Focusing on hope, endurance, and accomplishment, “Fly” is a play that tells the story of the first African American Army Air Corp fighters known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Co-writer and director Ricardo Khan, who was commissioned in 2005 to create the show by the Lincoln Center Institute in New York, was inspired to produce the play simply from seeing a picture of the airmen.
“Sometimes there are chapters in history you just don’t know about,” said Khan. “It startled me that I didn’t know, and that’s what prompted me to conceive a play that could tell their story in a way that was not only inspiring and informational but full of experience.”
Khan stated that along his journey creating “Fly,” he started meeting original Tuskegee Airmen. He called them the true heroes who only wanted to serve their country, protect the world, and “prove to a racist America that Black people are worthy and willing to participate in the American Dream.”
Khan’s main advisor was Roscoe Brown, one of the Tuskegee Airmen who remains alive today. “Brown spent a lot of time with the cast talking about his experiences. We understood many things we did not before. He even gave us flying lessons in our chairs,” said Khan.
“Fly” features a character called Tap Griot, who tells a part of the story through dance. He represents men who had to “restrict their behavior” and mask their emotions during their military service. The characters were able to express their feelings in a way that permits their anger to be stomped into the ground and their elation to be a jump for joy.
Through providing a meaningful experience, Khan is hoping to create a community-like relationship among audiences featuring people of all backgrounds and ages. “I hope they are changed by it; that they are a little different coming out (of the theater) than they are going into the theater. They are experiencing something live; they share feelings and laughs together. We are living in a world where we need something that brings us together more than it tears us apart.”
“Fly,” written by Trey Ellis and Khan appears in its West Coast premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse Jan. 26 – Feb. 21.