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Wright brothers play has lofty goal of entertaining, informing

| Thursday, Sept. 11, 2003

This year marks the 100th anniversary of that most spectacular of American inventions - powered flight. Since the Wright brothers' invention is something that every child knows about - but not many know much about - it seemed like a good idea for a children's theater production to Pittsburgh actor and director Jason Fleece and his co-writer Edd Fairman.

"We researched a bunch of different historical figures that we thought would be interesting to kids," Fleece says, "and the Wright brothers seemed to have the most that we could fit into a 30-minute play."

Fleece and Fairman's one-act play, "Otto Lilienthal's Highly Informative Play About the Wright Brothers," makes its debut at the Pittsburgh New Works Festival on Saturday.

They picked a rather unusual character to tell the story, the absolutely fearless German aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal.

"His death was actually one of the things that inspired (the Wrights) to go through with their endeavor," Fleece says. "We don't really know much about him. We know that he flew these gliders that he sort of ... wore. He almost looked like he was wearing an airplane. He made over 2,000 flights in these gliders. He also eventually died from a crash in one of them."

Few people wanted to fly as passionately as Lilienthal. It's certainly possible that his determination rubbed off on the Wrights - who never met him, but definitely were aware of his exploits.

"He made a lot of breakthroughs as far as theory of aeronautics goes," Fleece says. "He didn't know how to steer, which is what actually inspired them to go through with it. When he died, they realized that that was the problem - he couldn't steer effectively. That's what the Wright brothers decided to do - find a way to control the flight."

The Wrights built their first steerable glider in 1902. The next year, they added an engine, and the modern airplane was born.

This is a pretty serious milestone, but that doesn't mean that the play has to be a dry, textbook lesson. Instead, expect "a lot of slapstick, a lot of silly humor," Fleece says.

That's not to say it's going to be dumbed down, either. Fleece admits that maintaining this critical balance can be quite a challenge. "Kids are a lot more critical an audience than adults are," Fleece notes. "They tend to be merciless. It's a challenge to keep them engaged.

"A lot of children's theater I've seen tends to talk down to children," Fleece adds. A lot of people think that just because they're young and maybe uninformed, they mistakenly think that they're also stupid. That's another reason Edd and I decided to write this play - to do something that's on the kids' level that didn't talk down to them."

Additional Information:

Details

'Otto Lilienthal's Highly Informative Play About the Wright Brothers'

Presented by: Pittsburgh New Works Festival.

When: 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 20-21 and 27-28.

Admission: $4.

Where: Lester Hamburg Studio Theatre, South Side.

Details: (412) 881-6888.

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