Alexander Burnett Stars In UNEXPECTED TURBULENCE: A New Play
Fresh off its 2019 Edinburgh Fringe debut, Unexpected Turbulence provides a darkly comic glimpse into the life of Crystelle Desjardins, a brassy French stewardess whose crusade to capture the title of "Best Flight Attendant in the Fleet" goes seriously awry. While the action of this solo piece takes place in the cramped aisles and galleys of an Ohio-bound plane, Alexander Burnett, who performs the show entirely in drag, hopes that Crystelle and the passengers she meets will feel larger than life.
Burnett, who trained at Middlebury College in the United States before earning a place at L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris, is particularly fascinated by the intersection of drag and theater, but found that his options to marry the two were limited. "There aren't a lot of opportunities for drag performers to portray fully-realized characters on stage," Burnett explains. "Instead of performing a piece that was about drag or used drag in the service of a gag, I wanted to see what would happen if we brought some drag sensibilities to a more traditional theater piece."
Burnett commissioned Unexpected Turbulence more or less by accident. "Earlier this year, Alexander asked me if I could write a 10 minute piece for a scratch night," says writer Steven Elliott. "We liked the idea of writing about a flight attendant who is trying to conduct the safety spiel but the passengers kept interrupting her in increasingly audacious ways. It started as that short, fun little monologue, but then we thought 'we love this, why don't we expand on it?' Sometimes you have to create opportunities for yourself when you want to do something off-beat or new on stage and the Fringe is the absolute perfect place for that."
The one-hour version of the show has come together following months of inter-continental communication. "I'm in Washington, DC sending script drafts to Alexander in Paris," Elliott recalls, "and we are working out the kinks around this 6 hour time difference. But that chaos ended up being perfect inspiration for a show about flying from one continent to the other on this wild plane."
The piece as it exists today contains all the elements of a fabulous drag show: a lip-sync performance, the makeup and high fashion, and a campy sensibility. But at its core, Unexpected Turbulence is the story of a woman at a personal and career crossroads. "As we've prepared for the Fringe, we've been discovering all these layers of Crystelle. She's silly and sassy and rude but she's also fundamentally a person who is crippled by self-doubt," Burnett says. "I've loved finding her humanity while also developing the absurd 'runway' walk she uses to traipse down the aisle."
Unexpected Turbulence will be performed for the very first time in the United States at The Fridge DC following its world premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe. The show is directed by Dylan Arredondo.
The Fridge DC (516 8th Street SE, Rear alley, Washington, DC 20003). Tickets: $15 on Thursday September 26; $20 on Friday September 27 (including one post-show drink for guests over 21 on Friday only). Dates: September 26-27th, 2019. Tickets: https://turbulence.ticketleap.com/fridge/