"Weight of Honor" : Portraying American Heroines

Liz Chirico

If you know me or read my pieces, you know I do very little in terms of straight plays. What can I say? I love randomly bursting into song and dance. I kind of wish real life was like that sometimes. However, the few plays I’ve done (2 exactly) have resonated with me and been tremendous experiences. Hmm… maybe I should do more plays? Anyway.

I’m currently involved with my 3rd play, “Decision Height”. It’s a new work, written in 2013 by Meredith Dayna Levy telling the story of the WASPs. The Women’s Air Service Pilots to be exact. What? You’ve never heard of them? Neither had I before I auditioned. The WASPs, during WWII, were to the Air Force what the WACs and WAVs were to the Army and Navy. Except these women weren’t commissioned into the military, serving instead as civilians. Which meant they had to pay their own way to train, purchase their own clothes, and oh yeah. If one of them died during training or service, her family was responsible for the cost of collecting and bring their daughter/wife/mother/sister’s body home. Isn’t that sweet?

Keep in mind too that members of the WASPs weren’t merely filling in grunt work jobs or taking jobs men didn’t necessarily want to do as was the case with the WAVs and WACs. Instead, WASPs were serving as pilots, a job men very much wanted to do. These women ferried planes, towed gunner targets, and tested new engines and plane models. All taking place on the home front, a coveted place much sought after by some men. Because women took on these roles, it freed men up to go into combat which was both a blessing and a curse. There was no love lost between the majority of the males in the Army Air Force (as the Air Force was known then) and the WASPs.

While the characters in “Decision Height” are all fictional, they are based on real women. Women who were pioneers, who defied convention not only working but taking what was truly seen as a man’s job in a man’s field. Women who studied, sacrificed and then were rudely and soundly dismissed at the end of 1944 saying they were no longer needed. I’ve never played a character based on real people, dealing with events that truly happened. There is definitely a weight on my shoulders. A weight to do this right, to be truthful and portray my character, Norma Jean Harris, to the best of my ability and to honor the real women Norma Jean personifies.

I’m not sure how to do that. Currently, I’m trying to read more about the WASP program and the courageous women who volunteered to serve in that capacity. I know at some point the background reading will have to end if for no other reason than I have a LOT of lines to learn and I’ll have to trust my instincts. To close my eyes and leap. (C’mon- I couldn’t resist a musical reference!) It’s week 1 of rehearsal and we have 10 more to go so I have time. I hope when I take that leap, I’m able to fly.