’80s Rock Solos…on Air Guitar?: “Airness” Brings Unabashed Self-Confidence Center Stage

Miles Palmer ’23 playing an air guitar to “I don’t want to grow up” by Tom Waits.

From left to right, Marie Faugeres ’23, Jessica Li ’24, Claire Wang ’23, Donoma Fredericson ’23, Miles Palmer ’23, Victoria Ortiz ’23, and Angeli- ca Paniagua ’24 take their bows after the performance.

Shredding classic rock hits on the air guitar, “Airness” brought an electric hybrid between a rock concert and a theatrical play to Steinbach Theatre last weekend. Telling the story of newbie Nina, Donoma Fredericson ’23 navigates the world of competitive air-guitar as “Airness” explores themes of individuality, self-expression, and community.

Produced by the Andover Theatre and Dance Department, “Airness” debuted last Friday evening, followed by a Saturday matinee. Marie Faugeres ’23, who played the Announcer and Sprite Executive, commented on the show’s theme of self-love. Her first time acting in a theatrical production since middle school, Faugeres expressed that the cast’s close bond helped actors feel more comfortable in their characters.

“The energy in the crowd and the message [‘Airness’] sends is something you can’t get anywhere else — it manages to combine two features of a rock concert and theatrical play into one… [The message is] definitely that you shouldn’t look down on someone’s chosen art form or whatever they choose to pursue and how they express themselves. These people love to play air guitar, and although the show is a comedy, the message it sends is very serious and from the heart,” said Faugeres.

Performer Jessica Li ’24 believes that by featuring air guitar over physical instruments, “Airness” challenged the cast to be more vulnerable in their performances. She emphasized that the essence of air guitar is free expression despite the absence of a physical instrument. Li played antagonist “D Vicious” or David Cooper — a reigning national air-guitar champion and Nina’s ex-fiancé.

“Having no instrument kind of forces you out of your shell, forces the characters to bear themselves in some way, and to show vulnerability. I feel like having to play an instrument with no actual instrument forces you to also push yourself in different ways. You’re no longer constrained by the physical thing in your hands,” said Li.

During the preparation process, Director Natalya Baldyga, Instructor in History, and the cast of “Airness” focused on picking specific song cuts to perform and choreographing dance routines. They drew inspiration from a variety of air guitar and rock music media, such as international air guitar championships held in Finland to Eddy Van Halen’s 11-minute guitar solo, “Eruption.” Baldyga explained how the cast analyzed and gleaned acting tips from Van Halen’s performance.

“Eddy’s always either pulling it in because he’s overtaken by the music or he’s reaching out to the crowd, so it’s always about in and out. So we spent a lot of time with the music, and then I think the challenge was putting all the pieces together because we did have to shift from rock performances to intimate scenes,” said Baldyga.

The cast of “Airness” faced tight time constraints during rehearsal. Some actors’ costumes arrived last-minute, such as a hoodie that was part of Faugeres’ costume, which arrived only hours before opening night. Nonetheless, Faugeres emphasized how helpful Baldyga was in guiding the production.

“We did a lot of dialogue reading and choreography, but I think it was a bit stressful considering we didn’t have much time to work with the lighting and costumes all at once… But rehearsal itself was so fun, Dr. Baldyga was extremely encouraging and gave us so much advice on how to learn our lines better and internalize them,” said Faugeres.

Baldyga hopes that “Airness” conveyed a message of individuality to the Andover community. She encourages audience members to pursue what they love with people they love, instead of judging themselves by external standards.

“I hope that [the audience will] learn that it’s okay not to take yourself seriously all of the time and that the most important thing you can do is find the people who will allow you to be ridiculous or geeky, or full of whatever weird joy you have in your heart. Then if you find those people you stick to them because they will bring out the best in you,” said Baldyga.