In Her Words...
Meredith Dayna Levy's Decision Height has truly been a groundbreaking show for the Bobcat Players for many reasons. It is an all-female show with music that is based on the true story of the WASP. The majority of the actresses in the production are making their Bobcat Players debut. It is a play about women working at home to support their troops overseas, and our production will benefit the Yellow Ribbon Girls, a local charity with a similar mission. Decision Height is a new play that will provide our community with a refreshing experience--and it opens tonight!
So on the opening night of this historic play, we are honored to provide you with insight from the playwright herself. We were very fortunate to be in contact with Levy and she was gracious enough to provide us with an interview.
Casey: What inspired you to write Decision Height and how did this material come to your attention?
Meredith: I wanted to write a play for my senior thesis that featured an all-female cast, and wasn't about sisters or mothers or college roommates. I found an article online talking about how the Women Airforce Service Pilots were being honored with the congressional medal, and I was shocked that I didn't know the WASPs had ever existed. Upon further research, I discovered that these women, while they were in training, had wacky traditions like throwing into the wishing well the first woman in each class to fly solo. At Hollins, my alma mater, we have some pretty wacky traditions too, like hiking Tinker Mountain in bizarre costumes, and eating fried chicken and performing skits once we've reached the summit. That's what convinced me that this was a play I wanted--needed--to write. I had little to no experience with the military, but I did have experience in single-sex educational settings, and that's the environment, and the kind of relationships, that I could write with emotional truth.
Casey: Are the characters based on people you know and/or historical WASP?
Meredith: Yes and yes. I read lots of autobiographies, biographies, and articles written by women who had trained and served as WASP, as well as scores of primary documents like "The Avenger" (the campus newspaper) or official documents. I watched documentaries and poured over interviews, and even got to interview over a period of months a living WASP myself: Deanie Bishop Parrish, 44-W4 alumna, whose daughter, Nancy Parrish, runs the "W.A.S.P.s on the Web" website, where many of these primary documents are made accessible. The stories, personalities, and relationships that these women shared are embedded and woven into the play. I name all of these women in the front matter of the play.
There are also stories, personalities, and relationships within this play that are rooted and inspired from my own friendships at Hollins. And, as the play continued to be developed on campus, some of the characters were inevitably influenced by the performance of the actors. For instance, Emma Sperka played Norma Jean Harris in all three of the Hollins productions (one of which being my thesis production) and as she made character discoveries, we found ways to embed those discoveries in the writing.
Casey: Do you have a favorite character or one that you identify with in particular? If so, who and why?
Meredith: I couldn't choose a favorite character; that's like choosing a favorite child! But at the time of the writing, Virginia was the character I identified the most with; the journey of self-actualization was close to my heart as a senior preparing to graduate from university.
Casey: What was the greatest challenge in writing Decision Height?
Meredith: The greatest challenge for me, I think, was sustaining the same level of enthusiasm and energy from the inception of the idea to copy-editing the published draft. Overall, the entire process took 4 years, and it was easy at times to get frustrated or feel stuck with the play. I couldn't have pushed through without the support of my wife, my professors, my peers at Hollins, my family, or the dedicated casts and crews of those early productions (2011-2014).
Casey: How did it feel to see your play fully staged for the first time—and now that is happening nationwide?
Meredith: I feel an intense sense of humility and gratitude every time I hear about a production of DH going up. It's a sensation that's not unlike what Virginia feels when she flies.
Casey: Is there anything that you would like to say to the cast and crew?
Meredith: Thank you for choosing to produce a new play. Thank you for choosing to produce a play about women, written by a woman. Thank you for sharing the incredible story of these amazing pilots, who are too often forgotten. Thank you for producing Decision Height. Break legs--I hope it is a process that will live in your heart always.
Casey: I think I can speak on behalf of my fellow castmates and production crew when I say that Decision Height will most certainly live on for those of us involved, always.
We are also incredibly lucky to be graced with the presence of living WASP, Florence "Shutsy" Reynolds, at our closing performance on September 17. Pictured above, Shutsy was the first female pilot to earn her license at Connellsville Airport in the Civilian Pilot Training Program. She was there on a flight scholarship; Shutsy had already proved herself by being one of the top five highest testing students (out of forty) who were attempting to pass the aviation examinations--some for the second or third time and all, of course, male. Though staff members tried to convince her to give up her scholarship to lower-testing male students, Shutsy stood her ground and made history. Soon after, Shutsy heard about the WASP program and immediately began petitioning to be accepted as a trainee. Every week, Shutsy wrote the organization's founder and director, Jackie Cochran, because she was technically too young to join the WASP at age 19; 21 was the requirement. However, her persistence paid off and she arrived at Avenger Field in 1943. We are so thrilled to have had her input through this process and to finally meet her on Sunday!
So join us for Meredith Dayna Levy's Decision Height this weekend! Performances take place tonight, tomorrow, and Saturday at 7:30 pm with a Sunday matinee at 3 PM. All proceeds from tonight's performance will be donated to the Yellow Ribbon Girls, and we are also collecting supplies for them throughout the run of the show. Tickets are only $10--and I can promise that you won't regret it! Decision Height--this is our history.