The University of SC Department of Theatre and Dance will present Flight, an original drama based on the real histories of women who pioneered the field of aviation, April 22-29 at the Center for Performance Experiment.
Show times are 8pm nightly, with an additional 3pm matinee performance on Saturday, April 28. Tickets are $10 and available online at theatre.sc.edu or at the door. The Center for Performance Experiment is located at 718 Devine St., between Huger and Gadsden Streets, near the Colonial Life Arena. Patrons are advised to arrive early, as seating is limited.
Loosely inspired by Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, Flight follows two daring French actresses, subjects of a documentary by a similarly groundbreaking female filmmaker, who are preparing to make a history-making flight from Paris to Moscow in 1913, a time when being an actress was considered improper and being an aviator was considered impossible. Flight opens eyes and hearts to the long-forgotten stories of the courageous women for whom the sky was not the limit.
UofSC theatre professors Steven Pearson, who conceived of and directs the play, and Robyn Hunt, who wrote the script, developed this “theatrical poem” about aviation’s unsung female pioneers here at the University in 2009, before taking it on tour to venues
around the country. Pearson says the current production benefits from what was learned in those earlier incarnations, with a thorough revision of the script by Hunt that he says has made the show “tighter.”
He adds that performing the play at the CPE provides an extra dimension to the production. “We’re doing it in our studio (the Center for Performance Experiment), which has a perfect hangar feel,” he explains. “We’ve done it on some big stages and in very small spaces, and this is absolutely the best environment for it.”
The “hangar” aesthetic is especially appropriate for the play, since the majority of its scenes take place while the actors are assembling an actual plane in front of the audience. The huge set piece, built to exacting detail by Pearson, is a 3/4-scale model of the Bleriot XI, an early monoplane that, in 1909, was the first plane to cross the English Channel. Trailblazing pilot Harriet Quimby (an inspiration for the play), used the same plane to become the first female to fly across the Channel in 1912.
“It’s a kind of production people haven’t seen a lot,” says Pearson on the action of putting the plane together over the course of the play. “We loosely call it the ‘theatre of work.’ Real work, real assembly, happens in front of people, and if it doesn’t get put together properly, it can’t go on.”
Flight is the third in a trilogy which he has called “riffs” on the plays of Anton Chekhov, including Balance and Gravity(which reference, respectively, Chekov’sThree Sisters and The Cherry Orchard). All three plays utilize physically demanding action as a means of creating an authentic experience for the actors and audience, even in a fictional environment. In addition to the construction of the plane, several actors in Flight perform aerial choreography throughout the play.
At its heart, however, Flight pays tribute to women whose daring achievements have largely been forgotten. “During World War I, a woman developed the first flying ambulance,” Pearson says. “There were other women who flew the mail. By the second World War, you had women delivering huge bombers to Europe. But, this first generation of women before World War I were just lost to history.”
“They were doing something that everybody thought they shouldn’t do,” Pearson says. “And, on top of battling what society says, they had to come to a decision on whether or not to take a chance on something that was dangerous for everyone. It’s extremely risky to fly this little wooden plane that is really light and can be blown anywhere. But they said, ‘Well, why shouldn’t we?’”
Appearing in Flight are second-year MFA Acting candidates Gabriela Castillo, Kimberly Gaughan and Nick Stewart, as well as Professor Robyn Hunt and guest artist Eric Bultman, a 2011 graduate of the UofSC MFA Acting program.