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Comedy Play ‘Airness’ Closes Theater Season

The Wabash Theater Department will be concluding its musically inclined season with an electric play about competition, completion, and finding the “airness” inside yourself.

“Airness” opens Wednesday, April 17, and runs through Saturday, April 20, with doors opening at 7:30 p.m. and performances at 8 p.m. each evening in the Experimental Theater located in the basement of the Fine Arts Center.

Bennett Strain ’26 as David “D Vicious” Cooper.

Tickets are free and can be reserved through the Fine Arts Center Box Office.

Written by Chelsea Marcantel, “Airness” follows the journey of Nina who enters her first air guitar competition thinking a win will be easy. But as she befriends a group of charismatic nerds all committed to becoming the next champion, she discovers that there’s more to the art form than playing pretend.

The comedy premiered at the 2017 Humana Festival at the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, where it was described as “hands down the most fun you will have at the theatre this year” by Insider Louisville.

“It’s about a niche, largely unknown subculture that can be difficult for people from the outside to understand, but people from the inside take very seriously and have a lot of fun with,” explained Director and Theater Professor Jim Cherry. “Air guitar is a lot like Wabash. It sounds strange but once you get into it, you find camaraderie, compassion, and creativity.”

The cast includes Josh Campbell ’25 as Ed “Shreddy Eddy” Leary; Jeremiah Clayton ’26 as Gabe “Golden Thunder” Partridge; Alex Schmidt ’27 as Mark “Facebender” Lender; Elizabeth Hutson as Astrid “Cannibal Queen” Anderson; Kelli O’Neil as Nina “The Nina” O’Neal; Bennett Strain ’26 as David “D Vicious” Cooper; and Logan Weilbaker ’25 as the announcer, sprite exec, and hooded figure.

The production includes stage manager Carson Wirtz ’26, assistant stage manager Xavier Cienfuegos ’27, air guitar routine consultant Kathleen Hickey, scenic designer and technical director David BW Vogel, lighting designer Bailey L. Rosa, and costume designer Andrea Bear. “Airness” will also feature original music by Theater Professor Michael Abbott ’85.

"Airness" cast and production crew with Air Guitar World Champion Justin “Nordic Thunder” Howard.

Cherry said the cast—composed of a mix of Wabash Theater veterans and newcomers—have spent the last several weeks of rehearsals perfecting their quirky characters while also diving into the world of air guitar.

The group got the opportunity to connect via Zoom with Air Guitar World Champion Justin “Nordic Thunder” Howard, who has been performing as a professional air guitarist since 2006. Howard educated the group on the history of the art form and gave actors tips on how to best channel their inner rock star while performing on stage in the upcoming play.

“Justin talked about this idea of airness,” Cherry said. “Airness is when you transcend the fact that you’re playing a fake guitar in front of people and it becomes an art form, kind of like drag.

“He explained that if everybody just did more air guitar, the world would be a better place,” he continued. “If there were more people being audaciously silly in public and we took ourselves a little bit less seriously and indulged in our creativity more, everything would be better and happier. That’s the true message that we hope to share and show in ‘Airness.’”

To conjure up the appropriate atmosphere, the Experimental Theater will be transformed into a seedy dive bar much like where air guitar competitions are typically held.

A cash bar with a selection of domestic beers will be available for those 21 and older who wish to partake responsibly. Participants must bring a valid ID, no exceptions. The bar will be open both before the show and during the intermission, and payment with credit card is preferred.

“Airness” opens April 17 and runs through April 20 in the Experimental Theater located in the basement of the Fine Arts Center.

“This will be my first time directing in the Experimental Theater in more than 10 years, and we’ve never done anything like this in that space before,” Cherry said. “We’re creating a really fun, immersive experience where the audience can be right in the middle of the action.”

Due to some coarse language amid the excessive shredding, “Airness” is not intended for children and viewer discretion is advised.

Seating is very limited. Cherry encourages members of the Wabash and surrounding community to quickly reserve tickets for the last show of the academic year.

“If you like 80s hair metal, this is the show for you, and it’s rare that you can say that about any play,” Cherry said with a laugh. “If you remember the pleasures of Whitesnake and Van Halen—whether you’re on the David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar side of things—you’re going to find something you like in this show.”