An aviation musical to bring in the kids?

At best, it sounded like a novel idea: SUN ‘n FUN would write and stage a musical for local Florida schools to interest kids in flying and aviation careers. Nice community relations for the newly expanding SUN ‘n FUN mission, but could they pull it off? Turns out, they did — with flying colors.

What a potential bomb, though — especially with the tough-to-please kid crowd. At that age (middle school), most anything classical or “square” gets an immediate “F” except as a chance to get out of class for some auditorium lazy time.

I attended the premier of “EVERY KID FLIES” the evening of April 8 at this year’s SUN ‘n FUN along with 200 well-wishers and the fly-in crowd. They loved it! While this was NOT the acid test before a school audience, it was clever, well-received, lively and irreverent enough to keep youngsters engaged. There was lots of music, action and kid-typical perspective. Even I got the point.

When first told of the project, I was tempted to say, “Good Luck.” For one thing, it was launched only last December as an employee-submitted idea from the staff. If written or performed amateurishly, it would be a disaster. And those deadlines! To write, sign-off, stage and debut a musical in three months before SUN ‘n FUN? Wow!

As usual in creative work, it almost all depends on the writing. And there, SUN ‘n FUN held an ace. His name is John Iskra, SNF education director, bassoonist and a nationally published composer. My first profile of SUN ‘n FUN’s new educational initiative was overwhelmed by the charisma of John’s boss, executive director of education Lori Bradner. But this guy Iskra is no slouch in the #2 slot!

I was incredulous when Iskra told me how long it took him to write original music and lyrics — about three weeks! He later revised that to maybe four weeks or so counting review time, revisions and rewrites. Pretty impressive, especially considering Iskra did it all after work – 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., mostly. (He was able to draw from some of his previous compositions and an existing bit of kid’s literature for form.)

Was it any good?

From the portion I caught, it was great and VERY artful. I picked up immediately on facets designed to engage the target age group. There was lots of music and movement plus more than a little age-appropriate goofiness. Very impressive… and a tour-de-force for the talented performers who were the players.

DSC_0101I got a special kick out of two young women dressed as flight attendants. (The musical covers all opportunities in aviation.) These hip ladies constituted a “Greek chorus” of sorts – the classic device to comment on or explain key or complicated points. (You can imagine how dull it would be to otherwise explain the technicalities of flying in a musical.) Well when needed, out come “the girls” — cute as can be — to offer the “inside story” on some technical point deadly dull in any other recitation. Classic!

I got a big kick out of the whole thing. Granted, part of its success was the superb, ungodly-talented young cast from the nearby Harrison School for the Arts, SUN ‘n FUN’s partner in the project. But exec education director Bradner lavished kudos on Iskra and his talents. “You can talk all day about Lift over Drag (L/D ratio), but to get kids singing about it!” At the premier’s conclusion, she was beaming.

Now, SUN ‘n FUN will stage the work for middle school kids throughout its local community of Polk County, Florida. Would it work in your schools?

SUN ‘n FUN could try to franchise this effort and maybe they will. I suspect, however, that it’s an awfully daunting undertaking that’s heavily dependent on the cast’s performance skills. And these Harrison School performing arts students were outstanding.

In any case, “EVERY KID FLIES” illustrates that we need new methods and approaches in both aviation education and public outreach. The world has changed. Attitudes have changed. Communication methods and audience expectations are more sophisticated. But talented people like SUN ‘n FUN’s Lori Bradner and John Iskra have a bead on those challenges and they’re doing something fresh and new.

© 2013 Drew Steketee All Rights Reserved

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