Night Witches, a Cheepiyak Theatre production directed by Terri Mort and co-directed by Michelle Thorne is about to hit the skies at Westwood Community High School Theatre, November 18th (preview night) to November 21st.
Night Witches is a historic collective drama based on the famous World War II Soviet women’s night bomber regiment who flew in wood (plywood)-and-canvas Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes, which were intended for use as a training aircraft and for crop-dusting. Although the aircraft was obsolete and slow, the pilots made daring use of their exceptional maneuverability; they had the advantage of having a maximum speed that was lower than the stall speed of both the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, and as a result, German pilots found them very difficult to shoot down. The planes could carry only six bombs at a time, so multiple missions per night were necessary. An attack technique of the night bombers was to idle the engine near the target and glide to the bomb release point, with only wind noise left to reveal their location. German soldiers likened the sound to broomsticks and named the pilots Nachthexen (Night Witches). Due to the weight of the bombs and the low altitude of flight, the pilots carried no parachutes making the missions ever more daring. The regiment flew harassment bombing and precision bombing missions against the German military from 1942 until the end of the war. At its largest, it had 40 two-person crews. It flew over 23,000 sorties and is said to have dropped 3,000 tons of bombs. It was the most highly decorated female unit in the Soviet Air Force, each pilot having flown over 800 missions by the end of the war and twenty-three having been awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union title. Thirty of its members died in combat.
The play, Night Witches, captures this amazing piece of history from both male and female perspectives with moments of; pilot recruitment, training, tragedies, love relationships, flight strategies, weather conditions and other surprising facts that contributed to the heroic stories of these very young, brave, pilots. The play is collectively created by a cast of twenty four Westwood, high school, actors who had to dramaturg and research the history, workshop scenes, and create a collection of monologues, vignettes and character moments. The play features true to life characters such as Major Marina Raskova, famous ace pilot Lilly Litvak, and Nadia Popova who was one of the longest surviving Night Witch passing away in 2012. Nathan Loitz, a professionally trained Actor Combatant through Fight Directors Canada, worked with the cast to create jaw dropping combat moments. The movement of the play, choreographed by student choreographer Jonathan Cestnick, is both spellbinding and stunning. The play features model planes and uniform elements built by Westwood robotics teacher Mr. Brian Vaughan using a 3D printer. Backstage support for the play and stage manager Cally Miller are also Westwood students.
Night Witches has a few scenes with suggested violence and occasional language and is recommended for audiences aged twelve and up. The show runs from November 18-21, tickets can be purchased at the Westwood office, $15 adults, $10 students & seniors, $5 for preview night. For more information please contact: Terri.Mort @fmpsd.ab.ca or 780-791-1986 Ext. 178