Airness is a state of being – an intangible thing that can’t be described with words, it must be lived. For the characters in FIU Theatre’s latest production, it is the ultimate goal. As one of them puts it, “One never understands airness. One achieves airness.”
Chelsea Marcantel’s raucous, high-octane play, "Airness," takes the stage tonight at FIU’s The Wertheim and runs through Feb. 26. The fun and uplifting play brings audiences into the world of competitive air guitar and follows a colorful cast of characters with names like Facebender, Cannibal Queen and Shreddy Eddy as they travel around the country vying for a spot in the upcoming national championship.
A classic rock guitar solo will make anyone pick up their imaginary guitar and become rock stars in their minds – if only for a moment. For some people though, that desire burrows deeper into them and air guitar becomes a way to not only pay homage to their favorite artists but to reach for that indescribable high inside of themselves.
For the cast, “pretending” was not an option. They had to learn how to reach airness with their own air guitars. They spent countless hours watching YouTube videos of some of the best air guitar artists at national and international competitions. They were instantly struck by the creativity and attention to detail that went into those performances.
“Just watching their creativity got my creativity going,” says BFA student actor Cristian Torres who plays Golden Thunder. “As long as you establish the physics of the guitar, you can do anything you want with it. You can break it and make it a sword and kill a dragon and then take the sword and turn it back into a guitar and then you’re good, the audience is going to buy it.”
Although the characters in the play are passionate about winning, this is not a play about cut-throat win-at-all-costs competition. The competitors are part of a tight-knit community that build each other up and cheer each other on.
“What we’re trying to emphasize with this production is the idea of choosing community over isolation,” says the show’s director, Justin Packard. “Choosing to support and be supported by others is a choice that builds community and is much stronger than trying to do everything on your own and isolating.”
Packard joined FIU last fall and is the department’s newest faculty member. "Airness" marks his FIU Theatre directorial debut. For him that sense of community that is at the heart of the story was also found in the behind-the-scenes process of bringing the play to life.
“It has been incredibly rewarding to watch these designers come up with such great ideas that then take shape on the stage,” he says. “When we all come together, it’s really been a true synergy. Collaborating like this resulted in something greater than we could ever have imagined on our own.”
BFA student lighting designer Chloe Vouglas was tasked with creating a rock concert feel through the show’s lighting. If you look up when you enter the theatre, you’ll see over 200 lights hanging above the stage and audience. Each light had to be meticulously placed and focused. Then the over 150 lighting cues had to be programmed.
“Those air guitar moments are outerworldly experiences,” says Vouglas.