As part of the Lark's "Studio Retreat" initiative, the work by lyricist-librettist Cheryl Davis (winner of the Kleban Award for the libretto) and composer Douglas Cohen (The Opposite of Sex ) gets 30 hours of intensive rehearsal followed by a public reading at the Lark.
The reading will be followed by a Lark "BareBones" production in the fall of 2005, partially funded by The Larson Performing Arts Foundation.
The spring reading cast features Cheryl Alexander (Dreamgirls), Everett Bradley (Swing ), Kecia Lewis (Once On This Island ), Montego Glover (Dreamgirls), Stu James (Rent ), Wayne W. Pretlow (The Civil War) and Josh Tower (The Lion King). Jerry Dixon (Once on this Island, Laugh Whore) will direct.
"Before Amelia Earhart, there was Bessie Coleman — the first Black Aviatrix who moved from the cotton fields to the clouds," according to the Lark announcement. "There weren't a lot of options for a Black girl in rural Waxahachie Texas in 1917. Dissatisfied with the choice between picking cotton and laundering cotton, Bessie Coleman left Texas to follow her dreams, eventually traveling all the way to Paris to learn to fly (no schools in America would teach her). Determined to start a flying school for Black Americans, Bessie performed breathtaking aerial shows as a 'barnstormer' to raise funds. Although a tragic accident kept Bessie from ever seeing the fruits of her labors, her nephew went on to become a World War II flyer with the Tuskegee Airmen, fulfilling her dream."
"It is no surprise to say that America is often slow to acknowledge the untold acts of courage and determination of its disenfranchised," said John C. Eisner, producing director for the Lark. "The part of this story that excites me most is how Bessie Coleman makes an impact on her community by imagining and realizing a seemingly impossible dream." A Lark "Studio Retreat" gives writers 30 intensive hours over the course of a week to work with actors and a director to focus on the text of their piece. Rewrites are encouraged and at the end of the process the Lark presents a public reading. Studio Retreats are part of an overall development plan. After this Retreat, Barnstormer will advance to a BareBones production (simply staged, fully rehearsed public presentations of plays in the final stages of development) in fall 2005.
The development of Barnstormer was partially supported by the National Alliance for Musical Theatre's Producer-Writer Initiative and The ASCAP Foundation Irving Caesar Fund.
Davis' work has been read and performed nationally, including at the Cleveland Playhouse, the Actors Theatre of Louisville, and the Kennedy Center. Her play about the desegregation of the nations' school system, The Color of Justice , which was commissioned by Theatreworks/USA, received critical acclaim. She received a commission from the Ensemble Studio Theatre/Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Science and Technology Project to write The Bones of Giants , about 19th century American paleontologists O.C. Marsh and E.D. Cope. This play received readings as part of EST's 2003 and 2004 First Light Festivals and Octoberfest 2003; it is scheduled to receive a workshop presentation in May 2005. Her play Cover Girls, an adaptation of the Bishop T. D. Jakes novel, was recently produced and toured by ClearChannel Entertainment.
Cohen wrote the music and lyrics for the New York bound musical, The Opposite of Sex , based on the Don Roos film, which recently debuted at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco directed by his co-librettist, Robert Jess Roth. He won two Richard Rodgers Awards and the coveted Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Theatre Foundation Award for writing book, music, and lyrics to No Way To Treat A Lady (produced twice Off-Broadway and 150 times around the world) and The Gig (Goodspeed, Manhattan Theatre Club Stage II, Sacramento Music Circus). Other projects include lyricist of Children's Letters To God (produced at Off-Broadway's Lamb's Theatre and recorded on Jay Records), composer/lyricist of The Big Time , an original musical with a book by Douglas Carter Beane, and composer of Glimmerglass (produced at Goodspeed-at-Chester). Cohen recently contributed the original songs for the Off-Broadway show, Boozy, written and produced by the Obie award-winning Les Freres Corbusier, which sold-out its run at the Ohio Theatre and will play a monthlong run in May.
Lark Studio is at 939 Eighth Ave., second floor, in Manhattan. For reservations, on a first-come first-served basis, call (212) 246-2676 ext. 22. To learn more about the Lark, visit www.larktheatre.org.