Spotlight on: Flight by Beryl Bain

As we reflect on our 30th anniversary we will be posting reflective excerpts in a new series celebrating all the incredible artists who work with us.

February Spotlight: Beryl Bain’s Flight and the incredible story of ground-breaking aviatrix Bessie Coleman.

In late February Theatre Gargantua hosted an invited reading of an early draft of new SideStream production Flight by acclaimed theatre artist Beryl Bain. Flight dissects the ground-breaking life of aviation pioneer Bessie Coleman, and how she became the first African-American woman, and first Native-American to earn an international pilot’s license. Bessie dazzled Americans of all races with her bravery, beauty, and technological mastery, but never became the household name she deserved to be. Flight channels Coleman’s a seemingly unshakable optimism, and her willingness to defy obstacles, overcome her fears and always bet on herself.

Some words from Beryl on how she is connecting with Bessie 96-years later:

I first discovered the name Bessie Coleman while reading a book on female astronauts. The paragraph stuck fast.  I couldn’t stop thinking about this multi-talented, mixed-race girl in early 20th century Texas. Her life story begged for attention. 

Bessie accomplished more in her short life than most. She never held back. She wanted people to do the same as she did. She aspired to “be somebody.” She also wanted to give back. At the peak of her fame, she aspired to start a flight school, and gave lectures and sold advertisements to raise money. She accomplished everything this way. Bessie knew her worth and stopped at nothing. 

For two years, I’ve been researching Bessie Coleman and I feel like I’ve gotten to know her. There are a few similarities. We’re both multi-ethnic. We both grew up in the country and went to the city. But the similarities stop there. It turns out, Bessie has a lot to teach me. So now, I’m not writing about her anymore; she’s writing about me. She’s both my subject and my life coach. 

She’s great at it. She’s got great advice, and she’s not afraid to share it. “Think big,” she says, in no uncertain terms. “Meet more people. Dress to impress!” She’s a little impatient. The time is always now with Bessie. 

“But you’re more calculated than I am!” I whine. (This really happens). Bessie doesn’t care. “Do whatever you want, she says, but if I were you, I’d do what I did.” Turns out, even after more than a hundred years, there’s only one path to self-improvement. 

Bessie was everything to everybody. A demanding boss, a hard-worker, a gifted esthetician, a talented aviator, a successful businesswoman and everyone’s role model. She was hilarious and hot-tempered and kept going no matter what. So I take her advice. Make your life your best, her biography suggests. Settle for nothing less. And for heaven’s sake, dress to impress. 

Flight has been generously supported by b current Performing Arts Co., Cahoots Theatre, and Roseneath Theatre.

Look out for more updates on Flight across this year, and watch this space for more in our Spotlight series!

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