When America’s theaters went dark, the team at the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center got creative. They launched Imagine U Storytime, online family programming that racked up more than 22,000 views; engineered traditional staged plays and readings for better virtual attendance; successfully staged an in-person production of Tomas and the Library Lady for virtual audiences; and celebrated summer with a Broadway revue for our campus community. Yet the symbolic power of this past spring’s Flight of the Phoenix, an interactive, in-person puppetry performance, signaled to weary artists that theatre was on its way back, stronger and more resilient than ever.
“It was beautiful,” says Dassia Posner, professor of theatre and codirector of the event. “We had students and professors who had been in class together, but had never met in person, seeing each other for the first time.”
They saw and they soared. Posner and colleague Jessica Thebus worked with students and the Wirtz Center creative team to design, produce, package, and deliver bird puppet kits to all of the event’s 60 participants. Each was given either a kestrel, Canada goose, or phoenix kit—some assembly required—and asked to gather on the Northwestern lakefill in May for a music-filled flight of transformation and hope. Students who couldn’t make it to campus flew their birds in cities around the world.
“We never wanted it to be a celebration of the end of the pandemic, because the pandemic is going to go on for some time,” Posner says, “but we did want to simply celebrate the ability to come together again and to be able to make something together again.”
Watch highlights from Flight of the Phoenix.