‘The Night Witches’ finally gets a Park City sendoff | ParkRecord.com

‘The Night Witches’ finally gets a Park City sendoff

YouTheatre opens the play Friday


YouTheatre’s ‘The Night Witches’

  • When: Dec. 2-4; 9-11
  • Where: Egyptian Theatre Studios, 328 Main St.
  • Phone: 855-745-SHOW
  • Web: parkcityshows.com
Egyptian Theatre’s YouTheater production of ‘The Night Witches’ finally opens Friday at the Egyptian Theatre Studios after nearly three years of COVID-19 delays. The play, written by award-winning Utah-based playwright Rachel Bublitz, tells the story of the all-woman regiment of bomber pilots.
David Jackson/Park Record

After two years of COVID-19 delays, Park City will get the chance to see a battalion of young women bomb and confuse Nazis when the Egyptian Theatre’s YouTheatre opens “The Night Witches” Friday.

The commissioned play, written by Salt Lake City-based playwright Rachel Bublitz, tells the true story of the all-female 588th Night Bomber Regiment who dropped bombs on the Nazis every 15 minutes through the night to keep the enemy from sleeping, said YouTheatre director Jamie Wilcox.

“They would fly in planes made out of wood and canvas, and were given hand-me-down uniforms and boots,” she said. 

The battalion knew how to sew, so they took the excess material from uniforms to make things fit them better, according to Wilcox.

“They embroidered things for one another that could be kept in pockets or in their boots to help the boots fit,” she said. “That’s so resourceful and female. Women are resourceful and they always have been.”

The Night Witches’ moniker came from the Nazis, Wilcox said.

“Their missions were very effective, and they came up with what they thought was a derogatory name for these women,” she said. “But when the battalion found out what they were being called, they thought it was great and badass.”

While the Night Witches’ missions were successful in unnerving the enemy, the play also recounts the night when the Nazis changed tactics and sent up fighter planes to confront the women, Wilcox said.

“The Night Witches were caught unawares and lost eight in a single night,” she said. “There were 32 killed throughout the war, but not as many were lost in one night as that one. It was a harrowing moment in history to put into play form, and it’s highly impactful.”

The idea for “The Night Witches” came from Bublitz, whom Wilcox had commissioned the play, “Cheerleaders Vs. Aliens,” for YouTheater’s 2018 season.

“When I was looking for something else to commission, Rachel said that she wanted to write about the Night Witches especially for this age group,” Wilcox said. “I didn’t know anything about them, so she told me who they were, and I did a deep dive and asked, ‘Why have we not heard about these incredible women?’”

The play is not in any way diminishing the loss of lives and the sacrifices men have in the war efforts that involved the United States, Wilcox said.

“But it shines light on women who have always been part of the war efforts,” she said. “It’s just that this group of women were the first females to fly in combat as far as we know. They were so young, and so willing. And they were sick of seeing the loss of the men and boys that they loved.”

From left: Navigator Maisey Mansson, Pilot Molly-Mae Sims, Propellor Lyla Weegand rehearse the Egyptian Theatre’s YouTheater production of “The Night Witches.”
David Jackson/Park Record

‘The Night Witches’ premiered at the 2019 Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival, and was directed by Alexandra Harbold, Wilcox said.

“We did a workshop where Rachel and Alexandra spent a couple of weeks showing a set of 11 girls how a play came to life,” she said. “They saw the daily process with readings, feedback and rewrites. That was a huge gift, because there are professional actors who haven’t had the experience to watch a new play come to life.”

Nine of the girls were cast in the 2019 production that completed a two-weekend run at the Fringe Festival, Wilcox said. 

“We sold out the performances and the play won the Audience Choice Award for being the most seen show at the festival,” she said.

The play was also the first time many of the girls could  play girl roles, according to Wilcox.

“I had watched these girls grow up in YouTheatre where they, due to the shortage of boys in the program, had to play boy roles — grandpas, males teachers and animals,” she said. “So ‘The Night Witches’ was significant because they were girls that required girls to play their roles.”

Also, this was the first YouTheatre production based on a true story.

“They were heroic, and they were women who were in their teens and early 20s,” Wilcox said. “To have our amazing young actresses have the opportunity to play these roles is something different. It is important that we tell even just part of the world their story.”

Everything was set for the Park City premiere when the coronavirus shut everything down, so when things looked like YouTheatre could perform the play in Park City, Wilcox asked Harbold if she could direct.

“She couldn’t work it into her schedule, so I’m directing it,” Wilcox said. “So I told Alexandra that I was going to steal some of her stuff, because it was done so well. Other than my own works, this is my most favorite piece of theater that I’ve ever had the chance to work on and be a part of.”

Wilcox is ready for the Park City premiere.

“This play has been a part of my life for so many years now,” she said. “Of the 17 YouTheatre girls who are in it, two of them, Keegan Fitlow and Isabella Andrews, performed in the production at the Fringe Festival. And they are playing different roles in this one.”

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