‘Fly’ with the Tuskegee Airmen at The Pasadena Playhouse

Imagine a world with no freeways. The only practical way to travel across country was by train. There were no smart phones, no internet, nor television.

This was before Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King, Jr. made their marks. It was a time when, by law, some men and women were restricted in their movements, actions and speech. It was a primitive time. Things hadn’t changed since the Civil War. But this time is not imaginary. Men and women living today remember it.

Fly, the play, tells the true story of living men, African-American men, who were the first to successfully challenge that system and lead the way to freedom.

It is the story of men learning to fly.

Using multimedia, dialogue and tap dance, they tell of human struggle and triumph, not as a history lesson, but so the audience sees through the eyes and feelings not of heroes but of men. They tell the inside story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first squadron of African-American fighter pilots.Writer/Director and Tony Award winner Ricardo Khan and his co-writer Trey Ellis have done something remarkable with their play Fly, which begins performances January 26th at The Pasadena Playhouse.

Chief Technical Consultant, Dr. Roscoe Brown, a veteran Tuskegee Airman said, “We knew there was racism. It wasn’t whether it would change, but when? We knew if we could excel, we could move things forward.” And they did.

Back then, the immediate threat was fascism. These men wanted to defend their country and defeat the enemy. And they conquered their own demons.

In 2008, surviving veterans attended President Obama’s first inaugural and received the Congressional Medal of Honor. 2016 is the 75th anniversary of that first Tuskegee Airmen class.

Mr. Khan states, “We want to make today’s generation understand a time when people were not just looked at as different, but were separated and kept apart, by law.”

He continued, “There are lots of forces seeking to divide us today. We need stories like this, to bring us together. It isn’t just about race either, nor politics, age or class, but our common humanity.”

Back then whole regions of the country were isolated from each other. Those first Tuskegee Airmen came from Iowa, New York, the southern U.S. and the Bahamas. They had much to learn from each other and about themselves.

During WWII, the Tuskegee Airmen conquered a multitude of concrete legal and social challenges. However, their story is universal. Today, each generation and every individual, must also break free of perceptual chains and self-imposed doubts before their spirits may soar.

See the play “Fly” from January 26th-February 21st at The Pasadena Playhouse located at 39 S. El Molino Avenue. For tickets and information visit PasadenaPlayhouse.org or call (626) 356-7529.

This piece appeared originally in the Tolucan Times on January 22, 2016.

Photos by Elias Feghali.

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