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HUNTINGTON — Marshall University’s School of Theatre continues soaring in its 2021-22 season with “Decision Height,” which opened Wednesday at The Playhouse in the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center.

“Decision Height” follows the story of Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), a civilian women pilots’ organization, during World War II. WASPs were trained pilots who tested aircraft, trained others and took over ferrying command to replace male pilots who went into combat. The WASPs were considered civilians until the mid-1970s, but now have veteran status.

T. Fulton Burns, assistant professor and director of the play, said audiences can expect an episodic piece telling the story of 11 strong women and to learn about a part of history they may not have had the opportunity to know before.

“I hope we’re all inspired by what they’ve gone through, as well as learning what we can do to continue to further their work and their story,” Burns said. “The play itself is very much about women’s empowerment and what it has to offer and how we can all be feminists. We can all be there to support the strength of women in every way possible.”

“Decision Height,” written by Meredith Dayna Levy, was the 2013 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival New Play winner.

The play will focus on a key group of people going through the trials and tribulations of stepping up to do what they can to support the war effort, Burns said.

“While the play itself is fictional, it talks about the things that took place and puts us into the world of an understanding of the trainings, hardships and, more importantly, the sisterhood that’s formed among these key women, what they go through and how they support each other and be successful in the best way they can,” Burns said.

Many experts were recruited by the theater department to ensure aspects of the play were properly represented, including military deportment and historical accuracy. Laura Diener, director of the women’s studies program at Marshall, assisted with dramaturgical guidance and providing historical context; retired U.S. Army veterans Lori Thompson and Kristen Vannatter provided military guidance; and Jessica Morgan, a certified teacher with intimacy directors and coordinators (IDC), and Chelsey Lilly, a senior at Marshall working toward her level 1 certification with IDC, helped with intimacy training and direction.

“We’ve had so many great individuals come and help with the process,” Burns said. “I wanted to make sure every female voice that could be was brought to the table and could address things I couldn’t or perhaps I may miss with the male-driven eye that I have. I’ve been grateful to have so many empowered and powerful voices to hear what they have to say to help me become aware of what I’m missing and what needs to be told within the story.”

The play will mean a little more to one audience member. Jef Benedetti, the son of WASP Solange D’Hooghe, will attend the Saturday, Nov. 20, matinee. He said it will be a nostalgic experience to remember his mother and the efforts of her and her fellow barrier-breaking WASPs.

“I grew up listening to the stories she told about her time during the war, just like every other kid of every other parent who served, and for a woman to be a pilot in World War II, she was a pioneer,” Benedetti said. “That group of women were pioneers; any woman who got into a cockpit was a pioneer because it wasn’t accepted yet.”

Benedetti said his mother’s time flying and being in the service were some of the proudest moments of her life. With only 25 WASPs still living, Benedetti said it’s even more important to remember and honor them.

“That pioneering spirit, it’s still alive. In terms of roles for women, you just can’t get any better than the WASP,” he said. “The play is a direct example of how valuable the WASPs continue to be and continue to affect people.”

“Decision Height” continues Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 18-20, at 7:30 p.m., along with a matinee performance at 2 p.m. Saturday. It’s $25 for general admission and $15 for Marshall faculty and staff. Marshall students with a valid ID can attend for free.

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