Note to Educators: Use the following assignments, questions, and activities to have students evaluate their experience of the performance of Take Flight, as well as to encourage their own imaginative and artistic projects through further exploration of the play in production. Consider also that some of the pre-show activities might enhance your students’ experience following the performance.
Questions to Ask Your Students About the Musical in Production
Questions to Ask Your Students About the Characters
Questions to Ask Your Students About the Style and Design of the Production
- Was there a moment in Take Flight that was so compelling or intriguing that it remains with you in your mind’s eye? Write a vivid description of that moment. As you write your description, pretend that you are writing about the moment for someone who was unable to experience the performance.
- Did the style and design elements of the production enhance the performance? Did anything specifically stand out to you? Explain your reactions.
- How did the overall production style and design reflect the central themes of the play?
- What did you notice about the set design? How did it effectively tell the individual stories of the characters and the overall greater story of Take Flight?
- What mood or atmosphere did the lighting design establish or achieve? Explain your experience.
- Did the design of the costumes serve to illuminate the characters, themes, and style of the play? How?
“A Musical is Not a Documentary”: Real Truth vs. Theatrical Truth
Share the following creative standpoints by Take Flight librettist John Weidman and lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr., on the work of writing a musical about legendary American historical figures/heroes.
What you have to do, I think, is a certain amount of research, absorb a significant amount of essential factual material, both about the lives of the characters and the context in which they operated, and also about other people’s opinions about who they were and what motivated them. But at a certain point you stop. A musical is not a documentary. That’s not what people go to the theater for or why people write for the theater. So at a certain point you stop and then, having absorbed this information, you invent the characters as if you were creating them afresh—you know, characters who happen to be Charles Lindbergh or happen to be Amelia Earhart or happen to be Wilbur and Orville Wright, but who represent a truth about those characters that ultimately has emerged from a combination of the information that you absorbed and what you’ve brought to that information as an artist. —John Weidman
Our first agent, the great Flora Roberts, always said that “There’s real truth and there’s stage truth and they’re not necessarily the same thing.” The thing about history books is that they’re based upon external evidence—a person did something therefore we document it; or a person who did something wrote about it and so we have that document. But that’s not really what was going on inside of them. To know that is an act of invention and an act of fiction. So we didn’t hesitate to invent the people inside the events. Sometimes that may not be factually accurate, but it is possibly more truthful. For example, Lindbergh’s first book did not mention that he experienced hallucinations during his flight to Paris. Only in a later book did he refer to it, and even then he was vague about what the hallucinations were. We felt this gave us permission to imagine what was in his mind. —Richard Maltby, Jr.
Then, considering their experience of Take Flight in performance, ask students to reflect on the following discussion points:
- What aspects of the Take Flight characters and their stories did you recognize as essentially factual?
- Which aspects did you recognize as acts of artistic invention?
- Why do you think that the creators of Take Flight found these invented details of character as dramatically useful or effective and/or how do they serve the greater Take Flight story?
- How might these fictionalized details be viewed as “more truthful” than the “factually accurate” truth?
(Above quotations excerpted from Interview with Shire, Maltby, and Weidman.)
Four Musicals in One
Director Sam Buntrock conceives of the musical Take Flight as “four musicals in one” (see Question 4 in “Pre-Show Preparation, Questions for Discussion, and Activities”). Lead a discussion with your students on how this directorial concept is made manifest in the overall design of Take Flight.
- Begin by first asking your students to speak generally about what they noticed about the design elements (i.e., scene, costume, lighting, and sound) of Take Flight.
- Then ask them to consider the more specifically the individualized design approaches to Take Flight. The fundamental elements/properties of design are outlined below for your information and use.
- Scene design
- Line (outline or silhouette: straight, curved, angular, horizontal, vertical, diagonal)
- Mass and composition (shape and size/weight of objects, as well as balance and arrangement of elements; e.g., bare vs. ornamented; high vs. low; heavy vs. light; open vs. claustrophobic, etc.)
- Texture (the “feel” of the environment or of the projected by surfaces)
- Color (shading and contrast and inherent associations)
- Costume design
- Style (realistic or stylized)
- Line and silhouette (establishes period and location)
- Color (individual and overall pallet)
- Scale (size relative to the norm; stylized or realistic)
- Texture (materials/fabrics in relation to personality, age, socio-economic status, etc.)
- Lighting design
- Mood and Style (atmosphere surrounding the characters; relationship to reality/non-reality)
- Intensity (brightness/darkness)
- Color (“natural” vs. stylized; shade; tone: warm vs. cool)
- Direction and Movement (where light comes from and how it follows and expresses the dramatic action play or characters)
Form (“texture” and shape; e.g., patterned, sharp edges vs. soft/diffused, general wash vs. single shaft, etc.)
When describing his work on Take Flight, lyricist Richard Maltby noted: “…there is something deeply, profoundly American about this story.”
You might also want to follow up by sharing with them Maltby’s entire thoughts on the “profoundly American” nature of the Take Flight story in the “Interview with Shire, Maltby, and Weidman.”
- Ask your students to define/describe the qualities or characteristics associated with the cultural/national modifier “American.” What is the quality of something that is deemed “American?”
- Then ask them to consider their experience of seeing Take Flight in performance and to share their thoughts on how they found to be particularly American about the musical’s story and characters.
- Theater critics/reviewers should always back up their opinions with reasons, evidence and details.
- The elements of production that can be discussed in a theatrical review are the play text or script (and its themes, plot, characters, etc.), scenic elements, costumes, lighting, sound, music, acting and direction (i.e., how all of these elements are put together). [See the Theater Reviewer’s Checklist.]
- Educators may want to provide their students with sample theater reviews from a variety of newspapers.
- Encourage your students to submit their reviews to the school newspaper for publication.
- Students may also post their reviews on McCarter’s web site by visiting McCarter Blog. Select “Citizen Responses” under “Categories” on the left side of the web page, and scroll down to the Take Flight entry to post any reviews.