Monday, September 13, 2010

Fighting Gravity Defies the Odds with their Black-Light Act

Photo by: Trae Patton/NBC

If you haven’t been watching America’s Got Talent (and you really should), we promise you’ll never guess the performance of choice for a bunch of frat boys from Virginia Tech.

They have majors like Aerospace Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise on their resumes. And they all seem to come in handy when they design the performances for their act—Fighting Gravity.

In their black-light productions, several members dress in white while the others, all in black, seem to disappear in the background—creating an illusion of floating among the artists that are seen.

The group was formed in 2009 by brothers from the Pi Kappa Alpha for a one-time performance at a sorority charity event. When their YouTube video went viral and scored hundreds of thousands of hits, the AGT producers took notice.

The guys were invited to New York to audition. As 20-year-old Phil Deverna told us, they didn’t plan on making the show. “We didn’t really have any expectations of winning or coming this far at all. It was just kind of a, ‘Hey, let’s do this. This will be fun—an all expenses paid trip to New York. Hang out with the guys for a weekend. Skip school…’ We’re constantly exceeding our own expectations.”

Unlike the singers, magicians, and dancers on AGT, who can find inspiration all around them, there aren’t a lot of black-light performers out there. But there are a few groups that have had an impact on Fighting Gravity. Deverna elaborated, “There have been people who have done similar concepts and techniques in black-light theater. One group Freedom 06 had a lot of influence on us. They were kind of the pioneers with the floating illusion. And another group called Expressions Crew, they’re from Korea I believe. They do a lot in black-light and also they breakdance… so they’re a lot more talented than us. From there we just kind of took those ideas, kind of threw them together, and tried to put our own spin on it and build from that.”

The frat boys have another challenge that their competitors haven’t had to face. Rehearsing can be hard with such a complicated act. And, they work on their own without a choreographer or director.

21-year-old Caleb Sharp explained, “There’s 13 of us and most of us are pretty creative guys, so one of us basically has an idea, we throw it out there, and bounce it off other people. And we spend a lot of time in front of mirrors with black-lights just figuring out what looks good, what looks interesting, and would kind of wow an audience.”

But they’re smart guys so they’ve come up with a tried and true system democratic system. When someone has something to say, he has to raise his hand.

According to Phil, they wouldn’t have it any other way. As he said, “It’s really sweet all being in the same fraternity because we would all hang out anyways. We were all friends before this. So it’s not like our friendship came from this act or from the group. It was the other way around. This came from our friendship. So it really helps us be patient with each other, even though we’re not always.”

All the hard work and compromise has paid off so far, Fighting Gravity has made it to the final four. As for where they hope it will lead, Deverna spoke for the group saying, “Right now, we’re all pretty much just seeing where the show can take us. We don’t really have that great of expectations. We do plan on one day going back to school and finishing that. But right now that seems kind of like a plan B for the next couple of years. It would be amazing to get our own show in Vegas or go on tour and just entertain for the next little bit.”

But Sharp chimed in that they do have one other very important mission in all of this. “Something we really want to do is change peoples view on Virginia Tech and bring Virginia Tech in the spotlight for something positive. As you know, there’s been a few things that happened lately that aren’t too positive about Virginia Tech. So we’re trying to get out there and do something good for our school and give back to what they’ve given us.

Watch the "America's Got Talent" finale episodes on Tuesday and Wednesday night.

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