UW-Green Bay Theatre and Dance will shed light on the story of an elite group of female fighter pilots beginning Thursday, Feb. 27, presenting Censored on Final Approach in the Jean Weidner Theatre at the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts.
Written by Phylis Ravel, the play offers an account of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), a group championed by pioneer aviator Jacqueline Cochran but not embraced by their male counterparts. They struggled daily for acceptance, facing bigotry, sabotage and the consequent cover-up of an all-but-forgotten chapter of American history.
“Basically the play is a study and a compilation of the story of the WASPs, which was the Women’s Air Special Pilots.,” said Chicago-based director, designer, actor and dancer Shifra Werch, who is guest directing the production. “(It’s) World War II, it takes place in approximately 1943 — but it’s a flashback memory play.”
The narrative actually starts in 1953, Werch said, then brings the audience back to the time the WASPs were flying.
“They were brought in not to do the ferrying of airplanes that other people, other women had done at that time,” Werch said, “but to do actual toe target flying, which means they gave actual practice to the people who were shooting.”
Despite the women’s skill, Werch said, they faced constant challenges.
“They were excellent pilots. They were not recognized by the military until way after the program was ended,” she said. “They were not treated well and they suffered some of the same inequities and abuse that are happening to women in the services today.”
For UW-Green Bay senior Randy Tranowski, who plays Lt. Paul Ryder, taking on a distasteful character provided some challenges.
“It was hard getting into his character at first because I don’t like to think of myself as a sexist pig or anything,” Tranowski said. “But then you do character research and development, and like it’s a totally different side of the mentality and everything. And it’s interesting to see that whole dynamic change. So it’s kind of fun just to play that up a little bit — because it’s a role and a totally different person from who I am originally.”
To prepare for their roles, the actors undertook research, including taking a trip to the Experimental Aircraft Association Museum in Oshkosh, said senior Stephanie Frank.
This has been a really, really great opportunity to find out about that history there, because it’s fascinating and you don’t hear about it very often,” said Frank, who plays Jacqueline Cochran. “And I think what is most important to remember is that these are real people, they feel the same things we do — and you just kind of go with that emotion and hope the truth translates to the audience.”
Although the play takes place decades ago, its lessons remain relevant today, Tranowski said.
“Yeah this takes place during World War II, but you can still see these similar parallels in today’s society,” he said, “like right now with the LGBT movement and still fighting for equality and struggling for rights and overcoming differences and obstacles.”
Those parallels also matter for guest director Werch.
“I’m very excited to show this to everybody in the area,” Werch said, “because it showcases the great talent here, an important idea, and what I want theatre to do — it brings us all together to make the world better.”
Censored on Final Approach
February 27, 28, March 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 2014, 7:30 pm
Jean Weidner Theatre, Weidner Center for the Performing Arts
Tickets available online or by calling (920) 465-2400 (800) 328-tkts.
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