, playing through March 27 at the New Vic, lets audiences experience firsthand the anguish, failures, fears and triumphs of the Tuskegee Airmen, who flew through the skies over Europe and North Africa fighting for freedom abroad—and at home—during World War II. Take a quick look at our sneak peak of this high-flying theatrical action-adventure about the first black military aviators in U.S. history.
This amazing story comes to life through stunning projections, vibrant lighting and a Tap Griot, who acts as a modern Greek chorus-like figure, expressing the extraordinary perseverance and determination of these courageous men through dance. Fly
director and co-author Ricardo Khan sat down to tell us about the inspiring journey of bringing Fly
, which he calls “a story that needs to be told and shared and loved and embraced by all of us,” to the stage.
What inspired you to make dance so central to Fly?
The cast of Fly rehearsed in The New 42nd Street Studios in January of this year.
I was looking for a way to tell this story in a way that didn’t sound, smell or feel like a history lesson. Like “the river we stand in,” this part of our history is alive in the contemporary experience, as is the Hip Hop culture and aesthetic. So tap, our way, became the needle and thread to tell the parts of this story that words could not express, and the bridge for us—living in a contemporary world—to feel the emotions that these 1940s characters must have been feeling, but were not allowed to express, back then. Since making the choice to use tap, it’s been about listening to the voices in my head, sharing those voices with Omar Edwards during the six years of the show’s development, and employing imagination and our “non-worded” results into the storytelling style of Fly
What inspired you to create the Tap Griot?
There had to be a great level of rage swelling up in these young men, equalled by the same amount of joy and exuberance from being able to fly. I needed a way to show that, because I knew that mere words could not get us there. The Tap Griot is a storyteller—referred to in the western African traditions simply as a Griot. To draw from the ancestral path, through a young, contemporary vehicle was my goal, bringing the two worlds together in an artistic expression of our story, indescribable through words,and leaving imagination up to those who see it.
How important was music in the creation of Fly?
Music is always important to me. It’s critical to telling any African American-rooted story, because music has been so very crucial to our survival and sanity. I use drums in rehearsal because, as a director, I take many paths to get into the pulse and rhythms of a play and its characters. There are the actors’ voices, the actions of the scene and there is the music, the beat, the connection to their place and purpose in the universe. It’s not just contextual. Music is everything—it’s just that sometimes music can be used in ways far different for me than most would imagine.
The four main characters seem incredibly connected to each other. How did those relationships take shape during the rehearsal process?
There are rituals I incorporate into the rehearsal process in order to bring focus to that particular circle of people. They need to become that circle if the work is to be lifted the way it needs to. Especially in this particular play, a sense of ensemble is essential. That and mutual respect for artists, our art and our heroes. So, in the process, collective energies, spirit, ancestral awareness and heart surround the making of the work.
Ricardo Khan (center) and the cast and crew of Fly worked with Dr. Roscoe Brown (right of center), Tuskegee Airman and Commander of the 332 Fighter Group, during the rehearsal process.
Why did you and your co-author, Trey Ellis, choose to create a theater piece to tell this story?
Theater is magic to me. It’s what first brought excitement, awe and the power of imagination to my life in a way television and film never could have. So, my life and love is theater. It always has been. Where else could something live be experienced in such a way by an audience—made up of people from many different paths—and be appreciated for the impact it has had on that particular audience? Changing lives through a living experience of the arts—that’s why.
Where did your #LoveOfTheater start?
It started when I was a kid growing up in Camden, New Jersey. We traveled on a bus to New York as part of the monthly outings that a local social group had organized. The plan was to see the Broadway show, Hello, Dolly!
I hadn’t thought that much of it prior, except for the fact that it was about going to New York and that was pretty cool. But in that theater, when the lights went down and the curtain went up, something extraordinary happened in me. It was Hello, Dolly!
, all right, but with an all-black cast, led by Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway! My eyes lit up because I saw people on stage, on Broadway, who looked like me. It was telling me that I could do whatever it was that I wanted to do in life. So I did just that.
What is something you hope New Victory audiences will take away from this production?
Love for self, pride in our history, respect for others and the realization that nothing is impossible and no mountain is too high to climb. Strive for excellence in everything you do and you will naturally be the best you that you can be.
||What story or event from U.S. history would you like to see told through theater and dance? Let us know with #Fly on Twitter @NewVictory, or in the comments below! FLY is playing at The New Victory Theater through March 27. Come see the story of the heroic Tuskegee Airmen unfold before your very eyes!