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Once in a Lifetime

September 28, 2017

This has been a banner year for the Bobcat Players. In July, we were graced with the presence of playwright Barbara Pease Weber for our closing performance of Foolish Fishgirls and the Pearl. In August, we were fortunate to have an interview with Meredith Dayna Levy, author of Decision Height. And this month, we were honored with the presence of living WASP, Florence "Shutsy" Reynolds, at our closing performance of DH.

 

For me, Decision Height was a once in a lifetime kind of show. I read this play for the first time on my porch at the end of summer last year, and tears were streaming down my face. I ran inside excitedly to wake my husband up that Saturday (or Sunday) morning and tell him all about this beautiful story. And despite the fact that I was new to the play-reading committee, I was ready to fiercely defend this play's position in our 2017 season.

 

I was immediately drawn to the character of Eddie Harknell, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to play her. Those of you that saw the show know that Eddie is bold and unapologetic, and I admired her for these characteristics, despite the fact that they often resulted in trouble. I truly believe that Frank Myers put together a dream team when he assembled this cast. And still, Decision Height was challenging in many ways.

 

Making our stage work for a production of this size was an obstacle we had to overcome. And with a cast this large, scheduling was nearly impossible. Finding costumes of the era proved more tricky than I ever imagined, and the musical aspect came as a surprise to many of the cast, I'm sure. But despite all of these difficulties, Decision Height proved to be worth in it every way.

 

The Bobcat Players proudly raised hundreds of dollars for the Yellow Ribbon Girls from our opening night performance! The cast also decided to forgo getting each other gifts and instead donated $130 to the YRG. Additionally, our board members and audiences brought supplies for the troops throughout the run of the show. We are passionate about making a difference in our community, both through this donation and also through the important story we have told.

 

I heard many audience members saying that Decision Height was a major deviation from what they were used to seeing from the Bobcat Players. And they're not wrong. Decision Height, while comedic at times, is a drama that sheds light on the trying truth of the WASP in WWII. Still, this is a story that needs to be told, and I find it incredibly relevant. Throughout tech week and the run of the show, I proudly reminded myself that we were telling the important history of these brave women who dared to blaze the uncertain paths ahead of them--and their legacy deserves to be recognized and celebrated. This is a daunting task for a small community theatre, but one that we took on with both pride and determination. And I believe that we accomplished the task at hand; I believe that every night we took the stage, we honored the WASP, and I believe that we will all go forward, emboldened by their spirit and courage.

 

And to top it all off, living WASP Florence "Shutsy" Reynolds traveled two hours to attend our Sunday matinee performance. I believe it was quite the thrill for her. Upon entering the Beaver Area High School, she was immediately surrounded by an excited crowd who was eager to hear her every word. Assistant director Pat Depenhart, who was responsible for finding Shutsy from the very beginning, introduced her before the show began, and Shutsy was thanked for her service with a standing ovation. During intermission, she was again swarmed by our buzzing audience, and during the show, she could be heard singing along to the marching songs. At the end of the play, she cried and she shook all of our hands individually. She told us that she loved the play and our performances. She even sang a marching song that wasn't included in the script called "Zoot Suits & Parachutes," and patiently signed posters and scripts for the cast. The show's dramaturg and graphic designer, Tom Dowlin, graciously designed a poster for Shutsy that he had matted and framed; the cast presented it to her happily and many photographs were taken. Shutsy even attended our small cast party, spending just enough time to greet everyone before traveling back to Connellsville before dusk.

I once had a theatre professor tell me to "leave it on the stage," and he wasn't talking about "the drama." He was reminding me not to carry the emotions from a scene out into the real world--that when I stepped off the stage, it was over. I always struggled with that in acting classes where we would dig deep into intense subject matter, and I found myself back in that same position during Decision Height. But here, with the Bobcat Players, I felt myself being challenged as an actor to finally do that. When Eddie's brother died in the war or when Alice decided to leave Avenger Field to go home to her family, I was forced to quickly shake off the emotional torment backstage in order to prepare for the next scene. This dream role caused me to grow in ways I never imagined.

 

But when tears filled my eyes during Norma Jean's death in the final performance of that last scene, I found it hard to swallow them this time. We were so fortunate with this show. We were afforded amazing opportunities, like visiting the Air Heritage Museum to explore the planes our characters would have flown. We were given the chance to fundraise for a local charity, and to be a part of a play that gives recognition to women who were completely underappreciated in their time. And of course, there is no denying that our final performance proved to be a once in a lifetime experience with a once in a lifetime kind of woman. So thank you to all of those who supported this endeavor by attending and donating. I hope that we were able to provide you with both entertainment and a history lesson, and that all of you will carry the story of the WASP with you as you go forth.

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