Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
Six wannabe rock stars walk into a bar. They fit the mold: leather, denim, band shirts. There's just one thing off. There's not a guitar to be seen.
After its 2019 runs at The Keegan Theater in DC and 1st Stage in Tysons, "Airness" by Chelsea Marcantel has returned to Northern Virginia at McLean High School. The play followed a group of air guitarists as a newcomer joined them and quickly climbed her way to the top of the competition circuit.
While one might think "Airness" demands a loud rock atmosphere, TheatreMcLean performed the show in their smaller Black Box theater, which was dressed as a bar. The decision added an intimacy as the audience sat right next to action, but there was no lack of high amplitude rock n' roll energy.
Playing the lead role of Nina, Jackie Stoll's transition from skepticism to achieving "airness" was smooth and exciting. Stoll's ability to quickly shift gears between upbeat and dramatic scenes anchored the air guitarist ensemble as they blitzed through the story. Out of the bunch, Arielle Else, playing Golden Thunder, stood out. Her big, bubbly persona had the crowd laughing as she bounced around, tearing off jacket after jacket for quick costume changes. But most captivating were her fingers flying across her invisible instrument.
While the air guitarists' chemistry and soloing drew the most attention, the Dark Horse ensemble, draped in cloaks, brought an eeriness to the show's end, with Keira Murphy, playing Dark Horse Announcer, as a hilarious spokesman. Competition announcers throughout brought up the crowd's energy with small yet fun roles. Thomas Shanks, playing San Diego Announcer, and Erin Sharpe, playing National Championship Announcer, especially cranked it to 11, with Sharpe and Kate Fontaine, playing D Vicious, also having a hilariously awkward interview scene.
Creating the noise of a rock n' roll concert in the small setting of a bar was no easy feat, but TheatreMcLean's sound department, headed by Emma Springer, did a wonderful job of boosting the bass without blowing ears out. The bar set, designed by a team lead by Vivian Kreeb, roped the audience into the world of the show with autographed dollar bills and nametags, band posters, and signs stuck to the counter and walls. A working root beer keg also kept glasses filled, adding realism as characters grabbed a drink before their shows and oomph to their anger as they slammed down their glass and spilled over the table. Other technical aspects of the show were also executed meticulously. Stage manager Campbell Al-Khafaji and the rest ensured sound and light cues and a set transition to the National Championship stage worked seamlessly.
Despite the pandemic which started just as 'Airness' left 1st Stage two years ago and which forced McLean High School to decrease their audience size, there was a magic in Mclean High School's Black Box theater that could make an audience believe in the power of imaginary guitars.
Robinson Secondary School
There is nothing quite like the atmosphere of a rock concert- deep, colorful lights, roaring music, the movement of the crowd, and the feeling of pure joy in the air. It is truly unique and quite the task to replicate, but anyone who saw McLean High School's production of Airness High School Edition knows the cast and crew made it look easy.
Airness followed the story of Nina, a girl who attempted to immerse herself into the world of air guitar. Her experience as an actual guitarist led her to believe she would win with ease, but after freezing up on stage in her first competition in Staten Island she quickly realized she had much to learn. Through the help of her new long-time air guitarist friends, Golden Thunder, Facebender, Cannibal Queen, and especially Shreddy Eddie, Nina discovered her path to true airness.
The cast and crew of McLean truly put on a remarkable show. The decision to perform Airness as a roundhouse blackbox production, combined with audience engagement, colorful lights, upbeat music, unique special effects, and an impressive stage presence and chemistry from the cast made the show more than memorable. Notable attention to the detail of the set, timing of cues, costumes, hair, and makeup together allowed the audience to make little to no distinction between reality and the story being told.
Jackie Stoll's noteworthy portrayal of Nina propelled the plot forward with ease. Her execution of Nina's character development from a timid, out of place yet determined air guitarist to a confident national champion who felt at home had the audience attached from the start.
The cast as a whole, especially the air guitarists, Shreddy Eddie played by Charlotte Carson, Golden Thunder played by Arielle Else, Facebender played by Jack Abba, and Cannibal Queen played by Idil Erdogan, made this story a reality. They did an exceptional job telling the story through physical movement, engaging chemistry, natural projection, filling the entire space with constant attention-grasping energy. The Dark Horse ensemble, as well as Keira Murphy's performance as the Dark Horse Announcer, added a heartwarming sense of humor through the unexpected that had the whole audience laughing. Noteworthy performances also came from Kate Fontaine (D. Vicious) and the various competition announcers.
The technical aspects of McLean's Airness delivered the true rock experience. Exceptional timing of cues never allowed for a dull moment. A notable example of this was the video scene, in which Shreddy Eddie shows Nina a video of the other air guitarists' past performances. Here, the timing of music played as soon as Shreddy Eddie laid his finger on the mousepad, the "videoed" actor's immediate response movement, and light cues were executed flawlessly. Themed lights and projections coincided with a character's persona during their respective guitar performances added deeper meaning. Extreme detail to every aspect of the set, including a working kegerator, illuminated city signs to represent the setting, authentic looking wall art, and so much more made the audience feel as if they were in a real bar. Attention to detail in terms of costumes, especially during Nina's final performance in which fans were used to blow flowing pieces of fabric, made each character truly unique.
If there ever was a must-see high school play, it would be McLean's production of Airness High School Edition. Every moment was action packed, emotionally engaging, and overall, simply a great, enjoyable time. A word of advice we could all take would be the following from Facebender, "I like to live like there's no tomorrow, because there isn't." Hopefully we can all find our true airness and forever rock on.