Bessie Coleman made history within the aviation industry. She made ground-breaking strides as the first African American and first Native American woman to hold an international pilot’s license.

Coleman earned her license in France back in 1921, after being unable to find anyone in the United States who would teach an African American woman to fly. She earned the names “Brave Bessie” and “Queen Bessie” for her flying tricks. She was an inspiration especially for  young African Americans girls.  Unfortunately the daring pilot died at the young age of 34 in a tragic flight accident.

However, her legacy lived on! In 2022, the aviation pioneer was honoured by American Airlines with an all-Black and all-female crew who took flight in recognition of this incredible woman’s story.

She was also recognized recently in the Barbie universe when Mattel unveiled the Bessie Coleman Inspiring Women Doll. Barbie partnered with Gigi Coleman great-niece  who is the  president of the Bessie Coleman Aviation All-Stars a not-for-profit organization promoting STEM to students in her honour.Barbie - Bessie Coleman

The Flight is a new and original stage production that offers a glimpse into the life of this aviation pioneer. Theatre Gargantua has announced the premiere of this play at Factory Theatre’s Mainspace (Toronto), Friday, February 10 to Saturday, February 18, 2023.

This new work, was written and will be performed by acclaimed theatre artist Beryl Bain (Queen Bess Productions), and directed by the fiercely creative Marcel Stewart (b current Performing Arts).

“This play is an homage to Coleman’s courage, creativity and optimism,” said Bain in the press release. “My intention for this work is to ensure that ‘Brave Bessie’ is respected and honoured. As I was working with her story it felt like we were dancing together as active partners. This story of an iconic Black and Indigenous woman who died in flight, tragically, at the tender age of 34 years old greatly inspired me.”  Bain’s writing also found inspiration in the style of Harlem Renaissance era poems such as Claude McKay’s If We Must Die (1919).

The Flight evokes Coleman’s unshakable optimism, her determination, her vision, and the indomitable self confidence that led her to soar above the clouds, reaching ever closer to the sun.

Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman in 1923. Photo provided by The Konvo Agency

We had a chance to chat with Beryl Bain to learn more…

When did you first learn about Bessie’s aviation story?

BB: I first heard about Bessie Coleman in a book called Promised the Moon: The Untold Story of the First Women in the Space Race, by Stephanie Nolen. Bessie occupied a short paragraph in the book, and I had to learn more.

Bessie faced many challenges but she persevered in going for her dream. What can you tell us about that?

BB: I can’t say my story is quite as adventurous as Bessie’s, but when I really want something, I usually get it. I believe in making efforts and having ambitious goals; you can always learn something! So in that sense, we have a few parallels. But Bessie is much more courageous than I am. I could never jump from a plane!

Bringing her story to the forefront for a live theatre audience – what do you love about it?

BB: There’s nothing like a live audience. They are just as much a character in the story as anyone else. I enjoy seeing real faces in the crowd, and sharing the experience of Bessie’s journey with them.

If you could have a conversation with Bessie what would you have wanted to ask her?

BB: I would want fashion advice for sure! And I would want to know how she stayed so motivated and focused.

What would you want her to know?

BB: I would tell her just how many people she has inspired and how much we still talk about her today.

Who should see this production?

BB: Anyone with an interest in aviation, anyone who likes strong theatrical effects, and anyone who likes adventure! The intended audience is 12 and up. Bessie’s story is inspiring for the whole family.

The Flight is an intermission free, 70 minute production, at The Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street) in Toronto. The show is on stage February 10 to 18, 2023. For tickets and more information, please link here.

Check out this incredible story on npr.com about the 100th anniversary flight in honour of Bessie Coleman with an all-Black and all-female crew here.

You can also read more about Bessie Coleman’s bio here at www. womenshistory.org