, he and Ariel are soaring high across the stage. He’s dragging Ariel by the foot, back underwater, and she is trying to swim away.

As Mike watches, he talks about how he hopes more shows and programs like these will help broaden perspectives of people with disabilities.

“Some may not know anything about the cast or the show. Some may not have a whole lot of expectations of a show. And when they see the commitment that’s put in, and what these people with developmental and physical disabilities have the ability to do, you know they’re in awe. And I say this has been the best-kept secret in Rochester, and we want to break that, because the more people see our program and other programs like it, the more acceptance there’s going to be.”

WXXI’s Caitlin Whyte has been following Artists Unlimited as their 72-person cast gets ready to hit the stage with The Little Mermaid. We will have one more piece following the crew kicking off their first weekend of shows. Performances begin this Saturday, November 10th - Sunday November 11th, and continue next weekend Thursday November 15th – Saturday November 17th at the Kodak Theater.

This story is reported from WXXI’s Inclusion Desk.