April 22, 2019  

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USM Instructor Designs Costumes for Acclaimed Production “Fly”

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J. Theresa Bush

J. Theresa Bush, assistant professor of costume design at The University of Southern Mississippi, played an instrumental role in helping the renowned stage production “Fly” garner eight nominations for the 27th Annual NAACP Theatre Awards. The awards will be presented on Feb. 26 at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, Calif.

Bush serves as costume designer for the play that follows the story of four Tuskegee airmen on their quest to integrate the United States Air Force. The nominations include: Best Choreography, Best Director, Best Ensemble Cast, Best Producer, Best Sound, Best Costumes, Best Lighting, plus Best Playwright for writers Ricardo Khan and Trey Ellis.

After experiencing initial pride and elation from the awards announcement, Bush said she was struck by a more profound awareness.

“It occurred to me that we might use this platform to garner more global recognition, more resources and bigger audiences, while spreading the message of love and respect for these incredible men who have all but vanished,” she said. 

Among her chief duties, Bush produces costume renderings for the show, styling each new cast member as he/she comes aboard. She notes that the WWII vintage look is something that delights her about the work.  

“I spend a lot of time shopping army surplus, which means that I have heard a lot of interesting stories from a lot a wild people -- much love to them all,” she said. “The details of the period are so delicious to revel in that the actors and myself take a lot of joy from the process. When you add the lighting and the music to the costumes, you get something really special.”

Bush joined the production in 2014 as associate costume designer under the tutelage of designer Toni-Leslie James, who served as Bush’s graduate mentor at Virginia Commonwealth University. When the play was staged at the Pasadena Playhouse last year, James claimed origination credit and passed the title and duties of costume designer on to Bush.

The play follows four courageous heroes hailing from Chicago, Harlem, rural Iowa and the Caribbean as they train to fly combat aircraft. In spite of the overt racism they encounter, the men form a lasting brotherhood and fly with distinction, paving the way for the desegregation of the American military and the later Civil Rights Movement.

“The Tuskegee Airmen suffered degradation at the hands of their commanding officers, but summoned nevertheless the wherewithal to defend the American bombers during the campaign on Berlin that ended WWII,” said Bush. ‘Fly’ is truly an amazing story and the greatest, most impactful use of my art form that I have ever had the privilege to witness.”  

Bush points out that the play’s overwhelming success and award nominations help to honor Hattiesburg's own Corporal Needham, Jones Sr., a Tuskegee Airman whose recent passing is memorialized by his trust at the African American History Museum on E. 6th St. in downtown Hattiesburg.

Fly” is remounting at Alabama Shakespeare Festival in late January 2018. Bush says that one of her primary goals is to bring the acclaimed production to Hattiesburg’s Saenger Theatre in the future.  

To see the full list of NAACP Theatre Award nominations, visit: https://przen.com/pr/naacp-beverly-hillshollywood-branch-announces-27th-annual-theatre-award-nominees-przen-33218284