By Savannah Faircloth | firstname.lastname@example.org
From Amelia Earhart’s flight across the Atlantic Ocean to the first female pilot leading airstrikes in Syria, millions of women have served their countries from land, sea, and air. Many of these women have often been overlooked, underappreciated, and even forgotten.
Flagler College Theatre Department will breathe life back into the women of the World War II era and pay homage to their bravery and sacrifices through “Decision Height,” by Meredith Dayna Levy.
“Decision Height” is an award winning play that captures the lives of a group of young women who became Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during the 1940’s. The play highlights the stories of nine women pilots who left behind their jobs, husbands, and children to move to Sweetwater, Texas to become WASP’s.
The play is directed by faculty member Elaina Wahl-Temple. She was inspired to select this play due to the talent of the student actresses within the theatre department.
“I knew I wanted to direct a show of all women,” said Wahl-Temple. “We have such a female strong department and I think that they are under used and I wanted to give them a chance. I thought ‘Decision Height’ was a perfect fit for us. I have a really amazing group of ladies who have given it their all from day one. Watching these girls embrace these characters has been really special.”
One obstacle that the cast had to face was embracing the women of this era and understanding how world ideals and views of women were different.
“I think the greatest challenge for the girls, and I say this with great pride, was really understanding the obstacles these women faced because they never grew up with these issues,” said Wahl-Temple. “It’s a wonderful thing, but it is hard for them to realize at times the role of women and what was expected of women during this time. All of these female pilots were bucking the system.”
When the war began, a need for more soldiers arose. Pilot Jacqueline Cochran wrote First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt with a plan for women pilots to be included in the war. By bringing women into the cockpit, the men could be released to fight overseas. Roosevelt agreed and wrote in her famous newspaper column “My Day” that “women pilots, in this particular case, are a weapon waiting to be used.”
Many of the women pilots were faced with great challenges due to the controversy surrounding their involvement with the war. Women lost their lives through accidents, some of which hinted to being foul play by disgruntled male soldiers. Many of the women had more flight hours than the men and were trained on all aircrafts, rather than specializing in one like the male pilots. Among their duties were towing targets in the air for hours for the new pilots to practice shooting.
Although the women flew 60 million miles throughout the duration of the WASP program, they did not receive veteran status until President Jimmy Carter signed legislation in 1977. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed legislation for the WASP to receive a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor.
“I think women have come a long way since WW2, but we still have such a long way to go,” said senior Jillian Cicalese, who plays Virginia Hascall in the show. “I believe that gender equality should be everyone’s fight, not just women. That goes for civil rights around the world as well. And until the world understands that, we won’t reach equality, or peace, for a long time.”
Lights and sound were designed by associate professor of theatre, Paul Denayer. Costumes were designed by Wahl-Temple and her student crew. On top of directing and designing for her show, she also simultaneously designed costumes for “Macbeth.” Many students within the department view Wahl-Temple as the prime example of a strong woman.
“Elaina is amazing!” said senior Claire Alford, who plays squadron commander Norma Jean Harris. “Elaina works so hard every year. Her costume shop is the theatre’s safe place. We all know she is always there for us. Her love and passion for this show is unmistakable and contagious.”
A veterans discount will be offered for the run of “Decision Height” with a valid military ID. This special discount was the idea of Wahl-Temple in order to encourage and honor the men and women who serve this country.
“I’m reaching out to groups in the community from that generation to encourage them to come and take a walk down memory lane,” said Wahl-Temple. “The people who fought in WWII were truly the greatest generation. It’s amazing what these people did, and in particular, what these women did. What they gave up to fight for this country was truly amazing.”
Performances will be held at the Lewis Auditorium on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Nov. 2. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $10 for veterans with a military ID. For more information, please contact www.flagler.edu/theater.