Former Peterborough Players artistic director returns to screen flying trapeze documentary

  • Tom Moore, right, is an Emmy and Tony award-nominated director who got his start at the Peterborough Players. Moore will be in Peterborough this weekend for a showing of his documentary, “The Flight Fantastic.” Courtesy Photo

  • Avid trapeze flyer and Broadway, film, and TV director Tom Moore. Courtesy Photo

  • The Flying Gaonas, subject of The Flight Fantastic screens at the Peterborough Players Saturday, Oct. 5, at 1 p.m. Courtesy Photo—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/2/2019 9:20:41 PM
Modified: 10/2/2019 9:20:30 PM

Movies like 1952’s “Greatest Show on Earth” and 1956’s “Trapeze” starring Burt Lancaster as a trapeze artist loomed large in Tom Moore’s imagination when he was a boy.

“As a kid I had such a fantasy about being in the circus and being a trapeze star,” Moore said in a recent phone interview. “I always had that fantasy.”

The Broadway, film and TV director is in Peterborough this week for a screening of his 2015 documentary “The Flight Fantastic.” The film focuses mainly on the renowned trapeze family The Flying Gaonas.

The documentary is playing at the Peterborough Players on Saturday at 1 p.m. Moore will be on hand for a talkback after the screening. He also plans to talk about the film on Friday for a downtown Peterborough First Friday “behind the curtain” discussion at the Mariposa Museum from 6 to 7 p.m.

While he is probably best known for being the director of the original Broadway production of “Grease,” Moore is an Emmy- and Tony-nominee director who has had a long career in theater, television and film. He directed the original production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play ‘‘‘night Mother” and went on to direct the film version starring Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft. His Emmy nominations are for episodes he directed of hit TV shows – “ER”, “Mad About You” and “L.A. Law.” He was a fellow at the American Film Institute, holds a B.A. from Purdue University and an M.F.A. from Yale School of Drama.

Moore’s career, however, started at the Peterborough Players when Sally Stearns Brown, who’s mother Edith Bond Stearns founded the theater in 1933, took a chance on him. It was about 45 years ago and the theater was in need of a new artistic director.

“I can’t tell you what a brave decision for her that was, to hire this young unproven artistic director,” Moore said, adding he was around 26 or 27 at the time. “I was just two years out of Yale drama school.”

Moore said he had a fantastic collaboration with stage manager Charles Morey over that summer. Morey went on to be the artistic director of the Players from 1977 to 1988, and is the author of 11 produced plays, including “Laughing Stock” and “Dumas’ Camille.”

“I think we produced a bang-up season,” Moore said. “I think, I sort of catapulted the Peterborough Players into the future.”

Moore said he can’t quantify the impact that season had on him as a young artist. “It’s hard to say how special it was. … It was just one of the most special summers I ever had,” Moore said. “I never came back because that summer I got the Broadway production of Grease and my career just took off. … I sometimes think of my closing night speech and I just remember the emotions I felt in both saying both goodbye and thank you to Peterborough.”

After the success of “Grease” Moore moved to California and started his long career in film and television while also continuing his theater career.

Dreams of the flying trapeze were far from Moore when a vacation at a Club Med brought them flooding back. Moore said he was about 50 at the time and was delighted that the vacation spot offered trapeze lessons as an activity for guests.

Moore said he was hooked. When he came back to L.A., he started taking lessons from Richie Gaona, who was working as a stuntman and teaching trapeze on the side. He was the youngest member of the family that had made up The Flying Gaonas. The family had retired from the spotlight after a 17-year run with “The Greatest Show on Earth,” the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. In retirement the family members had become dedicated to teaching and coaching the next generation of trapeze artists.

“It became a huge part of my life for a very long time. It’s not as big now, but I still do it,” said Moore, who is now in his 70s. “It’s all about self-confidence. You are not competing with each other. You are competing with yourself to get better.”

Getting to know the family and experiencing their generosity ultimately inspired Moore to make his first documentary film, “The Flight Fantastic.”

“I got to know these famous flying families, and I got to know The Flying Gaonas. … there is an extraordinary generosity with circus people. … I just responded to that extraordinary warmth and reciprocity.”

Moore said he was invited to bring “The Flight Fantastic” to the Players’ after he reconnected with Sally Stearns Brown’s daughter Beth Brown, who was hired by the Players earlier this year to be its director of advancement.

“Beth Brown was a very young child when I was there,” Moore said of his one summer at the Players. “I heard she had come back to the Players and emailed her to congratulate her.”

“I’m very grateful to be bringing something I love back to a place I love and to have a reunion with both a theater and its founding family and the family that has become the Peterborough Players,” Moore said.

Tickets to “The Flight Fantastic” are $20 and are available now through the Players website, peterboroughplayers.org, or by calling the box office at (603) 924-7585. Friday’s “behind the curtain” event at the Mariposa Museum is free and open to the public.

“The Flight Fantastic” is appropriate for all ages.




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