First Flight Festival Engenders Local Pride: Flight A

by Lindsey Hand

The First Flight Festival is composed of local playwrights, actors, directors, and crew culminating the Angels Playwriting Collective’s year in polishing the written word. The festival is a means to give legs to the ideas in writers’ heads, so staging is simplified to allow space for the writing, directing, and acting to splice.

“Window #5” The festival begins with questions: what time is it… what is truth… what am I watching? Leave your guilt in the lobby, because there’s no need to feel shame that this play will leave you with more questions than answers. This absurdist beginning features four numbered characters standing behind podiums designated as windows. What are windows? A place for questions. Characters address all manner of questions from time to humanity’s relation to the universe. This play if full of scientific, historical, and cultural references that whiz by. It is important to keep the pace up to kick off a festival like this, and Window #5 nailed it. One of the best parts of this play was the repartee with comedic interruption. Miss a reference? Don’t worry—we’re meant to wonder, and we’re already onto the next laugh.

“Lesbians, KFC and Ellen Degeneres”  Apart from the thoughtful direction, this title nearly communicates it all. This production features youth actors and the question: how should I come out to my parents before taking my girlfriend to prom tomorrow? The relationship of two best friends propels the show (with occasional interruptions of that annoying little sister). Piper, the gay best friend, sneaks out during her household’s guided meditation session to help Ashley role play how to come out in a home that has never acknowledged human sexuality. The friendship between Piper and Ashley has a casual and natural feel, aided by the staging. The girls prop up their feet on the furniture, and Piper even helps herself to some mystery lipstick on Ashley’s dresser. Instead of aiming to be presentational, the director (Judy Hart) creates a sense that these are actual friends in an actual bedroom that the audience can buy into. Writers (Willow Stratmore and Jillian Carter) leave us giggling at the juxtaposition of Piper, raised by hippie dippie parents, and Ashley, who doesn’t even know if her parents understand lesbians exist. The audience doesn’t know what will happen when Ashley makes her big reveal. One thing is for certain, though: when it comes to chicken, lesbians have the best puns.

“Absence of Absence” A single couch. A singular man. The deconstruction of wild dreams and dad issues. Al (Tony Heffner) is a middle-aged man in therapy to deconstruct the absence of his father. The uncomplicated staging by director Timothy Scholl allows for Brian Bornstein’s narrative writing to sing. Al wanders around occasionally, clearly having experience purging his innermost thoughts and whimsy on this particular couch. Heffner’s performance includes peaks and valleys of emotion, allowing for the very human conversational meandering of the writing to walk the stage with him. You’ll laugh, sigh, and relish the stinging final lines.

“Something Worse” A family of actors tackle big laughs at this high school reunion comedy, and leave the audience feeling lifted before intermission. Howard (Cody Arenz) and Lisa (Deb Arenz) are best friends from childhood who finally address “Howie Zowie’s” secret flame he held for Lisa. Clever Bruce Springsteen references keep the show moving, with Brian Bornstein’s writing clearly placing us within a specific time and place. The direction by Bob Hall was exceptional in staging the dialogue’s parallelism during the magical realism scene, and the script was just as exceptional in overlapping wit. It’s hard to believe this is a festival focused on the writing, because the acting, directing, costuming, and sound came together in such a thoughtful way. The Arenz children (Ben and Meg) also contribute to the audience feeling knotted up with the question: what will Howard and Lisa decide after this major revelation? The chemistry was impeccable, and hopefully this family has the revelation that they need to keep performing together.

“F Bomb in the Courtroom” Act II begins just as strong as where the first act left off, which is requisite to keep the pacing up for this festival. This is another show with a descriptive title, but the audience cannot prepare for the goofiness and clever dialogue that ensues. The courtroom is set in the future of a society no longer allowed to say all those poopoo words: just c-word-a-doodle-don’t do it. The over-zealous Agent (D Chapelle) aims to slap a fine on Citizen A (Tony Heffner) for using words F, A, D, and C. Director Scott Glen has Chapelle wander about, puffed up with self-importance and a thick rule book of multi-colored tabs. This is another instance where a simplified set (two desks, and the judge’s raised platform) allow for the clever writing to cut through. The humor is not overplayed—in fact, it rolls out of the actors’ mouths easily, because they all pursue the dialogue earnestly. Judge (Diane Gonzolas) is tasked with regulating these men impatient to win their side of the argument, interrupting the back-and-forth of two adults squabbling like toddlers both gripping the playroom’s most prized toy. It’s a battle of rule-obsession, and thrill-seeking finagling. You’ll enjoy the h-e-double-hockey-sticks out of this one.

“#MomPower” Janice (Katy Morehouse) is the mom we all wish we had, were a teacher to take issue with our developing bodies. This play, written and directed by Jillian Carter, is both hilarious and sadly contemporary: a teacher returns a mother’s phone call after dismissing an 11-year-old from her classroom for existing as too plus sized and busty in her shirt. The directing and acting couple to give a sense of real momdom from picking up toys at the opening, to “I wanted to make sure you had my full attention” while folding a sockmountain. Morehouse alternates between a patiently sweet tone, as the teacher explains her perspective, and builds to moments of finger-wagging tonal disgust for suggesting that plus sized children need to dress differently from their peers. You’ll find yourself laughing, groaning, and cheering for this mom who wields word daggers for anyone daft enough to disparage a child that dares occupy a body.

“A Path of Love” Here is a play that positions the audience as waffling between wondering and sniffling. The character Woman (Erin Glenn) must remember how she died, and why, before she can move on. Guardians (Constance Howard and Stephanie Porter) are positioned to Woman’s right and left, and aid in the healing process. Their voices are soothing, and it’s obvious they’ve been in this realm for possibly an eternity, with rhythmic repetition and listening to calm the nerves. Emotional rises and drops abound as Woman remembers small pieces of her story before moments of agonizing pain, in which the Guardians assist. The character is written by Cec Burkhart to evoke sympathy within a more complex understanding of death and life after death. The play addresses questions that are ubiquitous to the human experience. Though it is tragic, the audience isn’t left dwelling in hopelessness, but questioning and complicating the traditional narratives of death and dying.

“Rainier Mountain High” Legal weed: shall we? Another play centering on a question and delivering a believable relationship. Ester (Elizabeth Govaerts) and Magnus (Tim Mittan) must ask themselves if they should smoke that j to unwind on vacation. Magnus is a complaining husband, who insists that balking about the newspaper missing his porch is “just noticing things.” Ester (who finally convinces Magnus to visit her former home in the Pacific Northwest) just wants her husband to relax. The acting and directing (Timothy Scholl) dance to create the believability, as the actors truly listen to each other on stage, and Ester adjusts her husband’s button-up shirt. The script is written in a lifelike wandering between 2016 politics, everyday stressors, and $10 local organic cream. The audience is able to buy into this relationship and the scene, because the acting was truly in-the-moment. Mark Bestul’s writing creates much-needed levity, with clear decisions in characterization, making Ester and Magnus into people the audience feels we somehow know and already love.

Immediately following this already-outstanding experience, the audience is invited to engage with the playwrights and ask questions. Getting into the head of those who see their work finally staged is the equivalent of reaching the Tootsie Roll at the center of a Tootsie Pop. The audience gets to the original guts of these plays, and is able to savor, appreciate, and understand more. The playwrights and audience think together, and in some instances, are left with more questions than answers—an indication of releasing one’s art as an ever-evolving process, instead of ultimate product. Though this festival is meant for consideration of the writing, the thoughtfulness of the entire evening will leave you proud to be a Lincolnite. Even the transitional music by Jeramie Beahm plays into themes and dialogue visited within the plays. As a theatre-goer, actor, director, musician, or playwright, you cannot afford to miss this unique local opportunity. This festival is invaluable if you want to either enjoy yourself or grow in your craft. The considerate order of plays and pacing were such that I actually could not believe it was 10:27 pm when I reached my car. I still can’t. But what is time, anyway?

You can still catch Flight A on July 26 (7:30 pm), and July 22 and 28 (2 pm), but I encourage you to buy a festival pass so you can experience the local magic of Flights B and C as well.

If you go – all plays are performed in UNL’s Studio Theatre located on the first floor of the Temple Building, 12th & R Streets, Lincoln. Tickets are available one hour before the show at the box office or you can buy them online at First-Flight-Festival-2018

General admission ticket price is $15.00 for one Flight, $25.00 for two Flights, or $35.00 for three Flights. OLLI and student discount is $5.00 off the general admission price

Performance Schedule:
Flight A – July 18, 20, 26 @ 7:30pm, Sunday July 22 @ 2pm, and Saturday July 28 @ 8pm
Flight B – July 19, 21, 22, 27 @ 7:30pm and Saturday July 28 at 4pm
Flight C – July 24 & 25 @ 7:30pm and Sunday July 29 at 2pm

Lindsey Hand is a newly hired English teacher at Lincoln Southeast High School and recent graduate with a degree in English Language Arts. As a performance artist, Lindsey represented Omaha at the National Poetry Slam while acting as Managing and Artistic Director of Red Theater Lincoln. Lindsey is a Gaffney Award-winning essayist, and winner of both 2nd and 3rd place Laurus awards for poetry.

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