FLIGHT Conceived and directed by Steven Pearson. Written by Robyn Hunt. Lighting by Jeremy Winchester. Costumes by Lisa Martin-Stuart. Assistant director Brian Hanscom. Walter Clissen, Sound Design. With Eric Bultman, Jen Burry, Lee Fitzpatrick, Robyn Hunt & William Shuler.
Photos by Jeremy Winchester
FLIGHT: an aerial theatre piece with monoplane, aviatrixes and camera
FLIGHT is based on the intersection of technology, history and art: the early days of powered flight, pioneering women fliers of the time, the eve of The Great War, and Chekhov’s THE SEAGULL. Set in a suburb of Paris in 1913, this theatrical piece revolves around the onstage assembly of a three-quarter sized Bleriot XI monoplane, and the theatrical template includes new choreography, a complex sound and music score, and filmmaking. We remain interested in creating new work that explores the synchronicity of an artistic work with its historical environment. FLIGHT uses a contemporary, integrated artistic approach to treat the first decades of the twentieth century, linking the present with that past to reveal the core relationships of art and society. In 1909 Louis Bleriot designed and built the Bleriot XI airplane in which he became the first man to fly across the English Channel. Using a Bleriot XI in 1912, Harriet Quimby, America’s first licensed female pilot, was the first woman to fly the channel. A former actress and New York drama critic, Quimby refused—along with many of her contemporary aviatrixes-- to accept the prevailing opinion that flying was a particularly masculine endeavour. Filmmaking, though still in its infancy, was progressing with as much energy, innovation and verve as aviation. And at this crucial moment of the beginning of the 20th century, the Moscow Art Theater became an international sensation performing Anton Chekhov’s plays. His first great success, THE SEAGULL, featured two actresses trying to take flight, to flee from restrictive situations toward a rich artistic life. Many of the first women aviators came from the theatre, and in fact their public exploits were reported with varying amounts of fact and fiction.
October 22, 1909 is generally accepted as the date of the first official flight by a woman. In FLIGHT, just one hundred years later, we explore the confluence of aviation, filmmaking, and theatre to capture something of the excitement, energy, frustration and determination of women at that time. Women struggled not only with the dangerous demands of flight in machines of wood, wire and cloth, but also with very restrictive societal expectations concerning appropriate public and private behaviour. Throughout history, actresses always walked a difficult path between public approbation and the common belief that their work and lifestyle were at best morally questionable.
We’ve explored the similarities and differences between the beginning of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first. Is there resonance? Have new technologies, virtual experiences, changing feminist awareness, increased physical passivity, and other markers of our present moment made the drive of those early pioneers unrecognizable to a contemporary audience? FLIGHT offers a colorful interface of past and present, a living connection with history, and a close-up of the grit, perseverance, physical and intellectual rigour, and rampant creativity of the early aviators, the early filmmakers, and the first great proponents of realistic theatre. Its thematic threads include early feminism, the confluence of historical fact and artistic fiction, the theatrical implications of real work on stage, and of course elements of flight: aerial freedom, metaphor, cosmology, and escape.