Did you know, more than 1,100 young women, all civilian volunteers, flew almost every type of military aircraft during World War II - including the B-26 and B-29 bombers? These women were part of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), and this April their story is flying into to Notre Dame of Maryland University’s (NDMU) Copeland Theatre as Meredith Dayna Levy’s Decision Height takes the stage.
A play about triumph and tragedy as women air force fighter pilots battle the axis powers of World War II is directed by Ann Turiano. We asked Turiano and NDMU Assistant Professor and Drama Chair, Kathleen Bossert to tell us about the play and learned it’s a tale of America’s unsung heroes and not necessarily history but, “Herstory!”
Q: Why Decision Height by Meredith Dayna Levy?
Bossert: When Ann introduced me to Levy’s script, I was really struck by how engaging the dialogue was— and how alive and unique each of the characters seemed. Their personalities really jump off the page, and Ann and I knew these characters would give our actors emotional variety and opportunities to demonstrate their range, in comedy, drama, and even a bit of song.”
Q: Can you explain some of the differences between Levy’s Decision Height and NDMU’s Version?
Bossert: Seeing a show in the Copeland is a much different experience than seeing a performance in a larger theater where the audience is further away from the action. In our space, the audience is truly in the midst of things, and being immersed in the action heightens the emotional impact. In this way, I think our production really showcases the depth and integrity of Levy’s script and her characters.
Q: What are some interesting facts about Decision Height?
Bossert: Levy’s play is set during World World II and explores women’s roles in wartime, specifically chronicling several women who are training to become Women Airforce Service Pilots for the US military. Levy wrote this play when she was still an undergraduate student at Hollins University, a women’s college in Virginia. Her script went on to win several major awards, including best play, at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. Since being published in 2014, it has been produced over 30 times— so, we’re really thrilled to bring this new play to our audiences at NDMU and to celebrate the work of a fellow women’s college graduate.
Q: Any exciting challenges with the directing/producing of this play?
Turiano: We have invested a lot of time on ensemble-building and trust. Some rehearsals simply start with 15 minutes of bonding. We have a great mix of NDMU drama veterans and newbies in the cast, and it has been lovely watching them become a cohesive group over our weeks of rehearsal. We've also challenged ourselves to honestly represent the military-style training the real WASPs endured, and our Assistant Director Kayla Becker has been leading hardcore workouts with the cast. It's great fun to immerse ourselves so deeply in the history of the play.
Q: Decision Height takes place during WWII, how will battles be brought to life on stage?
Turiano: Directing in the Copeland is always an adventure – we have air fields, barracks, hangars, and even cockpits represented onstage in this show. We're using sound and light to transport our audience far beyond the hallways of LeClerc Hall, and I hope they enjoy the trip to 1940s Texas.
Q: What types of special effects can we expect?
Turiano: The story at the heart of Decision Height is about sisterhood, and while there are some exciting and risky moments up in the air, most of the drama happens on the ground between these remarkable women.
Q: What do you hope viewers will take away from the play?
Members from the cast and crew want audiences to look for "interesting interactions between growing women, casual 1940s lawbreaking [and, possibly] someone wears lingerie. Bad ass women portraying the lives of these women [The WASPS] who experienced all of this [WWII]!...[And finally,] great 40s rhythms and songs interspersed into the military life."
Tickets are on sale now. Show times are April 12, 13 & 14 at 8 p.m. and April 14 and 15 at 2 p.m. General admission is $15, students are eligible for discounted tickets and are available online.