|Photo by Matthew Murphy/Murphy Made Photography|
"It's just a really beautiful story," said Norris. "It's about two people who would never, ever — in their whole entire life — come together, and because of something terrible, they do come together, and they teach each other about compassion. Also, it deals with Vietnam…"
"Joel [Waggoner], our music director, would constantly say, 'You guys realize that if we were back in '63, you would be drafted.' It's terrifying," added Jeacoma. "It's a terrifying thought to think, 'I would be doing what these guys would be doing — risking my life.' Hats off to everyone who [did] that because I know that I [couldn't have]. And, like Hayley Anna said, it's incredible that we're telling this story because it's true. Even though the story may be fictional, the events are so true, and they're so historical — things that we all need to know about."
Being able to identify so closely with Rose, Birdlace and the other characters in Dogfight, Rogers said, was part of Pace's decision to stage the new work. The other part, she explained, was access.
"We have access to these writers, and the first day of rehearsal [Benj, Justin and Peter] were here talking about it and explaining the process [of] the piece and all of its incarnations. That," Rogers said, "they will never get" with another property. "When [writers] walk in a room, [students think], 'Holy crap!' It's like their idols walk in the room, [but] when you sit down with them, they're human and they are artists as well, and the experience becomes collaborative. That's what you do this for."
Norris and Jeacoma admitted that they have never learned so much from a first rehearsal — being able to bounce ideas off of the show's writers from the very start, expanding their knowledge of the piece and the world of Dogfight.
"Someone asked [the writers] a question that has been sticking with me the whole entire process: 'What does this show mean to them?' And, they said, 'It's about empathy — turning on the empathy switch and turning it off.'"
Jeacoma added, "The way Peter put it was brilliant. He said, 'We ask soldiers to go to war as if it's a switch… You switch [empathy] off.'"
Aside from interacting with Pasek, Paul and Duchan, Pace's leading lady was also able to seek insight from Lindsay Mendez, who originated the role of Rose Off-Broadway. "Lindsay was my teacher," said Norris, who began to work with the current Wicked star in Mendez's Actor Therapy class. "I fell in love with her when I saw Grease in ninth grade. I [thought], 'I want to be her.' And then I met her, and she's been a resource… When you're in college — and, also, when you're a younger actor — you always have an actor you want to look at who has a career that you would want to have. She's been that person for me."
For Jeacoma, Dogfight "has taught me a lot about what I need to work on for the real world," he said. "This [musical] was put up somewhere that is a stone-throw away, and the fact that we're doing it here — and the fact that it's possible for us to delve into this world — it just shows that there's a lot out there that we can be a part of."
Performances of Dogfight will be offered Oct. 2-4 at 8 PM, Oct. 5 at 2 PM and 8 PM, Oct. 6 at 1 PM and 7 PM and Oct. 8-9 at 8 PM at the Schaeberle Studio Theatre at Pace University (41 Park Row).
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(Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)
Watch rehearsal footage from Dogfight at Pace:
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