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'Air Guitar High' to be Performed April 9 at Barber Theater

New play for young audiences to tour some Evanston area middle schools this spring

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April 8, 2010 | by Judy Moore
EVANSTON, Ill. --- "Air Guitar High" is a high-octane stage production about a group of teenagers determined to take their futures into their own hands -- literally -- by becoming "virtual virtuosos" in the competitive world of "air guitar."

Part rock opera, part "mockumentary," "Air Guitar High" is written and directed by award-winning Northwestern faculty member Laura Schellhardt. Air guitar is an art form that is part sport, part martial art and part dance in which "mock" musicians play imaginary instruments.  

Presented by the Theatre and Interpretation Center (TIC) at Northwestern University, "Air Guitar High" will be staged at 7 p.m. Friday, April 9; 7 p.m. Saturday, April 10; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 11; 7 p.m. Thursday, April 15; 7 p.m. Friday, April 16; 7 p.m. Saturday, April 17; and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 18, at the Ethel M. Barber Theater, 30 Arts Circle Drive, on Northwestern's Evanston campus.

Post-show discussions with the cast members will follow the April 11 and 15 performances. Later this spring, "Air Guitar High" will travel to several Evanston area middle schools during TIC's annual Theatre for Young Audiences tour.

In writing "Air Guitar High," Schellhardt was inspired by the popularity of real air guitar competitions, the draw of video games, such as "Guitar Hero," and the 2005 feature documentary "Air Guitar Nation."

"This play is about two high school kids who decide to make a documentary about a regional air guitar championship held in their small Iowa town," said Schellhardt, who teaches playwriting in the theatre department of Northwestern's School of Communication. "It portrays a group of insecure teens who find their superhero selves through the air guitar characters they create on stage."

Theatre for young audiences is one of the central missions of the Theatre and Interpretation Center. According to Rives Collins, chair of the Northwestern University theatre department and president of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, "There is a national trend afoot to reach out to a traditionally underserved audience -- our teens. Teens must have a voice in the creative process, but the quickest way to send them running from theatre is to preach to them. At ‘Air Guitar High,' the music is loud, change is abundant, pressures are mounting and the longing to find meaning in a confusing world is deep and real."

"This play doesn't talk down to anyone," said Schellhardt. "It presents a story about today's teen generation."

Schellhardt wrote "Air Guitar High" for Northwestern's National High School Institute (NHSI) several years ago, where it was performed for two consecutive summers. Established in 1931, NHSI is the nation's oldest and largest university-based summer program for outstanding high school students. It offers summer classes in theatre arts, film and video, debate, speech, music and journalism.

The play also had a staged reading in February 2009 at the Pasadena Playhouse in California and was a finalist in Indiana Repertory Theatre's 2009 Waldo M. & Grace C. Bonderman Theatre for Young Audience Festival.

In the TIC staging, the 12 teenage characters are portrayed by 10 Northwestern undergraduate students. The songs of a popular music video game inspired most of the recorded music in the production. The actors go through the motions of finger picking or flat-picking their invisible guitars to rockers from Eric Clapton to Jimi Hendrix and Fatboy Slim, and the bands Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, Van Halen and Green Day.

"Air Guitar High" has a running time of 75 minutes and is recommended for children aged 11 and older and adults.

Tickets are $15 for the general public; $12 for seniors aged 65 and older and Northwestern faculty, staff and area educators; and $10 for full-time students. Discounts are available for groups of 15 or more. For tickets, contact the TIC Box Office at (847) 491-7282 or visit www.tic.northwestern.edu.