Sondra Blanchard, artistic director of Lafayette's Public Works Theatre Company, was visiting the Montreal Biodome when she met a friendly puffin. That encounter served as the inspiration for her new play, Flight of Fancy, a gentle conversation starter about ecological collapse and mass extinction.
The play tells the story of two characters in cartoon-like masks – a girl and a puffin, both "rather fetching," says Blanchard. The girl is planning to hide out in a biodome and the puffin is planning to escape it, worn down by life in a zoo-like exhibit.
The two meet and have an adventure in the biodome. "They go to the great sandy desert and try to make a home there, but it's not comfortable for the puffin," says Blanchard. "A puffin needs a specific environment. A human needs a specific environment. Every being on the planet needs a specific environment."
That quest to find a suitable place to live becomes the play's anchoring theme. "Where is our home? How do we live so all creatures get to have a home?" explains Blanchard. "It's putting out some ideas about how our world is changing, and it's asking questions about how we continue to create a home for everyone."
Public Works specializes in popular theater: puppets, masks and clown work. The group once performed as a flea circus. In Flight of Fancy, the troupe uses large masks that reveal the emotional complexity of each of the characters and soften the otherwise challenging subject matter for audiences resistant to talking about mass extinction.
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The play is based on Blanchard's research into various ecosystems overtaxed by human use – research that gave her anxiety but also a sense of wonder about the natural environment. Still, when challenged by how to end the play – with destruction or with hope – she opted for hope, something she admits isn't always reasonable.
"It's a fantasy, but I wanted to tie it into the real world," Blanchard says. "And I also want young audiences to walk away from this feeling in love with the world, and being inspired by a love for the world to take action."
Flight of Fancy runs April 22-23 and April 29-30 at the Hive at East Simpson, 414 East Simpson Street in Lafayette, and Saturday, May 6, at the Firehouse Art Center, 667 4th Avenue in Longmont. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased at the Flight of Fancy Brown Paper Tickets page.