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WNCC theater, aviation partner for next performance

WNCC theater, aviation partner for next performance


A small Europa plane rolled in from backstage of the Platte Valley Companies Performing Arts Center on Tuesday afternoon. It was just another day in the WNCC theater program.

The plane is part of the set design for the theater program’s next production, “Night Witches,” a play based on a true story about women in Russia training to be pilots, mechanics and navigators during WWII.

“I kept thinking about how we would build one and it just seemed like such a monumental task, and you need something that’s structurally sound, that looks good and serves the story,” WNCC theater instructor Francesca Mintowt-Czyz said. “This is so functional, and I just think it’s gonna really help the actors. We play make believe and make believe is really hard when you’re pretending that some wood platforms are the wings of a plane. So now that they actually have something to play with, I think they’ll be really thrilled.”

The plane comes from WNCC’s aviation maintenance program in Sidney. Mintowt-Czyz said the idea to collaborate with another program came after talking to Patrick Fortney about her upcoming productions. Fortney is the executive director for assessment and institutional research at WNCC, but is also a musician and lover of the performing arts. Mintowt-Czyz said he’s always been a huge support of her work in the theater program.

“I was telling him about this project and wanting to get a plane, but not knowing how to build one,” she said. “And he said, ‘You know we have an aviation maintenance program at WCC, right?’ And I said, ‘No, what?!’ And he said it might be worth reaching out.”

So that’s what she did. She reached out to aviation instructor Jon Leever in November, and she said he jumped on board right away. After taking many measurements, sending photos and discussing details, Leever and four of his students drove the Europa plane up from the Sidney campus and wheeled it into the theater.

“Especially because the virtual season has its challenges, and as disappointing as I know it is for my actors not to have an audience and not to perform live, if we can give them a once in a lifetime experience by bringing in a plane and putting it on the WNCC stage, I just think that would be a really effective way to help them forget that we’re in the middle of a pandemic,” Mintowt-Czyz said. “And that they don’t have an audience. And they don’t get to share their work live.

“I hope that they’ll take these experiences and appreciate the documentation of their work.”

The aviation department isn’t the only program Mintowt-Czyz is collaborating with for this production. The actors will also be working on their Russian accents with visual arts instructor Yelena Khanevskaya, who is from Russia. The script for this play was written by local playwright, Christy Frederickson, og Morrill.

“I think that’s just a priority for me,” Mintowt-Czyz said. “…Everyone involved in the show is there for a reason, and is therefore an essential element of the storytelling process and production. So, being a part of an institution, especially a community college, we should be focused on building community and fostering community across campus.”

Leever said, “I’m glad we can all work together as one college.”

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Olivia Wieseler is a reporter with the Star-Herald. She can be reached at 308-632-9051 or by emailing

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