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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- 'Tis the story of Peter Pan that captivates audiences young and old because -- for a moment -- you can suspend your disbelief and give in to the magic, that all of us, at some time, wished to make real.
While this tale takes us far off into the reaches of Never-Neverland, you'd never imagine where it has taken the Louisville artists from ZFX Incorporated.
Fast-paced, high-action, adrenaline junkies grew a business from small community theaters to the biggest stages around the world.
"Anything that needs to be elevated or lifted that needs to be done correctly or safely -- that's what we do," ZFX President Terri Kirsch.
"We just put a production of 'Wicked' into the Philippines, and that's getting ready to move back to Australia," said head flying director Brian Owens.
ZFX has flown acts like Taylor Swift and Zac Brown, a globe during the FIFA World Championships, and flags during the winter Olympics in Vancouver B.C.
Kirsch said in 2012 the company designed shows in Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South America, Mexico, Canada and all 50 states.
Millions of dollars are made from their unsuspecting home base in Old Louisville. They call it "the Dojo," headquarters for ZFX Inc.
"This is where science meets art," Owens said. "We're flying people by wires and ropes and pulleys. We have the ability to manipulate in a manual way: backflips, front flips, and twists, and whatever else you can imagine. We also have automated equipment that we can computer-control flying effects. We can use motors to position them and fly them."
Owens oversees a team of 18 Flying directors. He describes the Dojo as their research and development playground where stunts come to life. It's home to the largest green screen in North America, at 168 feet long and 32 feet high.
ZFX's Biggest project to date became one of the signature scenes from the major motion picture, Hangover 3.
"They brought a bunch of cranes onto the strip, and we flew this guy from 200 feet in the air off of cranes to land on a moving limousine -- kind of a crazy full-on Hollywood shoot," said Owens.
It was all planned and designed in Louisville. Owens said figuring out how to pull off such death-defying scenes is like being MacGyver everyday, but seeing the work pay off is more than enough reward.
"I actually saw the trailer for it [Hangover 3] on a plane going to another job and said, 'Oh, that's our shot -- we did that," Owens said.
The staff boasts about being American made. Its sister company, ZFX Waterjet, sits in a large facility right next-door to the Dojo. It allows flying directors like Owens to choreograph a project, pass it to an in-house engineer and then see it manufactured on-site.
"There are massive amounts of trusses and pulleys and ropes things in the top of the sky behind the theater that nobody every sees," said shop manager Mike Aemmer. "So we don't get the glory we just make it happen."
Pan is Magic
"It's crazy...it's crazy to watch the look on people's faces when they get off the ground for the first time," Owens said. "When they have the ability to fly for the first time, it's absolutely magic."
If the Pan story is to be believed, then ZFX flying director Rebecca Knipfer puts the preverbal fairy-dust in the performance at Presentation Academy.
She installs the flying equipment and then spends two days teaching the performers the ropes. While the company stages concerts, corporate events, and big action stunts, much of its work still exists in the theater venues around the world. Peter Pan is performed the most, 200 times last year alone.
That's why Kirsch considers the company's story a real-life fairytale. Peter Pan launched this empire in 1994. Kirsch explained, "My daughter was one of the lost boy twins in the show."
That 1994 event started a partnership that lasts today. Kirsch, a mom with a business background, ran the ZFX corporate side from California, while Robert Dean an apprentice flying director, spearheaded the artistic end out of Las Vegas. They relocated to Louisville in 2005 and watched their idea take off.
ZFX has 40 full-time workers in Louisville now, another office in the Netherlands, and Kirsch said just one show can bank $1 million.
It's a conglomerate that grew out of a garage and hung its hopes on Never-Neverland. Perhaps Peter Pan really is magic.