Archive for category FLIGHT

“The Process” with the sublime Taifa Harris

taifa-headshot.jpgWow, what a ride.  Not knowing what to expect, I came to the first day of rehearsal with anticipation of how great this experience could be.  I knew this was going to be something special when Artistic Director,  Tracy Brigden brought EVERYONE involved in the workings of City Theatre together to meet, and welcome us into the family.   What a collaboration of talents to bring this story to life! 

Throughout rehearsal, Liesl Tommy guided us to explore aspects of our characters that we might sometimes shy away from in our own lives and encouraged us to make them real on the stage.  We felt safe to cry, laugh, fail and succeed.   With the music, the movement, and our own truths, we started to soar.   

As we moved from the rehearsal room into the theatre, we reached a new level of collaboration and discovery as Pei-Chi Su’s costumes began to inform and shape our character’s look and physical movement and Marcus Doshi’s lighting design created a palette that made the atmosphere palpable.  Tony Ferrieri’s set blurs the barrier between the audience and stage and gives them license to participate in the emotional journey of the play — which audiences have so warmly embraced. taifa-pic-for-blog.jpg 

Here we are with a week left in our run and I still find myself discovering new things with this wonderful cast.   Avery, Kevin, DeWanda, Joshua and George feed my spirit every night.  I have been challenged, touched, enlightened, moved and humbled by this piece and my new family.  It has truly taken Flight! 

– Taïfa Harris (Alma)


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“And now comes the hard part…” by Joshua Elijah Reese


I worked at the City Theatre a couple of years ago in the MOMENTUM 2006 New Play Festival.  I was a part of the reading Mezullah 1946 (which ended up becoming a full production the following season).  It was then that I had the opportunity to see first hand the high caliber that was expected of anyone who was a part of putting together a show at City — cast, crew or otherwise.  

When I got the call from Kellee VanAken to audition for Flight I felt honored to get the call, but I knew that getting past general auditions would be a fight.  At first glance I was too young to play the character Nate and when I heard what was needed for the audition, a five minute personal “story” incorporating singing and movement/dance, singing an excerpt of a song of our choice a cappella, and then the actual audition of a monologue from the show, I thought to myself , “Alright…here comes the hard part.”

The audition went as well as it could’ve gone.  I was committed to the choices that I had made, I took direction — all those things that help one get a role.  And when it came time to call people back later that day, lo and behold I got a call…but not for callbacks.  I was offered the job right then and there!I was so overjoyed!  I told my mother, my girl, a few close friends and then nobody else really.  I then came to the realization that I still had a very difficult road ahead of me.  Flight is a very complex and colorful show that would not be easy to tackle.  I had to get to work!  Research.

And now comes the hard part.

joshua-show-pic.jpgThe rehearsal process was grueling.  We had long days where we probed deeper and deeper through the surface to really get to the heart of each character.  And it was not easy-street for any one of us in the cast, for our one-man orchestra that is George Jones, for our very meticulous leader, Leisel, or for the true puppet master; playwright Charlayne Woodard.  Charlyane was there everyday giving her art over to us (and you know how sensitive most artists are about their baby).  This was the beauty as well as the daily knock-down, drag-out struggle — this was the process. 

This was the hard part.

But now that we are open and have been performing for the last couple of weeks, I realize that I have been wrong once again.  The hard part is now letting it all go, trusting that grueling process and staying true to one’s character journey and staying honest with those with whom you share the stage because they’re all you’ve got.  HAVING FUN!  And just committing to telling the story.  Telling our stories — and the hardest part of all…getting that boy out of that tree!

Joshua Elijah Reese (Nate)

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FLIGHT Soars on Opening Night

After a thrilling preview process, Flight had its official opening on Wednesday, March 19th.  The production came together beautifully and played to a packed and enthusiastic audience. 

Playwright Charlayne Woodard, director Liesl Tommy, the engaging cast of Flight: Avery Sommers, Taifa Harris, Kevin Brown, DeWanda Wise, Joshua Reese, and George Jones, as well as all the incredible designers and crew were the featured guests at the after party at Elixir on Carson Street. 

Below are some great photos of the pre-reception and after party.

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Opening Morning with the lovely (and wise) DeWanda Wise

Tonight is Opening Nign808713_34366720_98091.jpght and I’m up at 6am — anxiously awaiting that 7:30pm call time when, at least for this show, all of us are already near dressed and laughing at each others jokes in the dressing room. Flight is quite an extraordinary production through and through. The piece itself calls to me both thematically and professionally. Thematically, it opens wounds that haven’t even begun to scab over for generations in my family. I can’t wait to have my people up from Baltimore to see. Professionally, I call it Charlayne’s “& then…” piece. Meaning, it requires the actors to bring everything they have to the table “& then” some. I came in with my own choices in regards to character, but it has been a truly collaborative process. Those little one to two minute dance sections took days to complete as Oronde Sharif learned how our bodies move best, and as we swallowed our pride and attempted to match his movements. Much of the movement and dance was constructed around George Jones’ drums, our heartbeat. Liesl Tommy’s style is also very deliberate. She constructed moments I never would have imagined from page to stage. It’s been amazing.

flight-send-3.jpgI had to compliment Charlayne at one point on her ability to give her piece over so graciously. She’s been there to answer questions, tell stories, and tighten up the script. Otherwise she’s given the most by bringing her energy into the room—and of course we squeezed a night out to go dancing to our Percussionist George Jones’ group, Salsamba. I’ve been told frequently that I’m fortunate to have Flight as my first professional play, but I knew way back in November when I first met the artistic staff that it was going to soar, and I am so thankful to ride along.

-DeWanda Wise (Mercy)


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Preview Articles


Two excellent preview articles came out recently about the show.  One in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and one in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Click the links below for a sneak peak:


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Two Days to Tech


With two days left until technical rehearsals (where lights, sound, and costumes are integrated into the production) the major structural aspects of the scenic design are in place.  And as you see in the pictures here, they are pretty striking.  Click on the image for a larger view. 

While the model (see blog entry titled “Six Questions withimage009.jpg Scenic Designer, Tony Ferrieri” for images) reveal much about what the ultimate design will look like there are always changes during constructions  as well as changes of perception as you move from quarter-inch model to real size.  I was most surprised by the scale of the tree.  It is much more grand and majestic in the theatre space.  In an interesting contrast the layers of the tree give it a delicate airiness that I wasn’t expecting.  I’m fascinated to see how light will interact with the materials of the tree and transform it. 

image012.jpgAs you can see in the picture to the left the details are now being added.  While the deck of the stage is painted and textured, and materials are sculpted to create the horizon, electricians hang lighting instruments in the grid above. 

The actors will step foot on stage for the first time tomorrow image007.jpgevening so the production staff is working to have the majority of the elements in place.  As the designers and director see how the light, costumes, and sound come together in the space over the weekend, the production team will continue to adapt the design until opening night.

Look for a tech update early next week.

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Four Questions with Carlyn Aquiline

In the midst of the excitement and chaos of play selection for the 2008-2009 Season, Literary Manager and Dramaturg Carlyn Aquiline took a few moments to answer four questions:

Stuart:  Playwright Charlayne Woodard started as an actor and has a thriving stage career, including an Obie Award for her performance in the World Premiere of Suzan-Lori Parks’ In the Blood.  Is there a quality in her writing that reveals her experience as an actor? 

Carlyn: Absolutely. First of all, Flight is a true ensemble work. There is no “main character,” per se—and therefore no room for egos. Instead, each actor gets multiple opportunities to take center stage, so to speak, in one or another of the play’s folktales; in return, they each play minor roles in others. This requires actors who can really work together as a group, supporting each others’ performances, trusting each others’ process, and developing through a kind of improvisatory openness the physical and emotional life of each folktale. It also gives each of them the challenge and fun of playing not only the slave characters, but many other characters–human, animal, and spirit–in the folklore. They really get to show their versatility in the range of characters they play, in the improvisational nature of the playing, and in the opportunity to use their whole “instruments” since the play’s “telling” is done in myriad ways–through oral storytelling, dialogue, music, and movement. Finally, Charlayne has written down just enough to convey her vision of the play but she leaves much wide open for the actors and director to do what they do best–and what they like to do best–to make strong choices about character and action. She gives them great ownership of their stories, allowing them to join the great tradition of oral storytellers that the play in one sense celebrates.

Stuart:  What drew you to Flight?  The story?  Characters?  Use of music and dance?  What was the “hook” for you.

Carlyn: All of the above, and more. The folklore is captivating, at times somber, at other times funny, but always absorbing and filled with great possibilities for visual AND verbal storytelling and great theatricality. The characters have a compelling need to gather as a community and re-tell these narratives, which have been passed from generation to generation to impart strength and wisdom, explain the world, connect these people to each other and to their ancestors–and provide some levity when possible. It’s in the past that the characters find their strength for the future–difficult though it will continue to be. Charlayne has created powerful imagery that exists on multiple levels, from the tree that Li’l Jim climbs–which is literal but also reminds us that as the characters’ personal histories continue to grow and branch out, their roots still exist in Africa–to the percussionist, who will be present onstage but who represents the spirit and heartbeat of Africa that beats within these characters who were forbidden from drumming (a musical tradition in Africa) and speaking their traditional languages. Finally, though Charlayne sets her story within the grim institution of slavery–and there’s no getting away from that fact–and has chosen folklore from mainly West Africa (which is where most of the slaves along the Eastern seaboard were from), she is miraculously able to inspire hope, to make us laugh, and to point up the universality of the folklore, which at its core illuminates the best and worst in all humanity.  

Stuart:  You are one of those slash-titled folks, Literary Manager/Dramaturg.  Most people probably have a sense of what is involved in Literary Management (or think they do!) but as dramaturg what are some of the things you will do leading up to and during rehearsals for Flight to support the production?

Carlyn:  First, I prefer not the “/” but the “and”: Literary Manager and Dramaturg. I’ve gathered some research for the actors to explore, if they’d like–as a few examples, we have period photos of slaves in daguerreotypes (really incredible images) and plantation settings, the slave narratives (oral histories) that were recorded in the 30s, a map of a typical plantation layout and information on plantation life and slave culture, and collections of African and African-American folktales (a lot of Charlayne’s research, too, used the slave narratives and, of course, collections of folklore). But Liesl will have four experts in the room with her–Charlayne; George, the percussionist; Thomas, the music director; and Oronde, the choreographer–and those people know infinitely more about their own areas of expertise, from drumming to African dance–than I would ever be able to learn and/or impart. So, though I won’t need to be in rehearsals for this production as often as I sometimes am, I’ll stop into rehearsals to see how everything’s going, to see if I can offer support or assistance to Charlayne and Liesl, to watch run-throughs and offer response, and then to watch previews and offer response. I also will put together some materials to enhance audience experience–a newsletter, which will include an interview with Charlayne and an article on the designs, a program spread about the oral tradition, and a lobby display with a lot more images and information on the world of the play (including some of the research I placed in the rehearsal hall).  

Stuart:  What is on your i-pod? 

Carlyn:  Depends on my mood–I tend to rotate four or five CDs at a time. Lately, I’ve been listening a lot to: Jack Teagarden’s Basin Street Blues; Los Lonely Boys (their self-titled CD); Zap Mama’s Ancestry in Progress; Sting’s Songs from the Labyrinth; and the new Eagles release Long Road Out of Eden.

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