Ethington Theatre’s ‘Wings’ lights up outdoor stage

Story by Ashlee Larrison
Photos by Garrett Ohrenberg
GCU News Bureau

Now, seemingly more than ever in the midst of a pandemic, health is at the forefront of people’s minds.

Yet with the focus on COVID, it is easy to lose sight of the impact that other health conditions have on individuals and the people around them. And that is what the College of Fine Arts and Production’s production of Arthur Kopit’s “Wings” is all about.

COFAP's production of "Wings" centers on the main character, Emily Stilson, and her rehabilitation journey after a stroke.

Kopit’s play tells the story of Emily Stilson, a woman who suffers a stroke and showcases the effects it plays on her life as she works towards rehabilitation. The production is often described as a dramatization of the agony a stroke victim goes through but also the resilience of the human spirit.

The show opens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, and performances are scheduled for every evening through Sunday. Only campus residents and Grand Canyon University and Grand Canyon Education employees can view it in person, but it also is available via livestream.

“It’s a play that touches us all because almost each and every one of us has a friend, has a relative, has somebody that they know who has suffered a traumatic brain injury,” said COFAP Dean and “Wings” Director Claude Pensis. “Anything we can do to help people understand, I think, is very much a step in the right direction.”

This is the second theatre production to use the new outdoor stage.

Though the subject matter of the play is serious, Pensis said there still is humor throughout the production.

Jessica Rumrill, who double-casted alongside Abbey Yee as Emily Stilson, said that story does a fine job of highlighting the different emotions that her character and those around her may feel in that moment.

“There is frustration, there’s sadness, there’s all these things, but also there’s a sense of adventure and finding the good in this terrible situation,” she said. “I think that’s why I find this character so amazing, intriguing and just beautiful, because of that journey that she goes on and her resilience to keep going on the journey.”

This is the second Ethington play of the 2020-21 academic year to utilize the new outdoor stage, and the Show's cast and crew say that the openness of the outdoor environment adds to viewers' overall experience.

The performance allows the audience to get an idea of what could go through the mind of someone with a traumatic brain injury.

“If I’m being completely honest, after first reading the script I wasn't thinking to myself, ‘How are they going to do this outside?’ because really there’s so many sensory elements outside of the play itself,” said Brandon Brown, who plays the role of Billy. “It really helps tell the story, and I think that people will be amazed by the technical elements of the show.”

Aside from the natural beauty that comes along with a performance under the stars, set and lighting design play a major role in representing the neurological sparks and activities that take place in the brain. Pair that with the openness of the outdoors, and you’ve got an Ethington Theatre experience unlike any before.

“When the lights were added, it brought it to life,” said Mackenzie Reppy, who is double-casted alongside Anna Mettes for the role of Amy. “It created these emotions and help you feel part of what’s going on.

The huge lighting fixture on the stage is operated from the control panel and is paired perfectly with actors' performances.

“It really draws you in and helps keep you engaged with what’s going on to help tell the story.”

Throughout the performance, the lighting fixture in the background works as an indicator for the audience to be able to follow along with the story and visually identify the main character's brain activity at that given moment. Paired perfectly with the actors' performances, audiences can expect to see what is happening both inside and outside Emily Stilson's mind.   

It’s an opportunity to learn more about the effects that a traumatic brain injury can have, and that alone, Reppy said, is reason enough to check out the show.

“The show is very real and has a lot of very real moments,” she said. “It’s very special in that way because it was based off real people and it’s not a case study. It’s not saying, ‘This is what a stroke is,’ but it helps you look into the mind of someone who did have a stroke and then it lets you kind of relate to them, connect to them. That way, it kind of helps you understand what someone can be going through.”


What: “Wings” by Arthur Kopit

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18, through Sunday, Nov. 22

Where: Outdoor stage next to Fine Arts Building

Tickets: This show is a closed production for GCE and GCU employees, students and faculty members. It can be viewed via livestream on YouTube.

Information: 602-639-8800 or [email protected]

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].


Related stories:

GCU Today: Audiences give outdoor stage positive reviews

GCU Today: ‘Comedy of Errors’ kicks off outdoor theatre season

GCU Today: Outdoor theatre completed for Ethington season

GCU Today: Fine Arts goes all out to improvise for students


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