Night Witches, a collectively created play by Cheepiyak Theatre previews this Wednesday at Westwood Community High School Theatre. Directed by Terri Mort and co-directed by Michelle Thorne, starring twenty four Westwood high school actors, the play is based on the famous world war II Soviet women’s 488 Night Bomber Regiment. Nachthexen as the Germans called them were; female pilots, navigators and mechanics who flew small PO-2 biplanes or obsolete Yak planes that called for specific strategies to overthrow enemy occupied territory. The perspective is from both male and female pilots and show moments of their; recruitment, training and tragedies. Moments in the play include the love relationships between the male and female pilots, flight strategies, weather conditions and other surprising facts that contributed to the story of these amazing very young pilots.
Community Strategies coordinator Michael Beamish recently sat down with Terri Mort and discussed the challenges and triumphs of creating this unique piece of theatre.
Michael Beamish (MB): How long have you been teaching theatre in Wood Buffalo?
Terri Mort (TM): I have been teaching with FMPSD for eighteen years. Eleven at Westwood and prior to that at Greely Road School where I did extracurricular drama projects.
MB: Why did you choose to create a piece on the Night Witches?
TM: I wanted to create a piece of theatre that focused on the perspective of youth and war. Through many overwhelming moments and research, I stumbled across an articles about the young female night bombers of World War II USSR. I was really excited when I learned about these courageous and talented women. I ordered books & shared with the cast and crew and we learned that they were not only war heroes but also had incredible personal stories.
TM: This is an ensemble show with twenty five stars-fourteen girls and nine boys.
MB: How did you and your students create the show?
TM: Actors were assigned characters and researched the lives of those people -whether a German officer or a specific historic figure such as Major Marina Raskova .Students also researched information such as soldiers’ ranks, duties, professional background and personal stories. We workshopped various scenes to create stage moments -keeping moments we liked. In addition students wrote their own monologues, short scenes and eventually formed everything into one script.
TM: I believe our actors knowledge on Operation Barbarossa, technical understanding of aircrafts and challenges that the USSR went through in World War II is evident. Each cast and crew member would also be able to give you their own anecdotes in addition.
MB: What were some of the challenges you had in creating this play?
TM: Some of our challenges included: working originally without a script, building scenes and refining to make stage worthy moments along with dropping some of the stories that also inspired us. Local actor and Arts Council employee, Michelle Thorne has worked as co-director providing professional guidance and creativity.
TM: We are blessed to have so much talent at Westwood. Students created stage roles and dramaturged the world of the play. They created choreography, combat scenes, costume construction, sound design and made efforts to learn Russian dialects. This play showcases a huge range of skill and ability.
Challenges for many were starting a show without a script. Actors didn’t understand at first what their role was in the story or the vignettes and who we were going to threat it all together. This was equally challenging for a technical team without a script for the longest time. However the actors kept searching deep into their characters, coming up with their own ideas for scenes that are woven into our final collection
TM: I’ve learned that theatre isn’t always about ordering a script online from a publishing company. Original material can be created from a mass of intelligent and creative young minds who make brave choices all for the love of theatre.
MB: Why should audience come see Night Witches?
TM: Night Witches is one of the greatest war stories never told. Audiences will be moved by the story of these young pilots. In addition audiences will hopefully make connections with their own family heritage and stories of war -whether through accounts from those who served overseas in recent war zones or from those who served in World War II.
Do not miss this unique, original play! Night Witches has a few scenes with suggested violence and occasional language and is recommended for audiences aged 12 and up. The show runs from November 18-21, tickets can be purchased at the Westwood office or one hour before show time at the Cheepiyak Theatre 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