Ready To Take Flight: Pilot Arts returns to stage with celebration of women

Ready To Take Flight: Pilot Arts returns to stage with celebration of women

Maria Mitchell was America’s first professional woman astronomer.

Mary Fields was the first African-American woman to deliver mail for the U.S. Postal Service.

Junko Tabei was the first woman to reach the highest summit on every continent.

And Missy Gipson was the first woman to single-handedly form a theater company in 21st century Northwest Arkansas.

That’s not what she would say has been Pilot Arts’ claim to fame since its founding in 2017. Gipson, who is an actress, writer, director and choreographer, just wants to “produce arts experiences that bring people joy — to put some good out into Northwest Arkansas.”

After a year of covid-19 forced Gipson into “a lot of learning in a short amount of time,” she’s looking back on what went right in 2020 and looking ahead to the first 2021 production by Pilot Arts, a new song cycle by Angela Sclafani titled “Passion Project” scheduled for one night only May 15.

In 2020, Gipson says, “we had some really fun online experiences! We produced a Christmas variety show that featured Broadway performers Katie Ladner and Chad Burris and local culinary legend Chef Case Dighero. We had people tune in from all over the USA on that show. That was a nice surprise. It was so different than anything I have personally produced, which I really enjoyed.

Missy Gipson has built a theater company dedicated to “presenting theater that inspires.” After a year working online only, the company returns to the stage May 15. (Courtesy Photo)

“We also had four online masterclasses that featured Hunter Doohan (star of Showtime’s ‘Your Honor’ ) teaching film auditioning; Ron and Elizabeth Hanks (director/cinematographer) taught about producing your own film; Chad Burris (Broadway’s ‘Mean Girls’ and ‘Frozen’) taught musical theater auditioning; and Coleman Clark (theater director/producer) taught a scene study class. They were fantastic and a great way to learn about different ways to create from some topnotch artists.”

But, Gipson says, “we are thrilled to welcome audiences back with such a celebratory piece that champions women from history as well as current innovators.”

In “Passion Project,” actresses portray 12 “brilliant” women — including Mitchell, Fields and Tabei — who sing to the object of their professional passions: Mitchell to the comet that made her famous and the telescope with which she discovered it; Fields to her stagecoach; and Tabei to the final mountain that completed her quest.

What emerges, says Gipson, is a “a diverse sonic landscape” and a “celebration of female innovation and bravery.” The orchestra accompanying the singers will also be made up of women, she adds, and the location for the show will be an industrial warehouse setting “with plenty of space for you to experience the joy of the arts again.”

Gipson adds that the youth education program, Pilot Arts Learns, is producing an original kids’ musical this summer in a summer camp format that culminates in a public production.

“I think the [long-term change from covid-19] will be in considering how we produce,” she says. “I definitely feel like the normal way of producing theater has expanded for me personally. It’s a change that has inspired me to be more innovative and one I’m happy to take into Pilot Arts future.

“We’ve always been focused on presenting theater that inspires as well as engaging the everyday artists in our community, so we are sticking to that,” she says of the company’s mission. “I definitely think you will see us expand where and what we produce, think of ways to utilize different spaces in our community to produce theater and possibly [forge] some collaborations with other organizations.

“We can’t wait to experience art together with our community!”


‘Passion Project’


WHEN — 1:30-4 p.m. April 17

WHERE — Fayette Junction Warehouse, 1208 W. Cato Springs Road in Fayetteville

WHAT TO BRING — A recent photo is appreciated but not necessary. Actresses will also fill out an audition form, so please know your schedule through May 15. If you are out of the area, you may submit a video audition.

INFO — Email for submission details

Categories: Theater