Every day we have the opportunity to be inspired and motivated. Think about when you were younger and what experiences shaped who you are today. Are you an actor; what was the first play you saw? Do you paint; what piece of art made you want to put your brush to the canvas? Do you play an instrument; what musician or singer gave you the power to imagine yourself doing it? Now imagine if the person doing it looks or sounds like you? That makes a huge impact on people as well. It’s easier to imagine ourselves doing it.
Both last year and this year, I worked on a Theatre for Young Audiences show called Kitty Hawk in Miami, FL. It was a project funded by the Adrienne Arsht Center that integrated the arts into the Sciences, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics curriculum efforts throughout public school education. It took key components of the 7th grade curriculum including how planes are built and the mechanics that make controlled flight happen. Our audience ranged from 800-1800 students every show twice a day for almost two weeks. Every school in Miami-Dade County was encouraged to attend without any ticket prices. The story focuses on Orville and Wilbur Wright and their attempts and contributions to aviation against the “fat cats of Washington D.C.” trying to steal credit for their inventions. The story includes tensions within the family dynamic, including their sister and father, Katherine and Milton Wright.
The cast consisted of eight members, all who played multiple roles and multiple musical instruments, and two additional band members. We built the instruments into the story, entirely accompanying ourselves for all the songs and underscoring. Another incredible thing about this production is that it was ethnically #diverse. When our director, Nate Allen, was asked to do this production, he was surprised that a performing arts center in Miami (a diverse metropolitan city) would want to fund a musical about two white men who contributed to one of the most impactful aspects of travel. Every character but the sister was basically a young adult to middle-aged Caucasian man. A diverse audience of 12-year-olds don’t want to see another story painting white men the #heroes.
So he changed the #perspective. Our story was about two young dreamers who wanted to do something important for the world. Anyone could put themselves in those shoes. The Wright Brothers were played by an African-American man, Brian Keys, and a Puerto Rican woman, Amanda Raquel Martinez. The cast was made up of 5 females and 3 males with no regard to gender, race, or age. Everyone could be anyone. The focus was on the characters and their emotions, not what they looked like. So now, a diverse audience of 12-year-olds saw a story about people - just like them - doing something important for society, and most importantly, dreaming of something bigger and better.
While the buses were still unloading and children were filling into seats, the cast came out and played a pre-show song to grab their attention and welcome them into our world. We played favorites like “Uptown Funk” and “All About That Bass,” getting them to sing and clap along. Throughout the show, we found moments to interact and bring them in like Wilbur waving from the plane during a flight and the brothers doing the floss dance when they beat the record for longest free glide #flight. The kids even boo-ed at the villans whenever they came on stage and cheered when their plane test failed and the Wrights succeeded!
There were even some special moments like when the father puts aside his overprotectiveness and tells the boys “I’ll be proud of you no matter what.” In a time where it seems it’s more important to be “cool” than to be #authentic, it was reassuring to hear one or two “aww”s ripple into 500 “aww”s.
Sometimes we’d find out that this was the first piece of theatre a lot of these kids have ever seen. We even heard some girls saying they can't wait to #vote when they're 18 because it isn't fair that the Wright sister, Katherine, couldn't! What an honor to have the opportunity to create that magic for them. In the show, I play the upright bass a majority of the time (Photo: far right) and fondly remember when I started learning the bass at 11 years old. I can only imagine how I would have felt seeing a female play a bass in a show when I was in middle school. Even seeing other people singing, acting, and playing any instrument would have encouraged me to believe I could be a performer. Those are the people that can make the biggest impact on our creative lives. The entire cast was incredibly #humbled to have been part of this show.
What was the first show, movie, piece of art, song, etc. that made an impact on you? How did it affect you? Have you ever been part of a project that did this for someone else? Share it in the comments below!
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Cover Photo by Adrienne Arsht Center (Kitty Hawk 2017)