Six American female World War II pilots hailing from various corners the country randomly find themselves thrown together in the same barracks — and their varied natures are not exactly tailor-suited for a copacetic co-existence.
That's the backdrop of Woodburn High School Theatre's winter production "Decision Height," which will be performed for the public this month over the coming two weekends in the school's auditorium.
WHS theatre arts educator Caleb Thurston described the six lady pilots as fictional characters based on real people. Their differences will be palpable from the onset, but as they live and grow through the course of the drama, those differences may not be as stark as that which binds them.
"By the end they are this sisterhood," Thurston said. "They go through these heightened and traumatic experiences, and when something like that happens, the bonds are deep."
Much of that will manifest itself in song, including era music and some crooning from the cast.
"It's not a musical, but the playwright has inserted these songs," Thurston said, noting familiar ditties like "Yankee Doodle Dandy," but with words adjusted to create an aviator theme.
In addition to the 14 actors and 15 crew members bringing this production together, seven members of the WHS stage band will be performing swing and Big-Band era music. Thurston said the select group of specific ensemble members volunteered to take on this project.
"The idea is to get the audience into the mood (of the era)," Thurston said.
That idea may prove to be a spot-on addition. On Friday, a week before opening night, two of the play's actor pilots — Sandra Montañez who plays "Eddie" and Damara Castañeda playing "Carol" — said they had their first rehearsal with the band's addition the previous day, and it was moving.
"They really bring in the sense of this being alive," Montañez said.
Castañeda agreed: "They're awesome!"
"They genuinely put their effort into it, and it adds a whole new dimension of fun," Montañez said.
Varied stage presence
Like members of the fictional sisterhood portrayed in Decision Height, theater arts students Montañez and Castañeda bring their own varied backgrounds and aims to the stage.
The junior Montañez cut her teeth in drama as a freshman when Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble collaborated with WHS Theatre to provide a unique experience.
"My freshman year when I started we worked with the Portland actors to make our own devised play," Montañez explained, stressing that the experience encompassed creating one's own character. "My first experience acting (outside the devised method) was earlier this year with 'Blithe Spirit.'"
A sophomore, Castañeda said she was seeking camaraderie and a rewarding experience. This is her first foray onto the stage.
"The people — I wanted to join a group that was going to have fun, make a lot of new friends and it feels like family," Castañeda said.
Montañez and Castañeda both look forward to bringing the characters they are charged to portray into life on stage. The former said she is not much like her character, Eddie.
"Eddie is very fun to play, and a contrast to me personally, because I don't show much of my self; I'm more reserved but she is loud, sarcastic and witty," Montañez said. "But that snark, or something like that, holds so much value to what womanhood is."
Castañeda allowed some playful, self-deprecating humor in describing her character, Carol.
"My character is not that much different than me," she jested. "She's outgoing — they call her baby shrimp — and very much like me. I really like playing her; she's funny and dumb."
"And a bit naïve," Montañez interjected.
Those characters will join the rest of their sisterhood in coming to life beginning at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 11, in this award-winning contemporary drama that reveals the story of America's female pilots who served during World War II; six women from across the United States leave their families in 1943, taking to the sky in service to their country.
Through their first year of training, these unsung heroes bond together, face overwhelming pressures and overcome gender stereotypes to become Women Air Service Pilots, also known as WASPs.
Because of some mature war themes and mild language, this show is recommended for middle school age and older.
If you go
What: Woodburn High School Theatre presents "Decision Height"
When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturdays, Feb. 11-12, Feb. 18-19
Where: Woodburn High School stage, 1785 N Front St., Woodburn
Bonus feature: Performance also features live Big-Band era music from an ensemble of WHS stage band members
Cost: $5; ticket sales begin 30 minutes before each performance at the WHS box office.
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