Flying Theater Attraction Debuts in NYC
“I saw ‘Soarin’ Over California’ at Disneyland. Being a New Yorker, I thought that it was cool, but … imagine flying through New York City!” says James Sanna, president and CEO of Running Subway. “That’d be pretty incredible.”
Imagine no more. The entertainment production company over which Sanna presides, in conjunction with creative partners Brogent Technologies and Super 78, has created “RiseNY,” a flying theater experience, combined with museum exhibit galleries, that recently opened in Times Square.
Running Subway has hosted, as well as produced, many traveling exhibits based on Harry Potter, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other topics. When the company was brainstorming ideas to develop a permanent, Manhattan-based attraction, it was trying to land on a theme that would have the broadest appeal and decided to focus on New York City itself. Sanna determined that a flying theater would be a great way to pay tribute to the photogenic metropolis.
He reached out to Brogent for its hardware expertise in the genre. The attraction features the manufacturer’s 46-seat m-Ride model, which is designed for smaller spaces, and a 180-degree, 40-foot projection dome.
“The flying theater mechanism enables developers to inject their creativity into the production,” says Andy Kiang, Brogent’s director of international business development, describing the enduring appeal of the attraction type. “It’s a great tool for them to tell their story.” That’s where Super 78 comes in.
The attraction design firm has created media for seven flying theater productions and is working on two more projects. For “RiseNY,” it crafted a cinematic tour (de force) that sends passengers soaring above the Statue of Liberty, the majestic skyline, Yankee Stadium, and other city landmarks. Beyond the geographic highlights, the film celebrates New York’s people and its history as well.
“We wanted to really put you into the city rather than just fly over it,” Sanna says. For one scene, riders glide down and coast just above a street in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood. “We also fly through a year in New York City, through iconic events like the Fourth of July fireworks, the Thanksgiving Day parade, and, of course, the New Year’s Eve ball drop,” he adds.
To complement the visuals, the film features musical odes to the city from Taylor Swift and Jay-Z, as well as Frank Sinatra’s classic “Theme From New York, New York.” The score also includes original music.
“Our soundtrack is Gershwin-esque,” notes Brent Young, Super 78’s co-founder and president.
Directing the film was an extraordinary adventure for Young. Among the highlights, he and his team flew a camera on a custom-built rig above Times Square on the night before New Year’s Eve to capture a test run of the famous ball drop from multiple angles and vantage points. “I even got to go up on the roof of One Times Square and flip the switch to bring the ball down,” Young says. “What a thrill.”
Super 78’s creative contributions extended beyond the ride’s media and grew to encompass the exhibits as well. “Our concept for the attraction was to explore tipping points for New York’s big cultural pillars,” says Young. “How did the fashion industry, for example, become so iconic to the city?”
Using Super 78’s template, there is a through line connecting the exhibit halls to the flying theater. The experience begins in a facsimile of Manhattan’s first subway station where guests watch a short film about the city’s history directed by Ric Burns and James Sanders and narrated by Jeff Goldblum. A subway car then virtually brings them to galleries where they can explore New York’s critical role in finance, theater, music, television, and more. Running Subway partnered with the Museum of American Finance, the Skyscraper Museum, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and other institutions to help curate the exhibit halls.
For the finale, visitors move to a vintage TV studio to watch the first broadcast of the New Year’s Eve ball drop in 1957. Capitalizing on the m-Ride’s 180-degree rotation of its gondola ride vehicles, passengers are swept into the main theater for a dramatic reveal of the flying film.
Between the galleries and the ride, visitors spend an average of about an hour at the attraction. “Running Subway is broadening the definition and application of a flying theater,” says Brogent’s Kiang. The concept appealed to the company. “We are not only the equipment provider; we are also a major investor in ‘RiseNY,’” he adds.
With disruptions caused by COVID-19, difficulties securing a suitable Times Square venue, and other setbacks, the project was some 10 years in the making. “At the heart of this attraction is James Sanna, who never gave up and continues to rise up despite the obstacles,” says Dina Benadon, Super 78’s co-founder and CEO. “We’ve been on this ride with him for the last decade, and it’s been inspiring to watch from the front row.”
Running Subway had hoped to open “RiseNY” in mid-December 2021, but evolving pandemic conditions altered those plans. The attraction started limited previews on New Year’s Eve. A grand opening is tentatively planned for mid-February.